Saturday, 13 October 2012


I have been meaning to post for a while about our favourite local cafe, where the food is amazing, the coffee very good and the service exceptional. Ben, the barista, is very friendly, and always has a smile no matter how busy he is. The girls love going there, in large part because of the babycinos that Ben makes.

They are pretty special. They are also free, which I find amazing given that some places charge $2.50 for ones that are not nearly as good.

It means we go a lot more often than we otherwise would. And that the kids are happy while I drink my coffee. Win win!

Herb update

I have been using herbs as promised, and loving them for myself, though the kids are picking them out. My husband is eying the green bits suspiciously, though dutifully eating them (except the rocket flowers I used as a garnish!).

I have been using parsley a lot - chopped and added on top of dishes for freshness. I've used chives (which I love with eggs), thyme, and rocket. I haven't used oregano this week but I did stop Zoe (3) as she had a handful of it about to pull out the "weed"!

And I remembered that I also have rosemary, growing with my strawberries where I planted cuttings. I should move it into my front garden so it has room to get bigger.

If anyone has any ideas or inspiration for using herbs post a comment and tell me. All ideas appreciated!

Friday, 12 October 2012


Chickpeas are little things that have occasionally appeared in my pantry in tins, floated around for a few months and then been thrown randomly into a "fridge review" dish when I am trying to clean out my pantry. You know what I mean - that strange dish of unmatched flavours you force on your family when you are trying to get rid of ingredients you feel guilty about throwing out. Something you would never dream of serving when you have guests for dinner.

Times are changing, however. I currently have a number of tins of these little legumes in my pantry, bought to make hommus when I realised just how much I was paying for hommus at the supermarket. But I have also started thinking about other ways to use them, too.

Firstly, a little about them. Chickpeas have been around for a long time. There have been archeological remains found (probably in some well-intentioned cook's pantry) from the Middle East dating back to 7500 years ago. They were known and enjoyed by the classical Greek and Romans. Cicero even got his name from them - in Latin they are known as cicer. They are used in many ways in cooking throughout the Middle East, India and parts of Asia. They are a low GI food and a source of zinc, folate and protein.  They are eaten cold in salads, hot in curries and other dishes, ground up into flour, roasted, and some varieties are even popped like popcorn. A very versatile little legume.

I received inspiration the other day from Jules Clancy, who has a great blog called Stonesoup. It has lots of great recipes, including video demonstrations, and her dishes are packed with vegies. She really enjoys using chickpeas, and I found a number of recipes that use them. Her blog can be found here: Stonesoup blog.

One of the great ideas I got from her is to make hommus with other roast veggies. The girls and I made roast butternut pumpkin hommus (with some chickpeas as well) yesterday - a very different taste. I liked it, and so did Ella and Jessica, but Zoe is fairly anti-pumpkin.

I also took inspiration from the general vibe of her recipes, and for my lunch yesterday heated up some chickpeas in a small frying pan with some flaked almonds, and wilted some rocket from my garden through it, then put chopped parsley on top. Very nice.

For dinner, I had some leftover chickpeas, so I dried them on paper towel, tossed them in flour, powdered onion and a little salt, then fried them in olive oil. I was quite impressed with the result.

Another idea I used last night from Jules Clancy is the idea of cooking food on one side only. So I also got some asparagus, and put it in the pan with olive oil, put the lid on so it would steam through a bit, and just cooked it on one side. I liked the way it went soft but retained some crunch. Fresh on one side, lovely and brown on the other.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


I have in my backyard a wine barrel full of herbs, with a few other miscellaneous pots around the place with smatterings of other herb-y things. Taking the sum total of things, I have chives, oregano, basil, Italian parsley, spring onions, sage, rocket, thyme and mint.

These are not in equal proportions - the rocket is growing up between the mint and parsley, and in between the weeds in one of the "garden beds" where it self seeded. I use the term garden bed advisedly - the dog likes to sleep there - it is her "bed", but not much else grows in it besides some hardy weeds and adventurous rocket.

The sage, basil and spring onions are all baby plants and not big enough to harvest yet, but the chives are a healthy tuft, the parsley is going great guns and the mint is trying its hardest to take over the barrel, foiled by me constant pulling out of tufts of it.

This ramble does actually have a point. It is that I was looking at the lush greenery, feeling guilty and thinking that I don't use the herbs nearly as much as I should. So I am setting myself a new challenge: to use herbs in cooking or some food-related activity every day.

Perhaps some chives chopped over an egg for breakfast. Or some oregano in pasta sauce. Some rocket leaves on a sandwich. Parsley chopped over dinner for some fresh greeness. Some basil on a pizza. A mint tisane before bed. There are many many possibilities and I'm not quite sure why I don't already make use of them every day. I am sure my cooking will move to a whole new level with the help of my little culinary friends.

Do you have any herbs in your garden that you like to use? Any favourite ways to cook/eat with herbs? Do you, like me, have herb-guilt? Post a comment and let me know your experience.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Spaghetti face

We had spaghetti bolognese tonight. We have it reasonably often, partly because I have an emotional attachment to it arising from it being the dish I felt most comfortable making when I first moved out of home, and partly because it gives me a good opportunity to engage in some veggie smuggling.

And because it provides a great opportunity for the standard spaghetti photo. Which just goes to show that you're never to young to appreciate good food.

Note: the picture is of baby Ella because it's far less embarrassing than a photo of my spaghetti face!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Magic in the kitchen

I was reflecting yesterday about the way some processes in the kitchen involve transformations of food that seem almost magical.

For example, I made yoghurt yesterday. I took milk, heated it, cooled it a little, put it in a thermos with a dollop of yoghurt, and left it for 6 hours. With bated breath I took the lid off, half expecting to find just milk, and lo and behold, there was yoghurt! My milk had changed into thick, creamy, tangy goodness.

I also made bread yesterday. My bread maker did the hard work of kneading, and the first proving, then I shaped the dough. I put in flour, water, yeast, oil, and a dash of sugar and salt, and got out a soft, pillowy wonder. I absolutely adore the feel of bread dough. It has a consistency which is hard to describe if you have  never handled it before. It gives to your touch, yet has substance too. I find it a joy to work with. I was standing at the bench yesterday, kneading and shaping with a ridiculous grin on my face, happy and content. I have not come across anything else in my cooking days that feels the way bread dough does. And when you consider what the raw ingredients feel like, it is bordering on magic with the result you get. Even more so when you take out of the oven delicious smelling bread with a golden brown crust and a beautiful crumb, and you think "my goodness, this is bona fide bread. This is just like I buy from the shop" - only better, because you made it yourself.

Butter is another example. Cream goes in, you shake/whizz/churn it around a bit, and suddenly you have lumps of butter floating in buttermilk. Wash it and shape it a bit, and you have butter, which is magic in itself, in the way it transforms the flavour of the most boring dish.

Obviously, there is actually cold hard science behind all of these things. I studied chemistry, physics and biology at university. I understand how the properties of food change given temperature, churning, or the addition of microrganisms. But despite this, I still find that there is magic in the kitchen. Not hocus pocus, rabbit-out-of-hat magic. I am talking about the miracle that these scientific processes occur at all. They are full of wonder, the magic that kids feel when they discover something new and say "Wow!". I hope I never lose the wow factor in my contemplation of food. May there be many more grins as I knead bread, and many more moments of bated breath as I open my thermos to see if I have yoghurt inside. It is things like this that make cooking fun.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Homemade Hommus

Here is a picture of the hommus we made the other day. I made it without garlic because Zoe doesn't like "spicy" foods. I also used unhulled tahini, which gave it a yummy nutty flavour.

It was very popular with the kids. My in-laws liked it too - at least, they ate it! I didn't see any surreptitious spits into tissues.
I liked it as it was, but I think next time I will add garlic, though I'll cook it first.

I put one of my homemade crackers in the picture just to prove I made them!

Cooking from Scratch

My husband set me a challenge last weekend - to see how much food I can make from scratch, and how long I can maintain a habit of doing so.

The reason for the challenge is two-fold. Firstly, with eating a largely sugar free diet, it is difficult to eat processed food, as so much has added sugar. Secondly, because I want to cut down the amount of processed food I eat, I am quite tempted by the idea of a Thermomix. However, they are quite pricey. We have agreed to save up for one, however, long that takes. In the meantime, my husband suggested that I should use the time in proving that making things from scratch is actually something I am committed to, by making things the long way round (ie, without a Thermomix).

It is something I have been feeling guilty about for a while anyway, the amount of processed food I eat, and feed my family. It makes sense from a health and a cost point of view to make what I can at home. Time is the only factor - a big factor for me with a 5, 3, and 1 year old. But the kids are getting into it and helping.

So, this week I have made crackers, hommus (which I've made in the past and is so ridiculously easy I should hang my head in shame for buying it) and icecream (our version of the Thermomix sorbet). I currently have yoghurt sitting in the thermos, hopefully stewing away. I also have flat bread in the oven, courtesy of my breadmaker. Last night for dinner I got chicken tenderloins, dipped them in egg then a mix of breadcrumbs, dried herbs and garlic. My husband thought that I had bought them ready crumbed =)

I am planning to make butter today or tomorrow - looking forward to the buttermilk too. I am feeling very pleased with my efforts. I hope I can keep it up - I need to find a quicker way of making yoghurt - the milk took far long to get to temperature. I think I had the stove too low, fearful it would overheat.

Here is to a long and satisfying journey of good food that I made myself =)

Is there anything you like to make yourself? Post a comment and share it! Inspiration is always good!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Back at the dinner table - with no sugar

It has been months since I last posted. I have been so busy that sitting down to write has been quite difficult. I have taken lots of photos of food that I have created/eaten in that time, intending to post it, but haven't got there. Let's see how we go now.

One of the biggest things that has happened in my eating lately has been going sugar free. This was a huge thing for me. I made the decision on Sunday 5th August, after my husband told me about the book "Sweet Poison" by David Gillespie. I have been struggling with my weight for some time now, and also with self control, which obviously has a big impact on weight. So I spent most of that night awake stressed and panicky about all the foods I would have to give up - every time I started to drift off I would think of something else and jerk awake again. Chocolate, shortbread, caramel slice, gingerbread lattes, icecream - it was a very long night! I woke up fairly despondent, and couldn't see how this was going to work.

I have to say, I was fairly skeptical about the impact it would have. I hoped it would help with weight loss - I wasn't sure how much. I had heard that it helped with appetite control - I wasn't sure that this would actually happen. I wanted it too, but didn't think it would. Well, I was astonished. Within two weeks I was losing weight, eating far less, not feeling at all hungry, and not desiring sugar. I used to eat heaps. Now I have a small breakfast, then I'm fine till lunch. I have a much smaller lunch than I used to, then don't feel hungry till dinner. My dinner serving is quite small and I rarely feel like dessert. When I see chocolate, cake, icecream, I don't get tempted to eat it - in large part because I am usually feeling too full.

This is not to say that I am never eating sugar again. I have a few areas of concern with David Gillespie's book. Firstly, I don't think he understands physiology, or clinical medicine for that matter, and some of the research he has taken out of context. Secondly, I don't agree with his idea that you can eat as much glucose as you want, or fat for that matter. I certainly don't agree with the way he seems to think that exercise is at best unnecessary and at worst bad for you. I think that he has developed a bit of tunnel vision, where fructose is the source of all problems and nothing else that you do matters, as long as you don't eat fructose. I also think that he is a bit too fanatical about it all - he calls himself a "recovering sugarholic". I do not take the view that never again shall a grain of sugar cross my lips. Alcohol is bad if you drink too much - a little is okay. The same goes for fructose. The odd slice of cake or piece of chocolate will not make me keel over and die. It is important to stress though that I am talking about the odd slice - not every day. Since I stopped eating sugar I have had one slice of cake (made with stevia, but sugar sprinkled on top), half a slice of mango cheesecake (shared with my grandmother), a tiny bowl of custard (at a thermomix demo), and 2 strawberries and a piece of almond finger dipped in chocolate (at a party with a chocolate fountain). That's pretty much it, apart from what is in fresh fruit (mostly berries) and the odd bits in processed food, though that is fairly limited.

I haven't baked much in that time, but I will - I've just been busy. I'll just give it away to other people. I'm sure they won't mind =)

Christmas will be the test. If I remain basically sugar free over Christmas, I can see it being a lifelong change. We'll see how we go.

Has anyone else given up sugar? Post a comment and let me know how you have found it! Don't want to or don't think you could? Tell me about that too. I'd love to hear from you.