Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Mean Green Cucumber

It is time to turn my attention to getting my body back into better shape. Is this possible she asks herself, taking into account age and current state of the body?
I have read that it is never too late to improve strength and reduce BMI, but I need to take everything into consideration including, motivation, courage and limitations due to injuries sustained dancing and playing sport in earlier years.
My weekly exercise program is 1.5 hrs of Pilates, 30 minutes Aerobic Dance Class and 1 or 2 Weight Classes per week and I am trying to walk on days when I am not at the gym. I'm willing to try a personal training session every month to keep me on track.  I have allowed myself 12 months to achieve this. If you hear the grunts and the groans along the way stay with me, it's only my way of attracting attention!!

Continuing with two fasts per week, (that is only consuming up to 500 calories on two days per week) I am eating normally on the other 5 days. Dropping back alcoholic drinks to weekends only and special occasions and reviewing food portion sizes, I can still eat fantastic food.  I will NOT stop eating the food I love, but I will be re-testing recipes to find healthier options and hoping eating smaller portions will do the trick. Cream and chocolate will appear less, but will still be included because there is a definite place for both in my life.

One of my friends has thrown me a cucumber challenge this week. It seems she has a trillion growing in her garden and needs help to use them in an interesting and yummy way. I really like cucumbers, hot day, cold, crunchy mouth watering cucumbers and so low calorie. The first few eaten straight from the fridge would be great but then I suppose the novelty would wear off. So I am posting a few recipes for you all to try. I hope you like them. The bonus is they are all healthy and low in calories, so no excuses!

Creamy Cucumber and Avocado Soup

I am starting with this one because you can serve it warm or cold, depending on your weather conditions. So if you are in the Northern Hemisphere and a cold soup doesn't appeal, try it warm!
I must admit this is one of my favourite recipes because it is so creamy and has a little zing to it. Don't shrug it off because it is made from cucumbers, you may be very, very surprised.


4 Cups peeled, deseeded cucumbers
2 Cloves garlic
1 Small onion diced finely
1 tbls Olive Oil
1 Ripe avocado peeled and diced
Pinch salt
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper 
1 tbls Lemon juice
Few sprigs mint chopped
11/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup Plain yoghurt
1/4 cup Parsley, chopped

Place oil in a large frypan with garlic and cook until soft but not brown, 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and cook for a few seconds before you add cucumber (save a few fine rounds for garnishing), stock, cayenne pepper, mint. Cook on low heat until cucumber is soft, this takes about 10 - 1 minutes. Parsley and avocado should be added now with a small pinch salt.
Using a stick blender, a blender or a food processor, puree until you are happy with the consistency.
If you are going to eat this immediately add the yoghurt and parsley and stir this in. If you are eating it cold then cover and place in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

If you want to save this and reheat it later in the day, don't add the yoghurt now but wait until you have reheated it and then stir in the yoghurt just before serving. To serve, garnish with a round of cucumber and a mint leaf. Grab a bagel, slice it into 4 rounds and lightly toast. If you have 1 slice with a small bowl of soup it is approx 219 calories. Brilliant!


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Hot Tomatoes

As promised, here is another recipe to use up those abundant tomatoes. 
If you don't grow your own, check out Adelaide Central Market or your local Farmer's Market because there should be some great tasting tomatoes on sale.

My chilli plants are fruiting nicely and just getting red blushes on them. I think there will be a good supply from mild to very, very hot! I think one lot is marked as a 10 for hotness. Can't wait to try them! I need to find my Chilli Oil recipe before I get inundated. I found a few Birdseye Chillies so I have used these, seeds an all.

My vegetable delivery today  via Aussie Farmers Direct had 4 red capsicums, so I decided to make a small batch of this Chilli Jam.  I have been playing around with the recipe and needed to get the balance right before I shared it with you. This recipe has a good balance of sweetness and heat, but go right ahead and adjust it to suit your own palate.
Sweet Chilli Jam

2 Garlic cloves crushed
Knob fresh ginger grated (size of thumb nail)
400g Tomatoes, chopped
200ml Water
200g Sugar
300ml Red wine vinegar
2 Red Capsicums chopped 
2 Chillies (I used small birds eye chillies)
Juice of a lemon

  • Using a food processor, add capsicum, garlic, ginger, chillies with seeds and process until finely chopped.
  • Scrape this to a large pan, add chopped tomatoes, vinegar and water and bring to the boil. 
  • Remove any scum.
  • Reduce heat and cook on low for 45 minutes until the mixture starts to reduce and ingredients begin to meld together.
  • Add sugar and  lemon juice and bring back to the boil. Cook on a higher heat until the mixture begins to thicken and looks jam like, about 15 - 20 minutes. Keep checking it so it does not burn.
  • Take off the heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then taste the jam and make sure you are happy with the sweetness and heat. (You can add more sugar at this point and reheat if needed)
  • Fill two clean hot jars, seal and label. 

(See post under Cherry Jam for instructions on preparing jars)

This only made two jars, but if you want to make more you can adjust the quantities to suit. This is a great condiment for melted cheese on toast and is really lovely with Lentil and Vegetable Loaf (I need to post this recipe too). 
In fact it is pretty nice with most things, even scrambled egg.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

It's Raining Tomatoes

My vegetable garden has been badly hit by a week of  40+ degree temperatures. Some plants have perished and some are chucking out fruit like there is no tomorrow. Unfortunately, the tomato plants  I bought a few months ago must have been wrongly labelled. So instead of having 3 normal sized tomatoes and 3 cherry tomatoes, they are all cherry! So I have a few hundred baby tomatoes and really, they aren't great for making sauce, so I have hunted through my stack of recipes which are tried and tested, to see what I haven't cooked in a while.
Here is the first; a very simple but tasty dish which uses up your excess tomatoes. You can use ready made puff pastry, but making your own is so much more fun and it really doesn't take more than 10 mins, plus resting time.

Tomato and Thyme Tart Tatin

Lay pastry over the top and tuck in

Puff Pastry

250g Plain flour
250g Butter at room temperature, but not soft
Pinch salt
<100mls Cold water

  • Mix sieved flour, salt in a large bowl.
  • Add chunks of butter and rub in to flour, so it resembles large breadcrumbs.
  • Because there is a lot of butter, you will still see large chunks of it, so don't worry, this is how it is supposed to look.
  • Add water in two or three batches because you don't want it to get too wet and mix to a soft dough.
  • Knead it a little until it is in one smooth round ball, wrap in cling film and put in fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
  • Roll pastry in one direction until it measures twice the size you started with.
  • Fold into thirds, cling film and rest again for 20 minutes.
  • Pastry is ready to use and you roll it out to the size, a little bigger than the pot you are cooking your tomatoes in. 

I only used half of this pastry for the recipe. The rest I double wrapped in cling film and put in the freezer for next week.

While pastry is resting for the second time, start making the tomato filling.
Browning off nicely

Ready to Eat

400g of cherry tomatoes
Few sprigs time
Salt and pepper
1/4 Cup of sugar 
1/4 Cup water
1 Red Onion very finely sliced
1 tbls Balsamic vinegar
1 tbls Olive oil
knob of butter

Heat oven to 200 degrees fan forced 

  • In a pan suitable to put in the oven and on the cook top, add butter and oil caramelise the red onion, adding a pinch of sugar. Remove when cooked about 10 minutes.
  • Add sugar and water and shake the pan gently, do not stir, to make caramel for the tomatoes. As soon as you see a hint of brown around the edge remove from the heat.
  • Add balsamic vinegar and stir. Add tomatoes and some thyme (I usually add a small handful) and gentle stir it all together. 
  • Now add cooked onions and stir again.
  • Once you have rolled out your pastry, gently lower it over the cooked tomatoes, tucking in the edges. 
  • Slit the top of the pastry in two or three places with a sharp knife.
  • Cook in the oven for around 30 minutes until crisp and golden.
  • Once out of the oven, leave in pan for 10 mins and then gently ease the sides away from the pan. Place a plate on the top and invert.
  • I usually leave this for another 10 minutes before serving. 
  • Decorate with a sprig or two of thyme and serve with a green salad.

I'll post another tomato recipe later in the week.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Are You a Good Egg?

There are many times in my life when I have found myself truly in awe of nature. The complexity of a structure versus the simplicity of design.
There is nothing simple about an egg. It is sophisticated, intelligently packaged, a highly portable, a highly nutritious, protein fix. A perfect, natural occurrence without interference by man! (Not much anyway) So I have a great love of this very versatile product.

I used to keep chickens and would be so excited when I found a new laid egg, still warm. Now there are no chickens, but I search out the best free range eggs available locally.

When I lived in Sydney, I would spend Friday evenings after work browsing the shops for an hour or so, then I would meet up with my husband and we would head to our favourite little restaurant in a basement in Albion Street. It was usually very full by the time we arrived, but being regulars we would be guaranteed a seat. The interior was basic, subdued lighting, red walls, wooden tables, a blackboard menu, great atmosphere and cheap!

We always ordered a carafe of house red or white and we would sit back and watch the waiters take orders, serve tables and wait for our food to arrive. Service was fast, food simple, fresh and delicious.

We only ever ordered Omelette and salad, my favourites being "Omelet fine herbe" or "Savoyarde", cheese and potato. Every omelette was beautifully made, elegantly served with crusty baguette and a side of vinaigrette to splash on the salad.
One of the house specialities was Bouillabaisse. This arrived in large white bowls with a mound of steaming mussels, succulent fish pieces and a mild but superbly seasoned, sauce. And it was all served with a minimum of fuss and maximum pride. 

La Guillotine in inner city Sydney, began operating in late 1960's and is still operating as a restaurant. They have moved premises, around the corner from the original, but the red walls remain and the omelettes are the same, although not served as the traditional folded one. They have extended the menu but omelettes are still the hero on the menu.
Recently, a relative called in for lunch at La Guillotine and commented that "it was a nice experience, not trying to be trendy, basic food but good quality" "breath of fresh air"!

Photograph by Ian Drummond

I haven't been to Sydney for a while, but I am can guarantee that on my next trip I will make a heading back to La Guillotine. The restaurant is now located at 518 Kent Street, Sydney.

So where is this all leading? - you guessed it, omelettes.

A few people have told me that they lack confidence in making an omelet , because it always turns out like scrambled egg. Now you may think it is rather funny, that some people can't make an omelette, because to me there is nothing simpler if you follow the rules. If you are one of those people that tremble at the thought of making one then read on, this is classic French cooking.

Omelet aux Fines Herbes

For each person allow:
2 - 3  eggs 
2 tablespoons of mixed herbs - parsley, tarragon, chervil (you can just use parsley)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon water
knob of butter or tablespoon of oil

Warm a non stick frypan on low heat until it is hot, add a small knob of butter and swish it around the pan, making sure it does not burn.

Whip eggs very slightly just to break the yolks, add a tablespoon of water

Add eggs to the pan and immediately begin to stir the eggs with a fork while shaking the pan at the same time. This will ensure the eggs don't stick. Keep stirring the uncooked bits of the egg so that they begin to set. Make sure the pan is covered with egg and there are 'no gaps'. 

Once the eggs have started to set, stop shaking  and stirring.

Season with salt and pepper, add your filling - herbs, quickly. This last bit needs to be done very quickly so the omelette does not over cook.

Tilt the pan away from you and allow the omelet to slide up the side of the pan. Now using your fork, fold this part over the filling, fold the opposite edge over as well. Slide the omelet onto a plate, making sure that the 'fold' is underneath or seam side down. Add a sprinkling of parsley or a sprig to decorate and serve immediately with a green salad and some fresh bread to mop up the runny bits! Or pan fry cubes of potato with a little lemon zest and season with salt.
Now tell me, how easy is this?

Monday, 13 January 2014

Let's Talk about Fruit

We are heading for a cracker of a week of high temperatures. From tomorrow it looks like everyday will be 41C degrees or higher. So I thought that today, being the coolest day and only 34 C degrees, I would whip up some Frozen French Souffles. From the 'Cordon Bleu at Home' cook book, I made "Petits Souffles Glace aux abricots" - but preferring fresh peaches to tinned apricots.
I have made these a number of times but always change the recipe to suit my taste and to use whatever fruit I have on hand. 

Although I grew up in the  middle of an industrial city in England, my fondest memories involve eating fruit. My next door neighbours had a number of apple trees but they only ever shared the ones that fell on the ground, much to my mother's disappointment. My sister and I used to pick blackberries along the roadside in autumn, search the local area for plums hanging over fences and munch through sprigs of red currents from the bushes in the garden. But there was never anything as exotic as peaches. 

I remember the first peach I ever tasted. I was living in Paris at the time and visiting the fruit market very early one morning. There was the largest basket of peaches I had ever seen. It had been raining and the basket was dripping wet, but each peach had only a small sprinkling of raindrops, like they had been kissed by an angel. I held the peach in my hand, stroking the soft, velvety skin with my fingers. Bliss! And when I sank my teeth into the peach and tasted that sweet flesh, I knew I had experienced something special. Since then, peach season has been my favourite, although it comes with side effects - the weather. 

Aussie Farmers delivered my fruit and vegetable box on Thursday and the peaches looked amazing. I didn't really want to cook them, but I thought this dessert would be perfect for the hot weather ahead. 

It is a reasonably long recipe, but I have endeavoured to make it easy to follow, unlike the original one.

Frozen Peach Souffle


Syrup for Cooking Fruit
1 cup Sugar
I cup water
6 Peaches, cut in half, stones removed

Make a syrup by putting sugar and water into a large pan and cook on low heat until sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly for 8 minutes and the add the peaches.
Cook peaches for 20 minutes or until soft, remove skins and allow to cool. Keep syrup for later use. Blend with a hand blender or mash peaches by hand once they are cool. This can be done the day before and stored in the fridge.

You can use this syrup to cook any fruit. Once you take the fruit out you can use the remaining syrup to make iced tea, use on ice cream as a topping or freeze in ice cube trays for later use.

3 Eggs separated
150g Sugar
60ml Water
Few drops lemon juice
400mls Double cream
1 tbls Sugar extra 
Flaked almonds toasted in a dry pan

You will need 6 ramekins with collars made with baking paper and elastic bands
Italian Meringue

There are two things that need to be done at the same time here!
  • Combine 60ml water, 150g sugar and lemon juice in a pan. Bring to boil on low heat. Once it reaches 115 degrees C (approx 5 minutes) it is ready to use.
  • Once you put the pan on the heat, start to beat the egg whites until firm, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar, then pour the boiling syrup in a stream onto the egg whites while still beating. Continue to beat until it is thick and glossy.
  • Beat cream in a chilled bowl until peaks form and fold into the Italian meringue. Fold in the pureed fruit.
  • Fill the ramekins with the mixture, smoothing off the tops, and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours. 
  • Carefully peel off the paper around the souffles and coat the top and edges with toasted flaked almonds.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Let Them Eat Cake!

I am mad about chocolate and I could eat it at any time of day or night. As long as it is unopened I am safe, but once the packet is ripped or the box is open, look out! Very fitting then that I introduce you to a Chocolate Hazelnut Cake or Torta Cioccolato for a final Italian recipe. (Don't worry we will be back later in the year).

My new year resolution is to keep on with the 5:2 Intermittent Fasting which I started last year. I still have 5 kilos to lose, which is going to be the hardest to shift, especially if I keep making this delicious food. However, 5:2 allows me to fast for 2 days per week and eat normally on the other 5 days. It isn't supposed to include large amounts of chocolate, but the odd piece is fine. 

It has been a fantastically easy way for me to lose 11 kilos already and I have been able to stick to it for a fair time. Here is a  link if you would like to learn more. I wont harp on about it because if you want more information you can check out the link.

So onwards with the 'Torta'. This is elegantly crisp and chocolatey and teems wonderfully with a hot  'espresso macchiato'. I wont tell you how many calories it has because it is very naughty.

Definitely not to be eaten on a fasting day!

Italian Chocolate Torta

Ingredients - Oven temperature 180 fan forced

40g Hazelnuts
100g Butter
110g Dark chocolate, chopped
2 tbls Cocoa powder
3 eggs separated
60g Sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
20g Plain flour
Icing sugar to decorate

  • Butter and flour a fluted cake tin with removable bottom. I use a fluted flan dish because the cake is quite flat. 
  • Toast the hazelnuts until brown in a dry pan and roughly chop.
  • Melt butter in a pan on a low heat, add the chocolate and cocoa and when the chocolate has melted remove from the heat and leave it to cool.
  • Beat egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. Then, stir in the chocolate mixture.
  • Whisk in the flour, nuts and add a pinch of salt.
  • Whip egg whites until peaks form and then gently fold into the egg yolk mixture retain as much air as possible.
  • Tip the mixture into your prepared pan and bake in the middle of a preheated oven for approx 20 -30 minutes. Don't overcook.
  • Cool in the tin and turn out to serve with a dusting of icing sugar.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Pasta Fasta

Federico Fellini once said,  "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." I agree wholeheartedly with him!

The magic for me is to be able to create a pasta dish that is fast to prepare, nutritious, tastes amazing but doesn't stack on the calories. I prefer to make fresh pasta because it tastes so much nicer, but using package pasta is a much faster option. 

Pasta has gotten a bad reputation because of its carbohydrate count. Many people on a weight reduction diet, tend to steer away from it altogether because of this. But following some simple rules you can still enjoy eating pasta on a regular basis. 

  • Avoid sauces using cream products as these will increase the calorie count. Tomato based sauces are fine. Adding a little white  or red wine will give a nice flavour too.
  • Try to restrict yourself to only 1 cup of cooked pasta at a time (unless you are planning to run a marathon)
  • Go easy on butter and cheese. Instead of having cheese based sauces, only add a little to the end dish, a teaspoon of Parmesan Cheese will only add around 20 calories.
  • Make sure you add a heap of vegetables to your dish, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, spinach etc.
  • Add fresh herbs they make a huge difference to the taste
I have a fairly big herb garden, so I feel justified in throwing in as many fresh herbs as I can, whenever I can. Basil is a particular favourite but I use lots of oregano, marjoram and flat leaf parsley. 

For this dish I made my own pasta because I love fresh pasta and it is fun to make. You do not have to do this, you can use any pasta but I recommend using Penne, Spaghetti or Linguine. If you want to make your own I have included a how to at the end of the post. If you are crazily busy make the sauce the day before.

Keeping simplicity in mind, this recipe for Pasta with Spinach and Garlic will give you around 320 calories per serve and adding a green salad will give you less that 500 calories. Importantly it will also put a smile of contentment on your face while you are eating it. Mangare!

 Pasta with Spinach and Garlic Sauce

375 g Pasta, Penne or Linguine (or recipe below)
Large bunch of English Spinach, washed and chopped (around 380g) 
1 tbls Olive oil
Knob of butter (optional if you need to watch calories)
3 Cloves garlic crushed
4 tbls Parmesan cheese grated
Pinch salt and pepper
3 tbls Flat leaf parsley chopped
3 tbls Basil chopped
4 tbls Pine nuts toasted (dry frypan for approx 3 minutes until golden) 

In a large saucepan of water with salt added, cook pasta to al dente.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in frypan and add crushed garlic, cooking for a couple of minutes stirring constantly, add all of the spinach. You may need to do this slowly and as it starts to wilt add more. Cook until wilted adding basil and flat leaf parsley. Using a stick blender, pulse the spinach and garlic mixture.

When pasta is cooked, drain and put it back into the saucepan. Add Spinach mixture and mix thoroughly on a very low heat. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and a knob of butter. Mix in the pine nuts and serve immediately with a sprinkling of Parmesan. Italians always mix the sauce into the pasta. Serves 4

Pasta Ingredients

2 cups Plain Flour
2 Eggs lightly beaten
1 tbls Olive oil
Pinch salt

Put the flour on your working area and make a well in the centre. Add 2 eggs, salt and oil and gradually work in the eggs, oil and flour together using finger tips. Keep working it until it forms a dough. On a floured board, knead for about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic and rest for 30 minutes. I do not refrigerate. This is ready to use either in your pasta machine or to roll by hand. If you find it a little soft, gently knead in a little more flour. Serves 4 

Friday, 3 January 2014

Zucchini Madness!

In my vegetable garden I planted zucchini plants quite early, so before Christmas I had already picked quite a few zucchinis. Now they seem to be growing overnight and each morning there are lots of new ones to pick. Every year I remind myself to only put in one plant, but then I get worried in case something happens to it and I have no zucchinis at all.

Friends and neighbours have been recipients of my zucchinis for many years but even they get to the point when they say enough is enough, this is madness! So I am on the hunt to find new recipes for my ever increasing zucchini supply and to keep everyone happy.

In the past I have made cakes, fritters, loaves, pickles, chutney, stuffed zucchinis and soup and I am now searching for new food combinations. If you have a favourite zucchini recipe, please share it with me. Just a brief outline of the dish is fine or you can include the whole recipe. The best of these I will add to this blog over the next few weeks. I hope to find time to try out some new stuffing recipes and I will of course add them here to help out any other over supplied households.

Ok, here are some zucchini questions. Test yourself and see how much you know about  this versatile vegetable. (answers at the end of this post) No cheating!!!

1. What plant family does the zucchini belong to?  a) Rose  b) Cucurbita c) Legumes

2. How many calories does 1 zucchini have?   a) 40    b) 120   c) 25

3. A zucchini has more potassium than a banana? True or False?

4. The Male flower carries the fruit?  True or False?

5. Zucchinis are   a) Orange     b) Green   c) Yellow    d) All of these colours

Check your answers after this recipe.

Beautiful flowers of the Zucchini plant, bring a ray of sunshine into the garden. 

Today I am sharing a recipe which is easy to make and you can add or subtract other ingredients according to what you have in your fridge. Be creative, but keep the basic recipe and you will have a tasty dish to eat hot or cold. This recipe has goat cheese and I must confess that I am not a big fan of goat cheese at all. I keep tasting it in the hope that I will eventually come to love it, but to me it tastes too much of the goat!!!! In this recipe the cheeses blend in really well and are not too goaty at all. I used Sutton Grange Organic Farm, Holy Goat La Luna. 

Zucchini, Asparagus and Goat's Cheese Loaf

Ingredients - Oven temperature 180 C degrees fan forced

1 bunch asparagus trimmed
3 Small to medium zucchinis grated
1 Onion finely chopped
1 cup Self raising flour
4 Large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 Cup tasty cheese grated
1/2 Cup frozen peas
1/4 Cup olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1/2 Bunch of fresh mint
Handful of flat leaf parsley chopped
100g Goats cheese, broken into small pieces
Salt and pepper
  • Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
  • Blanch/steam asparagus for 2 minutes and plunge into cold water and dry off with a tea towel.
  • Cut the asparagus in half and retaining the spear ends, chop the remainder of it.
  • In a large mixing bowl add flour,onion, chopped asparagus, eggs, salt and pepper, goat and tasty cheeses, herbs, oil, lemon zest and lemon juice, peas. Mix together and spoon into your prepared loaf tin. Smooth the top and lay the retained spears across the top forming a nice pattern.
  • Bake in pre heated oven for 45 - 50 minutes, until nicely browned on the top. 
  • Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin by lifting the baking paper. Serves 6 - 8. Eat hot or cold and it is only 250 calories per slice.

1. Cucurbita, 2. 25 calories, 3. True, 4. False - the female flower has the fruit. The male flowers are the ones used for cooking. 5. d - you can get them in all of these colours plus variegated ones.