Medjool dates have become a regular in my fridge lately. These middle eastern fruits boast soft, sticky flesh and a flavour that is a sweet mix of honey and caramel. They’re lovely as a snack by themselves, but are just as comfortable adding a rich sweetness to other dishes.
I’ve been including them in my Bircher Muesli mix, where the overnight soaking plumps them up and renders them almost fudge-like. I’ve also made several batches of these Choco-Almond Truffles that get all their sweetness from the dates, but taste like real chocolate truffles. Dates make a banana smoothie extra sweet, can provide some texture to a cheese board and are delightful in a tagine.
Without too much effort, they can be pimped out with complimentary middle-eastern flavours to create a snack or dessert that is relatively healthy, and looks positively pretty.
Side dishes can make a good meal great. They are the supporting actors to a well-prepared piece of meat, which, if performing well, can hog the spotlight. But paying attention to what best supports the star can turn a meal from B-grade to award winning.
It’s that time of year when side dishes become more than an after thought. Thanksgiving and Christmas provide a great excuse to focus on all parts of the meal. If you’ve already started thinking about your festive menus, I highly recommend including a plate of Smashed Lemon Potatoes.
Having a packet or two of fancy, dried pasta in the pantry is a lovely way to make an old favourite sauce more interesting. If I’m in an Italian deli or a good market and come across some interesting dried pasta shapes, I’ll pick a couple I haven’t tried before and store them away, ready to make a Tuesday quickie dinner less boring.
This week I found a packet of maccheroni al ferro, a hand-rolled, tube-like pasta that does a great job of gripping onto sauce with it’s rolled edge. Pesto would go well with it, but my basil plant did not survive a late frost last week, making the promise of fragrant, summery pasta a little farther away. Instead I paired the maccheroni with a more seasonally appropriate mix of broccoli and bacon. Continue Reading
It’s picnic weather, and in Melbourne we kick off the season with horse racing. On Tuesday, Melbournians get a day off work to sip champagne, wear their glad rags, tuck a form guide under their arm and put their annual bet on the Melbourne Cup.
For those of us not at the racecourse, BBQs will be wrenched from their winter hibernation and rugs will be laid out on lawns, ready to kickoff a season of outdoor eating that runs through to March. It’s time for picnic food.
Chicken wings are a crowd pleaser, and go so well with a frosty beer or a tall glass of bubbles. But many chicken wing recipes require overnight marinating in a complicated mix of sauces, and/or a terrifyingly hot pan of oil for frying. Both seem like too much effort. This recipe requires no prep and no frying, but results in a tray of deeply golden, tangy, slightly spicy wings that will complete any picnic spread. Continue Reading
Our local farmers’ market rotates through four towns in the Macedon region. Two locations are handy to home, one is farther but in such a pretty location that it makes the trip worth it, and the other is just that bit too far to justify ploughing the freeway for. Which leaves one weekend per month where my pantry is the sole source of my Saturday lunch.
A pantry stocked with a variety of tinned goods, paired with a fridge of brighteners like capers and fresh herbs, will always provide an honest meal. Tinned sardines is one of my favourite store cupboard staples. This under-utilised, oily fish is rich in omega-3s which means it’s great for you and can be gussied up to taste delicious, even if you’re not a fan of strong fish flavours. Continue Reading
Cooking is naturally a tactile experience, where hands and fingers get busy touching, transforming, testing and arranging. There’s a lot of chopping and stirring, squeezing and shaking, but it’s quite rare that massaging is involved.
Perhaps when you’re marinating meat you’ll give it a good rub to evenly distribute the marinade. And you could argue that kneading dough calls on masseuse-like skills. Both these processes are designed to ensure the best possible conditions for maximum flavour and the right texture. Which is exactly what massaging kale leaves is all about. Continue Reading
A change of season heralds a change of breakfast in my kitchen. I’m no longer getting up in the dark, scurrying around before 7am in the half light, trying to keep warm with a large bowl of porridge. Instead the sun is my natural alarm clock and it bathes the kitchen in a gentle, welcoming light that greets me when I pad out of the bedroom in my dressing gown. This sunnier outlook calls for a lighter, more energetic breakfast.
Bircher muesli, or overnight oats, is the original muesli, invented by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for his patients in the 1900s. His recipe requires the oats to be soaked in milk for a period of time to soften them, making them easier to digest, as oats had not yet been made “quick” by manufacturing processes. Soaking is no longer required for muesli, but creating a breakfast inspired by Dr Bircher-Benner is a tasty, nourishing and wholesome start to the day. Continue Reading
A meal that keeps on giving is worth a little extra effort. This asian-inspired salad feeds 4-6 people, but it generously extends itself to provide leftover poached chicken for another meal or two, a few containers of chicken stock to pack into the freezer and some pickled carrots to adorn tomorrow’s sandwiches. It’s also very flexible as it’s happily served immediately or can wait till tomorrow. This makes it a great Sunday meal, leaving starts of lunches and dinners for Monday and Tuesday. So if you’re up for a little bit of prep, you’ll be rewarded.
Curly parsley, the 70s food garnish of choice, has perennially been left on my plate uneaten. Pub meals were the main culprit, employing a tuft of green in an attempt to counter balance the deliciously greasy fare served out of their deep fryers and grills. But curly parsley doesn’t have to be the unflattering herb bound to adorn otherwise empty plates heading back to the kitchen. It has a fragrant and robust flavour that can be harnessed for good.
Tabbouleh (or tabouli or tabouleh), the crisp and flavoursome lebanese salad, uses curly parsley as its base. Traditionally made with bulgar and served as a side salad as part of a mezze, tabbouleh lends itself well to improvisation. Parsley, lemon and mint will keep the basic DNA of the salad in tact, but variations in grain, supporting herbs and onion type are acceptable.
My recent holiday to Byron Bay has inspired me to eat healthy, fresh food (take me back!). And now that Spring has arrived in Kyneton, evidenced by a sea of wildflowers in my garden, and the accompanying hay fever, a salad based meal is more than appropriate. So instead of using tabbouleh as a side dish, I promoted it to the main attraction of my lunches this week. Continue Reading
Thanks so much for having us while we take this pregnant pause, enjoying a grown-up holiday for two before we become three. The cloudless skies, sparkling ocean and gentle warm breezes have been much appreciated.
Do you get all guests up at 5.30am with your early sunrise? We don’t mind. The morning activity of your people, you know, the jogging and surfing and general healthy living, is a refreshing change from the grey commute we’ve been experiencing during the winter months down south. And boy do your cafes know how to do a great breakfast. Colourful bowls of fruit and muesli, local breads with homemade tropical marmalades, muffins bursting with berries, and eggs partnered with vivid green sprouts and creamy avocado were all delicious. Continue Reading