Hot Nights: Cool Dinners with hummus and lamb

It’s been hot here. Real hot. Our outdoor thermometer has often read in the high 30’s and into the 40’s for the past month (for those working on Fahrenheit, 40 degrees Celsius is 104 degrees) with a few days of blessed respite. By the time it’s dinner I just haven’t felt like cooking, much less sitting down to a hot meal and outdoor BBQ’s are still not fun. Thankfully, we’ve had a few great meals up our sleeve which are table, toddler and fun friendly.

I’ve adapted this dish from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Hummus Kawarma which is in his incredible book Jerusalem. This book is one of my favourites and while they’re not always applicable to weeknight dinners (see this post) the flavours speak for themselves.

My take on Yotam Ottolenghi’s Hummus Kawarma

Ingredients

To marinate:

  • 300gr Lamb backstrap (last night I also used veal scotch fillet with success)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • good pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp za-atar
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp salt

To serve:

  • A simple mix of chopped tomato and cucumber
  • Hummus
  • Flatbreads

Method:

  1. Chop lamb into small strips and set aside
  2. Mix all ingredients and marinate for at least half an hour in the fridge (I tend to do this around lunch time)
  3. About 30 min before it’s time to cook get your lamb out of the fridge so it’s not as cold before you cook it
  4. Bring together all your ingredients to serve and make sure they’re ready
  5. When the table’s set turn the stove on a medium high heat, put oil in a heavy frypan and cook your lamb (with all the ingredients it’s been marinating in) for about 4 minutes, stirring while it cooks
  6. Transfer the lamb to a separate bowl and with all the ingredients on the table each person serve themselves what they want: It’s very much a sharing dish and finger food fun.

Not a weeknight family dinner: Ottolenghi’s Beef Stew with pale ale, juniper and prunes

You know when things all come together in your pantry and fridge for a recipe you’ve heard of but never made? It’s brilliant. It’s seeing the brisket, the juniper berries, the beer and going… I think I’ve seen a recipe for this! Yesterday, when I purchased some beef brisket that had been “further reduced for quick sale” the inspiration came to make Ottolenghi’s Beef Stew with pale ale, juniper and prunes. Before I go any further, I’m a massive fan of this chef… I don’t think I’ve ever made anything of his that hasn’t had at least one person (usually everyone) exclaim with delight. It was enough, on a week that I’ve been struggling with a cold, to decide to make a meal that took 4 hours to cook… yup, you heard me right. Four hours. For a weeknight meal with just our little family of four eating it and leftovers for Mr Incredible’s lunches. Crazy right? Yeah. I hear you. When Adventure Girl refused to even taste it (in her defence she was super tired after a huge day and not having a nap) I was rather miffed. However, Mr Incredible loved it and there’s a big part of me hoping for work colleagues to be very jealous of his lunch today.

When I come to a meal like this I have to ask myself, “was it worth it?”. The truthful answer is no. It wasn’t worth it for last night’s dinner. However, should I have some people around one night it’s definitely on my repeat dinners list. For us as a family though, I should have used that brisket for something else or put it in the freezer for another night. Should you be unfamiliar with Ottolenghi please make yourself acquainted with his recipes! I’ll share more of them in weeks to come as the seasons change but his use of ingredients has changed my cooking dramatically, and, as stated above given delight to many of my friends and family.

Beef Stew with pale ale, juniper and prunes by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • ½ tsp black peppercorns
  • 4 tsp Flaky sea salt (if I were making this again I’d cut this down to 2-3 as I found the dish slightly  too salty for my taste)
  • 900g beef brisket, cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 500g baby shallots, peeled and left whole
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 5g picked thyme leaves
  • 500ml pale ale
  • 2 tbsp date syrup (40g)
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 600g small waxy potatoes (desiree or charlotte), peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 10 large pitted prunes (about 100g-worth)
    (finely grated zest of ½ lemon 80g soured cream, to serve: I didn’t use these but did serve with yogurt and a cauliflower and cashew mash)

Method

  1. Put the juniper berries and peppercorns in a spice grinder with four (3) teaspoons of salt. Blitz well, then put in a medium-sized bowl, add the two pieces of brisket and, using your hands, mix well until the beef is well coated, then set aside for an hour.
  2. Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 2½. On a medium-high flame, heat a tablespoon of oil in a 26cm-wide casserole or ovenproof saute pan for which you have a lid, then add the brisket pieces and fry for two to three minutes, turning them over halfway, so they brown on both sides, then lift out the beef on to a plate.
  3. Turn down the heat under the pan to medium and add another tablespoon of oil. Once hot, add the whole shallots and fry for five minutes, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, then add the garlic and thyme, and fry for another minute, just to soften. Stir in the ale, date syrup and mustard, return the brisket to the pot and bring to a boil. Pop on the lid, transfer the casserole to the oven and roast for two hours.
  4. After two hours, turn over the brisket pieces, stir in the potatoes and prunes, cover again and return to the oven for another hour, until the brisket is very tender, the potatoes are cooked and the sauce is thick. Take the pot out of the oven and leave the meat to rest for at least 10 minutes.
  5. To serve, cut each piece of meat into four to six chunks (or even shred it into smaller pieces), then divide the stew between four or six shallow bowls. Sprinkle lemon zest on top and serve with a spoonful of soured cream alongside.

Notes:

  • I served this with a cauliflower and cashew mash along with some plain yogurt
  • As noted, I’d decrease the salt in the beef rub as the whole dish was too salty for me (as Heston Blumenthal notes, salt is essential for bringing out the flavour of the dish but as soon as you can taste the salt, you have too much salt!)
  • I have seen a recipe for this adapted for a slow cooker… I might be interested to try that sometime but my previous slow cooker attempts never quite get the sauce right – it’s never reduced enough and the whole dish is compromised – any tips? Please!

Cooking for Kids : The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook

In Australia the recommendation for when babies are to start solids is to start purees at 4 months and solid foods at 6 months. How to do this though can be a minefield, especially for first time parents like us. For some though, when to transition to a full “solid” diet can be the most difficult part. As an example, I was recently involved in a market research group where some of the parents where still feeding their one year olds pureed foods out of “pouches” bought from the supermarket for the majority of meals. For me though, while I started by pushing banana through a sieve and finely processing sweet potato for Adventure Girl, I soon realised that this wasn’t the direction we wanted to take. Simply, and honestly, I was too lazy to do it all myself, didn’t want to use pouches and wondered if there was another way. In my  research for alternatives, I came across the practice of Baby Led Weaning which encourages not feeding your children purees and instead, holding off until your child is 6 months and at that stage introducing solid food. I’m no expert but this has been the best thing for us as a family and this is the direction we’ve taken with Dash as well.

One of the greatest concerns with this form of feeding is choking. The best advice I ever read on this was from Baby Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. It said that the gagging reflex is entirely natural and something a parent doesn’t need to be concerned about. The trick is to know when it’s gagging and when it’s choking. To do this it’s simple: count to three. When your child is eating (yes, you really should be there with them!) if they start to gag/choke count to three, if they’re still doing it after the count of three THEN you intervene (watch this video from St John’s ambulance for more details on what to do if they choke). If they sort it out themselves, good work kid! And good work parent… I reckon it’s more stressful for us sometimes than them – I don’t think I’ll ever stop counting 1..2…3 if I see a child gagging.

9781408807569The premise of baby led weaning is that, from a young age, they and you eat the same things – not adults eating purees but kids getting to eat real food that hasn’t been processed already for them. The book that has helped us the most is The River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. The recipes and knowledge within it enabled us to have the confidence to make this step and enjoy it. I’ve loaned it out to a few friends and each of them has gone on to purchase their own copy. It’s a great resource and one of our regularly used cookbooks. I can remember the first time I made the courgette [zucchini] polpettes and how Mr Incredible exclaimed that he couldn’t believe they were in a baby cookbook. The flavour, especially with the lemon zest and garlic, was great. We make them with quinoa rather than breadcrumbs but otherwise leave the recipe as it stands and I include it below as an encouraging “taster” for you to try, especially if you have young kids.

Courgette Polpettes [aka zucchini balls)

River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, by Nikki Duffy

Author notes: These vegetarian ”meatballs” are inspired by a wonderful recipe from Italian food writer Ursula Ferrigno. Her original uses aubergines, but I really like this fresh-tasting zucchini version. You can easily double the quantities but you’ll probably need to cook the zucchini in batches.

Freezer-friendly: freeze the uncooked polpette. Defrost before baking.

For babies: these make nice finger food and will introduce your baby to lots of different flavours.

For grown-ups and older children: try adding a few toasted pine nuts to the mix.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp canola or olive oil
  • 500g zucchini, finely diced
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 generous tbsp grated parmesan, pecorino or other well-flavoured hard cheese
  • 1/2 ball of buffalo mozzarella (60-70g), diced
  • 50g breadcrumbs or cooked quinoa
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Oil a baking tray or line with a non-stick silicone liner.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and fry the zucchini for about 10 minutes, until tender and golden. Set aside to cool a little, then combine them with all the other ingredients to make a thick, sticky mixture. Season if you like (remember that the cheeses already contain salt).
  3. Take walnut-sized blobs of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until golden.
  4. Serve hot, warm or cold, on their own or with pita bread and a tomato salad or sauce.
  5. Makes about 12.

 

Weekly weeknight dinner: Chicken and Veggie Pasta Bake

We make this meal at least once a fortnight and we’re not board with it yet! The best thing about the meal (as we make it) is that with the additional load of vegetables it makes enough for our family (including leftovers for lunch) as well as a meal to give to another family, or a meal to freeze. I find that cooking on a budget often means boosting the vegetable to meat ratio in most of the recipes I find. Even though we eat organic vegetables, it still works out MUCH cheaper (and healthier) to use more veg than is often specified. As I heard someone say yesterday, meat in meals should be an addition rather than the main ingredient.

The base of the recipe is from Amanda at Foodbefore5, however, as you’ve likely guessed by now, I’ve made a few changes! The main change is that I’ve included a LOAD of veg (again, are you surprised?). Try it – unless you’re a vegetarian you won’t be disappointed… but if you are a vegetarian, i reckon it would work without the chicken and bacon too!

Ingredients

  • 500g packet dried pasta
  • 500g chicken thigh (if you get your chicken from a butcher, ask them to dice it for you – it saves so much effort and makes the meal able to be easily prepared with a wee one at your side!)
  • 100g bacon – chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic – finely diced
  • 600ml cream
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste (salt free)
  • 50 gr semi-dried tomatoes – diced (more if you like – I just ask for a small scoop from the deli so there’s no wastage, or I make my own if tomatoes are in season)
  • 50 gr olives (more if you like,  I just ask for a small scoop from the deli so there’s no wastage)
  • 1/2 cup cheese – grated (plus extra for topping)
  • 1 broccoli – finely chopped including most of the stalk
  • 2 zucchinis – chopped
  • 3 flat mushrooms – chopped
  • 1 bunch silver beet – chopped (Kale, spinach or beetroot leaves can also be used)

Method

  1. In a large saucepan, cook pasta according to packet directions
  2. While pasta is cooking, fry chicken, bacon & garlic in a frypan over high heat until chicken is cooked through
  3. While chicken mix is cooking, in a large bowl whisk together cream and tomato paste.
  4. Add chopped veg, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and 1/2 cup of cheese to the cream mixture and combine
  5. Add cooked chicken mixture (minus the oil – I use a slotted spoon to only get the bits I want)
  6. Drain the pasta and line the bottom of the dish you want to use with the pasta (as the meal makes quite a lot, I use about half the pasta for a standard casserole dish)
  7. Add the proportionate amount of the food in the bowl (i.e. if you used half the pasta use half the mixture)
  8. Mix that together in the casserole dish (if you have an enormous bowl you can mix it with the pasta before putting them all in together, I find though that this is much less messy)
  9. Once combined, top your pasta bake with cheese
  10. Either cover and refrigerate until required or cook immediately. If cooking immediately, cook for 20 minutes covered and a further 10 minutes uncovered. If cooking from having been refrigerated, cook for 30 minutes covered and then a further 10 minutes uncovered.
  11. With the remaining food, make up another pasta bake for friends or else pop it in a freezer bag (combining the pasta and mixture) and freeze for up to three months.

Flavour Gold: marinated stir-fry chicken with vegetables

I was searching the www for some new recipes and came along this one from Slender Kitchen. It’s for a slow cooked honey garlic chicken that I looked at and thought “elements of that would make a really nice marinade for a stir-fry”… so, I made a few changes and it appeared on our plates this evening in its updated form. The “flavour gold” title was given by Mr Incredible after his first taste… high praise as he’s not backward about being forward when the flavours aren’t to his taste! When probed for his reasons behind the name he said that “it was all there, sweet, salty, a bit of spice – YUM”. Adventure Girl also loved the meal – a bit of a treat for her as I wouldn’t usually give her something this high in salt (the tamari/soy is quite salty). Additionally, it’s not friendly for children under 1 due to the honey.

This fed two hungry adults plus a child and had enough left over for another meal to go in the freezer.  

Ingredients

  • 500 grams chicken (I used sliced organic chicken breast)
  • 4 finely diced garlic cloves
  • 2cm finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup tamari (or light soy sauce, however, I prefer tamari though due to the lower salt content)
  • 1/3 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes (add more according to taste)
  • 2-3 cups of vegetables of preference (I used a frozen organic stir-fry mix with some added veg as it had been a long day)

Method

  1. Place all ingredients excepting vegetables and chicken in a medium sized bowl. Whisk these together and when combined add the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (I prepared this earlier in the day and had it sitting in the fridge for 4 hours until it was time for dinner)
  2. Prepare vegetables (i.e. defrost or wash and cut ready for cooking)
  3. Heat a wok / frying pan and add 2 tsp of coconut oil.
  4. Stir fry chicken and marinade (the sauce will thicken with the cooking)
  5. When the chicken is mostly cooked, add the prepared vegetables
  6. Enjoy!

Serve with rice / quinoa / cous cous.

Obesity in Australia and the implications for our family

Last night after delivering a cake to a friend who’s just started the HSC (this is the NSW version of a student ranking exam for university entry) we picked up a pizza as a treat (Adventure Girl had already eaten a much healthier dinner!) and sat down to watch some TV. Ironically, the show we turned on was ABC’s 4 Corners episode on Obesity in Australia, Fat Chance. It was horrifying to hear and see that 70% of adults and 1 in 4 children in Australia are obese. One of the people interviewed, Deb Slorach, made a comment that is still ringing in my ears. In talking about her children and family’s eating habits she said how her children were brought up on junk food and she “look[s] back now and like that’s one of my biggest regrets in life. I think you know I set them up to fail you know and I hate that you know it… it hurts me that I’ve actually done this to my kids.”.

It was at this point in the program that Mr Incredible reached over and said “thank you for taking care of us”. Wow. What a wake up call and encouragement to make sure that take-a-way and processed food remains a treat, even after days that are full. We were thankful for the reminder that it should only be a treat and that bad habits are easy to form and even easier to pass on to our children. I admire Deb and the others who are reversing obesity in their lives with very hard work. I also admire the many who are intentional at stopping this trend and being responsible for what they eat and what they feed to their families.

Northern Chinese Dumplings – little bites of gold

I love dumplings. The problem is, whenever I’ve had MSG in the past year or more I’ve had some very unpleasant symptoms (Mr Incredible calls the reactions an MSG Hangover and all the symptoms are pretty much the same) so dumplings are often desired but rarely tasted. Last night though we made Beyond Jelly’s recipe http://www.beyondjelly.com/2011/08/jiaozi-recipe-northern-chinese.html and LOVED them. Adventure Girl had hers complimented by some frozen peas and corn with no dipping sauce and devoured them. I was a bit unsure about adding the Shaoxing rice wine with her eating and also being pregnant but rationalised that the quantity of alcohol they contain is virtually non-existent so added it regardless… still wondering on that one for next time though.

A few things we did differently to Beyond Jelly:

  1. I doubled the amount of ginger
  2. I used a chopstick to stir the mixture together and found it worked really well in combining the ingredients without pockets of mince clumped together
  3. Instead of vinegar we dipped them in Tamari with chopped chilli.

Here’s the recipe (taken from Beyond Jelly) and some photos we took:

Dumpling 2

Dumping 1

Dumpling 3

Dumpling 4

Dumpling 5

____________________

Makes 50 dumplings

300g Chinese cabbage (wombok), finely chopped
1 tsp salt
500g minced pork
75g Chinese garlic chives, finely chopped
2 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp cornflour
50 round wheat dumpling wrappers
Shanxi vinegar or dipping sauce
extra cornflour

Put the cabbage and salt in a bowl and toss to mix them together. Leave them for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes firmly squeeze handfuls of cabbage to get rid of all excess liquid and place in a large bowl. Add the pork, chives, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, ginger, and cornflour and mix all ingredients together.

Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wrapper. Dip your finger in water, trace it round the edge of the wrapper and fold the wrapper over to make a half-moon shape. Pinch the edges together, trying to remove any airpockets as you go.

Holding the dumpling in one hand, use your t hand to make pleats along the edge, working from one end of the half-moon to the other. Squeeze the edges together with each pleat so that a tight seal is made. [Tip: the dumpling pleats will seal better if your fingers are still slightly damp]

Place the dumplings on a tray dusted with cornflour. Don’t let them sit for too long as they will go soggy.

Boiled Dumplings:
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add half the dumplings and return to the boil, a quick stir often, so they don’t stick to the bottom or each other. Cook for 8-9 minutes. With a strainer, scoop the dumplings out of the water and set aside. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

Fried Dumplings:
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan. Add a single layer of dumplings and cook for 3 minutes or until dumpling bases are golden, shaking the pan lightly so the dumplings don’t stick. Add 79mL (1/3 cup) water, cover and steam for 3 minutes, then uncover and cook until the water has almost all evaporated. Repeat with remaining dumplings.

Serving: For a main meal, I usually allow 7-8 dumplings per person and have some vegies on the side. Serve with Shanxi vinegar, chinese red vinegar, or another dipping sauce.

To freeze uncooked dumplings:

Place a heaped tbsp cornflour in a freezer bag. Carefully place 16 dumplings inside, twist the top and carefully roll the dumplings round inside until they are all coated with the cornflour. Sprinkle with more cornflour if needed. Tie up the bag and place flat in freezer.

Cooking from frozen:
No need to defrost, just place the dumplings in a large saucepan of boiling water (at most 25 at one time), and return to boil. A quick stir often, so the dumplings don’t stick to the bottom, and cook for 12-15 minutes. The dumplings are usually cooked through about 4 minutes after they rise to the surface.

Notes: Garlic chives are a flat, fat chive. The chives, dumpling wrappers, cabbage, vinegar/dipping sauce, and rice wine can be found at asian grocery stores (in Australia). Large Australian supermarket chains in certain locations have chinese cabbage, Shaoxing rice wine and dumpling wrappers on the shelves.