Tag Archives: food writing

Middle Eastern Pearl Barley Salad

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It’s the hint of sweet spices, orange juice and currants that I love most in this Middle Eastern spiced pearl barley salad.  The flavours and the irresistible turmeric colouring infuse into the nutty pearl barley, making every mouthful layered with taste. A sprinkling of toasted almonds, garnished over the top, adds the perfect and necessary crunchy texture to this salad. So it’s no surprise when people ask me to ‘bring a salad’ this is often the one I resort to.

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Let’s face it, dried grains, particularly pearl barley, are a very affordable way of feeding people. And unlike some of the other more robust pulses (chickpeas or black beans) pearl barley can be cooked straight from the packet, no pre soaking required. It makes it an excellent choice for those who forget to plan ahead – or for those who tend to leave cooking to the last minute.

This salad doubles as a side dish, and it works served either cold or served warm. Try it with these barbecued lamb skewers, or even this delicious Moroccan roasted chicken .

It combines effortlessly with an arrangement of other salads, like with this roasted cauliflower salad, or this Kale and pickled carrot slaw.

Because of the filling nature of grain salads there are often left overs (I’m not complaining). Put them to good use. I sometimes fry up any remaining pearl barley and eat it rolled in a wrap the next day with some tahini, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and green salad leaves.  It’s perfect lunch time fare.

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Middle Eastern Pearl Barley Salad

Ingredients 

1 cup pearl barley

1 brown onion, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

1 stick celery, roughly chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp all spice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin

1/3 cup dried currants

1 orange

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/3 cup toasted slithered almonds

Place the pearl barley in a pot, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil and cook for 35 – 40 minutes or till pearl barley is just cooked through. Drain and rinse briefly under hot water, set aside.

Meanwhile, place the roughly chopped onion, carrot and celery in a food processor and blitz lightly to a small dice.

Warm 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, add the vegetables, all the spices and a large pinch of salt, stir and cover with a lid, cook on a gentle heat for 5 minutes.

Zest half the orange, then juice the whole orange. Add the orange zest and juice to the saucepan along with the currants, cover with a lid again and cook a further five minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for flavours to infuse for 10 minutes.

Place the spiced vegetables and currants in a medium bowl, add the cooked pearl barley and chopped parsley, stir well to combine. Check the seasoning, and drizzle with a little more extra virgin oil if needed.

Serve on a platter or in a large bowl and scatter with the toasted almonds.

Any left overs store in the fridge for 2-3 days.

The Miraculous Flour-Less Chocolate Cake

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In 1996 my mother bought me a cookbook.

The book titled ‘YUM’ by Terry Durack, a well known Australian food writer and critic, still commands prime position on my now heavily laden shelf, 20 years on. There are several reasons for this. The most important one being the recipe for his Miraculous Flour-Less Chocolate Cake.

The binding of the book has long fallen from its cover. There are smudges of chocolate over its pages. The paper it was printed on is looking a dull shade of white yellow, but still this book remains on my shelf. Why? Because it’s the best darn chocolate cake I’ve ever baked!

I practically know the recipe off by heart, (I’ve baked it so many times), yet I still take the book out each time and savour those smudges, those faded pages, and the reminiscing it invokes of all the times I’ve cooked and eaten this cake from this cookbook.

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I was a third year apprentice chef, learning the ways of the kitchen, and how to thrive in (at the time) a male dominated industry, when I was given this book. Lets say it has sentimental value. ‘Yum’ reminds me of long hard days working in professional kitchens, being young and free, learning to cook, and what makes a good recipe. And my Mother, it reminds me of my Mother.

But the Miraculous flour-less chocolate cake recipe, lets talk about that! I think it’s the fudge like consistency that I’m most attracted to. It’s never dry like some flour based chocolate cakes can be. The blending of melted chocolate, butter and almond meal feels strong, and then the folding of whisked egg whites makes it light. 

For me, the importance of good cook books are the memories they can invoke. We’ve all been exposed to many an average cookbook. You know the ones. Someone gains a little celebrity status and they then write a cookbook book full of over saturated recipes trying to make us believe they are experts in the felid of cooking. Those cookbooks leave me feeling uninspired.

‘Yum’ on the other hand is of a different era, where cookbooks were peoples life work; recipes they’d been cooking for years. Recipes of substance and worth.

To quote Terry Durack, in reference to his Miraculous Flour-Less Chocolate Cake recipe he says ‘I borrowed it from Jill Dupleix, who borrowed it from Elizabeth David, who borrowed it from the French. It taught me the value of borrowing recipes’.

And his words in turn taught me the value of sharing recipes. Enjoy!

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The Miraculous Flour-Less Chocolate Cake

(Adapted slightly from ‘Yum’ – Terry Durack)

200g 70% cocoa dark chocolate

150g caster sugar

150g butter, diced

100g ground almonds (almond meal)

5 free range eggs, separated

To Finish

Dutch cocoa or icing sugar 

Cream or ice-cream 

Pre heat oven to 175C Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.

Melt the chocolate, sugar and butter in a bowl sitting on a pot of simmering water.

Remove from heat, stir thoroughly to combine. Mix in the ground almonds, then beat in the egg yolks one by one.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and stir a couple of spoonfuls into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, before gently folding in the rest.

Pour into the cake tin, and bake for 40 minutes.

Leave to cool slightly before removing from tin. Dust with cocoa, or icing sugar, or eat as is. Serve with cream or ice cream.

 

Parsnip And Pear Soup With Crispy Sage And Brown Butter

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The humble parsnip, in all its creamy-white glory, benefits immensely from being cooked with something naturally sweet. I think of parsnips roasted with honey, yes please! Parsnips grated and baked into a cake, sure why not? Even this parsnip soup benefits from a little sweet kick.

This addition of a natural sweetener to parsnips makes perfect sense to me. Apparently if parsnips are picked before they receive a night or two of a cold frost the natural sugars don’t develop properly and then the parsnips lack the sweetness they deserve. I can only assume the parsnips I bought fell to this fate. But that’s where a little kitchen intuition and a piece of fruit – in this case pear – can come to the rescue.

Now! Enter the burnt butter with crispy sage.

Are you familiar with that moment when fresh sage hits foaming butter in a hot pan and it begins to froth and splatter, the sage crisping in front of your eyes? Or when the butter begins to turn to a shade of golden nuttiness and you just know it’s time to add a squeeze of lemon juice? Sigh! I love those moments. They don’t happen too often in my kitchen but for this soup it was the crowning glory, the finishing touch, the necessary addition. I imagine you’ll think so too.

 

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Parsnip and pear soup with sage and brown butter

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1 brown onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 sticks celery, diced

2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

600g parsnips, peeled and sliced into rounds

1/2 cup white wine

1 large pear, peeled and cut into large pieces

1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup Greek style yoghurt

For the burnt sage butter

75g salted butter

handful of picked fresh sage leaves

squeeze lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan; add the onion, garlic, celery, parsnip and chopped sage, season with salt and pepper and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Turn the heat up, add the white wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped pear and chicken stock, bring to the boil then cook on a medium heat for 25 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat, add the yoghurt and blitz the soup with a stick blender or food processor till smooth. Check the seasoning.

For the burnt butter, place a fry pan on a high heat, once heated add the diced butter, swirl the pan. As the butter melts and starts to froth throw in the sage leaves, swirl the pan as they crisp. Right at the moment the butter looks like it can’t froth any more, and before it turns too dark, remove the pan from the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and swirl a final time.

Ladle the parsnip soup into 4 bowls and drizzle the crispy sage and burnt butter over the top.

 

Pork, Ginger And Coriander Dumplings With Garlic Chilli Oil

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I have to remind myself time-and-again to get the kids cooking in the kitchen. It’s too easy to fall into the pattern of – I can do it faster and cleaner – and weeks can go by before I realise they haven’t cooked a thing (apart from toast).

One of our most popular dinners are these pork and coriander dumplings. My ten year old in particular has taken a keen interest in homemade foods and declares that these dumplings are the best! Even better than the ones we eat out in Ashfield – the dumpling capital of the Inner West! (You’ve gotta love ten year olds for their biased enthusiasm).

Rolling dumplings is the perfect excuse to pull up a seat and sit with my son whilst we chat and prepare food together. I actually manage to get more than yes and no answers out of him and we both feel a sense of connection by the time the batch has been rolled. We get a production line going and I tell him once the dumplings are sealed he needs to shape the tops, reminiscent of the sails on the Opera House.

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It becomes an exciting week-night evening when dumplings are on the menu. My daughter takes great pride in setting the table. She lays out Asian placemats, chop sticks, tea cups, sometimes a candle is lit, and there is always a large pot of jasmine tea in the centre of the table.

The most important ingredient here is the pork mince. I only make dumplings when I go to my local butcher and get the pork freshly minced. So please don’t buy your mince from the supermarket, it’s often sat there for days with added preservatives to keep it going (and goodness knows what else other than pork has been minced through it too). Quality always comes at a cost, the cost of giving up convenience. But I am more than happy to do that when it comes to fresh food. And really, we all know free-range and fresh is best.

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Once you have the best mince you can get your hands on, you’ll need a dipping sauce. My preference is always to make a 50/50 mix of Chinese red vinegar with soy sauce, and them add measured amounts of my homemade chilli oil to that (recipe below). The chilli oil stores for weeks and can also be drizzled on all manner of other foods besides dumplings.

You’ll need a big bowl of steamed Asian greens, that I tend to quickly toss with fried garlic and a dash of oyster sauce. And if it’s your preference (sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t) some steamed rice.

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Pork, ginger and coriander dumplings with garlic chilli oil

For the dumplings 

450g free range pork mince

1 tbsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

2 tbsp chopped coriander stem

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp Chinese red vinegar

1 tsp sesame oil

1 free range egg

large pinch ground white pepper

30 (1 pkt) Gow gee wrappers (available in Asian food stores)

Dipping sauce

equal quantities of soy sauce and Chinese red vinegar

To serve

Steamed Asian greens

Chilli oil

Steamed rice – optional

Place all the ingredients for the pork and coriander dumplings except the gow gee wrappers a large bowl. Mix till well combined.

Lay out 6 gow gee wrappers on a clean bench. Dip a pastry brush in water and lightly wet the outer rim in a circular motion around the pastry.  Place less than a tbsp (more like two heaped tsp) of pork filling in the centre of each wrapper. Fold the wrapper over, and pinch to seal. Sit the base of the dumpling on the bench as you use both hands to crimp the top the pastry into a pinched pattern. Set aside on a clean tray and repeat process with remaining ingredients till all dumplings are rolled.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, gently add the dumplings and stir to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Boil for 3 – 4 minutes. Drain and place on a platter. Serve with dipping sauce, chilli oil (see recipe below), steamed greens and optional steamed rice.

For the chilli oil 

It’s important here to buy large dried chillies best found in Asian market stores. The larger ones are not as hot as the smaller variety and have a sweeter taste, perfect for this chilli oil.

20g (about 15) large dried red chillies

2 cloves garlic, grated

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup rice bran oil

Place the whole chillies in a bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain and squeeze remaining water from the chillies, roughly chop them and place in a small blender with the garlic, salt and half the oil, blitz till chilli is roughly chopped.

Pour the chilli oil into a small sauce pan, add the remaining oil and turn the heat to very low, cook the chilli oil on a low heat for at least one hour, stir occasionally. Set aside to cool. Store in a clean glass jar for 4-6 weeks.

Add a drizzle of the chilli oil to the soy and vinegar dipping sauce and lather the dumplings with this.

(C) Recipe and photography copyright 2016 Food From Michelle’s Kitchen

Raspberry Almond And Buttermilk Cake

 

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It doesn’t come naturally for me to share my personal life here on my blog, this has always been a space to share recipes, post my photographs, and write about food. But there are some things, and some events, that change everything. These are the ones that must be shared. So it seems as good a time as any to spill the beans that I’m six months pregnant. In just under 3 months time our lives here will be far from quiet!

This will be my third baby (yikes!). I have no illusions of grandeur, of getting any sleep for the first six months, or of having any time to my self really. I daydream about sleepily rolling out my yoga mat with baby by my side as I try to establish back my post baby yoga-body. I console and remind myself that my ten and seven year olds will be excellent helpers and of course my husband too, who this being his first baby can’t wait to experience every moment of it.

Then, as I have always done over the years, to settle my nerves, or calm my mind, I turn to my kitchen, and I cook.

 

 

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And what better thing for a pregnant woman to cook than cake! Cake has been my saving grace, my shining knight, my obsession.

The golden hue to this – I’d almost say wholesome – cake is largely due to the whole wheat flour and brown, rather than white, sugar, with the added benefit of almond meal and sliced almonds for protein. This more wholesome style of baking is becoming my preference.

I like less sugar in my cake. I feel happier about eating it if there’s fibre, and whole grains, and now that I’m eating for two there’s a satisfaction and fullness that comes from altering white flours, and white sugars, for their less processed cousin.

 

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The first slices of this raspberry, almond and buttermilk cake, served still warm from the oven, are the best. The days that follow, I like to lightly warm the cake through, and always find the excuse to serve it with cream.

Frozen raspberries are perfectly fine for baking, yet if you can get some fresh ones to garnish the cake with you’ll be all the more happier for the effort.

 

Raspberry, almond and buttermilk cake 

150g softened butter

100g brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

2 free range eggs

200g plain whole meal flour

50g almond meal

1/2 tsp bi carb soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup frozen raspberries

40g sliced almonds

To serve

Cream

Fresh raspberries

Pre heat oven to 175C Line a 23cm spring form cake tin with baking paper.

Place the butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whisk on a medium high speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time beating between additions, and scraping down the sides of the bowl till fully incorporated.

Sift the bi carb and baking powder onto the butter mixture, add the whole meal flour, almond meal and buttermilk and beat till well combined.

Add the frozen raspberries and fold gently to combine. Spread the cake evenly into the lined tin, sprinkle the top with the sliced almonds and bake for 50 minutes, or till an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove the spring form tin and cool the cake on a wire rack. For best results, serve slices of warm cake with cream and fresh raspberries.

 

 

 

 

An Abundance Of Lemons And How To Preserve Them

 

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One of the first things that drew me to the house we have lived in for the past couple of years were the two lemon trees growing in the back yard. This is not entirely unusual for Sydney, yet to find a sunny back yard that had TWO established lemon trees was a bonus. It not only appealed to my culinary side, but also helped me feel a tiny step closer to my long-term dream of living on a property where we will one day grow, pick, and eat our own food (I did say long-term right?)…

As much as the flavour of lemons are reminiscent of summer, my trees bare their fruit in winter. This means each year I have an abundance of fruit to use, and I inevitably end up preserving more than a handful of jars of lemons to extend their shelf life.

Lemons are the citrus of choice for most cooks; I certainly would be at a loss without them in my kitchen. And although I love to preserve them I use them in all manner of cooking. 

When I use their pungent zest in cakes, or dressings,or marinades, I delight in the fact that their skin, let alone juice, has so much flavour to offer. Having home-grown lemons means no wax ( it drives me crazy that the shop-bought lemons are coated in a thin layer of wax, why do they have to do this!). Wax-free lemons should be available to all. It’s unadulterated zest, the best of its kind.

The juice of lemons can be a cooks best friend in the kitchen, and as a rule of thumb, keeping one or two in the fruit bowl will enhance all manner of dishes. Again, the juice is excellent in marinades, especially for chicken. Green tahini dressing is lifted to new heights, and even just a small squeeze of the pale yellow liquid will enhance soups, stews, or any slow cooked meats.

 

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Preserving lemons is very simple. The preparation is next to nothing: it’s the preserving that takes time; I leave mine at least six weeks and up to several months. The salt and juice slowly break down and soften the flesh whilst also mellowing the flavour, and this process just can’t be hurried.

As with all of the above ways of using fresh lemons, preserved lemons can be applied in much the same manner.

Check out this chermoula recipe for marinating and roasting on a chicken, or these lamb skewers  perfect for barbecuing.

I usually use a few 750ml parfait jars with working seals on them, but I also utilise large glass jars that I’ve washed and stored exactly for this reason.

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Preserved lemons

Makes 3-4 jars

Ingredients

15 large juicy lemons (wax free if you can)

3/4 cup cooking salt

12 cardamon pods

3 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp whole  black pepper corns

First you need to sterilise the jars. Pre heat oven to 120C. Remove the rubber seal, wash the jars in warm soapy water, rinse, place on a tray and place in the oven for about 25 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave them there till you are ready to fill them.

Wash lemons. Take 10-12 of the lemons and cut in half. Slice through each half leaving 4cm of the top of the lemon un-cut. Squeeze the majority of the juice from each lemon and set the juice aside in a jug.

Juice the remaining 3-5 lemons, and add this to the reserved lemon juice. You should by this stage have about 3 cups of lemon juice.

Sprinkle the salt all over the cut lemons, rubbing it into the flesh. Take the sterilised jars from the oven and stuff each jar with lemons, press them in firmly to fill the jars. Divide the cardamon pods, coriander seeds and peppercorns between the jars. Then divide the lemon juice between the jars pouring it over the lemons. Top up each jar with boiling water so the lemons are completely covered.

Seal the lids and gently shake the jar several times to combine. Place lemons on a shelf in the pantry to preserve for about 6 weeks, or longer. Once you open a jar refrigerate the contents for up to 2 months.

Creamy Black Rice With Ginger, Coconut And Mango

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I wouldn’t for a minute want you to think that this is a breakfast dish I eat regularly. It’s not. Most mornings it’s homemade muesli with yoghurt and fruit, or my latest obsession a green smoothie with chia seeds. But every now and then, when time and circumstances permit, I turn to this slightly exotic, utterly creamy, black rice.

In my kitchen black rice would usually find its way into salads, be used in a vegetable fritter, or be served under a spicy beef curry. So I admire it for finding it’s way to my breakfast table. The nutty wholesome flavour agrees with my tastebuds and funnily enough, unlike white rice, it’s rather soothing on the digestive system. Probably because it’s gluten free. 

I’ve used fresh ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to delicately impart their flavours, and honey to sweeten at the end. On other occasions I have instead used vanilla bean and pure maple syrup (also delicious). And always coconut milk.

Slices of mango, now that they are in season, are sweet and tropical but not essential. The berries are though! These add a crucial sour taste and of course essential vitamins and antioxidants. And with all the antioxidants already contained within this gorgeously coloured black rice (which actually turns purple after cooking) you’ll be super charged with goodness for what ever the day ahead may bring. 

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Creamy black rice with ginger, coconut and mango

Ingredients

1/2 cup black rice

500ml water

400ml can organic coconut milk 

4 cardamon pods

2cm piece ginger, sliced

4 cloves

1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces

1 1/2 tbsp honey or pure maple syrup

To serve:

Sliced fresh mango

Blueberries

Toasted coconut chips – optional 

Place the rice in a medium-small saucepan, cover with 500ml water, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and cook for 25 minutes. By this stage nearly all the water will have evaporated but don’t drain or rinse the rice. Add the coconut milk and bring back to the boil.

Meanwhile, place the sliced ginger and cardamon pods in a small mortar and pestle and bruise lightly for the flavours to release. Add these to the rice along with the cloves and cinnamon. I don’t bother tying up my spices in muslin cloth as I don’t have a problem picking out the spices at the end. If this bothers you, maybe you might. Continue cooking the black rice on a gentle simmer for a further 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Once rice is cooked, remove what spices you can find and stir through the honey. Set aside to cool slightly before serving. In fact in hotter weather it’s nice when it’s served almost cold.

Divide the rice between bowls, top with blueberries (or any other fresh berry), sliced mango and toasted coconut chips. 

(C) Copy right 2016 – Creamy black rice with ginger, coconut and mango