Minestrone maybe? Chunky tomato soup

29 Dec

Cooking 4 Cheats tomato soup

I was craving tomato soup last night so I dived into the pantry to see what I could find. I came up trumps – a tin of crushed tomatoes and a bag of arborio rice. We’re off to a flying start! <insert tomato and rice photo>

Who doesn’t love a flavoursome, chunky tomato soup on a cold winter’s day?
(Or hot summer’s night as the case may be here in Australia.)

This one is so versatile, you can chuck almost anything you have in your fridge or pantry into it, and make a tasty dinner at very little cost. And if like me, you always end up with leftovers for lunch the next day, see my little tip at the bottom about making lunch extra tasty and a little different.

Here’s my recipe:

Ingredients:

(serves 2-3)
1 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1L water2 tsp chicken stock powder
1 tsp minced garlic
1 stick celery, sliced
1 small carrot, diced
1 rasher bacon, diced
1/2 a small onion, diced
2 shallots/spring onions, sliced
1 tsp Gourmet Garden basil
1 tsp Gourmet Garden thyme
1/2 cup arborio (risotto) rice
1/4 cup frozen peas and corn

arborio rice   vegeta chicken stock   thyme and basil tubes

Method:

1. Add water, chicken stock, garlic, celery and carrot to a medium-large saucepan, and turn it on high to start boiling.

2. Put the bacon, onion and the white ends of the shallots in a small frypan and cook about 5 mins until bacon becomes a bit crispy. Add this to the saucepan. Add the basil and thyme to the saucepan.

3.  Add 1/2 cup of arborio rice to the saucepan.

4. Turn the heat down to about three quarters and allow to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the frozen peas and corn, and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Serve sprinkled with the green sliced shallots and a side of crusty bread with lashings of butter.

Leftovers tip:

If you are going to have leftovers for lunch the next day, serve up the soup at dinner with more of the liquid in it. Why? The rice will continue to absorb water as it cools in the saucepan, so eventually it will soak up most of the soup. If you serve a little extra soup liquid at dinner time, what you will be left with the next day is a risotto-esque lunch you can eat with a fork. Add a hearty amount of parmesan cheese and some Castello blue cheese (my absolute favourite blue cheese!) for a taste sensation.

How (not) to cut an eggplant

14 Nov

As part of my audition video for Masterchef, we put together a little montage of a few chopping/slicing/throwing clips. Here’s me trying to flip a knife and then chop an eggplant with it… :)

I created these easy spiced eggplant canapes for the video audition if you’d like the recipe. They’re pretty easy and very tasty, even if you think you don’t like eggplant!

OMG Baked Brie

11 Oct

Mmm mmm mmm! That’s the sound your friends will make when you feed them this baked brie. It’s surprisingly easy to make and tastes mind-blowingly good!

baked brie cheese - a delicious treat to serve as part of a finger food platter

Ingredients:

one full round of brie

few sprigs thyme and rosemary

one clove garlic, finely sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Buy a full round of brie, preferably one in a wooden box as you can use this wooden box to bake it in. (See Note)

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan-forced, or 200°C non fan-forced).

Unwrap the brie, and discard the wrapper. Place the brie on a square of baking paper, enough to come up the sides of the box, and put it back into the box.

Cut a few holes into the top of the brie with a sharp knife and insert sprigs of thyme and rosemary, slivers of finely sliced garlic, and season with salt and pepper.

Cover the entire box loosely with a piece of aluminium foil and place in the oven for about 20 minutes.

This can be served in the box, or removed from the box (carefully!) and is best eaten with a knife and a fresh baguette.

Enjoy!

Notes:

You can get away with buying a cheaper brie and baking it in a small, preferably round, baking dish, by following the same baking paper and aluminum foil method.

Play around with flavours – try finely sliced sun-dried tomatoes and olives, with sprigs of oregano for a different taste.

Braided Breakdown

21 Jul

Sassy beauty tips from a sassy feline friend!

Scones with homemade nectarine jam

12 Mar

Who doesn’t love a good scone? Soft and fluffy, perfect will all kinds of topping, scones are really easy to make and everybody loves them. For this recipe below, I have appropriated the Queensland Country Women’s’ Association recipe and made a slight change.

Of course you have to have jam and cream for scones, so I decided to make my own jam. I had a couple of nectarines which were sweet and ripe, and the resulting jam was exactly the right amount for this batch of scones. It was surprisingly easy to make and given the small quantity, storage and sterilising of jam jars never even came into the picture.

My friends and I devoured a batch on Sunday afternoon, and they joked that with every scone they ate, the dollops of jam and cream got bigger, till they were almost bigger than the scone!

Scones with homemade nectarine jam

Scones with homemade nectarine jam


Ingredients:

Nectarine Jam:

(makes the perfect amount for a single batch of scones)

2 ripe nectarines (about 250g), diced into small pieces, stones and skins removed. (yields about 150g of fruit flesh)
100g caster sugar
Juice of 1/4 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir without boiling until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil and allow to simmer for around 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the fruit pieces. Allow to cool slightly, then blend with a stab mixer, to break down any remaining large pieces.

Scones:

(makes about 20)

The CWA recipe:

3 cups self-raising flour
1 cup cream  – my variation: 2/3 cup cream, 1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup milk
Pinch salt 

How to:

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Sift the salt and flour together in a large bowl. Make a well and gradually add the milk, cream and butter, mixing well to combine. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes until a smooth dough forms. Flatten to about 3cm thick and using a small round cutter cut scones out of dough. Place scones closely side by side (touching) on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush with a little milk or butter. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly golden.

Best served warm with lashings of jam and cream. Enjoy!

Variations

Other fruits I have tested with this jam recipe so far are sour morello cherries, strawberries and blueberries.

Easy Spiced Eggplant Canapes

29 Jan

These tender juicy little bites of vegetabley goodness are really cheap and easy to make. When someone thinks of canapés, or hors d’oeuvres, eggplant is not usually the first thing that comes to mind, but these delicious little nuggets are a real surprise that will impress your guests and leave you looking like a master chef!

These little bites are delicious, cheap and easy to make

Easy Spiced Eggplant Canapes

Ingredients:

(makes about 50 pieces)
1 eggplant, cubed
2 Tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 cup of plain flour
1 egg
1 Tablespoon milk
1 cup of bread crumbs

Dipping sauce:

¼ cup whole egg mayonnaise
¼ cup cream
2 teaspoons chicken stock powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
1 stalk sliced spring onions
salt & pepper to taste

How to:

Dice the eggplant into bite-size pieces. Mix 2 tablespoons salt and 2 teaspoons cumin together and dust over the cubed eggplant.

Set up three bowls: place 1 cup of flour in the first bowl; make an egg wash by whisking together the egg and milk in the second bowl; and the breadcrumbs in the third bowl.

Coat each piece thoroughly in flour, then in the egg wash, then coat liberally in bread crumbs.

Heat a fry pan over a medium heat with about a 1mm layer of canola oil (or other low-flavoured oil) to cover the base of the pan. Working in batches, fry the eggplant cubes, turning frequently, until browned and crunchy all over. Remove from the pan and drain any excess oil by placing the cubes on a paper towel.

Making the sauce:

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly, reserving a tsp of the sliced shallots for a garnish.

Enjoy!

Tips

It helps to work out a system by which you keep one hand dry and get one hand wet, otherwise the crumbing process turns into a much bigger mess than necessary! You can also use a fork to coat the pieces in egg and transfer them to the breadcrumbs to reduce the mess factor.
You can also fill a bag with flour and a bag with bread crumbs, place the pieces inside and shake well to coat. Do the breadcrumbing in smaller batches to ensure even coverage. I don’t recommend doing this with the egg wash.
These can also be made gluten free, if you substitute the flour and breadcrumbs for gluten free varieties. Orgran corn crispy crumbs make a tasty crispy coating, I found them in the gluten free section of my local supermarket. You can also leave out the milk from the egg wash for lactose intolerant guests.

Vanilla almond biscotti

22 Jan

I seem to be obsessed with all things sweet, and I love spending a Sunday afternoon baking up a batch of cookies to enjoy with an afternoon cuppa (and to take to work the next day to show off my wares). Biscotti are a traditional Italian biscuit, stemming from a Latin word that means “twice-baked”, this double baking process helps keep the biscotti fresh for a very long time. You can use a variety of whole nuts and some dried fruits in them to give them unique flavours, although the traditional kind were only made with almonds.

Vanilla almond biscotti

Vanilla almond biscotti

Ingredients:

(Makes about 80 pieces)

2 cups plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup caster sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste / vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves or nutmeg
1 cup almonds*

How to:

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a bowl. Add the caster sugar and mix together well. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and add the vanilla to the egg mixture. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, add the almonds and stir to combine into a smooth dough.

Flour your work surface well, keeping the flour handy, because you will probably need more than you think. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead until smooth, adding more flour to the surface and over the top of the mixture if it gets sticky.

Divide the dough in half and roll each portion into a log, about 20cm long. Flatten the logs slightly to create the classic oval biscotti shape.

Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and place in the oven for about 30-35 minutes. When it is ready, it should feel firm, but not rock hard.

Take the logs out of the oven and let them cool.

When cooled, use a serrated knife to cut into thin slices, about 3mm thick. Place the slices onto baking trays, lined with baking paper. I needed 3 large trays for this, and it’s ok to have the biscotti slices touching each other.

Bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until they feel crisp to the touch. Leave the slices to cool on the trays, before storing in an air-tight container.

Enjoy with coffee or tea (chai goes well with the vanilla flavour), or even a sweet dessert wine.

Variations:

Frangelico and hazelnut biscotti: substitute the vanilla for Frangelico, and the almonds for hazelnuts.

Christmas biscotti: Substitute the almonds for unsalted pistachios and add ½ cup dried cranberries.

Macadamia and white chocolate biscotti: Substitute the almonds for macadamias and add ½ cup white chocolate.

Notes:

* I recently found some delicious Coles brand ‘French vanilla almonds’ – almonds coated in a sweet vanilla toffee-like coating, in the deli section at Coles supermarkets. These taste especially good in this recipe. You could also try caramel or toffee almonds.

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