Pesto

Pesto is a super easy way to add some serious flavour to a whole variety of dishes.

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In my first trip overseas as an adult, I went to Italy and stayed in a little town on the Cinque Terre coast…take me back! While I was there, I did a cooking course, which involved making pesto, Italian style. All the participants made their own version of pesto, using the same 6 ingredients, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and salt, just adding our own quantity of each ingredient. We then tried everyones pesto, and they were all so different, it was incredible. I have no idea what the quantities of my pesto back then were, but this recipe outlines the quantities I use now.

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I like to use pesto as a dip, to mix through pasta, vegetables or risotto or even to make scrambled eggs more delicious (see recipe below). One of my favourite dishes to use pesto in is my Roast Tomato and Pesto Risotto, a lighter risotto that is great for warmer nights.

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Nutritionally, the pine nuts in pesto provide a good source of protein and healthy fats. The olive oil is also and excellent source of healthy fats. Garlic is from the allium family and has a great deal of health benefits and can help boost the immune system, decrease blood pressure and it is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C and selenium. The basil itself, which makes up the majority of the pesto, and actually belongs to the same family as mint. It is a potent antibacterial that contains antioxidants, including polyphenols flavonoids and anthocyanin. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties.

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Pesto, is something you can make and store in the fridge. It will keep well, provided it isn’t exposed to the air. Covering the exposed pesto with a layer of olive oil will keep it fresh.

Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large handfuls of basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (toasting optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Begin by toasting the pine nuts in a small frypan over medium heat, until they are golden brown. This step isn’t necessary, but it gives the pesto a deeper flavour if you do toast them. Allow them to cool completely.
  2. Place the basil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan into the food processor, process for~1 minute. With the motor running, add the olive oil and process until smooth.
  3. Set aside until needed.

 

Pesto Scrambled Eggs:

  1. To make the pesto scrambled eggs, combine 1-2 eggs per person into a small bowl, along with 1 tsp of cream per person, 2 tsp of pesto, salt and pepper. Beat well to combine.
  2. Heat a small non-stick fry pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbs of olive oil and gently pour the egg mix into the frypan. Gently move the eggs around the pan with a spatula, until just cooked and glossy.
  3. Once the mixture is glossy, turn off the heat and serve the eggs.

 

Easy Summer Salad

A salad with some BBQ’d meat is one of the quickest and easiest meals you can have.

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Yesterday, we had some great friends over for an easy BBQ dinner and I threw this salad together. A salad doesn’t need to follow a recipe, and can use literally whatever ingredients you have in the fridge. There are just a few key things that take a salad from good to amazing:

  1. A combination of cooked and raw vegetables. This gives the salad an extra dimension. Common veggies that I will include in a salad are roast pumpkin, blanched broccoli or beans and grilled zucchini.
  2. Some crunch, and I’m talking more than just the crunch of carrot or lettuce – some form of nut or seed, preferably toasted works really well.
  3. Fruit. Some people will disagree with putting fruit in a salad, but I love the sweet pops that you get in a salad that has fruit. Apple, pear, pomegranate, stone fruit and mango all work really well.
  4. A well balanced dressing. Think sweet, salt, acid. The dressing is what brings the whole salad together and while many people believe that salad dressings are unhealthy, that is often not the case, and when made from scratch they can be a great way to add some essential fats to the salad in the form of quality oils.
  5. Protein. This can be some form of cheese, legume, nut or seed, or if you’re looking for a more substantial salad, a meat, chicken or fish.

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Before making this salad, I knew I was going to use lettuce, some of the tomatoes from our garden, roast pumpkin and feta. As a started putting it together, all the other ingredients were just what was in the fridge, and in the end it came together to be quite the delicious salad.

When making your next salad, don’t over complicate it, use what you have on hand and follow my five tips above (or this recipe) and you’ll take your salads to the next level.

Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Serves 4-6 as a side

  • 250g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes, roasted
  • 1 tbs EVOO
  • 4 large handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves
  • 1 large handful of rocket leaves
  • 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 12 green beans, blanched and cut in half
  • 1/2 an avocado, cut into cubes
  • 50g feta cheese
  • Seeds of 1/2 a pomegranate
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

Dressing:

  • 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • Leaves of 2 thyme sprigs
  • Handful of basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the chopped pumpkin into a small bowl, add olive oil and mix to coat. Place onto the tray and cook for ~35 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  2. Top and tail the beans and place into a small bowl. Cover with boiling water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Run under cold water to refresh, cut beans in half.
  3. Make the dressing by placing all ingredients into a jar and shake well to combine. Set aside.
  4. Place lettuce leaves and rocket into a large bowl. Top with chopped tomato, pumpkin, beans, avocado. Just before serving, dress salad and gently toss to combine. Top with pomegranate seeds, crumbled feta and toasted almonds.
  5. Enjoy.

Honey Mustard & Rosemary Roasted Carrots

We have a lot of carrots growing in our garden this Summer, so they have made a very regular appearance on our plates, and as a result we have excellent night vision!! 😉

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Do carrots actually help us see in the dark? Not directly, but Vitamin A deficiency can lead to a progressive eye disease called xerophthalmia, that can damage normal vision, leading to night blindness. So, by eating your carrots, you’re less likely to become vitamin A deficient, and less likely to have reduced ability to see in low light.

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Tonight, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and make a modern take on the good old honeyed carrots. When I was thinking up this dish, I knew I wanted honey, but was tossing up between honey-rosemary or honey-mustard, so rather than choosing, I thought I’d give the honey-mustard-rosemary combination a go, and it worked really well. If you don’t have baby carrots, you can use normal carrots, just cut them into thick sticks.

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Carrots are a very versatile vegetable that can be readily eaten as they are raw, with a dip, roasted, in a casserole or muffin, in a salad or as part of a juice. They are a great source of fibre and contain beta carotene, which is absorbed and converted to vitamin A. They also contain the antioxidants, carotenoids, which reduce free radicals in the body, providing a protective effect against cancer.

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The kids really enjoyed these carrots, most likely because they are sweeter than the normal carrot, but I’m ok with that. I’m lucky that our kids happily eat raw and cooked veggies without too many sauces or dressings, however, if I had a fussy eater, I would be tossing carrots in honey regularly if it meant they would eat them!

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These are a great accompaniment to a meat or fish dish or even to go with a BBQ.

Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Serves 4 as a side

  • 12 baby carrots, leaves trimmed and washed
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sprig rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbs honey, slightly heated
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pepper

Dressing:

  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tbs rosemary, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Wash and scrub the carrots and place into a large bowl. Add in the oil, rosemary, honey, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Spread out onto prepared baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes or until carrots start to caramelise.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by placing all ingredients into a small bowl and mix well until combined.
  5. Once the carrots are cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly for ~5 minutes. Place into a bowl and pour over the dressing. Gently toss to combine.
  6. Place onto serving plate and drizzle remaining dressing over the top if desired.

Tuna and Bean Nicoise Style Salad

First of all, apologies for my absence in posting new recipes, but the holiday season and lack of routine has left me trying recipes out of new cookbooks I have been given or making quick meals, therefore, not coming up with anything creative and worthy of posting, but I’m back and will be aiming to post new recipes a little more frequently, as well as hoping to make a start on my cookbook this year!

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Tuna and beans (from a tin) are 2 ingredients which are highly nutritious and can be used as a meal in themselves or added to other amazing ingredients to make something really special, such as this salad.

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My inspiration for this salad came from an Instagram post from one of my oldest friends and ex-housemate. She was given a whole heap of tomatoes from her neighbour on a 40 degree day and mixed them with beans, tuna and pickled onions and lunch was sorted! This set my tastebuds tingling, so I sought out what we had in the vegetable garden and added a few more ingredients to the base, along with a dressing and thus we have this salad. Perfect as a meal by itself or you can omit the tuna and serve as a salad at a BBQ.

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Tuna, or other oily fish (salmon, sardines, cod) should be eaten three times per week to get the required amount of essential fatty acids the body needs. As most people wouldn’t eat whole or filleted fish three times per week, tinned fish is not only convenient, it also makes reaching this target more achievable. Tinned tuna is great for a snack and also a great addition to a salad to make it into a meal. My favourite tinned tuna is Sirena tuna as it’s not as fishy or cat food like as some of the other brands. Essential fatty acids, or omega 3s are really important for brain and heart health and have also been shown to improve mental health when consumed regularly, as well as decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease.

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You can use any beans for this salad. Four bean mix, borlotti, chickpeas, butter beans, cannellini beans, red kidney beans, whichever you feel like using. The beans I used, on this particular occasion, were chosen by Mark and Claire (who loved the salad by the way). If you prefer to soak your own beans then feel free to do so. Beans are a great source of fibre and non-animal protein, making them a really good choice for vegetarians and vegans to help to get adequate protein in the diet. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you would obviously omit the tuna from this recipe and the feta.

Enjoy xx.

 

Ingredients:

Serves 5

  • 2 x 400g tins beans (I used butter beans and cannellini beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 cob of corn, kernels removed
  • 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g green beans, ends trimmed, blanched and cut into thirds
  • 1/2 lebanese cucumber, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 50g olives, roughly chopped
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 an avocado, cubed
  • 50g feta, crumbled
  • 190g tin Sirena tuna, oil drained

Dressing:

  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp capers, chopped

Method:

  1. Slice the onion as thinly as you can (a mandolin works well here) and place into a small bowl along with the white wine vinegar. Mix well and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Place the rinsed beans in a large bowl, along with the corn kernels, tomatoes, cucumber, green beans, olives, spring onion and parsley. Mix well to combine.
  3. Prepare the dressing by placing all ingredients into a small bowl and stirring well to combine.
  4. Add the avocado and feta to the beans, pour the dressing over the top and gently toss to allow the dressing to spread through the salad.
  5. Place into a serving dish or onto plates and top with tuna.

Spring Pea and Broad Bean Salad

Now that spring is well and truly here, fresh salads are back on the menu. Our veggie garden is also ripe for the picking, with the main vegetables being broad beans and snow peas, so it made sense to make this super easy and delicious salad.

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If you haven’t tried broad beans before, I highly recommend trying them. They are great in a salad, with pasta or made into a dip. They do take a little bit of work to peel, but are worth it. If you grow broad beans at home and have a lot of them, you can shell them, blanch them and then freeze them for later.

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I have used Meredith dairy marinated goats feta for this salad, mainly because i love it, but you can use any goats cheese or feta you like. The combination of this cheese with the mint and lemon juice really compliments the beans and peas and lifts this salad.

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My kids love snow peas and normal peas, so adding broad beans and feta (another one of their favourites) meant this was a great one for them also.  Mark and Claire helped me to shell the broad beans as well, which they enjoyed and were much more proficient at than this time last year 🙂

Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 2 cups shelled broad beans
  • 1 cup shelled peas or frozen peas
  •  2 cups snow peas
  • 50g Meredith Dairy marinated goats feta
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Method:

  1. Place broad beans, snow peas and peas into a bowl and blanch by covering with boiling water and allow them to sit for 2-3 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to refresh.
  2. Add olive oil and lemon juice and toss to combine.
  3. Add feta and mint and carefully toss to combine.
  4. Serve with fish, meat or as a side to your favourite main.

Sweet Potato, Thyme and Polenta Chips

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Polenta chips are a good alternative to your normal potato chip. They are simple to make, but do require a bit of planning as the polenta needs to set before the chips are baked. The final product is a crunchy outside with a soft inside that has a slight sweetness due to the sweet potato.img_1713.jpg

Polenta is an Italian staple that is also known as cornmeal. It is gluten free, making it suitable with individuals with Coeliac Disease or gluten intolerance. It can be consumed hot and soft, almost like a porridge or can be left to set, as I have done in this recipe. The sweet potato, thyme and parmesan cheese give these chips a bit more pizazz and flavour than a normal polenta chip. Polenta chips are a great accompaniment to a piece of meat, fritters, rissoles, or even on their own as a snack. If you were having guests, they could take a spot of another carby dish, such as a potato salad or roast potatoes.img_1714.jpg

Initially, the kids weren’t too sure about these, but once they tried them, they were hooked, which is great, as polenta chips make a good snack or lunch food for the kids. These chips can be made and refrigerated or frozen prior to baking, making them quite quick and easy to make once they have been prepared. They will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge and 1 month in the freezer, so I’d suggest making 1-2 batches and freezing what you don’t need so you can just pop them out and into the oven to crisp up.

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img_1718.jpgEnjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 cup mashed sweet potato
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs thyme, chopped
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. Line a 30 x 40cm baking dish with baking paper.
  2. To make sweet potato mash, peel and chop sweet potato and cook in a steamer basket over boiling water. Once soft, mash sweet potato and set aside.
  3. Bring 4 cups of water to the boil in large pot. Once boiling, add the polenta and cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for 15 minutes. Once cooked, add the sweet potato, thyme, butter and parmesan and stir until smooth.
  4. Pour the polenta into the baking dish and smooth out evenly. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until polenta is cool and firm.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  6. Remove the polenta from the fridge and remove from the tray onto a chopping board. Cut the polenta into chips, about 2cm thick, and place onto baking tray. Once all chips are cut, brush with oil, taking care when turning them, and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Place into the oven for 30 minutes, turning the chips after 15 minutes.

Potato Salad

A potato salad is a fabulous addition to any barbecue and is also a good alternative to mashed potato, jacket potato or oven baked potatoes. The other bonus is that it is actually quick and easy to make, with the most time consuming part being waiting for the potatoes to cool.

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A lot of potato salads use mayonnaise and sour cream as the dressing, but I like to use a thick Greek style yoghurt with a small amount of mayonnaise and herbs and mustard to give the flavours. The yoghurt makes the dressing higher protein and lower fat than if you were to use mayo and sour cream.

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The humble potato often gets a bad wrap, being a high GI carbohydrate, but it is actually very good for you. It is a good source of dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate and potassium. The key is to not go overboard. By cooking and cooling a potato (as you would in a cold potato salad) the starch structure of the potato actually changes, increasing the resistant starch, which resists digestion and promotes gut health, feeding the good bacteria in the large bowel. A cooked and cooled potato is also a lower GI option, meaning that it causes less of a spike in blood sugar levels, making it more suitable for individuals with insulin resistance or Diabetes. I also like to leave the skins on for a potato salad, as a lot of the nutrients in a potato are stored in the skin, and the skin is adds more dietary fibre to the dish. You can also use sweet potato or a combination of the two for something different.

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Another thing to keep in mind when making a potato salad is to use the number of small-medium potatoes per person you are feeding. ie. if you are feeding 4 people, use 4 small to medium potatoes to get the portions right.IMG_9275

If you are time poor, you could boil the potatoes and leave them to cool in the fridge overnight or throughout the day and then pull them out, put the dressing together and you would have a potato salad in about 5 minutes at the end of the day.

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I have found that the kids can be hit and miss with potato salad, even though potatoes are one of their favourite foods. Kids, in general, often prefer foods that are less flavoursome and more bland than adults and I think that it is the dressing that throws them. Often, when we have potato salad, if I can’t be bothered enduring the battle, I will just leave some potatoes out undressed, so they can just have boiled potatoes instead – makes for more peaceful meal times!!

Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 4 small to medium potatoes
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 3 rashers bacon, fat trimmed, diced
  • 2 eggs, hard boiled (optional)
  • 3-4 heaped tbs thick Greek style yoghurt
  • 1 1/2 tbs whole egg mayonnaise
  • 1 small gherkin, finely diced
  • 1 tsp baby capers, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs dill, finely chopped + a sprinkle to garnish
  • 1 tbs parsley, finely chopped + a sprinkle to garnish
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Chop potatoes into 2-3cm cubes and place into a pot of boiling water. Cook for ~15 minutes or until potato is tender but still holds its shape. Once cooked, drain water and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating to cool completely.
  2. If using eggs, place them into the boiling water with the potato to cook.
  3. Heat a medium sized frypan over medium heat. Add bacon and onion and cook, stirring, until bacon starts to colour and onion becomes translucent. Allow to cool.
  4. To make the dressing, combine yoghurt, mayonnaise, gherkin, capers, mustards, dill and parsley into a small bowl. Mix well to combine and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Once the potato is cool, place into a large bowl. Peel and roughly chop the eggs (if using) and add to the potato along with the bacon and onion. Place dressing on top and using a large spoon or your hands, gently mix to coat thoroughly. Place into serving bowl and garnish with reserved herbs.