Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pumpkin Salad with Avocado, Pecans, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

New Year's resolution-making already for 2015: more blogging! It's been over a month since I've posted, but since then: my job in Sydney finished, my Australian visa ran out, we've packed up and shipped all of our possessions, and I've moved back to Texas temporarily while I wait on the state department to approve the hubs to join me in the USofA. Needless to say, it's been busy.

But we're still cooking, and this is my first post from the Southern homeland I still call home. Have done a swift transfer from summer-weather salads to winter-themed dishes here in Texas, even though the weather is not quite frosty yet. The beautiful, delicious salad recipe shared below is just perfect for the holiday season, weather you're in the northern or the southern hemisphere. I made it in Sydney on Thanksgiving last month with my wonderful in-laws and will be making it again in Texas on Christmas for my family here.
This salad makes a beautiful addition to your holiday spread.
The sweet pumpkin, savory rocket (arugula) and crunchy pomegranate seeds and pecans make a mouthwatering combination, and the flavors are holiday season appropriate without adding another heavy, starchy side to your dinner table. I've used both kent pumpkin and acorn squash in this recipe with success, and butternut or any other slightly sweet squash would also work well. If you can't source avocados where you are (they're plentiful in Australia this time of year, and thankfully in Texas we have access to avos from Mexico and Cali), just leave them out-- the salad will still look and taste divine. This festive dish is also gluten-free, dairy-free, and paleo-friendly. Win.
pumpkin, avocado & acorn squash over greens, topped with toasted pecans,
pomegranate arils, and pomegranate vinaigrette
Hope to be back before the month and year are over, but all best to you for December. And especially warm wishes to my family and friends back in Sydney, where the past week has been a tense and difficult one. May peace abound as we move forward into the New Year.

Pumpkin Salad with Avocado, Pecans, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Serves 6-8
Adapted from How Sweet it Is

1 acorn squash, or half of a kent pumpkin or butternut squash (no need to remove the skin!)
4-5 cups rocket (arugula; can substitute shredded romaine or another lettuce)
1 avocado, sliced into long, 1/4 inch-wide slices
1/2 of a medium sized pomegranate (for about 1/2 cup pomegranate arils)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped into large chunks

Pomegranate Vinaigrette
makes 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
pinch each of freshly ground salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 395F/ 200C. Slice the squash or pumpkin into 1/4-inch slices (if using acorn squash, cut in half from bottom to top, then slice horizontally from bottom to top so you end up with scalloped slices of squash).

Place squash slices on a lightly greased or baking paper-lined baking tray, and place into a pre-heated oven. Roast at 395F/ 200C for 20-25 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through cooking, until the slices are cooked through and beginning to brown slightly. In the last 5-6 minutes of baking, place the pecans on another baking tray and place them in the oven to toast. Remove squash and pecans from oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash is roasting, remove the arils (seeds) from your pomegranate and set a 1/2 cup aside (refrigerate the remaining arils for another use). Then make the pomegranate vinaigrette by whisking all ingredients together thoroughly.

On your serving platter or bowl, arrange the rocket leaves, and pour half of the vinaigrette evenly over the leaves. Arrange the squash slices over the rocket, then arrange the avocado slices in between the squash slices. Pour the remaining vinaigrette evenly over the salad, and sprinkle the pomegranate arils and pecans on top. Serve immediately.

Salad will keep, covered in the fridge, for 24 hours.

* Prep tip: The squash can be roasted up to a day ahead and placed in the fridge, ready to be used when you are ready to assemble the salad. The vinaigrette can be mixed up and stored in the fridge up to two days before serving.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bok choy salad with sticky grilled eggplant, baby corn & miso garlic chicken

We spent last weekend in the Blue Mountains with friends (see pic at the end of this post), and had a great time going on long bushwalks through the gum trees then coming back to our Airbnb house to cook up a big meal over beers and old fashioneds. My friend Kate made the most amazing seared kangaroo salad on our first night-- check out her blog The Katechen for more delicious food outta Melbourne. We'll definitely be trying *roo salad* at home soon, but tonight we stuck to our favorite version of summer salad (marinated, grilled chicken thighs over an Asian-inspired base), topping it with sticky grilled eggplant slices inspired by Laura over at The First Mess.
baby bok choy salad topped with grilled sticky eggplant and baby corn
The basil and mint keep things tasting light, while the grilled eggplant and chicken make this dish go a long way to satisfy big appetites. If you can't easily source baby bok choy, any lettuce (romaine, oak leaf, etc) will do, or try a combo of thinly sliced Napa (Chinese) cabbage and purple cabbage. If you're cooking for vegetarians, just serve the grilled chicken separately, alongside the salad.
salad topped with miso garlic grilled chicken
These eggplant slices would also be delicious as a side on their own, or added to a burger/wrap situation. File this one away for the summer months, northern hemisphere mates. And a shout out to my little brother, whose birthday is today! Can't wait to toast the last year of your twenties with an old fashioned when we're back in the same country, bro. 
full of flavor: salad with grilled veg & chicken
Bok choy salad with sticky grilled eggplant, baby corn & miso garlic chicken
Serves 3-4

Bok choy salad
3 bunches baby bok choy, separated, washed, and thinly sliced
1/2 of a red bell pepper (capsicum), thinly sliced
4-5 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
large handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon reserved eggplant marinade (recipe below)

Toss the baby bok choy, bell pepper, mushrooms, mint, and basil together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved eggplant marinade with olive oil and mirin. Pour the marinade dressing over the salad, and toss to coat. Set aside to serve straight from the bowl, or transfer the salad to a flat serving plate to serve. 

Sticky grilled eggplant and baby corn (inspired by this recipe at The First Mess)
1 large eggplant, sliced into 1cm-wide slices
fat pinch of ground sea salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 of a brown or purple onion, thinly sliced 
big pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon mirin
handful of baby corn, sliced in half lengthwise

Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer on a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking tray, and sprinkle with with sea salt on both sides. Leave the eggplant to sit while you make the marinade.

In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, ginger, onion, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by about half and is thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in the miso and mirin. Set aside one tablespoon of the marinade mixture to use in the bok choy salad dressing (see above). 

Generously brush the eggplant slices on one side with the marinade (you won't use all of it, save the remainder to use while you're grilling). Leave the eggplant to marinate while you prepare the chicken (eggplant needs only about 10 minutes to soak up the flavors of the marinade).

When you're ready to grill, heat an outdoor barbeque or an indoor stovetop grill to high heat. Brush the grill with oil. Place the eggplant slices, marinated side down, onto the grill, and immediately brush the tops with the remaining marinade mixture. Place the sliced baby corn on the grill, too. 

Grill the eggplant slices for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until char marks appear and eggplant softens. Toss the baby corn around on the grill every couple of minutes, removing after the corn begins to develop a little char, about 6-8 minutes total. Remove the eggplant and corn and set aside to cool for a few minutes before arranging them on top of the bok choy salad.  

Miso garlic chicken
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil (or toasted sesame oil if you have it)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon miso
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a large glass or ceramic dish, mix the fish, sauce, oil, mirin, miso, and garlic. Place the chicken thighs into the mixture and turn them over a few times to coat evenly. Place the dish in the fridge for 15 minutes as you grill the eggplant (or, alternatively, marinate chicken, covered in the fridge, for up to 8 hours or overnight). 

Heat the grill (outdoor barbeque or indoor stovetop grill) to high heat. Add the chicken thighs, and grill for about 5-8 minutes on each side, until chicken is no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear. 

Remove chicken from heat and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before slicing against the grain into thin slices. Arrange the chicken on top of the salad and grilled eggplant and baby corn, or serve the chicken on a separate platter alongside the salad. Enjoy!

view from one of the lookout points near Leura on our Blue Mountains bushwalk last weekend

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard

A couple of weeks ago I finally tried a few of the dinner recipes I've been eyeing in Rachel Khoo's wonderful My Little French Kitchen cookbook. In this sequel to My Little Paris Kitchen, Rachel has traveled all around France to gather the quintessential flavors and current food trends of many areas. The result is a beautiful snapshot of the varied French palate, from seaside-inspired dishes to heartier fare from the eastern side of the country. I loved the look of her green bean bundles over lentils, and though we've pretty much cut out legumes over the last few months (along with grains), I gave this one a try.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard
green beans & pecorino wrapped in prosciutto, served over lentils and swiss chard
The first time around I was very impressed with the green bean bundles, but the lentils were a little lackluster. A week later I revisited the recipe, this time sautéing swiss chard with the onions and thyme, and deglazing the pan with some apple cider vinegar and strong dijon mustard before gently tossing in the lentils. Tangy and delicious, plus another full serving of green vegetables : )  I used canned lentils for ease. If you have dried lentils, measure out 200g (7oz), rinse them, and bring to a slow simmer in 400g (14oz) water, simmering uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are soft.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over mustardy lentils with swiss chard @ Southern Spoon Blog
tangy apple cider vinegar & dijon mustard lend lots of flavor to swiss chard & lentils
Tonight we're making the green bean bundles for dinner to serve alongside portuguese baked chicken. They are a very tasty side, and I bet these little prosciutto wrapped, cheese stuffed beauties will persuade even the pickiest non-green bean eater (they would also make a beautiful addition to a Thanksgiving table). The lentils could also work on their own as a side, or make them a main dish by stirring through some cooked sausage or crumbled crispy prosciutto. Enjoy, and happy fall to folks in the northern hemisphere!

* Update: if you're making this for a vegetarian or for someone who doesn't eat pork, I've successfully replicated the prosciutto wrapper with thinly shaved slices of carrot. Just take your vegetable peeler, place your carrot on a flat surface, and carefully shave a long slice, moving from the top to the bottom of the carrot (peeling away from yourself... that sounds like a 90s emo song). You might have to shave off a couple layers before you get a nice wide slice-- just wrap this around the green bean & pecorino bundle, and cook in the oven as per the recipe. 

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino
serves 4-6 (larger appetites may want 2 bundles)

oil to coat baking tray
400g (or 14oz) green beans, rinsed
100g (or 3.5oz) pecorino (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
6 slices prosciutto (or thinly shaved carrot slices for a veg version)

Preheat oven to 190C/ 375F. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spray or brush lightly with oil (foil works, too, but must be oiled very well to avoid sticking). Set aside.

Slice the cheese into 12 sticks, about as long as the beans. Gather about 8-10 green beans, and two pieces of pecorino, and carefully wrap a slice of prosciutto around the bundle (for veg version, wrap a thin carrot slice around the bundle). Place the bundle on the prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients. 

Bake the wrapped bundles for 18-25 minutes, until cheese is melted, just beginning to brown at the tips, and the prosciutto is beginning to crisp up. Remove from oven and carefully lift bundles from the baking tray. Serve immediately. 

Lentils with swiss chard & mustard
serves 4

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use rice bran oil)
1 yellow or white onion, coursely chopped
about 10 sprigs thyme, leaves picked from any woodier stems, other thin stems rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 heaping cups rough chopped swiss chard, cleaned and de-stemmed
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (to taste)
1-2 tablespoons strong dijon mustard (to taste), plus additional mustard to serve
freshly ground salt and pepper (to taste)
2 x 400g cans lentils (or 14oz each), drained and rinsed (I used brown, any type will do)

Heat a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onions, and sauté on medium to low heat for about 7-8 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to brown. 

Add the thyme and garlic to the onions and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add the swiss chard, stirring to distribute it amongst the onions. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add the apple cider vinegar and mustard to the pan to deglaze, scraping off any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. 

Add the lentils and salt and pepper to the pan. Stir gently to distribute, then cover and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes, until lentils are heated through. 

Serve immediately, with a little mustard on the side to which people can help themselves. To serve with green bean bundles, arrange the lentils on a serving dish and place the bundles over the top of the lentils, or serve up individually with a mound of lentils on each plate topped with a green bean bundle. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mini Eggplant Pizzas, Julia Childs style

As soon as I saw a pin for mini eggplant pizzas, I immediately began creating the perfect pizza in my head-- spinach mixed with tomato sauce for a hearty base, thinly sliced mushrooms and chunky olives, bit o mozzarella, and some prosciutto or prawns on top. *How* had I never thought of this?! My mom used to make me and my siblings mini pizzas on English muffin halves after school, and these are just as easy and tasty-- but paleofied : )
mini pizzas loaded with spinach and veggies on an eggplant base
Apparently the idea originated with Julia Childs, America's favorite TV chef before TV chefs were a thing. This woman introduced French cooking techniques to the household cook, and we are forever grateful. Eggplant pizzas may not be French, but they are adorable, hearty, veg-based snacks that can easily make a meal. 

I give the recipe for what I made below, but feel free to adapt as you wish. A different protein, such as cooked beef mince (ground beef), turkey mince, or shredded cooked chicken, could be added to the tomato sauce base instead of prawns or prosciutto. Anchovies would also work well. Or go for pineapple and prosciutto if you're feeling Hawaiian. Your imagination is the limit. These would be great to make for a DIY eggplant pizza bar dinner party. Three little pizzas were filling enough for dinner for me, and one each would serve as a nice starter before a main meal. Enjoy!

Mini Eggplant Pizzas
Makes approximately 9 pizzas

1 large eggplant, sliced into 1cm-wide slices
1 14oz (400g) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen spinach, cooked (or wilt a few big handfuls of fresh spinach)
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1/4 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons sliced ripe (black) olives
1/3 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
9 raw prawns, peeled, deveined, and butterflied (split almost in half with a knife down the belly of the prawn)

Preheat the oven to 210C/ 410F. Line a large baking tray or cookie sheet with baking paper.

Place the eggplant slices on try baking tray and place them in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. 

Meanwhile, discard half of the liquid from the can of peeled tomatoes (or save for another use), and pour the remaining half into a medium sized bowl. Roughly chop chop (or pulse in a blender or food processor) the tomatoes, and add them to the tomato juice. Add the spinach and chili flakes (if using) to the tomatoes and mix well. 

Remove the eggplant from the oven and turn each slice over. On top of each eggplant slice, place a couple of tablespoons of the tomato mixture, spreading evenly over each slice. Next top with the mushroom slices and olives, then sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over each pizza. Top each pizza with a butterflied prawn. 

Bake the pizzas in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through and the mozzarella begins to bubble. Serve immediately. 

Pizzas will keep, covered in the fridge, for 2 days.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Chocolate Pavlova with Figs & Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream

This weekend was my sister's birthday-- happy birthday! Although I haven't been able to celebrate with her in the same country for the last nine years, we did have a mini early celebration last month when she visited us in Sydney. To acknowledge the Australian locale, we made a pavlova (aka *pav*), the delicious meringue dessert topped with cream and fruit that is ubiquitous at any Aussie holiday, especially around the broiling Christmas season.
Pavlova with a chocolate base, lightly sweetened cream filling,
ripe figs, and melted dark chocolate 
We decided to experiment with a chocolate pav base, and used an interesting technique picked up from Nigella Lawson recipe-- a touch of balsamic vinegar stirred into the whipped egg whites with some cocoa. The flavor is perfect, not too chocolatey, and a delicious accompaniment to ripe figs and lightly sweetened cream. I've since made this recipe again using a half cup of halved fresh cherries, which worked really well with the chocolate flavor, and I'm sure sliced strawberries would also be great. We Americanized the pav even further by drizzling a little melted dark chocolate over everything before serving, which made for a great presentation-- but it's just as tasty without the drizzle.

chocolate pav: a delicious birthday cake alternative : )
A word of warning-- the pavlova base doesn't hold its shape well in a fan-forced oven (I accidentally made a flat fruit pizza instead of a pav when I used the fan on my oven), and this dessert will work best when prepared on a less-humid day. Try it out for a special occasion-- it's a gluten-free dessert that's sure to impress, and people will be coming back for seconds. Enjoy, and happy birthday wishes to my favorite sister!

Chocolate Pavlova with Figs and Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
Serves 6-8

4 egg whites
2/3 cups sugar (I used  2 tablespoons brown sugar as part of this)
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Honey Yogurt Whipped Cream:
1 small carton cream (whipping cream in the US, single cream in the UK)
3 tablespoons natural or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Fruit & Chocolate Topping:
4 ripe figs, quartered (halved fresh cherries or strawberries also work well)
1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F (do not use a fan-forced oven or pavlova will flatten).

Whip up the egg whites till firm with electric mixer. Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Carefully stir in cocoa and balsamic vinegar. (It's ok if streaks of cocoa remain)

Pile the egg white mixture onto a baking-paper lined cookie sheet. Make a large but tall circle, making a bit of an indentation in the centre for the cream filling. Place in oven and immediately turn oven down to 150C/ 300F. Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours, until meringue is set, but still very slightly squidgy when you press your finger in the very centre. Turn off oven, crack open the oven door a couple of inches, and leave to cool completely (pavlova can be left in the oven overnight if necessary).

When ready to serve, carefully peel the meringue shell from the baking paper and set it on a serving plate. Mix all ingredients together for the honey yogurt whipped cream. Pile the yogurt whipped cream into the centre of the meringue shell, leaving an inch or so of meringue showing around the edge. Arrange the fig quarters around the creamy topping.

For the chocolate topping (optional): melt the dark chocolate carefully in a microwave (at 15 second intervals) or a double-boiler. Drizzle the chocolate over the entire pavlova.

Serve within a few hours to ensure that the meringue stays crisp on the outside.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rocket Salad with Steak, Roasted Eggplant & Dukkah-Crusted Pumpkin

Apologies for the lull here at Southern Spoon recently. We hosted my awesome sister in Sydney for a couple of weeks, after which I few straight to Iceland for work (fabulous fish, meat, soups, berries, etc-- see proof on my instagram feed @SouthernSpoon), then we moved house-- always an exhausting exercise, but our new kitchen makes up for it. It's big by inner-city standards, equipped with new appliances, and just around the corner from a great grocery store and Newtown, a central Sydney suburb known for its great cafes and restaurants. So goodbye to our tiny, 1970s vintage kitchen, and hello to white granite countertops and a new neighborhood of food and drinks to explore.

This simple salad is inspired by one over at Sydney-based blog Eat Drink Paleo (a beautiful blog of delicious, doable, whole food recipes-- highly recommended). Aussie salads are delicious: focused on seasonal produce without tons of dressing weighing them down, and this one is the perfect balance of textures and flavors. The slight sweetness of the dukkah-crusted pumpkin goes well with the savory steak and peppery rocket (aka arugula), and a simple olive oil and apple cider vinegar dressing is all the salad needs to bring the flavors together. Rather than eggplant, you could easily substitute bell pepper or tomatoes, cutting them into slices before roasting for 15-20 minutes.

paleo-friendly salad of rocket, steak, dukkah-crusted pumpkin, and roasted eggplant
This is delicious for lunch or dinner, and would make a great salad to transport to a barbeque or pot luck event, as the hardier rocket leaf holds up very well in a dressing, staying crisp for hours after it is made. The steak packs a protein punch, so this salad will fill you up and keep you satisfied till your next meal. It's paleo, gluten-free, and dairy-free, and allergy friendly for serving to a crowd (though careful about what nuts/seeds you use in the Dukkah if cooking for nut-sensitive eaters). Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Rocket Salad with Steak, Roasted Peppers & Dukkah-Crusted Pumpkin
Serves 3-4 as a main course, 6-8 as a side
Inspired by Eat Drink Paleo

1.5 lbs (680 g) flank beef steak or other thin-cut of beef
pinch of freshly ground salt and pepper
3 teaspoons cooking oil (such as rice bran oil), divided use
2 cups rocket (arugula), rinsed and spun dry
2 cups diced pumpkin (kent, grey, butternut), about 1-inch squares
2 tablespoons dukkah (see my easy, homemade dukkah recipe here)
1 cup diced eggplant, about 1-inch squares

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 215C / 420F, and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

In a large bowl, add 1 teaspoon of cooking oil and diced pumpkin, tossing to coat. Add the dukkah, and toss to coat the pumpkin evenly with the dukkah. Arrange the pumpkin and diced eggplant on the baking sheet lined with baking paper or greased well with oil, spreading out the vegetables so that the pieces aren't touching. (You may need to spread everything out over two baking trays). Place in pre-heated oven and cook at 215C / 420F for 18-25 minutes, turning over the pieces halfway through, until pumpkin is cooked through. (If the eggplant pieces are done earlier and beginning to brown, just remove them and set aside while the pumpkin continues to cook).

While the pumpkin and eggplant are cooking: season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet to medium heat. When the skillet is hot, swirl 2 teaspoons cooking oil around to coat the skillet evenly. Add the steak, and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, till seared on the outside but still pink in the middle (medium), or to your desired level of doneness. Remove steak and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes before thinly slicing across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Make a vinaigrette by whisking together the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, and the minced garlic.

To assemble the salad: on a large serving platter or wide bowl, spread out the rocket leaves. Scatter the dukkah-crusted pumpkin and the roasted eggplant evenly over the leaves. Arrange the steak slices along the top of the salad, and drizzle the vinaigrette over the entire salad. Top with freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately, or chill for up to 6 hours, and bring to room temperature before serving.

Leftover salad will keep for two days in the fridge in a sealed container.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Banana Muffins (gluten-free, grain-free)

I love whipping up a batch of muffins, savory or sweet, and that's something I've missed now that the hubs and I are focusing on lowering our carb intake in favor of more vegetables and protein. I've been pinning paleo-style and low-carb recipes like crazy for inspiration as we make up new dishes, and there are quite a few good-looking recipes out there for grain-free muffins. I've tried a few almondmeal-based muffins and have been very happy with the results-- they still rise a bit (not as much as a flour-based muffin), are moist and crumbly, and very satisfying after just one or two.

Banana Muffins (gluten-free, grain-free) @ Southern Spoon Blog
banana muffins, pale-style (grain-free goodness)
These banana bread-style muffins were a delicious component of our weekend breakfast, rounded out with eggs over easy and some crispy fried prosciutto. The muffins are plenty sweet with the banana and just a tablespoon of honey-- a perfect treat.
Banana Muffins (gluten-free, grain-free) @ Southern Spoon Blog
tender and just-sweet-enough banana muffins
This recipe is already grain-free and gluten free. To make it dairy-free just substitute melted coconut oil or your favorite cooking oil for the butter. I've listed my preferred mixture of warm spices, but feel free to use your favorite combination or a pumpkin pie spice mixture that adds up to one teaspoon. This makes a small batch of muffins, just six, but double the ingredients and divide between twelve muffin cups (same baking time) for a full dozen. 

For breakfast, dessert, or a sweet snack I'm sure you'll find these paleo-friendly muffins as delicious as we do. Happy (grain-free) baking! 

Banana Muffins (gluten-free, grain-free)
makes 6 muffins (double ingredients for 12)
Inspired by a number of paleo-friendly banana bread recipes

1 medium, ripe banana, mashed (about 1/2 cup mashed)
2 tablespoons melted butter or coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 egg
1 cup almond meal 
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coconut flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (ground linseed)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
dash of freshly ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts for topping (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 177C/ 350F, and grease 6 cups in a standard-sized muffin pan (or line with cupcake liners or baking paper).

In a small bowl, add the melted butter (or coconut oil), honey, and egg to the mashed banana. Stir thoroughly to combine.

In a medium sized bowl, add all of the remaining dry ingredients (almond meal through nutmeg), and stir to evenly combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir thoroughly to combine. 

Divide the mixture between 6 muffin cups (if desired, top with chopped walnuts), and bake at 177C/ 350F for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out without any batter on it (it may have a few crumbs). After removing from the oven, leave muffins to cool for at least 10 minutes before gently running a knife around the edges and removing them from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Muffins will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge, for 3 to 4 days.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Honestly, the first time the hubs and I made and devoured cauliflower crust pizza, we both agreed it tasted better than normal pizza. It has a *flavor*, even if the texture isn't quite the same as a crispy thin-crust pie.
cauliflower crust pizza: low carb, huge flavor
I've made this base many times now, experimenting with slightly different methods, and can impart two key points of wisdom: 
1) you must steam the cauliflower and squeeze it out before you form the dough 
2) shredded cheese works better than any other substitutes for binding the dough 

So, apologies if you're not into cheese (sorry not sorry... great pizza has gotta have cheese). You can try an extra egg as substitute, but the crust won't hold together quite as well.

Below you'll find the recipe for cauliflower pizza crust, and then suggestions for topping combos and methods. This really is a delicious alternative to grain-based pizzas, and no more time-consuming than making a wheat-flour dough from scratch. Plus, low carb, higher veg = win, win. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Pizza Crust
makes 2 big pizza bases (about 12-inch diameter) 

1 large head cauliflower
1 egg
1/3 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, etc)
Optional: 1 teaspoon dried herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley, marjaram, etc)
Baking paper to line your baking trays or pizza stones

Pre-heat oven to 215C / 420F. Place two baking trays or pizza stones into the oven as it heats. 

To prepare the cauliflower you have two options: 
1) place the heads (not stems) into a food processor and process until you achieve an even snow-like texture; OR 
2) grate the heads (holding the stems, don't grate the stems) using the large holes of a box grater, this is least messy if done over a large bowl. 

Place the grated cauliflower in a microwave-safe container, cover, and microwave for 4-6 minutes on high, stirring halfway through, until cauliflower is tender and piping hot. (Alternatively, you can place the cauliflower in a saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat, cover, and cook for 6-8 minutes).   Remove cauliflower from microwave, uncover, and let cool for at least 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to release steam.

Once the cauliflower is cool enough to handle, pour half of the cauliflower onto a clean, dry dishtowel. Gather the towel together so that the cauliflower is in a ball at the bottom, and wring the towel over a sink or bowl so that you extract as much liquid as possible. Place the squeeze-dried cauliflower into a bowl, and then repeat the twisting-wringing process with the remaining half of the steamed cauliflower.

To the squeeze-dried cauliflower, add the egg, shredded cheese, and, if desired, a teaspoon of dried herbs. Mix well to combine evenly. 

Remove the baking trays or pizza stones from the oven and line them with baking paper (or oil the trays generously... but note that using baking paper yields the best results). Divide the cauliflower dough into two equal portions, and, using your hands, carefully spread the portions out on the trays into a large, thin circle, about 12-14 inches wide. Pat together any holes that appear.

Place the crusts into the oven, and bake for 15-25 minutes at 215C / 420F, rotating the trays halfway through, until the crust is completely cooked through and browning well around the edges. Remove crusts from oven, add desired toppings, and return the pizzas to the oven for another 15 minutes, or until your toppings are done. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza: Topping Suggestions

We find we like our toppings best if we sauté the vegetables in a pan for a few minutes, then place them onto the pre-baked cauliflower crust with the meat, top with shredded cheese, and bake again for a good 15-25 minutes at high heat (215C / 420F). But we pile our pies high.  If you're more minimalist in your toppings, placing them raw on the pre-baked crust, topping with cheese, and baking 15-25 minutes at 215C / 420F will be sufficient.

Because we have food sensitivities to tomatoes in our house, we simply spread a little olive oil over the crust before piling on the toppings. But of course you can use tomato sauce for a traditional pizza base.

The amounts below are for *one* pizza, double amounts for two pizzas.

1 cup chopped, cooked rotisserie chicken 
half of an avocado, thinly sliced
1 thinly sliced red or yellow bell pepper (capsicum)
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1/2 thinly sliced purple onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
a few dashes of Cholula or another mild chili sauce to top

1 cup cooked prawns
3.5 oz (100 g) brie, diced into 1-inch chunks
1/2 thinly sliced purple onion
2 cloves minced garlic
big handful of fresh basil leaves
freshly ground pepper

3-4 slices prosciutto, torn or cut into pieces
1/2 thinly sliced purple onion
1 cup baby spinach leaves or rocket/arugula
1/2 cup thinly sliced button mushrooms
2-3 tablespoons chopped ripe (black) olives
1 tablespoon capers
1/3 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
freshly ground pepper

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Homemade Dukkah... and a Snack of Mandarins with Yogurt, Olive Oil, Sunflower Seeds & Dukkah

I loved the winter snacks post that Laura of The First Mess posted a couple months back. I thought her suggested combination of cara cara oranges with savory yogurt, olive oil, za'atar and pinenuts was inspired-- a little sweet, a little savory, perfect. I had some leftover dukkah that I made a couple of weeks ago to coat cubes of pumpkin before I roasted them, and thought it would go well with the mandarins I like to keep on hand.
mandarins with yogurt, olive oil, sunflower seeds & dukkah (pardon my retro, tea-stained countertop)
So this is my version, and it's a little out of season here. We're still getting a few Aussie mandarin oranges on the shelves, though they aren't as juicy as the ones we'll have a little later in the year. I used my favorite plain yogurt, and a local extra-virgin olive oil. I didn't have pinenuts on hand, so sunflower seeds were a good substitute, but any small nut or seed would do here.
Middle Eastern inspired snack, gluten-free and delicious
Hope you enjoy this tasty, Middle Eastern-style alternative to your typical mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Madarins with Yogurt, Olive Oil, Sunflower Seeds, and Dukkah
serves 1

1 mandarin orange, peeled and separated into segments
1/4 cup yogurt (I used plain cow's milk yogurt)
1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (good quality)
1 tablespoon shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon dukkah (recipe below)

In a small bowl, arrange mandarin segments. Top with yogurt, olive oil, sunflower seeds, and dukkah. Serve immediately.

makes just over 1/4 cup

1/4 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of freshly ground sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 177C/ 350F. Roast the hazelnuts in a baking tray for about 10 minutes. Remove hazelnuts from the oven, and carefully rub them together (in your hands after they cool, or in a tea towel) so that the outer papery shell comes off-- discard the outer shell. Finely chop the hazelnuts.

Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat, and toast the sesame seeds, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds for about 3-4 minutes, until they are beginning to brown and fragrant (be careful not to burn the sesame seeds). Remove from the skillet and crush/chop the seeds with a knife (I used the side of a large knife to crush the seeds, then chopped them more finely)... or use a mortar and pestle to grind them down to a coarse mixture.

Add the finely chopped hazelnuts, pepper, and salt to the toasted, crushed seed mixture, and blend well.

Store covered at room temperature or in the fridge for up to six weeks.

Serving tips: Dukkah is delicious sprinkled over roast meat (before or after roasting), coated over vegetables such as pumpkin before roasting, sprinkled over salads, or in savory-sweet dishes like the mandarin-yogurt snack above.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Southeast Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps

The hubs and I are still enjoying our eating plan that focuses on plenty of protein and vegetables, quality fats, and limited gluten and carbs. We both have more stable energy levels throughout the day, and it's been fun / challenging to create new lunch and dinner meals that don't include grains.

One of our favorite regional cuisines is southeast Asian, which influences a lot of the food options here in Australia. At the moment we're steering clear of grains, though, and it can be hard to find southeast Asian food without rice or rice noodles. Last weekend I thought I would try to recreate the delicious lettuce wraps I remembered from trips to P.F. Chang's with friends in high school. Now, P.F. Chang's is hardly as authentic as some of the food we can get in Sydney, but those chicken lettuce wraps of theirs were awesome!
southeast asian style beef lettuce wraps, flavorful & filling, paleo-friendly & gluten-free
We subbed lean ground beef for chicken, and mixed it up with mushrooms, onions, and some celery for crunch. For dipping sauces we used our favorite store-bought oyster sauce thinned out with some mirin, vinegar, and water, and we mixed up a simple spicy mustard to go with it. The chopped basil and mint, combined with the sauces drizzled on top, made for incredibly fresh and delicious beef lettuce wraps-- better than the P.F. Chang's version that I remember!  We made these a meal by serving them with steamed, thinly sliced green cabbage and radishes, tossed in a little toasted sesame oil and soy sauce with freshly ground pepper.
tasty beef lettuce wraps with steamed cabbage and radishes
We liked this meal so much we're repeating it tonight. Highly recommend trying these-- they're gluten-free, dairy-free, full of protein and vegetables, and, as we say in Oz, tasty as

Beef Lettuce Wraps
Serves 2 - 3 as a main dish

1 tablespoon oil (cooking olive oil)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely diced mushrooms
1/4 cup finely sliced celery
500g (1 lb) ground beef (high quality, grass-fed preferred)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (divided use; make sure it's gluten-free if you're cooking g-f)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
pinch of freshly ground pepper

To Serve: 

8 Romaine, butter, or iceburg lettuce leaves, washed and chilled

Oyster sauce:
oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon water
pinch of freshly ground pepper

Hot mustard sauce:
1 tablespoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon water

Herb mix:
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oils and swirl to coat pan. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 further minute. Add diced mushrooms, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, mirin, half of the rice vinegar, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn't burn. Add ground beef, remaining tablespoon of soy sauce, remaining rice vinegar, chili flakes, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. 

Meanwhile, make the sauces. In a small serving dish, mix together all ingredients for the oyster sauce, adding enough water to make it a runny enough to spoon easily. In another small serving dish, mix together all ingredients for the hot mustard, adding enough water to make it runny enough to spoon easily.

To Serve: Arrange the beef mixture, lettuce leaves, serving sauces, and herb mix on a serving or dining table, and let guests help themselves to building their own lettuce wraps with accompanying garnishes.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nutrition changes (Southern Spoon goes a little paleo)

Some big dietary changes going on in the Southern Spoon household the past couple of weeks that I wanted to share. Pour a cuppa tea, this post is a little longer than usual.

rocket salad with roasted eggplant, dukkah-crusted pumpkin,
grass-fed beef steak, and garlic, olive oil, tahini vinaigrette
If you read this blog, you know that I cook whole foods and work around a number of food intolerances: preservatives, artificial colors / flavors, peanuts (and lentils), and foods with high levels of the natural food chemical salycilates (tomatoes, for example, are out for the hubs, as is wine). Since moving from England to Australia in 2011 we have adopted what we presumed was a more healthy diet: making many more meals meatless, eating a wider variety of vegetables (produce is so much better here!), and being more active in the balmy weather.

However, despite those dietary changes, a massive reduction in stress levels, getting more sleep, and losing a little weight over the last two-and-a-half years, recent medical tests have revealed extremely high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. In an effort to ensure we're treating our bodies as best as possible, a doctor referred us to a nutritionist.

This nutritionist has planned a dietary approach with the goal of reducing inflammation in the body. Inflammation is believed by a number of medical and nutrition professionals to be a major cause of poor health (including heart disease), and it's not hard to trust that reducing inflammation through dietary and lifestyle changes is a good idea.

cauliflower crust pizza with chicken & veggies: delicious
On this nutritionist's plan, breakfast is the carb-iest meal of our day: carbs with a protein and a fat, preferably working in barley and soy milk (to up soluble fiber and help clean up bad cholesterol). Lunch and dinner should have a protein, a fat, and what the nutritionist calls *free foods*, basically low-carb vegetables (so excluding potatoes, grains, legumes). This diet is meant to keep insulin and blood sugar levels more level during the day, and thus help reduce inflammation.

This means our lunches and dinners are very similar to a paleo-style eating plan, emphasizing plenty of protein (mostly animal-based protein, since higher-protein plants like legumes and grains are to be avoided), vegetables and some fruit, and sources of fat from things like avocados, olive oil, even butter. The nutritionist didn't cut out dairy, and even recommended some cheese, yogurt, etc, so we're still eating some dairy.

salad with roasted tomatoes, eggplant,
dukkah-crusted pumpkin, & chorizo
We've been eating this way for two weeks. We both feel more energetic - physically and mentally - and I find that my blood sugar swings are hardly non-existent, whereas I used to rush home after work starving for dinner, even after having a big, veggie and grain-based lunch, and a granola bar snack. I feel full more quickly when eating increased levels of protein and fat (lots of eggs, yum!), but without feeling bloated. We're also trying to get out and move a little more: walking to the beach, running a few laps, doing more strength training.

It's been an adjustment to think of our typical dinner dishes without grains, legumes, or potatoes, but so far we've made it work, and everything tastes just as (if not more) delicious. I'll be interested to see what the medical tests reveal about cholesterol and blood pressure levels in three months after the next check-up, but mostly I'm interested in simply continuing to feel a little bit better, in mind and body.

From now on I'll be sharing some of the dishes we're enjoying on this eating plan: they'll be low-carb, usually grain- and legume-free, with an emphasis on quality protein and fat, and a variety of vegetables. The photos in this post are some of the meals we've enjoyed so far, recipes to come.

Hope you like these dishes too, and, of course, always communicate with a medical or nutrition professional before making big changes in your own diet. Happy Spring, all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spicy Watermelon Cucumber Salad with Basil

Lately I've been buying fresh basil and putting it in everything. I should grow it on our balcony, but even small balcony herb pots seem to falter under my not-green thumb : ( Luckily the local fruit and veg shop stocks a great array of well-priced fresh herbs, and I find a couple of dollars a good investment for the flavor and nutrition boost they bring to any dish.
baked oven fried chicken, smashed garlic potatoes,
and spicy watermelon cucumber salad with basil
It's still warm here in Sydney even though we've moved into autumn, so we're taking advantage of the heat to eat up the end of summer produce and barbeque inspired dinners. A few weeks ago we made up some baked oven fried chicken, which turned out crisp and tender, some smashed roasted garlic potatoes, and this refreshing watermelon cucumber salad. I added a good handful of chopped basil along with some rocket (arugula) for extra bite, and tossed the salad with a spicy vinaigrette made with Cholula hot sauce. AMAZING. The spicy dressing (no salt necessary) went perfectly with the cool watermelon and cucumber, and before I noticed the hubs was helping himself to thirds of the salad, without any thought of the extra chicken and potatoes sitting in the oven. Win.
watermelon, cucumber, arugula, and basil salad with a Cholula-lime vinaigrette
A tip on chopping the cucumbers: I sliced sections off of the cucumber lengthwise, leaving the seed-y core, and discarded the core before cubing the cucumber. This allows the salad to keep for a little longer before losing its crispness. The salad was still nice and crisp on day two after being stored in the fridge overnight. This is obviously a warm-weather recipe, but I hope you'll file it away to make when the temperatures rise in your corner of the world. Warm wishes to all of you in the northern hemisphere as the first day of Spring arrives.

Spicy Watermelon Cucumber Salad with Basil
serves 4-5 as a side dish
inspired by this recipe at The First Mess

1 cup seedless watermelon cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cucumber cut into 1/2-inch cubes (discard the seed-y core)
handful of fresh basil, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup rocket (arugula), rough chopped

Spicy Vinaigrette
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons Cholula or other mild hot sauce, to taste
juice of half a lime
little splash of apple cider vinegar, to taste (about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon honey
big pinch of freshly ground pepper

In a large non-metal bowl, carefully toss together the watermelon, cucumber, basil, and rocket.

In a small bowl, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients with a whisk or fork, stirring vigorously until the mixture is emulsified (blended together). Add more Cholula and/or vinegar as necessary. Pour the dressing over the salad, and carefully toss to distribute evenly. Serve immediately.

Salad will keep, covered in the fridge, for about 2 days.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The only tuna salad recipe you'll ever need

The Times (of London) runs a regular food column titled The only five [insert food] recipes you'll ever need, with consistently good recipes for fish, chicken, Indian, biscuits, etc. I like the idea of having some go-to staple recipes that you can whip up quickly to suit particular occasions (weeknight dinner, snack, dessert, lazy weekend breakfast).
fresh and bright tuna salad, anything but soggy and lackluster
My mom has this theory down like a pro, unsurprising given her training as a middle school home-ec teacher and decades of preparing wholesome, homecooked meals for our family of five. So incredibly grateful for her teaching us healthy eating and food-prep habits. I remember setting the table for weeknight dinners while she sped around the kitchen throwing together our regular favorites from memory, without a recipe card in sight: chicken and rice casserole, spaghetti bolognese, Mexican rice, savory oatmeal muffins, brownies, vanilla bundt cake. I'm working on developing this skill, the problem is I like to experiment with dishes and rarely make the exact same thing twice.
tuna salad sandwich on wholegrain bread
But there are a few recipes and techniques that I stick to without much variation. This tuna fish salad recipe is one of them-- it's so simple and yields a wholesome, protein- and omega-3-filled dish that is perfect for a satisfying lunch or a quick weeknight dinner. A few chopped olives, some dried herbs, and a little squeeze of lemon mixed with low-fat yogurt and mustard bring a fresh taste that takes this far, far away from any mayonnaise-dense canteen tuna salad you've experienced in your past. Serve atop a bed of greens, garnishing with slices of avocado, or in between two slices of wholegrain bread lined with crisp lettuce leaves to keep the tuna from making the bread soggy.
tuna salad sandwich for an easy, fresh, protein-rich meal
Hope you enjoy this simple, tasty, filling (and inexpensive!) tuna salad, and find it a recipe that you keep turning back to when you need a quick and satisfying meal.

Tuna Salad (with olives and lemon, no mayo)
serves 4

1/4 to 1/2 cup low-fat plain or greek yogurt, to taste
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (or regular yellow mustard works fine)
small handful of pitted ripe olives, coursely chopped
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
big pinch of freshly ground black pepper
dash of red chili flakes
squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 teaspoon)
small stalk of celery, finely chopped to make about 1/4 cup (optional)
425g (15oz) can of tuna (preferably in water with no salt), drained
(to serve: lettuce and wholegrain bread)

In a medium sized non-metal bowl, mix together with a fork all ingredients except the tuna. (Start with 1/4 cup of yogurt, and add more after adding the tuna if you'd like).

Add the tuna to the yogurt mixture, and mix well, breaking up the tuna chunks as you stir. At this point, add a little more yogurt if you'd like to achieve desired consistency.

Serve immediately on a bed of lettuce leaves (and sliced avocado is nice), or sandwiched between slices of wholegrain bread lined with lettuce to keep the tuna from making the bread soggy. 

Will keep, covered in the fridge, for 2-3 days.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad with Lamb Koftas

A couple of weeks ago I came home to the hubs making up lamb koftas-- Lebanese meatballs-- for dinner, which were delicious wrapped in naan bread with a homemade cucumber-yogurt tzatziki. Ever since I've been scheming about how I can pair them with a salad to bring in more plant-based goodness to the dish, and was delighted to run across this Middle Eastern Salad from nutritionist Danielle Levy's blog. This week we made the koftas again and served them over a similar toasted buckwheat salad, dressed with hummus, and the dish was perfect. The fresh, crunchy combination of salad and grains worked wonderfully with the lamb meatballs, and the hummus dressing brought everything together for a Lebanese-style feast.
ingredients for easy Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad @ Southern Spoon Blog
grilled zucchini, toasted buckwheat, chickpeas, radishes, celery, and fresh parsley
This salad is packed with sources of plant-based protein from the buckwheat and chickpeas (Danielle also sprinkles hemp seeds on top for added protein and omega-3 fats, though we left these out because the local grocer doesn't carry them), and it could easily serve as a meal on its own with the hummus dressing. We'd worked in our three vegetarian dinners already this week (a new goal for 2014), so the lamb koftas as another protein hit took this salad into into the filled and totally satisfied category.
Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad @ Southern Spoon Blog
salad ingredients mixed together for a crunchy, filling dish
If you have other fresh herbs on hand in addition to parsley, such as mint or basil, a chopped handful of those would also be welcome here. Keeping in mind our heart-healthy focus, we didn't add any salt to the salad components, relying on the hummus, lemon juice, and touch of balsamic to bring in a salty-tart profile. I felt that this really allowed the crisp and distinct flavors of the vegetables-- radish, celery, grilled zucchini, parsley-- to show through. But if you feel it needs a little something extra, toss the salad with a pinch of freshly ground sea salt.
Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad @ Southern Spoon Blog
Lebanese-style salad ready to serve, hummus dressing not shown
Hope you enjoy this fresh and satisfying salad as spring begins to gradually poke its head up in the northern hemisphere, or file it away for warmer weather. Happy beginning of March to you!

Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad
serves 4

1/2 cup dry toasted buckwheat*
2 zucchinis, thinly sliced lengthwise (1/8 - 1/4 inch slices)
4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
2 long celery stalks, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (no salt added)
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
juice from half a lemon (zest the lemon half first if you're making the lamb koftas)
lamb koftas (optional, recipe below)

Hummus Dressing
1/2 cup hummus (homemade recipe here)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
splash (2 teaspoons) of balsamic vinegar
up to 2 teaspoons water

(*If your buckwheat is not toasted when you buy it, just rinse it with cold water in a fine mesh sieve, then toss it into a wide pan heated to medium heat and sprayed lightly with oil. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the buckwheat begins to turn golden brown and toasty. Remove from heat, and boil in a saucepan of water as detailed below.)

Rinse the buckwheat with water in a fine mesh sieve. Place buckwheat and 1 1/2 cups water into a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cover. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, until buckwheat is tender. (Watch carefully towards the end to make sure the water doesn't evaporate too quickly and you burn the buckwheat!) Rinse the cooked buckwheat again through the fine mesh sieve with cold water to cool. Set aside.

Heat an outdoor grill or stovetop griddle to medium-high heat. Carefully coat the griddle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and arrange the zucchini slices on the griddle in a single layer. Cook for 4-6 minutes per side, until grill marks appear and zucchini is tender. Remove zucchini from grill and set aside.

In a large non-metal bowl, toss the radishes, celery, parsley, onion, garlic, chickpeas, and half of the grilled zucchini slices. Add the pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice, and carefully toss to coat the salad.

To make the hummus dressing: Mix all ingredients together, thinning out with a couple of teaspoons of water to achieve a slightly runny consistency.

To serve: Arrange the salad on a serving plate, and garnish with the remaining grilled zucchini slices, twisting them around the edge of the salad. (Alternatively, to save dirtying another plate, add the rest of the zucchini to the salad and serve in the salad bowl). Drizzle the hummus dressing evenly over the salad. If desired, top the salad with lamb koftas, and serve.
Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad with Lamb Koftas @ Southern Spoon Blog
Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese Salad with Lamb Koftas
Lamb Koftas
serves 3-4

400g (14 oz) ground lean lamb (mince)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
lemon zest from half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes (or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley)
1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon flour (I used wholemeal wheat flour)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I used rice brain oil)

In a large non-metal bowl, mix together the ground lamb and the next eight ingredients (through ground pepper). Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, add the egg, and mix thoroughly to combine.

Using clean hands, form the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls, packing the mixture together slightly so that it will stay together when it cooks. This should make 9-10 meatballs.

Heat a wide skillet over medium heat, and coat the skillet with the oil. Add the meatballs to the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the bottoms are browned, then turn over and cook for another 4-5 minutes. At this point, begin turning the meatballs over on all of the sides that are not browned, cooking for a few minutes on each side, until the meatballs are browned all over and cooked through. Cut a meatball in half to to make sure they are done.

Remove the lamb koftas from the heat, and serve atop Toasted Buckwheat Lebanese salad as above. Alternatively, serve the koftas in pita bread halves or wrapped in naan bread with sliced cucumbers, sliced red onions, and plain yogurt or hummus. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day menu recap

Just a little post to share the super easy appetizer we made for Valentine's last night, and provide links for the other food we enjoyed.

The main course was a recipe from The First Mess: a beautiful dish of grapefruit roasted beets over canellini beans and wilted beet greens, topped with pistachio butter (and we added some chopped prosciutto to use up a few slices we had that needed to be eaten up). The grapefruit really lightened up the beets, making them taste more like a summer/spring dish than a winter food, perfect for our current season here in Sydney. We love beets (a staple in Aussie burgers: yum), but if you're not yet convinced, I recommend Laura's method of roasting them in a citrus juice to balance out their naturally earthy flavor. Our local grocer didn't have shelled pistachios, so it was a labor of love to prep them for the pistachio butter, but well worth it. The full and creamy flavor-texture was a perfect accompaniment to the beans/greens/beets.
shelled pistachios @ Southern Spoon Blog
labor of love: pistachio shelling for the Valentine's Day main dish
(retro countertops for the win)
For dessert I adapted Deb's recipe for linzer heart cookies over at Smitten Kitchen. I used ground almonds that I already had on hand rather than hazelnuts, reduced the sugar a bit, replaced some of the AP flour with wholewheat, and we filled half of them with Nutella and half with strawberry jam. The dough was a little finicky to work with in the heat, but they turned out crisp, buttery, and delicious. They are the hubs' favorite cookie, though I don't make them often since they require a heck of a lot of butter, and eating just two cookies is equivalent to eating four (self-restraint is difficult in the face of Nutella). But they were a delightful treat for Valentine's Day. Will have to try Oh Ladycakes' raw version when we next get a craving for them.
linzer heart cookies with nutella & jam @ Southern Spoon Blog
linzer heart cookies with nutella and jam
And back to the starter: watermelon rounds (cut with a small biscuit cutter) topped with sliced shallots, a little crumbled blue cheese, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction (made like this one on Camille Styles). This was a simple, refreshing way to begin the meal. The watermelon felt lighter than a traditional cheese board of bread, crackers, nuts, olives, etc, and the little bites paired beautifully with a crisp white wine.
watermelon rounds topped with shallots, blue cheese, balsamic reduction @ Southern Spoon Blog
watermelon topped with shallots, blue cheese, balsamic reduction. 
Hope you had an enjoyable day, and were reminded of those you love and those who love you! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Twice-Baked Potatoes (and a little chat about hearts)

Potatoes are your post for Valentine's Day, really? Let me explain.

Twice-baked potatoes were one of my favorite side dishes growing up. I loved coming home after school and seeing my mom prep them on a baking tray, ready to be popped into the oven with dinner. They are easy to make and take everyone's love for mashed potatoes to the next level (who doesn't love mashed potatoes?). I started making them as soon as I moved away from Texas to England nine years ago because I could easily source the ingredients and they tasted like home. They've become a regular rotation at our house, with various herbs, spices, and mustards to liven up the filling. If you don't have herbs or mustard on hand, these will still taste great with just a pinch of salt and pepper.

twice baked potatoes, flavored with herbs, pepper, and mustard, round out a heart-healthy dinner
Speaking of salt, the hubs came back from a regular check-up yesterday with a pamphlet about blood pressure and maintaining a healthy heart... now that we're (just) past 30 both of us are taking strides to make sure we eat healthy and stay active. We follow a pretty healthy day-to-day diet, eating whole food, almost all of it cooked from scratch (because of food intolerances to preservatives and some natural food chemicals), and limiting our intake of fats and sugar. We're getting better at eating vegetarian dinners a few nights of the week, which isn't too hard when there are such beautiful veg and vegan blogs and cookbooks available! However, salt is something we need to try harder to limit. (More about salt and blood pressure over at the American Heart Association. 97% of Americans eat too much salt. It's a big issue, y'all).
twice baked potatoes, broccolini, pesto-roasted eggplant, and sumac-dusted salmon
Though we have drastically reduced the amount of salt we use at the table, sodium and salt are still prevalent in many of the foods we enjoy-- from southeast Asian dishes to Tex-Mex. So in 2014 we're going to make some big changes to the amount of sodium we consume. Citrus, herbs and spices, vinegar, and other strong flavors will take over where we often use salt. If we need a fix, we'll take a ten-minute walk down the street to our beautiful local Sydney beach and soak up some of the Pacific spray.
Valentine's Day roses from the hubs!
So these twice-baked potatoes are made with your heart's health in mind. The recipe relies on herbs and pepper for flavor, with a little mustard and a tiny bit of cheddar if you want it. We served them last night with sumac-dusted grilled salmon, steamed broccolini, and thinly sliced eggplant that I'd brushed with the lightest amount of pesto and baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Filling and delicious, and they didn't need any added salt.

Don't worry, we'll be indulging in watermelon, shallot, and blue cheese salad appetizers, this beautiful grapefruit roasted beet dish over beet greens and white beans with pistachio butter, and linzer heart cookies two ways (with nutella and jam) tonight. But in the mean time, hope you enjoy these flavorful, low-sodium twice-baked potatoes, and wishing you a heart-healthy Valentine's Day : )

Twice-Baked Potatoes (with herbs and mustard)
serves 4

2 medium-sized potatoes
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
1 to 2 tablespoons natural or greek yogurt (low-fat)
1/4 teaspoon each dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
4 thin slices cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F.

Wash the potatoes and pierce them all over with a fork or knife. Place potatoes in the microwave, and microwave on full power for 7-10 minutes, until potatoes are tender to the touch and cooked through. (Alternatively, bake the potatoes in a pre-heated 200C/ 400F oven for 30-40 minutes, until tender and cooked through).

Carefully slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, and leave for a few minutes to cool. When cool enough to handle, use a metal spoon to scrape the flesh out of each potato half into a medium sized bowl, coming as close as you can to the skin of the potato without cutting through it. Reserve the potato skins.

Mash the potato up a bit with a fork, then add the milk and 1 tablespoon yogurt. Mix thoroughly until you achieve a smooth consistency, you may need to add another tablespoon of yogurt at this stage. Stir in the dried parsley, oregano, basil, pepper, and mustard (to taste), and blend thoroughly into the mashed potato.

Spoon the mashed potato into the four potato half skins, and, if desired, top each with a thin slice of cheddar cheese. Place potato halves on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 200C/ 400F for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are piping hot and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Twice-baked potatoes will keep, covered in the fridge, for up to 2 days.