I don’t usually have the budget or the time to look over all the lovely foodie books and magazines I would like to, so I really enjoyed having the chance to leaf through a whole stack of glossy food magazines while travelling a few months ago – for me, definitely one of the perks of not-so-frequent air travel!

This recipe caught my eye as it featured Indian flavours (a cuisine I’m trying to learn more about, and trying to cook from spices rather than bought bases), vegetarian, quick to cook (curry in spirit but cooks with the speed of a stir-fry), and used items that were all currently ready to spring to action in my kitchen (eg the usually forlorn fenugreek).  Hooray!  On the night I ended up cooking it, my fridge/pantry line-up was a bit different from what the original recipe called for – hence the inauthentic addition of tofu – but gosh can I recommend this for a speedy and tasty weeknight meal.  Even in the mixing bowl I was excited by the colours and freshness of the ingredients:

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One note of warning: the chilli flavours here aren’t too hot, but add a lovely rounded warmth and is aa key part of the dish in my view.  Best not for a family meal with kiddies (unless yours are braver than mine is).

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Quick and perky green bean curry
Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

400g green beans, topped and tailed
150g firm tofu, cubed
1 small red onion, sliced into half moons
10 curry leaves
2 small green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 tsp each chilli flakes and ground cumin
1/2 tsp each fenugreek seeds and fennel seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 coconut milk

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients except for the oil and coconut milk.

Heat the oil in a wok, and then tip in the green bean mixture.  Cook for about 5 minutes on high until the onion has softened and the beans look bright green.

Tip in the coconut milk, and continue to stir-fry on high until most of the milk has evaporated and the bean mixture is almost glazed with it.  Season with some salt to taste, and serve with rice.

Yield: 2-3 serves.  I would definitely double this next time, as leftovers the next day were still yummy.

Even after wondering whether I might have picked up some colour on my nose from the glorious sunshine we’re getting here, the nights and mornings tell me that winter’s well on the way.  So somehow it seems perfectly sensible to return to an old favourite from the northern hemisphere – rote grütze – a cherry and berry wonder from Germany.

Literally translating as ‘red groats’, it seems that traditionally this recipe was made with a combination of red fruit juices and grains.  The modern version I’m tapping into here is still based on red fruit juice (here I’ve used grape juice), but also uses whole red fruits.  It’s not super sweet, and enriched with a dash of red wine,  it’s a dessert that recalls the best of a steaming mug of glühwein, hearty and cosy-making from the insides.  It’s a fantastic served warm with vanilla custard.  It also keeps well in the fridge and Germans have been known to have it cold on their cereal of a morning.  Give it a go – but let me warn you that the grütze of course loses its soupy-stewy consistency to become more jelly-like in the cold, so don’t be disturbed at the transformation!

And while it does not sit perfectly within a particular genre, having some characteristics of a compote, a stew (like stewed apple or rhubarb), a jelly, a pudding – I’m crossing my fingers that this rote grütze is soup-like enough to qualify for this month’s No Croutons Required event, in which Lisa is calling for soups or salads with berries.

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Rote grütze (red groats)

415g tin cherries, drained and juice reserved
about 450ml dark red grape juice (unsweetened)
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup cornflour
1/2 red wine
2-3 cups mixed red berries (frozen is fine)

Put the reserved cherry juice in a measuring jug and make up to 600ml with the red grape juice.  Tip into a medium saucepan, and then add 1 more cup grape juice.  Add in the sugar, lemon zest and juice.  Bring to the boil.

In a separate glass, stir together the cornflour and the red wine.  When the juice mixture is just boiling, pour the cornflour mixture into the saucepan.  Return to the boil, stirring continuously as the sauce thickens, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Stir in the drained cherries and the berries and gently return to the boil.  Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Yield: about 1.5L, which would be a good 6-8 servings.  Keep in the fridge and microwave or heat gently on the stove to serve.

While I take a lot of inspiration from Jamie Oliver’s enthusiasm for all things natural, cooking and keeping it real on the whole, I must say even he can’t inspire me to get fresh peas in a pod and pod them.  I simply don’t have the kind of day where podding peas gets any time priority right now.  In his original recipe for this, he calls for fresh peas and broad beans, which apparently have far superior flavour.  So if any of you want to try with the fresh stuff – let me know how you go.

But the idea of tasty peas, smushed on garlic toast, and topped with a poached egg?  That’s a winner in my book, as it can really serve at any time of the day for a healthy dose of greens, protein and flavour.  Warning for all those against peas – mushy or otherwise – this recipe is built on them.  I, as a pea lover, am happy to find another way to work them into my meals.

[And as you can see from the looming shadows in this less than stellar photo, we had this as a quick weeknight dinner; I imagine it would make a lovely bright brekky, and look much more radiant in a photo taken then too.]

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Smashed peas on toast
Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe

We had these with a poached egg on top, but you could also go with the original recipe’s suggestion of plopping a torn-up ball of buffalo mozzarella over the peas.

1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed to room temperature
about 12 leaves fresh mint
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra to top
juice of 1 lemon
4 slices sourdough, toasted
olive oil
1 clove of garlic, halved
poached eggs (see note above)

To make the smashed peas, put the peas and mint in a mortar and pestle and smash until you have a rough paste.  (It is fine to do this in stages if they don’t all fit at once.)

Stir in enough olive oil to make the paste barely spreadable (about 2 tablespoons should do it), then stir in the cheese.

Stir in about half of the lemon juice, then taste, adding salt and pepper as needed.  Add more lemon juice to taste if needed as well.  The idea is not to smash the peas so much that you have a puree consistency, but something short of that.  I liked my smashed peas to still have some identifiable pieces of peas and cheese in it.

(Get your eggs going at this point if you are having them.)  Toast the sourdough slices.  When done, drizzle with some olive oil and rub with the cut side of a garlic half.

Pile some peas on the garlic toast, top with an egg (or mozzarella), and scatter with some extra parmesan.

Yield: enough smashed peas for 2-3 serves.

Enticed by its big welcoming sign (“Apples! Quinces! Pears!”, or something like that), we decided to check out a local apple orchard and immediately found ourselves pacing down a row of fruit-heavy apple trees leading in from the road.  Even on that gusty grey day, we could smell the apple in the air, and were very excited to bring home a big bag of granny smiths and quinces for a little bit of orchard-goodness at home.  This weekend we had an apple-baking bonanza, and I want to recommend two excellent recipes if you might be in a similar apple-baking mood.

img_3920_1First, there was  Molly’s apple tart-cake. The golden glow you see in this photo is from the glorious morning sun that decided to come out yesterday just at apple cake photo time.

This cake is something that you can pull together from everyday ingredients, and, with the help of a food processor, is straightforward to make.  The amazing thing is the tart-cake base, which starts out being crumbly and mealy: but somehow, during cooking this base mixture both sets at the bottom and bubbles up to fill the nooks and crannies of the apple slices up above.  Who knows how a base mixture can know to do both things?  And in terms of technique, no special cake making skills are here required.  Once  you press the tart-cake crumbs into your tin, then just you need to really pack in the apple slices on top (as prettily as you please), and then do the topping stage.  I pretty much decided to follow Molly’s recipe so won’t repeat it here.  (Though next time I make this one, I will take up some of the suggestions in the comments to reduce the sugar in the base from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.)

img_3925_1Second, my husband requested apple pie.  Cindy led me to a recipe for old-fashioned apple pie by Martha Stewart, which uses a fabulous pate brisee recipe for the pastry that I had tried with great success in the past (eg for beetroot and feta tart).  This recipe is the real deal, and has a very simple idea for the filling (just sliced apples tossed in lemon juice, sugar and spices with some flour and butter).  I have never made apple pie from scratch before so followed the recipe closely, but I would like a bit more of the spice flavour next time.  But I admit I was a little daunted by the prospect of making a pie that uses 1.8kg of apples, so decided to make a half quantity.  Here’s the resulting golden pie, in the rather less golden glow of the afternoon sun by our window.  While the pie here looks like it is bathed in mysterious cool blue light, the photo is taken in the same spot as the apple tart-cake was the previous morning.  I promise you that the pie was as appropriately bronzed and burnished as a sugar-crusted apple pie should be!

(And because even with half the amount of apples I could not fit them in, this is the little ramekin-pie I made with the leftover filling and pastry scraps.)

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A recent work trip to Switzerland provided the ideal opportunity to conduct some sideline research on something which the Swiss can fairly claim authority: muesli.  I set out to try a different kind of bircher muesli every day, and very nearly succeeded:  I was given some on the aeroplane, then I had some from the local bakery, a few different kinds from the corner supermarket, and some from the hotel breakfast bar too.  All very tasty, but I can report that the highlights were one with stewed rhubarb, and another made with a strawberry yoghurt base.

Another branch of my muesli research centred on the muesli bar.  This was something I had already been preoccupied with back home, in an attempt to find something tasty,  easy to make and healthy for my son.  Many of the supermarket-bought varieties here seem to contain about 1/3 of their weight in sugar, which is far from ideal.  Unfortunately, my Swiss supermarket research yielded much the same results (except that they did also have my favourite flavour – pear!).

So when I returned I resolved to have another go at home-made.  These turned out a tasty, chewy mix – which I loved and so far my son seems to take to as well – but I think the key to this recipe lies in your mixture of dried fruit.  I used 1/3 dried apple, 1/3 turkish dried apricot, 1/3 dried figs, and the end result turned out to have a dominant apricot flavour.  I guess the end result was only very vaguely Swiss, so maybe I should just try to hunt down some dried pear to make a healthy version of those delicious pear muesli bars…

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Rustic Muesli-Bar-Bites

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
2 weetbix, crushed (or 1/2 cup wheatgerm)
1/2 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
400g mixed dried fruit, chopped (see notes above)
1/2 cup currants or sultanas
2 eggs
1/2 cup fruit juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 180C, and line 2 trays (25cm x 17cm) with baking paper.

In a large bowl,  combine the dry ingredients, including the dried fruit.  Stir to mix well.

In a small bowl, stir together the wet ingredients.  (Don’t worry if the honey doesn’t mix through properly at this point.)

Tip the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir very well to mix through.  Press the mixture into the baking trays, making the tops as smooth as you can.

Bake for 35-35 minutes, until the tops are just golden and the mixture has shrunken away slightly from the sides.

Cool in the tins until the bars are cool to the touch, then cut into whatever size bars or squares you like.

Yield: Depends on the size of your bars, but I got out 42 bites from a batch.

Just a very quick post to report on an improbably tasty discovery: pan-fried gnocchi.  I have long been wary of supermarket gnocchi, and have never made it with any success from scratch at home, so when I chanced on a few internet recipes that descibed a method of cooking them straight from frozen, I was intrigued.   I’m sure you could transform this many different ways with whatever vegetables you have on hand, so let me know how you go.  I’m totally back into gnocchi with this cooking technique.  And even though you could make it into a truly decadent dish by upping the butter quantity to make something more like a burnt-butter sauce, for a weeknight meal that can be on the table in 20 minutes and that uses just one pan and just one big spoon of butter, I’m sold.

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Pan-fried gnocchi with spinach and mushrooms
Adapted from Vegetarian Times

375g ready-made gnocchi (from the fridge, or I used frozen)
150g mushrooms, sliced
150g baby spinach
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 generous tablespoon butter

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, and heat on medium-high until the butter is sizzling.  Tip in the gnocchi all at once and fry, stirring well to coat in the butter.  When bronzed on all sides, remove from the heat and set aside.

Return the pan to the medium heat, and add in the mushrooms.  Fry till just softening, then add the garlic and spinach.  Turn the vegetables over well to wilt the spinach.  When all the spinach is just wilted, return the gnocchi to the pan to heat through.  Season with salt and pepper.

Yield: serves 2-3 for a main

For his birthday dinner this week, my cream-and-dairy-loving husband requested creamy spinach pasta.  I was happy to oblige with this old favourite, and when trying to think about what might go best for a simple but celebratory dessert, a chocolate fudge sauce I’d seen in Nigella Express came to mind as an ideal vehicle for the remaining double cream.

Now, this isn’t a meal for everyday, and isn’t a meal for when you’re counting calories.  But, in its defence, the pasta sauce does use a vast amount of English spinach leaves (2 bunches!), and does feed 4 ravenous people.  It really is a very simple idea, and the spinach puree-sauce provides a wonderfully tasty coating for the pasta.  If you’re pressed for time, I would say that semi-dried tomatoes could substitute really well for these oven roasted ones.

There’s really no way to think of any healthful defence of this chocolate fudge sauce (which I think is like a sublime version of the trashy thrill of Reece’s peanut butter cups), unless you count the fact that it is so rich and delicious you won’t need more than a couple of spoonfuls of it over your favourite icecream.  (I don’t know what Nigella was thinking in saying that this recipe serves 4:  I would say this quantity of fudge would top 10-12 regular-sized sundaes generously.)

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Creamy Spinach Pasta
Adapted from Vegie Food

Note:  the original recipe calls for fresh spinach fettucine.  I couldn’t find that this time, and instead used this pretty (dried) egg fettucine with a single ruffled edge.  Up to you.

6 roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
40g butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, chopped
500g English spinach leaves (about 2 bunches worth)
250mL vegetable stock
1/2 cup double cream
400g pasta (see note above)
shaved parmesan, to top

Roast the tomato wedges tossed in a bit of olive oil at 220C for about 30 minutes, until softened.

Put the pasta on to cook.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan, and good the garlic and onion over medium heat until the onion is soft.  Then add the spinach, stock and cream, and push down the spinach to wilt.  Bring to a boil and simmer rapidly for 5 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, then puree with a hand blender or in a food processor.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside until the pasta and tomatoes are ready.

When everything is cooked, tip the creamy spinach sauce into the drained pasta and toss well to coat the pasta.  Serve into bowls, and top with the roasted tomato and parmesan shavings.

Yield: 4 generous servings.

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Chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce
Minor adaptations from Nigella Express

175mL double cream
100g milk chocolate, chopped
100g smooth peanut butter, chopped
2 tbsp golden syrup

Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and stir over low heat to melt and to combine all the ingredients.  In 2-3 minutes the sauce will be ready.

We had this with vanilla and caramel icecream, with some chopped salted peanuts on top.  Delicious.  Go crazy with it and let me know what you suggest.

Yield: enough for 10-12 sundaes.  Keeps in a jar in the fridge, and reheats just fine with a gentle burst in the microwave.