Thai-style pumpkin soup with cilantro/coriander pesto

Halloween is approaching, and we Aussies are newcomers to the traditions and parties that take place here in Vancouver on October 31. We just don’t celebrate it in a big way like it is in Canada and the US so it’s sure to be an eye opener.  The stores are in preparation stocking the shelves with decorative ornaments, costumes and loads and loads of candy! What I’ve never seen back home is all of these treats are manufactured and packaged into  a special Halloween size (mini snack size)…it’s full-on, seriously on another level!

Supermarkets are exploding with pumpkins, everywhere you turn there are bulbous orange objects of all shapes and sizes staring at you in the face.

I look forward to dressing up, I look forward to seeing my son ‘trick or treat’ and most of all participating in making or baking some Halloween goodies.

But one thing I do have experience with is eating pumpkin. I am used to cooking it in roast dinners; ‘Roast lamb with pumpkin and potato with gravy’ is a Sunday favourite back home and in wintertime many weeks may include pumpkin in risotto, soups, curries and stir-fries. Perhaps one of the most popular dishes that presents pumpkin a good light in the  fall here in Canada is pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving which I haven’t mastered yet!

It’s loaded with anti-oxidants; vitamins A, C and E as well as B complex group vitamins. What’s more is that the seeds which you can roast are an excellent source of fibre and minerals like iron, selenium and zinc. It’s a fairly sustainable food too with the flesh, seeds and sometimes skin all being used and eaten in recipes.

So for now, here is a warming recipe which was published in the July, 2005 issue of delicious. magazine (Aust. edition) adapted ever so slightly to my taste.

Thai-style pumpkin soup with coriander pesto

Ingredients

2 bunches of cilantro/coriander, roots trimmed (a few leaves reserved for garnish)

1/4 cup of walnuts

Zest and juice of one lemon

2 garlic cloves

1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil

1 onion chopped

2 teaspoons grated ginger

1 teaspoon cumin

1 Tablespoon Thai red curry paste

1 kg of butternut pumpkin (is best otherwise standard pumpkin), peeled and cut into small cubes

2 cups of vegetable stock (500 ml) vegetable stock

400 ml canned light coconut milk

Optional: Thinly sliced red onion and red chilli, to garnish.

Note: I used ground baked pumpkin seeds prepared while soup was cooking.

Method

1. To make the coriander pesto, process coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in food processor. Slowly add 3 tablespoons of the oil to give a sauce consistency adding a little warm water if necessary. Add walnuts and process again and then season.

2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add onion and cumin stirring for 1 minute. Add ginger and red curry paste and stir for one minute. Add pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes until pumpkin is cooked. Cool slightly and then blend until smooth.  Return to the pan, add the coconut milk and season and warm through.

3. To serve, place in soup bowls and swirl in a spoonful of pesto. Garnish with the ground roasted pumpkin seeds, reserved cilantro/coriander leaves and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.

Note: For a party, and a bit of a retro look you could serve soup in the pumpkin as shown.

Enjoy!

Sugo – simple tomato pasta sauce

A few things I will never forget after spending a reasonable amount of time in Italy, ‘with Italians’ in a past life are the foundations of a good pasta ‘sauce'(or sugo in Italian). What I learnt was mostly from watching, given my degree of language skill was only basic.

The formula for an excellent sauce?

> Always shop for the locally sourced produce or grow your own (especially tomatoes)! One of the first memorable food markets I was introduced to in Rome many years ago was ‘Campo de’ Fiori’; literally meaning ‘Field of Flowers’ has historically been one of the longest running fresh vegetable and fish markets since 1869.

> A good Italian sauce is simplistic not complicated, always using few ingredients to enhance the flavours in each dish. Have you ever seen an Italian eating a pizza that resembles a cake? No, of course not…they enjoy a pizza with a few ingredients without dominating the base for example; tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil and its fabulous!

This authentic pasta sauce is as simple as it gets and it will be hard not to inhale it once ready! I have included a suggestion for children to make it more fun. The name ‘bird’s nest’ has been adopted from a friend who makes this for her children sometimes and I am doing the same for them tomorrow when they all come over for lunch. Please see bottom for guide on putting bird’s nests together. It freezes well too if you want to make the most of all the tomatoes out there right now.

Italians are quite finicky about pairing their sauce with the perfect pasta so to speak…but hey, I’m not Italian so I will break the rules occasionally to suit my family’s tastes.

Generally the rule of thumb is to match a heavy, chunky sauce with a short or chunky pasta like penne, rigatoni, fusilli or even gnocchi and with light, thin sauces, complement by using the longer clingy pastas like linguine, spaghetti, fettuccine etc.

Simple tomato pasta sauce with linguine

Ingredients

1.5kg or 3.5 pounds of very ripe tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I love a little more, so I used 1.5 teaspoons)

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves

1 Tablespoon olive oil for cooking

1 Tablespoon olive oil extra virgin cold pressed for drizzling at end

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Fresh linguine pasta

Method

1. Score a cross with a knife on the bottom of each tomato. Prepare a pot of boiling water and also chilled/iced water. Place each tomato into the pot of boiling water for a minute, and remove placing them into the iced water immediately. Once they have cooled a little, peel the skin off the tomatoes which should be easy. If they are not, you may need to pop them into the boiling water for a minute longer.

2. Quarter or halve the tomatoes; depending on whether you have bought a round or Roma variety and remove seeds with hands over a sieve and bowl so you are not losing any juice. Push as much juice from the pulp and seeds through the sieve as possible and set aside. Chop half the quantity of tomatoes up finely. Place the other half in a food processor with the oregano.

3. Using a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add garlic to pot. It will only need a minute or two; do not brown or burn. Add tomatoes, salt and boil for 5-10 minutes. Simmer for 45 minutes or a bit longer until it reaches the desired consistency you like.

4. Prepare fresh linguine which should only take three minutes to cook in boiling water. Drain and arrange in dishes. Spoon in the ‘sugo’ with a few torn basil leaves on top, drizzle the extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and enjoy!

Sugo

Tomato pasta sauce

Additions:- If you would like a more intense flavour, a little pecorino cheese grated on top is delicious. If you love the basil flavour, process some basil leaves, parsley and extra virgin cold pressed olive oil together and drizzle on top.

Note: For bird’s nests, twirl and arrange the linguine in a nest like shape. Spoon some hot sauce into the nest and place some baby bocconcini balls on top. That way they will melt a little on the sauce and still resemble white eggs in a nest!

Children's bird's nest pasta

Children’s bird’s nest pasta

A grouse salad recipe for the Grouse Grind!

Grouse, means by definition a mumble, mutter, complain pettily. However in our ‘Aussie slang’ it means awesome!

So given this evening my husband is about to step up to the challenge of the Grouse Grind, I thought I better make a grouse aka awesome salad for dinner which would not only be satisfying and full of flavour but high in protein too. I have included the recipe below.

The Grouse Grind is a 2.9-kilometre trail up the face of Grouse Mountain, commonly referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” except you are on it for about 1.5-2 hours! (Sourced from www.grousemountain.com). It is located in the North Shore region of Vancouver, you stay right on the Capilano road over the Lion’s Gate Bridge from Downtown Vancouver.

The first hikers recorded on the mountain was in 1894 when a hunting party shot a blue grouse bird and named the mountain in the bird’s honour. It wasn’t until the 1920’s and early 30’s that it became a popular spot for adventurous hikers.  It is a steep climb with rugged terrain up an approximate 56 percent slope (30°) which starts at the Valley Station of Grouse Mountain and finishes at the Peak’s plateau.

This is a boy’s night out for my husband as he and a mate will be doing the evening hike after a day’s work, so I’m not sure what the motivation is; the excellent aerobic fitness workout or soaking up the view with a beer up top!

Atop the mountain, there are plenty of activities to do and I will talk about that next in my following post as I experienced it ‘without’ the stairmaster workout with my son, girlfriend and her children arriving by gondola which was one of the best days ever since arriving in Vancouver.

Ok, so here’s the salad I have made for dinner…it is not one of my own creations but I think this will do the trick to get my husband comfortably to the peak with loads of energy minus the sluggish feeling.

One of the food magazines I worked on in Australia called Good Taste published this fabulous recipe in the January issue, 2010 which is right in the middle of summer so it’s very suitable right now that we are starting to get the warmer temperatures here in Vancouver.

Quinoa salad with asparagus and feta (serves 4)

Ingredients

500ml (2 cups of water)

150g (1 cup) quinoa, rinsed, drained

Olive oil spray

2 bunches asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 4cm lengths

1 large red capsicum, halved, seeded, coarsley chopped

75g (1/2 cup) crumbled reduced-fat feta

40g (1/4 cup) sunflower seed kernels

4 shallots, trimmed, thinly sliced (These may be referred to as white onions in North America and I have included an image below)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh continental parsley (flat leaf)

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons honey (I used a Fraser Valley blueberry honey I picked up at the Kitsilano farmer’s markets, Vancouver)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

100g baby rocket leaves (arugula)

Method

1. Combine water and quinoa in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, preheat a large chargrill on high. Spray lightly with olive oil. Cook the asparagus for 2-3 minutes or until tender and crisp. Add the asparagus, capsicum, feta, sunflower seed kernels, shallot and parsley to the quinoa.

3. Whisk the lemon juice, honey, oil and paprika in a small bowl until well combined. Add the dressing and rocket (arugula) to the quinoa mixture. Season with pepper and toss to combine.

There you have it, a ‘Grouse’ aka awesome highly nutritious protein packed dinner – Enjoy!

Please note: Image of shallots which could be termed white onions in Canada.

My hump day dish…Pasta e broccoli

So it has been a long week, or couple of weeks I should say. On the good side there has been birthday celebrations, Father’s Day and more cars free day festivals. On the not so good side there has been the physically exhausting exercise of moving house. Ok, although we were only moving up two floors in the same building, I soon realised you can accumulate quite a few items in three months!

So I apologise especially to family and friends for not keeping you in the loop with our adventures, but finding some focused minutes or hours in the day to write has been a challenge…anyway back on track now.

When even making dinner sometimes is perhaps one of the last things I want to do after all I’ve packed into a day, this meal is easy to prepare and my go to dish takes minutes to prepare.  Before you know it you are sitting down to a satisfying meal and a cold crisp glass of wine!

My hump day pasta dish (serves 4). This recipe has been a favourite of mine for years. It is particularly good I feel when I am craving comfort food. Surprisingly my son likes it as well, perhaps he is a salt fiend too. This is inspired by the rustic Roman dishes I enjoyed while travelling around Italy (on a shoestring budget) in my early 20s. Broccoli is the hero here for green goodness!

Ingredients

1 medium head of broccoli cut into small florets, (I like using the centre of stalks sliced too).

350 gm of spaghetti

2 cloves of garlic

6 anchovies

1 tablespoon of salted capers (drained if in vinegar)

1 small red chilli (de-seeded and chopped finely)

1/2 cup of roasted breadcrumbs (can make a day ahead – takes 3-5 minutes under grill).

2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, preferably a high quality aged one as it is less acidic and has a more caramelised flavour.

1.5 Tablespoon of premium extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed)

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Handful of baby rocket leaves and/or parsley

Pecorino cheese and black pepper to taste – optional

Method

1. Place spaghetti into a large pot of boiling salted water on high heat. In the last four minutes throw in broccoli florets.

2. In a medium frypan, heat 2 tablespoons of EVOO (not cold pressed) and crushed garlic cloves on a medium heat. You do not want to brown the garlic, just heat for 1-2 minutes till fragrant. Add anchovies, capers and chilli for another minute or two.

3. Add balsamic vinegar, and you should see a slightly thicker caramelised consistency.

4. Mix in the breadcrumbs for another minute or so on heat and remove.

5. Drain your pasta, then in the same pot you boiled the pasta, use premium extra virgin olive oil to coat bottom and toss spaghetti, broccoli, breadcrumb mixture and lemon juice together.

6. Add rocket leaves or parsley for extra texture, pecorino and black pepper and serve.

Pour your glass of wine and enjoy!

My hale and hearty kale super summer recipes – Part 1

Ok, so I’m ready to glow for Summer! With the support of my loving husband who has seen much green fly around this kitchen lately, he might actually think I have gone Kale Krazy, but I have a result which will benefit all of us. I am going to publish them in stages, otherwise there might be some kale backlash in our household! You could prepare a couple of these recipes over the course of the week to ensure you are topped up with your recommended dose of greens!

Tip: How to shop for and prepare kale. Always look for rich deep bluish-green leaves, never yellow or with holes in them. There are many different shapes and varieties out there. The younger or smaller leaves taste better. You can consume the stems, however in some recipes the texture is better to remove them. Never store in fridge pre-washed, wash as you use it. It is preferable to eat within 2-3 days of buying however 5 days is usually fine. To wash, fill up a bowl or your salad spinner with warm water and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or another acid based product like apple-cider vinegar and leave for 5-10 minutes then rinse. To discard tough stems, cut out in a V shape style.

1. Kale smoothie (serves 2). This is a perfect pick me up or breakfast on the go, its delicious and filling as well. You can substitute dairy for non-dairy ingredients too. If you want to make this for children, it is better to use the dark berries that hide the kale, and exclude the flax seeds. Oh and one tip, check teeth immediately afterwards!

Ingredients – Two options (one is non-dairy and the other dairy)

1 cup coconut milk / 1 cup of organic milk

1 banana frozen chopped

3-4 Kale leaves chopped (must strip leaves, remove stems and wash well). I also prefer using a non-curly variety for this one.

1/2 cup packed mixed blackberries and blueberries (or any combination; raspberries, strawberries etc).

1/3 cup coconut yoghurt / organic plain yoghurt optional

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup to taste

2-3 teaspoons of flaxseed

Method 

1. Blend all ingredients together in food processor or powerful blender

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2. Crunchy kale pesto (serves 6 portions approx). I have to make this every week as my toddler loves it! He thinks he is eating ‘green caterpillars’ as I add them to spiral pasta. It is dairy free so you can add shaved parmesan afterwards if you like that extra rich flavour. We all enjoy this family favourite and I feel good knowing my son has stuffed himself with green goodness.

Ingredients

2 1/3 cups kale or 1 big bunch of kale (choose any variety or a combination).

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1/4 cup pine nuts

Lemon zest from half a lemon

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 small cloves garlic crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Once hot, place sunflower seeds and pine nuts on a tray and roast for 3-5 minutes and remove.

2. Chop kale and use leaves only which have been separated from the stem. Cut in a crosswise direction, roughly chopped. You do not need to pre-wash with this recipe.

3. Fill a bowl with iced water. In a saucepan of boiling water, blanch kale for one minute only and then drain and place directly into iced water. Once cooled, drain and dry kale with paper towel.

4. Add half of the kale, half the pine nuts and sunflower seeds, lemon juice, zest, garlic, sugar, salt and half the olive oil to a food processor to finely mix. Once mixed through, add remaining ingredients and process again

5. Add remaining oil, sunflower seeds, pine nuts and process again until fine throughout.

Note: Variations can include substituting half a cup of kale for half a cup of fresh oregano leaves which is wonderful too!

Serving suggestion:- Spiral pasta mixed through pesto with cracked black pepper and more lemon as desired.

Presto! Perfect crunchy pesto ready to eat; can be mixed through pastas, spread on bread toasted bruschetta style with roasted tomatoes, as a side with breakfast or brunch recipes. Store in refrigerator for 3-5 days.

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Ok, so back to the kitchen with my kale to work on the next few…Enjoy!