Zoodles with home made pesto (and pesto pizza)

I mentioned the other day that despite my coriander failure (repeated), my mint and basil plants have been going crazy. The mint I made jelly with to have in the fridge as condiment (do love that word) to have with sweet or savoury stuff. You can read about it here if you wanna see the recipe.

But basil – oh basil! How I love basil! It was with great excitement that I harvested the basil so I could make up a big batch of pesto. Pesto I love. Store bought pesto from a jar, I do not love. It tastes somehow insipid or synthetic.

Not surprising really. Most pesto sauces in a jar do have real basil and Parmesan in them, but they also have “flavourings” (whatever that means) and potato flakes, lactic acid and yeast extract and other fillers and preservatives.

Homemade pesto is so simple and clean and wonderful. It just tastes like healthy. Of course you can have it with any pasta, but I have it with zoodles (spiralised zucchini noodles) to be extra righteous.

For the pesto, it’s a pretty basic, tried and tested recipe:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whack all the ingredients in a whizzer and….er….whizz it all up. Serve with pasta or zoodles. Done.

Here’s something else I love though. Use pesto instead of a tomato base on a homemade pizza. Add bacon bits, pine nuts, red onion and feta. Stick in the oven as normal. When it comes out, squeeze a bit of lemon over it and add some rocket leaves. It makes a different kind of pizza that is just ah-MAZ-ing. It has all those sweet, sour, salty elements that just makes you want to eat more, drink wine and hit the couch to binge watch The Good Place…..or is that just me…..?

What do I do with all these herbs?

I like to think of myself as a budding urban farmer. In actual fact, My Mate Sheri and My Mate Sue are actual urban farmers. They grow stuff you can eat n’that. I just tinker about at the edges and like to imagine myself livin’ on the land…… yeah, OK.

I did start growing my own herbs. They die. A lot. I’m onto my third go at coriander and it just died. Again.

But my basil and mint have gone gang busters. At the moment they’re on the window sill in the kitchen (they died on the front porch. Maybe they were feeling left out). And this weekend it was time to do something with the mint, because I just couldn’t eat it all, or drink it all. Time to hit the interwebs to work out what to do with it.

Mint jelly. Hmmm. Intriguing. I don’t eat a lot of lamb, but I figure I could serve it as a thin spread with cottage cheese on a bagel or in a turkey wrap, or even stir a touch through some fruit salad. Obviously it goes brilliantly with roast lamb too.

As a jelly, it could be used for sweet or savoury. It’s heavy in the sugar department, but you don’t use much as a condiment. It mixes well with other condiments too like onion jam or mustard. Side note, I just like saying the word “condiment“.

I got this from Goodfood and the ingredients are just:

  • 1kg Granny Smith apples
  • 2 bunches of mint plus 20 leaves finely chopped to add at the end
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • Roughly 3 cups sugar

Chop the apples – you don’t have to peel or core them. Add them to a pan with the water, lemon juice and bunches of mint. Bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Strain through muslin or cheesecloth and leave overnight.

Next day, put the juice to a pan and add 1 cup of sugar to every cup of juice. Mine yielded 3 cups of juice, so 3 cups of sugar. Heat and stir til the sugar has dissolved and then boil it to death for 15 minutes.

Switch off the heat, add the 20 finely chopped leaves and leave it to stand for 10 minutes before adding it to a jar.

Done. Tomorrow will be cottage cheese on a bagel with some mint jelly for breaky for me! And for the next 10 years probs considering how high a yield I got! But my crazy mint harvest is all used up so I’m a happy chappy.

Store bought spice mixes include some nasty surprises……

My Mate Fiona’s Mum Alison has many hidden talents. Not surprisingly I first met My Mate Fiona’s Mum Alison through My Mate Fiona. I then dealt with her again because she has a business – My Cuppa Tea – making a whole host of homewares and baby stuff and basically gorgeous things that I just need in my life.

A couple of months back, she’d read m’blog and messaged me a recipe for a Mexican Spice Blend. My boys love Taco Tuesday and I love making things from scratch so, you know, winning.

Because I’m also all about saving money, out of interest I did a cost comparison to see if making your own is cheaper than buying the pre-made taco seasoning mixes. If made from scratch, the spice blend makes about 16 teaspoons or about 80g. On average at the supermarket, you can get spice re-fills for about $2.00 which is 25g. Based on the recipe, if you bought that in the supermarket, it would cost about $6.00 or 75c for 10g. A pre-made taco seasoning costs around $2.30 for 30g or 77c for 10g. So comparatively not that much difference.

BUT

What are you getting in your 30g packet of taco seasoning? In My Mate Fiona’s Mum Alison’s recipe, it’s all 100% fabulous spices. In the store bought packets, the ingredients are: chilli pepper, salt, maltodextrin, spice, onion powder, corn starch, yellow corn starch and then less than 2% hydrogenated soy bean oil, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), sunflower oil, natural flavour and ethoxyquin (preservative).

Now I don’t know about you, but not much of that looks any good. “spice” is just a generic addition and maltodextrin, the third greatest ingredient, is a thickener and filler! That’s right, it’s a filler. Now compare at your own leisure….

My Mate Fiona’s Mum Alison’s Mexican Spice Blend

  • 3 teaspoons cumin
  • 4 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • Pinch of cinnamon to taste
  • Pinch ground cloves to taste

Method: grind all ingredients together and then store!

Not only does this ingredients list have actual ingredients in it, it comes from a lady who spent time in Mexico and has a love of Mexican food. AND she makes lovely coasters and bangles and things, so what’s not to trust??

Pulled spiced lamb and seasonal veg

Things change when you’re broke. It takes a while to shift your mind from “what do I want to eat and where shall I get it”, to “what’s in season so what shall I cook”. You can look at this either of two ways. You can feel all miserable because you can’t have what you want anymore, or you can grab your reusable bags and head down to your farm shop to see what fruit and veg is in season for a menu planning adventure.

I say farm shop because the veg we have at the big supermarkets is generic and somehow less tasty than you remember. Like, when you eat a tomato and think “wow, that tastes way more tomato-y than I remember tomatoes tasting!”

At the farm shop (or whatever your local equivalent is), you get what’s local and what’s in season. Which means it’s really fresh and tastes amazing. Right now in Australia we’re in the season for mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini. And they work brilliantly with a Middle Eastern flare.

Yesterday I shared a recipe for a Moroccan Spice Blend. The first meal I made with it was pulled lamb with chargrilled seasonal veggies and a tahini sauce.

It was Ah-Mazing! It was the cheapest cut of lamb, lifted to culinary heights by the spices. The veggies were so tasty and filling and the tahini sauce just gave it that little creamy lift.

Any cut of lamb for the slow cooker will do. I don’t even know what mine was – I grabbed it because it was on special. It was about 600g. This recipe is for that amount of meat but if you do a leg or something bigger, just double the proportions below.

Pulled Spiced Lamb

Whack the lamb in the slow cooker. Sprinkle over the spices and rub it around a bit. Drizzle over the honey and water. Put the slow cooker on high for 5 hours (this assumes a pretty cheap cut of meat or a large one. If you have a smaller amount of diced lamb or a slightly better cut, you may not need as long so just keep an eye on it – if you poke it with some tongs it will become clear if it’s falling apart or not 😂).

You don’t really need salt because the spice blend has salt in it already.

Slice your veg of choice and chargrill, grill or fry on the griddle. I had thin slices of eggplant, chunky slices of zucchini and mushrooms.

If you want some carbs, bulgur wheat goes well with this which you can make by placing in a bowl and cover with boiling water so the wheat is just covered. Put a plate over it and leave it to stand for 5 minutes. Done.

Tahini Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons tahini paste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2-4 tablespoons water (depending how thick you like it)

in a bowl, add the tahini paste and lemon juice. Stir it all together – it will get thick and pastey. Add water a tablespoon at a time til it becomes the consistency you want.

Next? Stack up your bulgur wheat (if using it) and chargrilled veg. Pull/shred the lamb and add to the veg. Drizzle some tahini sauce over the top. If you wanna get fancy, top with some toasted pine nuts and fresh coriander or parsley.

Boom. Amazing. This food makes me happy 😃

Spices that make cheap cooking taste classy AND boost your health

I grew up in the north of England. Stew and dumplings. Meat and two veg. Bangers and mash. Beans on toast. I have to admit, I salivate just thinking about them. Thankfully, my mum is a classy lady and was always cooking up a storm, so she could turn a dull-as-dishwater meat and two veg into something really quite spectacular. Her secret weapons? Butter, cream and lard.

While my taste buds shall forever thank her, my gallbladder does not (and hers was sacrificed to the god of duck fat long ago). But she gave me a love of food and creating wonderful tastes. My secret weapon? Spices.

Apart from my dodgy gallbladder, I have also been broke and so my choice of amazing ingredients is somewhat reduced. Spices make a cheap cut of meat taste amazing. Spices lift a vegetarian dish from “rabbit food” to gourmet New York-hip-new-thing.

Some of my fave spices are Middle Eastern. It’s one of my favourite cuisines and is so thick with taste and variety. I came across a recipe that included a Moroccan Spice Blend. Instead of heading out to buy it, I googled what was in it and it turns out I had all the spices in my cupboard. 5 minutes later I gots me a jar of Moroccan spice blend and I’m good to go!

The thing I love about these most is all the health benefits of cooking with these. But first the recipe (slightly amended from the one I saw to account for my taste preferences):

Moroccan Spice Blend

  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3/4 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon allspice
  • 1/4 tablespoon ground cloves

You can use this as a meat rub or add it to lentil stews or whatever you fancy. Check this out though. Any of these spices has enormous health benefits.

  • Aid to digestion – Cumin, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, allspice
  • Anti inflammatory – ginger, cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves
  • Boost to the immune system – cumin
  • Source of iron – cumin
  • Heart health – ginger, salt, cinnamon
  • Aid to skin health – cumin, black pepper
  • Prevents/helps fight diabetes – cumin, black pepper, cinnamon
  • Protects brain function – cinnamon
  • Decreases blood pressure – coriander
  • Improves cholesterol levels – coriander
  • Boosts metabolism – cayenne

Please don’t take this as medical advice – it isn’t! This is me google-ating things as I use them more. The list above appears to be the general vibe of things on the interwebs. The main point here is that spices are good for you. They do things that our bodies clearly need them to do. Not only do they make my cooking taste more expensive than it actually is, it is making my body thank me.

I am gradually introducing all these flavours and blends to my kids. For me, cooking with spices adds so much depth and so much enjoyment to meals. I cooked with this Spice Blend tonight. It was so amazing I had to message My Mate Jessie to tell her that even the memory of eating it was making me happy.

Guess who’s coming round to dinner next? Because thats the point of food isn’t it? It’s to be enjoyed, and it’s to be shared.