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…..?

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.

Cafe style granola you can make at home

I’m a drama queen. I don’t have gallbladder issues, I have a gallbladder that practically exploded. Drastic measures required for dramatic times. When I google-ated what I should eat while in possession of a dodgy gallbladder, the main things were low fat and sugar and higher fibre content.

This helped to kick start my eat like a hippy regime (you see? I don’t change my diet, I eat like a medieval Tibetan monk). Fresh fruit and veg, brown rice, nuts and seeds and lentils n’stuff.

About the same time, My Mate Kathryn had given me a jar of her homemade granola as a gift. When I tried it my whole world changed. It was like my hippy-diet-heroin. Is that drama queen-y? No. I didn’t think so either.

Anyway, I stalked her until she gave me the recipe. I’ve eaten it with fruit and homemade yoghurt almost every day since. That’s not me being dramatic – that’s the actual truth.

I don’t know where she got the recipe, but here it is:

  • 6 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole meal flour
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 cups mixed nuts
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup linseeds
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 pinches salt

Mix all these dry ingredients together and then mix:

  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup good quality maple syrup (the cheap stuff is too sugary and sickly)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • Splash almond essence (optional)

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and put it into an oven pan (the picture above is my mixture just before putting it in the oven). Put it in a pre-heated oven at 160oC for 60 minutes. Take it out and stir it through every 15 minutes.

Take it out and let it cool completely. Then add about a cup of dried fruit. It can be whatever you like, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried dates – whatever takes your fancy.

This makes a good big batch and even eating every day, lasts me a while. Extra bonus – because of the cinnamon and maple syrup, when you’re cooking it, it makes the house smell like donuts.

You’re welcome.

Nut-free choc hit under 100 calories

When did bliss balls become a thing? I am a late adopter in most things and before I go further, I should add that I’m a complete convert now I’ve found them. But when did they suddenly appear? It’s like quinoa and chia seeds. One day they just didn’t exist and then the next they were everywhere. As crazy as this sounds, I remember the days before balsamic vinegar. Oh the horror.

My other problem here is that I’m English and therefore anything that sounds remotely smutty makes me snicker behind my hand. Bliss balls. Admit it. It’s funny.

My little boys obviously find this hilarious also, so I choose from now on to call them Bliss Bites, and I just try to rise above it when the boys ask if there’s any nuts in it (while over-emphasising the word nuts and falling around on the floor laughing).

I have persevered though because they seem like such a great idea to help with sweet cravings and I’m a massive fan of anything I can give the boys for snacks that isn’t packaged rubbish. This is one of my faves because it’s nut-free (Ha! Take that boys!) and so can be included in lunch boxes at school but also packs a chocolate-y punch when you wanna smash a Mars bar.

This recipe makes about 18 so they come out at around 100 calories each. I count calories intermittently because some things blow the calorie count but are just good and healthy. This is one of them, being unprocessed and lacking refined sugar. But obviously it is sweet so ending up at 100 cals is pretty good to just give you that sugary hit.

Nut-Free Chocolate Bliss Bites

  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup dates
  • 1 cup sultanas or raisins
  • 1/2 cup cacao (or cocoa powder if that’s what you have in the cupboard)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • Milo, more cacao or desiccated coconut to coat them

I buy the cheaper dried dates so I stuck ’em in a bowl in some boiling water for a few minutes to soften them up. Then into the whizzer with all the other ingredients except for whatever you’re going to coat them with.

Blitz til mixed and pasty. Then roll into balls and throw into a bowl with your coating ingredient (I used Milo).

One of my angels doesn’t like it “gritty” (the sunflower seeds chop in the whizzer but it doesn’t go smooth and buttery) so next time I might blitz those separately so they make a finer grain and then blitz with the other ingredients.

Mine made about 18 using a tablespoon to measure. They can be stored in the fridge and also in the freezer – I tend to make a batch of different bites per week, keep half in the fridge for the week and freeze the other half so my freezer is a glowing assortment of tasty snacks.

Nom-nom-nom……watch this space for the ones I trial that turn out to be the easiest and tastiest.