Wednesday 27 April 2011

Sweet Pumpkin Tagine with Harissa and Almond Couscous

Sweet Pumpkin Tagine with Harissa and Almond Couscous
from Moroccan, The Australian Women’s Weekly, ACP Books, 2011.

My partner came home with a new tagine. A great surprise! So, naturally, I had to try it out. We went out looking for Moroccan cookery books. They had to contain vegetarian tagine recipes. This meant some interesting books had to be put back on the shelves. Finally, we settled for Moroccan which had several suitable recipes—and a lot of other material I felt I’d like to get into.

The book, a fat little tome, is packed with recipes but rather short on information about Moroccan food. Nevertheless it seems like a good starting point. It’s also a Women’s Weekly publication and they have a good reputation.

The tagine itself was very easy to make. It was simply a matter of placing the ingredients into the cooker in the order given and cooking until it was ready.

The harissa was much more work. Dried chillies had to be soaked and ground. A red capsicum had to be roasted and skinned to puree in with the chillies. The spices had to be dry roasted and ground in the mortar and pestle. But it was all an enjoyable exercise—and the result was a heat explosion.

The couscous was easily made and when the harissa was added to it it gave it a wonderfully hot bite. I ended up adding a little more harissa to the couscous as I do enjoy the extra heat of chillies.

The mix of vegetables in the tagine with the spices and the addition of sultanas and honey worked very well. As it was a saucy meal the coucous was a great accompaniment to soak all the flavoursome juices. I look forward to trying some more meals in the tagine and with the weather rapidly becoming cooler every day they'll be just the thing for winter.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Yoghurt, Mint and Barley Soup

Yoghurt, Mint and Barley Soup
from Turkey: Recipes and tales from the road, Leanne Kitchen, Murdoch Books, 2011

I keep returning to this travel/recipe book to browse through the pages to look at the photographs of the Turkish people and countryside. Happy memories of this country are reawakened at each page. 

The illustrations of the foods too stimulate me to make them all. I settled on trying out a soup.

There were no complications in the making; it was all very straightforward. It was a mixture of several of the tastes I enjoy: barley, mint, yoghurt and lemon. Hence I loved it. My partner just didn’t like it at all and after several attempts abandoned the dish (I ate both bowls). 

I guess it’s all a matter of taste with this one. The score below indicates my reaction to the dish.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Peppery Cheese Crisps

Peppery Cheddar Cheese Crisps
from Red Hot and Green, Janet Hazen, Chronicle Books, 1996.

If you like hot, peppery biscuits with a cheese flavour these will go down well. They are strong on the pepper, crisp and cheesy. Each batch that I made was eaten in one session.

At first I thought that the amount of pepper in the recipe seemed excessive but I followed all the instructions carefully and am glad I did. To make the biscuits all that was needed was to mix the ingredients together and mould them into a dough. They were then turned into four rolls of mixture and wrapped in gladwrap to be refrigerated for a few hours. They were then cut into thin slices and baked. They turned out wonderful crisp biscuits with a peppery bite.

With four rolls of mixture it was easy to cook a batch on subsequent days. While the instructions say that it can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days, I had the last two rolls of mine a little longer and they still turned out okay.

The cookbook has the subtitle ’50 Spicy Vegetarian Recipes’ and is divided into five sections: chillies, peppercorns, mustards, horseradish and ginger. If you like your meals spiced up then this is a find. You need to do some fudging with the ingredients and the measurements as it is very American and with some odd measurements such as one and a quarter sticks of butter (whatever that is). But you can guess at some or the measurements or, when the ingredients are unknown to you, use the internet to work out what they are. Sometimes, as in the case of one recipe I was looking at which has five different varieties of dried chilli, you could have real problems and would either have to forego the particular item or make some clever substitutions.

As some of these books may be out of print if anyone would like a particular recipe, email me ( and I’ll send an abbreviated version. Of course, the whole book would be better; it’s loaded with other goodies.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Monday 18 April 2011

Greek Pie

Rustic Greek Pie
from Commonsense Vegetarian, Murdoch Books, 2011.

There was some home made pastry in the fridge waiting to be used up so I went looking for a pie to make. The Commonsense Vegetarian seems to hold a large selection of recipes for interesting home type meals with a modern influence and it was in here that I found the instructions for a rustic Greek pie.

The recipe called for a sheet of thawed short pastry. It was the shape of the pastry that, to some extent, dictated the shape of the pie. Having the home made pastry I decided to go my own way with the shape and make it in a flan case.

From here it was easy. Smooth down a layer of spinach. Sprinkle the chopped garlic on top of this. Then the haloumi and feta cheeses. Pour in the egg and cream mix and bake it.

It turned out not too bad at all. I wish I had seasoned the spinach but had thought that the cheeses were sufficiently salty. Apart from the lack of a little seasoning the pie was very enjoyable. Spinach and feta always work well together.

Slices of the pie were welcome eating as snacks  for a couple of days.

I look forward to returning to this book for it holds a lot of promising looking recipes.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Watercress and Pea Soup with Gorgonzola

Peppery Watercress and Pea Soup with Gorgonzola
from Market Vegetarian, Ross Dobson, Ryland Peters & Small, 2008.

The subtitle of this book is ‘easy organic recipes for every occasion’. Though not totally sure what ‘organic recipes’ are, this appealed to me.  I guess it was the combination of ‘easy’ with the always mysterious ‘organic’ that got my attention.

Every second page is a full page coloured illustration—always handy to know what you are going to eat is supposed to look like. A quick browse shows a variety of dishes with a variety of influences. All look worthy of cooking.

I had some watercress left over from a previous meal so settled on this soup. I thoroughly enjoy soups and find them relatively easy to put together. This one combined the watercress with green peas and rocket. The peppery cress and rocket were somewhat moderated by the sweetness of the peas.

What turned this straightforward soup into something special was the addition of a piece of Gorgonzola into the plate when it was served. I didn’t have Gorgonzola so used a blue-veined cheese from the fridge. This melted into the soup as it was being eaten and added a wonderful fillip to the already tasty soup.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Irmik Helvasi

Irmik Helvasi
from Turkey: Recipes and tales from the road, Leanne Kitchen, Murdoch Books, 2011.

I was attracted to this book by its look. It caught my eye from the photograph of the man sitting at a small table. I was immediately reminded of my recent visit to Turkey and how much I had loved the country and the people we met. Browsing through the book just reinforced my feelings. It is part travel and part cooking, beautifully laid out and presented. And while it is not really a vegetarian cookbook, I had to have it. Anyway, there is a fair percentage of vegetarian meals in it.

The first thing I cooked from the book was sweets, Irmik Kelvasi. I had not eaten it in Turkey but it looked interesting and offered me something different to cook.

Making the sweetened apricots was easy though it took a little time—mainly of waiting as the fruit had to soak for some time.

Apparently it was important that the semolina be cooked slowly and for a while until it changed its colour slightly. This needed constant attention but it was not onerous to do and I enjoyed watching it change. Then there was a quick addition of heated sweetened milk and some roasted pine nuts. A little bit more cooking and then it was left to cool.

When the ingredients were cooled and put together—a few spoonfuls of semolina in a bowl, topped with apricots and some ice cream—it was a pleasing and different sweet. Not too sweet, slightly grainy in texture from the semolina and with juicy bites of plump apricots. I had used ice cream rather than cream that the recipe called for. Perhaps next time I might try it with cream.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Rossini at the Quay

Had a break from cooking one night and went to the opera. This usually necessitates finding somewhere to eat as the opera starts at 7.30 pm.

There is a host of restaurants along the stretch around Circular Quay up to the Opera House so choosing one that suits to have a quick meal before attending a performance is not always easy. Of course, it’s always worth remembering that this is a tourist strip so it’s usually pretty busy and a little overpriced.

We always found that Rossini satisfied our needs well. There was always a selection of vegetarian dishes and the venue had a pleasant ambiance. You looked out over the ferries and the bridge. Often there was a hustler opposite to entertain. If you preferred you could eat inside.

The restaurant worked on an Italian system. The meals were all set out in bain-maries for viewing. You chose a meal and paid at the cashier. Then you returned to the servers who took your receipt and plated up your meal. Often there would be waiters handy to carry your meal back to your table. It was a quick and efficient system and the Italian pattern added to the fun of the place. Meals were Italian.

We had not been for a meal for some time so it was quite a surprise on going back recently on the way to attend Partenope to find that the system had changed. Now there were menus on the table and a waiter to take your orders. The meals still seemed to be in bain-maries and the old favourites were still there. I did feel that the menu had been enlarged somewhat from before. There did not seem to be nearly as many staff. The Italian feeling had gone.

Despite the changes I was still able to have my favourite Caponatina and it still tasted as good. And I think Rossini will still be my choice in future as it is quieter and less bustling than many of the other eating places along that strip. And, of course, it’s named after Rossini, a favourite opera composer.

Monday 11 April 2011

Mushrooms in Ginger Shred Soup

Mushrooms in Ginger Shred Soup
from The Vegetarian Table: Thailand, Jacki Passmore, Chronicle Books, 1997.

Thai food is wonderfully tasty but, frequently, the flavours are enhanced with items such as fish sauce, shrimp paste or oyster sauce. It is, therefore, difficult to find vegetarian Thai meals so it was great to discover this book of vegetarian Thai recipes.

This soup had a variety of mushrooms in it: black fungus, dried mushrooms, canned straw mushrooms, fresh oyster mushrooms. All should have made a very tasty soup.

I had a few reservations about the quantity of ginger to be used but it was, after all, a ginger soup. Nevertheless, I cut back the quantity. However, when it was all complete the taste was far too strong. It overpowered everything so that the mushrooms were hardly noticed in the brew.

It would also have helped if it had suggested cutting up the straw mushrooms. Not having used these before it came as I surprise on eating the first one to find that it was hollow and filled up with the liquid—and it was hot. Instructions were given for cutting up the other mushrooms so I expected that the straw mushrooms were to be eaten whole.

All in all this was a disappointing result for my first attempt from this book. I do hope the next one will turn out better.

Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Taking Stock

I set myself the task of cooking each night from recipe books. After three weeks perhaps I should take stock of what I have achieved.

* I have found some different ingredients and methods to add to my cooking repertoire. That, in itself, I guess is a small achievement. Partly this was occasioned by the fact that I had set myself strict rules for how I chose a recipe from a book. I knew that if I was going to browse through the book until something that appealed came to light then I would keep cooking the same sorts of things.

* I have developed a strong hankering for the standard simple meals that I did occasionally cook. In fact the recipe cooking each night may have to give way at times to satisfy the desire for the old.

* Cooking new recipes each night is not easy. I cannot imagine how Julie Powell managed to cook something new nearly every night for a year (524 recipes in 365 days)—in fact, I find it difficult to believe.

* Some new cooking implements have been purchased. None of the old have been disposed of so kitchen space has become extremely tight.

* Too much money was spent on new cookery books.

* I keep querying myself as to why I am doing this and I get answers like ‘self satisfaction’, ‘amusement’ and ‘pleasure’. These, I guess, are sufficient to keep going. One side issue that has happened is that I have, of necessity, had to write. I used to do lots of it at one time and it was always reasonably easy to do but, not having written for some time, it had become something of a chore. Writing is becoming easier again.

Looking back over what I have just written it seems that I have been steadily talking myself into continuing a bit longer.

Sunday 10 April 2011

A Savoury Mille-Feuille

Blue Cheese Mille-feuille with Glazed Red Onion and Fig and Cress Salad
from Vegetarian: It’s not all beans and tofu, Murdoch Books, 2011.

My first recipe from this new book. It comes from a series 'My Kitchen'. Oddly, it only has two sections to it: Snacks, soups and starters, and Mains. There are no sweets but, as these are essentially vegetarian anyway, they can be found in any cookbook. A quick browse through shows that the recipes are garnered from a wide variety of cooking cultures. Each double page spread has a strip down the side containing information of various sorts. For example, one page has an explanation of ‘jicama’. Useful, but it would have been better if accompanied by an illustration to show what this vegetable looks like. For many people, it’s known as yam bean.

My first exercise into cooking from this book was with the mille-fueille.  Probably the hardest thing about the recipe is working out how to pronounce the French word, which apparently means ‘one thousand leaves’.

I was fascinated to find that I had to cook the puff pastry layers weighted down between two trays to keep them from rising too much.

While they were baking it was simply a matter of glazing the onions and mixing the soft cheese filling.

With the layers baked and the cheesy filling mixed it was simply of matter of putting all the pieces together. I obviously didn't put enough weight on the tray when cooking the bottom two layers.

The simple salad was made from some favourite ingredients: figs and water cress. The dressing was a type of mayonnaise with mustard and red wine vinegar. Tasty.

Apart from some heated discussion on pronunciation of the name, the next most difficult item was trying to eat the meal without scattering the elements around the plate. But it was all worth the effort. The meal looked reasonably appealing and the creamy cheese filling, glazed onion and salad all went together really well.

 Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Thursday 7 April 2011

Pan-Pizza with Caramelised Onions and Goat Cheese

Pan-Pizza with Caramelised Onions and Goat Cheese
from New Vegetarian Kitchen, Nicola Graimes, Duncan Baird Publishers, 2011.

Being a fan of pizzas it was good to find a recipe where you could quickly mix up a non-yeast dough and cook it in a pan on the stove top.

It was simply a matter of caramelising the onions in a pan. While they were cooking the dough mix was made. It seemed a little like a yeastless foccacia mix, being self-raising flour, salt and olive oil.

The dough was then cooked in the pan on both sides. Then the toppings went on (in this case, the onions, tomatoes, rocket and, instead of the specified cheese, a goat cheese which was in the fridge) and it was done.

If you prefer a hot topping—and I did—you place it under the grill for a few minutes.

All too easy. I'll probably make another.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

As some of these books may be out of print if anyone would like a particular recipe, email me ( and I’ll send an abbreviated version. Of course, the whole book would be better; it’s loaded with other goodies.

Monday 4 April 2011

Apple and Cinnamon Crostata

Apple and Cinnamon Crostata
from The Country Cookbook: seasonal jottings and recipes, Belinda Jeffery, Lantern, 2010

This recipe had me googling to find some information. What exactly was a crostata and how did digestive biscuits come by that name? Do they aid the digestion?

The crostata was quite easy: it’s an Italian fruit tart.

The digestive biscuits have apparently been around since the late 1800s and, as sodium bicarbonate was one of the ingredients when they were first developed, it was thought that they could have had antacid properties. Well, whatever their possible property then, now, in this recipe, they were used as a sort of base inside the pastry to soak up the juices of the apples as they cooked.

Making the crostata was easy though a little time-consuming. I didn’t follow the method of making the pastry given in the book. I prefer to make it by hand rather than using equipment. It still turns out the same.

The crushed digestive biscuits were laid down inside the pastry base and the sliced apples placed on top. I did like the touch of folding the edge of the pastry back over the apples as a holding border.

It was all good eating. Applies pies always go down well—and equally so when they happen to be an Italian crostata. The digestive biscuits had become an apple-flavoured cake-like layer between the apples and the pastry. Very nice.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Saturday 2 April 2011

Brigadeiros: easy sweets

from The Vegeterranean: Italian Vegetarian Cooking, Malu Simões & Alberto Musacchio, Simon & Schuster, 2008.

This was such an easy sweet to make. All I needed was sweetened condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder—and sprinkles of some sort (I used chocolate) to roll them in. It only took a short boil on the stove and it was ready. Waited for the mixture to cool and then rolled them in the sprinkles. So easy.

They turned out to be melt-in-the-mouth chocolate sweets though a little too sweet for my taste. Sweet-tooths would love them.

I ended up stirring mine into cups of black coffee and found I had a wonderful drink somewhat like the sweet coffee drinks you get in some Asian countries.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔✔

Friday 1 April 2011

Individual Pot Pies and an Avocado, Quinoa & Broad Bean Salad

Individual Pot Pies
from Gourmet Vegetarian. Jane Price, Murdoch, 2007.

This cookbook looked to have a large range of inviting recipes. I chose to make these pot pies.

There are basically three separate parts: steam the vegetables, make the sauce, fix the puff pastry. Each section was quite easy. The result was a quite acceptable pie.

It was a bit on the difficult side to eat. Cutting through the puff pastry was not that easily accomplished. It would, I think, have been much better with a short pastry.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Avocado, Quinoa and Broad Bean Salad
from Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi, Ebury Press, 2010.

This is a handsome book with a title that doesn't give much away but the inside looks extremely promising. While I was not terribly taken with this recipe there's lots more to try and I look forward to getting into them soon.

The author, incidentally, is not a vegetarian but does enjoy meals with good strong flavours. He runs his own successful restaurants.

I do like broad beans but I totally dislike having to skin the beans even though the result looks a wonderful green.

I’m a little undecided about quinoa. It may be extraordinarily good for you but I’ve yet to find it an eating experience I would seek out.

Avocado is always great

To find a recipe with all of these ingredients in it persuaded me to give it a go. After the drudge of broad bean peeling, and the pre-cooking of the quinoa, putting it all together was a breeze.

The salad also included radishes and rocket and a flavoursome dressing.

The final result was different and edible but not that exciting. It didn’t even give that feeling that you were a fraction healthier from the experience.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔