Do you ever get tired of eating healthy? I do.
It doesn’t happen often, but after weeks of eating low carb /low cal/sugar free meals, there comes a point where fatigue sets in and the prospect of a gooey rich treat becomes an obsession. When this happens my favourite go-to pick-me-up is chocolate. In can take many shapes: plain square of dark chocolate, dainty truffle, silky smooth tart or superbly decadent brownie.
I have experimented with many brownie recipes over the years, and the best one I found is an oldie but a goodie from the Australian Women’s Weekly which I have adapted to suit our family’s likes and needs, mainly replacing the nuts with semi-sweet chocolate chips ( it still provides the crunch factor while boosting the chocolate flavour!) I have also reduced the amount of sugar, to compensate for the extra sweetness in the chocolate chips. While it sounds like these brownies are quite sweet, they are not overly so and a perfect partner with a good cup of coffee (or a glass of milk, say my kids!) Needless to say that one serve is enough, well, for most people anyway…
Makes about 16 serves
250g dark chocolate, finely chopped
80g unsalted butter, extra
2 tsp vanilla essence
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup plain flour
½ cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup sour cream
125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
60g thickened cream
- Grease a 19cm square cake pan, line with parchment paper.
- Melt the butter in a pan over low heat, add chocolate, stir until chocolate is melted. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- In a food processor, beat the extra butter, vanilla essence and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the sifted flour, then the chocolate mixture, chocolate chips and sour cream.
- Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the oven at 180C (375F) for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan.
- In the meantime, make the icing: bring the thickened cream to the boil over medium heat. Pour over the chopped chocolate in a small bowl, stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is well combined and smooth. Cool to room temperature and beat until thick and spreadable.
- Lift the cake from the pan, remove the paper. Spread chocolate icing and allow to set before cutting.
One of my favourite meats is veal. I love the mild flavour, the tender texture and it is so versatile you can cook it a dozen ways and never tire of it! While growing up in France, veal was as common on the canteen menu as beef, chicken or fish. It was rarer at home however, since it is quite expensive. Still, I remember delicious blanquettes de veau, escalopes, or grilled cotes de veau savoured during my childhood.
This culinary landscape changed, when I moved to Australia, nearly 30 years ago: here was the land of beef, lamb and seafood…plenty of it going cheap (compared to French prices!) Asking for veal used to earn me bewildered looks from the butchers, one of them even stating it was a waste of a good steak! It went on for a long time, and truth be told, it didn’t bother me so much: being lucky enough to travel back home once in a while, I would indulge in a “veal fix” then.
Actually, I found thru our cruising, that veal must be a European thing: France, Italy, Spain, Germany…they all know how to cook it and eat it. Move across to North and South America, and this white meat is not as prominent, except as a grilling meat. Closer to Australia, thank god for the French islands ( Polynesia and New Caledonia) and Vanuatu, where the former imports tons from the metropole ( French mainland) while the latter produces its own stock and in my opinion the best veal in the world! I remember seeing freezers full of whole legs of veal at Carrefour in Papeete ( for roasting on a spit ), shiny slices of calf liver and trays overflowing with veal T-bones at Le Bon Marche in Port Vila… Oh, how I went crazy for a few weeks wanting to make the most of this abundance, only to be told later by the Australian Quarantine officer that Vanuatu’s veal and beef are so highly regarded that they are actually allowed in Australia! Note for our next cruise…
So it was that one cold winter night, I had a craving for a blanquette de veau (veal white stew). Knowing how a foodie mecca Sydney has now become, I thought it would be easy to find veal cuts other than schnitzels. I was looking for veal shoulder, breast and liver. Beside the local supermarkets, I asked 3 butchers in my neighbourhood and was told very clearly, that I was in the wrong part of Sydney: I live in the Sutherland Shire, south of Sydney, where locals apparently like their veal crumbed as schnitzels, minced in meat balls, or braised osso-bucco. In other words, all the butchers bring in are legs of veal which they cut accordingly. When I told them what dishes I wanted to cook ( veal stew, calf liver in butter and parsley, even a roast shoulder!), the standard answer was “Oh, French dishes! No one cooks them here, you have to shop where the French are, on the north shore or eastern suburbs!” 45mn drive away and where things cost a lot more. The one exception was Paul Tasker of Burraneer Gourmet Meats, whose selection on display may have been limited but his customer service won me hands down. He happily offered to order a veal forequarter for me, cut it and package it to my own specs ( stew meat, breast, cutlets, bones for stock,…) charging one bulk price for the lot. A few days later, I collected my goodies and filled up the fridge with enough veal to cook 5 meals. Me very happy!
On to the blanquette. A very popular French dish, it is typically served family-style, meaning in one big pot at the table for everyone to help themselves, along with rice or boiled potatoes. Terry always fails to be impressed by the humble appearance of this white stew, preferring the rich colour of darker ragout (like beef burgundy or lamb curry!). But for me, the whole point of this dish is this white sauce and the delicate flavours of melting veal and vegetables. For his benefit, I add bacon for extra flavour and peas for extra colour, but that is totally optional. I love it so much I always cook enough for 2 meals (or extra guests!). Only that time, the family had seconds and didn’t quite leave me enough for a full main course the next day. That’s when I decided to create little savoury tarts, thanks to some frozen shortcrust pastry. They turned a lovely golden colour and served alongside a crisp green salad, made for a delicious weeknight dinner.
** I didn’t have a chance to take a photograph of the blanquette, it was mayhem in the kitchen that night. Made up for it by shooting the making of the tart, so you have an idea of what it looks like as a white stew AND a golden tart filling!
White Veal Stew Tart
Serves 12 as a starter or 6 as a main
Left over white veal stew (recipe follows)
3 frozen shortcrust pastry sheets
- Preheat oven to 200 deg C
- Cut out shortcrust pastry and line mini tart tins
- Warm up left over stew, adding 1 cup of frozen vegetables (peas, corn…) and 1 cup of cream
- Divide mixture into the 12 tart shells
- Place the tins in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until browned and pastry is golden.
- Serve with green salad. Enjoy!
Blanquette de Veau ( White veal stew)
Serves 6-8 as a main
1.2 kg stewing veal (breast or shoulder or a mix of both)
2 tbsp duck fat
500g speck or bacon (optional)
150ml dry white wine
2 onions, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves each
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and sliced
1 tbsp dried herbes de provence (mixed dried herbs)
Salt and pepper
3 medium sized onions, peeled and quartered
500g mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 tbsp flour + 45g butter
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp pouring cream
Juice of 1 ½ lemons
- Trim the veal meat and cut into bite sized pieces (better still, have your butcher do it for you!). Cut the speck in thick slices, seal in a hot casserole dish ( Le Creuset style ) until browned all over, strain speck and set aside. Add duck fat to the same casserole, heat until smoky. Add the veal, turning regularly to seal on all sides, about 3 minutes ( you don’t want to brown the meat, it is a white stew after all!)
- Add the white wine, water, onions with cloves, sliced carrots, celery, dried herbs, salt and pepper and quartered onions. Bring the casserole to the boil, slowly and allow to simmer gently until the veal is tender, about 1 hour.
- When the stew is nearly ready, cook the mushrooms briefly in the butter, in a shallow pan. Set aside.
- Make the roux in a separate pan: melt the butter, add flour and mix until combined. Moisten with the veal stock from the casserole, up to 1 cup. Bring this sauce to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat up the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice in a small bowl. When the sauce is ready, stir a ladleful of it into the yolk mixture and then tip this back into the sauce. Stir it all together and pour over the meat stew. Add the mushrooms and their juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
- Enjoy with rice (traditional) or polenta (as I did)
Spring started today. Officially anyway. The chilling wind and 10 dec C temp had me fooled though, and no amount of sunshine outside could convince me to take off my ugg boots and down vest! Still, in an effort to wish winter away and start on a lighter menu, I decided to make my first spring salad for lunch: fennel, lettuce, sprouts, avocado and olive oil. A few bites of smoked trout to make it more consistent, but you can substitute chicken or tuna if you prefer, drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil. So light and good for you, you can indulge in a chocolate square and coffee afterwards and not even feel guilty!
Serves 1, as a light lunch
¼ fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 cos lettuce leaves, shredded
Small handful of crunchy sprouts combo (chickpeas, lentils, beans, etc…)
¼ avocado, sliced
1 or 2 sliced of smoked ocean trout
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and toss.
- It’s that simple! Enjoy.
I am not used to winter weather anymore. At least in the city. I do love winter in the mountains, but only when it snows and we can spend our days skiing and enjoying the crisp fresh air.
In the suburbs of Sydney, things are different: it is mostly overcast and cold. Bitterly cold. According to the news last month, NSW recorded its longest cold spell in 26 years. Boy, did we feel it. Our house is not the best insulated home around, so not only did we have the heaters cranking, but the oven worked overtime in an effort to raise the temperature to a comfortable 20 deg C. Not looking forward to our next gas bill!
Unsurprisingly, our menu rotation has included a lot of slow cooked casseroles and roasts, and while I love warm comfort food as much as anyone else, I admit I am reaching saturation point. I keep thinking of spring, supposedly just around the corner. Detox recipes are starting to pop inside my head, the ones that include tons of vegetables and invigorating spices.
A few days ago, I was sorting thru some of the photos of our latest cruise and nearly cried when staring at pictures of pristine sun-drenched Vanuatu beaches taken 10 months ago.
One of the accompanying notes was a recipe I quickly scribbled after cooking a vegetarian stir-fry, back then. I still remember that day: we had just said goodbye to guests onboard, and after 2 weeks of indulging I stopped at the Port Vila market to stock up on fresh island produce and cooked up what I called “Detox Stirfry” at the time.
This is quite a light dish, so full of greens it makes you feel virtuous, but it can be hearty enough for a winter’s night, just double the quantity or/and add meat or seafood of your choice! I particularly like serving this with a fried egg on top, loving how the soft egg yolk oozes thru the vegies!
Green Vegetarian Stir fry
Serves 4, as a main
200g firm tofu, cut in 3cm cubes
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic crushed
5cm knob of ginger, grated
a splash of sesame oil
4 tbsp olive oil
¼ head of white cabbage
1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut in 1-2 cm bites
1 green capsicum, diced
a handful of coriander leaves, chopped (preferably the sawtooth variety, the flavour is stronger)
- Make a marinade: in a bowl, combine the soy sauce, crushed garlic, grated ginger, and sesame oil. Add the cubes of tofu and leave to marinate for 15 minutes or so.
- In a wok or large sauté pan, heat the olive oil. Add the vegetables and stir fry for 5 minutes.
- Add the soy marinade from the tofu and 1 cup of water. Stir.
- Add the tofu and the coriander, stir for a few more minutes, until tofu is cooked thru.
- Serve with boiled rice and a fried egg on top, if desired.
It’s official, we have been bitten by the protein ball bug!
For years I have been resisting the appeal of these balls, bars, bites…whatever people call them. I think I could not go past the appearance of brown, knobby, sticky balls and the health food label! In my books, food must not only taste good but also LOOK good for one to want to eat it.
Then we started this fitness challenge, and I started to pay more attention to healthy eating talks. Not that we didn’t eat healthy before, I’ve never been a fan of junk food and always prefer to cook from scratch rather than reach for the processed items in the shops. I just found myself in a rut and decided to look at alternatives to fruits/ nuts/cheese sticks for snacks. They had to be free of added sugar, low carb but fibre rich, and provide energy. So I decided to revisit the idea of protein balls, sampled quite a few in various health food shops and cafes, poured over countless recipes to finally come up with my own version. The choice of ingredients is the product of convenience: I happened to have all of them in the pantry, since they are standard items for granola making. Also, I deliberately omitted any nuts, since our local schools have adopted a nut-free policy. Feel free to add them, if you do not have to such constraints.
I am the first to admit that these balls look anything but pretty, resembling raw meatballs I was told! I think the “nuts and bolts” appearance comes from NOT grinding the seeds first, will have to remember to do it next time! So, yes, appeal is a work in progress and I have designs in mind for a chocolate coated version as well as a toasted almonds one….BUT, let me tell you, they taste amazing. I know I am on a good thing when Terry’s 4 year-old grandson asks for some to take to kindie and Marc snatches them on his way to school (quick breakfast on the go!). I love to have them as a morning treat with coffee or simply as an afternoon pick-me-up before heading to the gym (my least favourite activity!!)
Date Energy Balls
Makes 36 balls
2 cups seeds ( I used ¼ cup puffed amaranth, ½ cup pepitas, 1 cup sunflower seeds, ¼ cup linseed)
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 cups dates, soaked in warm water
2 tbsp coconut milk
- In a food processor, chop the soaked dates until they form a coarse paste. Add the seeds, shredded coconut, and coconut milk.
- Mix until everything is combined into a smooth paste.
- Scoop a tablespoon in your hand and shape into a ball (this is a very messy affair!) Place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat until all the mixture has been used.
- Place the tray in the fridge until balls are firm. This helps with the handling later on.
- When the balls are firm enough to handle, place them in a container with a lid and keep in the fridge. They will last a couple of weeks, if not devoured beforehand! They can also be kept in and eaten straight out of the freezer