Red Lentil and Roast Capsicum Soup

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Roast Capsicum Red Lentil Soup

This winter we have had some of the coldest winter nights that I can remember in Sydney.  Lots of beautiful warm sunny days, but some really bitter nights and early mornings.  These are nights on which you crave something warm and hearty with loads of flavor for your evening meal.

For a lot of people that might mean a rich and chunky beef casserole, or a hearty minestrone, not a vegetarian or vegan soup.  This soup is rich and filling and full flavoured.  It leaves you feeling satisfied and warm inside, and in no way craving a hit of meat.

  • 4 red capsicums
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 2 lg cloves garlic
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 lg red onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 t cumin
  • 100 g kumara, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 c dried red lentils
  • 9 c good quality vegetable stock
  • 3 T fresh coriander, plus extra to garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 190C.

De-seed capsicum and cut into about 8 strips each.  Spread 2 T oil over a baking tray and place capsicums pieces on it in a single layer.  Press garlic over the capsicum and mix to distribute.  Place in oven and roast until capsicum is soft.

In a large soup pot on medium heat, sauté the onions and celery in the remaining oil until becoming translucent.  Add cumin, kumara and lentils with just enough stock to prevent sticking to the pan.  Cook for one minute then add remaining stock and bring the pot to a boil. Boil for one minute and then reduce heat to a simmer.

Cook until all ingredients are cooked.  Season to taste. Chop capsicum into small pieces (removing skin is optional – with this soup I don’t) and add to soup.  Simmer for 5 minutes, add coriander and turn off the heat.

Serve with thick pieces of fresh bread.  Enjoy!

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Caramel Corn

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Caramel Popcorn

Saturday night was all about soccer.  Manchester United was in Sydney to play a match against a collection of A League players from the Australian premier competition.   There were more than 80,000 people filling the stadium, and it was a sea of Manchester red. The devoted fans, one of whom is my son, were out in force.   It was loads of fun.  The crowd was hyped – and surprisingly well behaved! – and there were lots of goals scored!   Although, fun as it was I have to admit I felt deeply for those brave Australian players, who were playing at ‘home’ with a team that had been cobbled together for the event, while the spectators by and large, and the commentators were SO not there to see them!   Tough gig – and we really should be proud of them, if only in retrospect.

So we traipsed off to the stadium nice and early, thinking that with 5 very very excited young boys in tow, the 3 adults would have to work hard to keep them close amidst the crowds.  ‘Frogs in a wheelbarrow’ springs to mind…  So once we had them all seated (took a while to herd them up to the 6th tier!) we wanted to keep them settled.  And for that, the key was plenty of food! Junk food is an expectation at such an event, but I had to make sure that at least some of it was homemade.

This candy corn is such an easy thing to whip up beforehand – as long as you do it early enough to give it time to set.

Try not to eat while the Mexican wave is passing through…

Recipe

  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c popping corn

Caramel

  • 125 g butter
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 T honey

Line a large baking tray (preferably with a lip around the edges) with baking paper.

Heat oil in saucepan.  Test that it is hot enough by adding a couple of kernels of corn – if they start to spin, the oil is ready.  Add the corn and making sure that the lid if firmly held on, gently toss as the kernels pop. I used a glass lidded pan so that I can see what’s happening – and it’s fun watching them pop.  Remove from heat as soon as the popping stops and place in a large lightly oiled bowl.

Prepare the caramel. Chop butter into a saucepan and add sugar. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the honey and bring to boil, and cook without stirring until mixture turns a light golden colour.  Remove from heat and pour over popcorn.  Give the popcorn a mix to even out the caramel coating. Transfer to the baking tray and spread out. You need to work very quickly because the caramel will stiffen very quickly.  Leave to set.

Once the caramel has hardened, break the popcorn up and place in containers.

 

Caramel Popcorn 2

 

Banana Pecan Slice

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Banana Pecan Slice

We eat a lot of bananas in our house. They are a shopping basket staple, but no matter how many are chomped up in smoothies, lunches and pre-sport snacks, inevitably we end up with a few sad and soggy bananas going brown on the bottom of the fruit bowl.

Thankfully that is just the way they need to be for cooking a whole host of banana-based sweets.

This slice is moist while the topping is wonderfully crunchy and buttery.

Recipe

• 1 c self raising flour
• ½ t ground cinnamon
• ½ t ground nutmeg or cloves
• 60 g butter, softened
• ½ c sugar
• 1 banana, mashed
• 1 large egg
• ¼ c milk
• ¼ c pecans, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 15 x 25 cm slice pan.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and cream. Add mashed banana and beat well. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes. Add milk and flour alternately. Stir pecans in and pour into prepared tin.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until spongy to the touch.

 Topping

• ¾ c butter, very soft
• ¾ c brown sugar
• ¾ c desiccated coconut

Mix all ingredients together until well combined. While slice is still warm, gently spread the topping evenly over the top. Place the slice under a hot griller until it has melted and started sizzling. Remove from heat and leave to cool completely before cutting.

Blueberry Upside Down Cake

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  • Blueberry Upside-Down Cake

As we all know, blueberries are a super food.  I take this to mean that this is a health food cake!

• 1/3 c brown sugar
• 300 g blueberries, plus extra to serve
• 1 ¾ c plain flour
• 1 c caster sugar
• 2 ½ t baking powder
• ½ t cinnamon
• 1 egg
• ¾ c milk
• 1/3 c vegetable oil
• Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a 20cm round cake pan with baking paper. Sprinkle base of cake pan with brown sugar and then spread 150 g of blueberries evenly over the sugar.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add remaining blueberries and mix to coat.

Whisk together egg, milk, oil and lemon rind. Add to dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Stand for 5 minutes before turning out onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature with extra blueberries and thickened cream.

Basic White Bread

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Basic White Bread
I have always enjoyed making (and eating!) bread, but my repertoire has been fairly limited. Lately I have been experimenting with all sorts of recipes. I have had some great successes and have had some impressive failures. The thing about bread making is that if your dough is too tough you can end up with a rock. It can also be very hard to work out what exactly goes wrong with a dud bread. You try a recipe that clearly works for someone else, but you just can’t make it do the right thing for you. It can be very frustrating!

So when you find a good simple reliable recipe that works for you, hang onto it!!

This recipe is a great starting point. I have made it many many times and it always works. It makes a medium density white loaf with beautifully crunchy crusts.

Recipe

• 2 T polenta
• 800 g bread flour
• 15 g instant yeast
• 2 t salt
• 2 T sugar
• 600 ml warm water

Preheat oven to 50C for rising the dough. Lightly oil 2 loaf pans, and dust each with 1 T polenta.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Pour in water and mix to a stiff dough. Place into a large oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Place in the oven for 15 minutes.

Lightly knead dough until it feels smooth and slightly elastic. This dough can be kneaded gently, pushing down with the heel of your palm and then folding the dough back onto itself. You want this dough to remain light and soft, so it doesn’t need too much pummelling and prodding.

Place each loaf into a pan and dust with flour. Using a sharp knife cut 3 slashes into each loaf. Place back in oven, uncovered, to rise for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and turn oven temperature up to 200C, returning the pans to the oven when the correct temperature has been reached. Bake until loaf tops are golden and they sound hollow when you tap them.

Apricot Coconut Choc Chip Cookies

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Apricot Coconut ChocChip Cookies

 

I make a lot of cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. They fit the bill from everything from lunch box sweet treats and school cake stalls to going away parties for soccer coaches! So I need to have a lot of recipes up my sleeve to keep things interesting.

I have a very large cookbook and foodie magazine collection to keep me inspired, and often I turn to my oldest books for tried and true recipt ideas. the trusty Country Women’s Association for simple, reliable and straightforward recipes.
This recipe isn’t actually old, but since it has come from the Country Womens’ Association it might as well be.  Recipe adapted from “Biscuits and Slices : Traditional, Tempting, Tried and True”, Penguin Books, 2009.

Recipe

• 125 g softened butter
• 1/3 c caster sugar
• ½ c brown sugar, firmly packed
• 1 egg
• 1 c self raising flour, sifted
• 1 c shredded coconut
• 1 c dried apricots, chopped
• 1 c dark chocolate bits

Preheat oven to 180C. Line 2 large baking sheets with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg. Stir in flour until well mixed. Add coconut apricots and chocolate bits and mix well. If your dough feels a bit soft, refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking.
Mould teaspoons of dough into balls and flatten slightly on trays, leaving about 5 cm between them to allow for spreading.
Bake for about 12 minutes or until beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and leave on trays for 5 minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 30.

Coconut Layer Cake

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I don’t make cakes very often.  I like making them, but I know how quickly they will be gobbled up in our house.  So when someone asks me to bring dessert to an event it’s an invitation to bake!

This cake is so easy to make, and is moist and light.

Recipe

  • 2 c self raising flour, sifted
  • ¾ c desiccated coconut
  • 1 c caster sugar
  • 1/3 c almond meal
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 160 g melted butter
  • Desiccated and flaked coconut for decorating

Preheat oven to 175C.  Line a 21 cm spring form cake pan with baking paper.

Combine flour, coconut, sugar and almond meal in a large bowl and mix together.

Whisk buttermilk, vanilla and eggs together.  Add butter and whisk again.

Pour egg mixture into flour mixture and mix with a metal spoon until well combined and smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Leave to cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing. Cool completely before icing.

Icing

  • 2 c pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 90 g butter at room temperature
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 T milk

Beat all ingredients together until smooth, light and fluffy.  Add milk to adjust to the desired texture.

Using a large serrated knife, cut the cake in half horizontally.  Carefully lift the top of the cake off and place on a flat surface. Spread ¾ c icing evenly over the base of the cake. Carefully place the top of the cake over it.  Spread remaining over the top and sides of the cake.  Decorate with desiccated and flaked coconut.

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