Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sunday Salon: So I read some books - not many, but some.'s fair to say that this is my worst year for reading, reviewing and blogging in nearly 10 years.

I am not really reading, certainly not reviewing and blogging is sporadic at best. Today, at least, I thought I would at least give a Sunday Salon post a go to share my May to October reads. It is a far cry from the months where I averaged 20 or so books in a month. In September, for example, I read just one book. I listened to another but actually reading - just the one. Unthinkable.

Here's what I have read or listened to over the last few months


Winning the Player by  Leesa Bow 3.5/5
True North: the story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack by Brenda Niall 3.5/5 (book club)
The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland 3.5/5
A Star for Mrs Blake by April Smith 4.5/5
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 3.5/5 (audio book)


Eyrie by Tim Winton 3/5 (audio book)
The Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen 3.5/5
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta 4.5/5 (audio book/reread)
Hope Ignites by Jaci Burton 4/5


Melting the Ice by Jaci Burton 4/5
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent 4/5 (audio book)
Sun-Kissed by Laura Florand 3.5/5
Sapphire Skies by Belinda Alexandra 3.5/5 (audio book)


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion 4.5 (audio book/reread)
Rockstar Addiction Nalini Singh 3.5


Written in my Own Hearts Blood by Diana Gabaldon 4/5 (audio book)
Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli 3.5


Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman 4.5/5/
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins 4.5/5

When I read Isla and the Happily Ever After I read it in a day which is almost a return to my old normal way of reading but it did make me realise a couple of things about the role of reading in my life before and has given me some food for thought about what it's role should be in my life now. I did start to compose a blog post about that in my head. Who knows. Sometimes in the next week I might even get around to starting to put some of those thoughts into a blog post that might be published.

Currently reading

House of Memories by Monica McInerney (or at least that is the book that I am carrying around with me.

Currently listening

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Up Next

No idea!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Butter Chicken

One of the things I have been trying really hard to do since I started on this weight loss journey is to try and find some recipes to use that somewhat approximate the food that we like to eat on a regular basis.

One of the better books I have found for this is a series called the Symply Too Good to be True series of cookbooks by Annette Sym. At the moment there are 7 books in the series and I think there are multiple recipes in each book that I might make in due course.

There are a number of things that I like about this series. One is that most of the recipes are relatively simple to make and not overly time consuming. I like that there are recipes for foods that you would eat quite regularly. For example, so far I have tried a low fat recipe for lasagne which the boy now prefers to the way that I used to make lasagne and healthy version of pizza. Another big hit in my house has been the low fat version of chicken parma. The boy either thought it was so good on Wednesday night he ate the equivalent of 2 and a half chicken breasts (I am not sure if he hadn't eaten all day and was therefore starving after basketball or if he is growing again or it was that good!!).

Another thing I like is that nearly every recipe has a comment from a dietitian as well a nutritional panel showing calories/kilojoules, sugar, sodium etc. The comments might vary from a factual comment to an opinion. For example, on the chicken parma, the dietitian said something along the lines of finally a parma that tastes just like you get from the pub. Now it was good, but to compare it to a pub parma is possibly taking things a bit far. Sometimes the comments are simply this may be low fat but there is very little nutritional value so maybe not if you are trying to lose weight or have diabetes. Of course that is usually on the baking and desserts section but there are some exceptions which I might end up trying eventually. For a lot of the recipes there are also the nutritional details for variations for the recipe. For example, in the recipe below the suggested variations include rump steak, pork steak or tofu.

The author has lost a lot of weight and kept it off over an extended period of time and in every book there are a couple of pages of testimonials which certainly help at times when the motivation is flagging a little bit. Annette Sym has created something of an empire with retreats, mentoring, website, videos and so much more!

There are a couple of things I don't necessarily like that much. Because there is an emphasis on simplicity and time savings there is a heavy reliance on items like crushed garlic and ginger in a jar, tomato soup and stock powder as examples. Whilst I don't have an objection to the ginger, I don't get the always using precrushed garlic - maybe I am a little bit of a cooking snob! There are also some odd food combinations at times but maybe these are every day foods for other people!

Tonight I am trying a new recipe from book 4 and that is Butter Chicken. If there is a particular curry that we eat on a regular basis then it would be Butter Chicken, a very mild curry. This may be a bit of an oxymoron though because whilst it is an approximation of butter chicken there isn't a single bit of butter in it at all! Luckily, there is chicken.

Having now had dinner, I think it is fair to say that this is another winner in this house. Whilst the sauce ends up being a bit gluggy (maybe I boiled it too long) it certainly tastes like a mild curry and because you are adding all your own spices there is no reason why you couldn't add a touch more chill or paprika or whichever. I did cook my onion, garlic and ginger before adding my chicken because that is how I always do it. I also mixed the cornflour with a small amount of the milk to make a paste and then added the rest of the milk. Other than that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe as it is written below and I served it with basmati rice and steamed broccoli.

Butter chicken

800g skinless chicken breasts
cooking spray
1 medium onion, diced
1 tspn crushed garlic in a jar (I'll be using 1-2 cloves garlic)
1 tspn crushed ginger in a jar
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn turmeric
1 tspn ground coriander
2 tspns paprika
1/2 tspn ground cumin
1/8 tspn chilli powder
2 tspn chicken stock powder
4 tbspn no added salt tomato paste
1 tbspn cornflour
1 x 375 ml can evaporated light milk

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Coat a large non-stick frypan with cooking spray, saute chicken, onion, garlic and ginger until chicken pieces are nearly cooked.

Add all the spices and stock powder. Combine with chicken for 1 minute.  Add tomato paste and fold through chicken.. Blend cornflour with milk then add to pan, stir continuously mixing well until boiled.

Serves 6

And down the bottom where people might not notice I will just put an update of where I am at. This week I passed a milestone which is 30kg (66lbs) lost from the heaviest weight I remember (which might not be the heaviest weight I was). I will try and get a full length photo to put up soon. It is getting harder to keep the motivation going in some ways but I am hoping that this is just a matter of pushing through to keep going. Still a long way to go but that is a pretty decent start.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Greek-style lamb and eggplant bake

I mentioned last week that I am now on the lookout for some new recipes that I can cook that will meet my requirement for healthy foods and my son's requirements for tasting good. I have borrowed a number of books from the library and tried a couple of new recipes so far. In both cases I thought that the food was quite good. Unfortunately, the boy wasn't quite as keen but I am not sure if that is just that it takes him a little while to get used to new foods or if he really, really didn't like it. I guess that at some point I will need to try making it again, if for no other reason that this is one that can be frozen and so will be good to have there for those times when I am struggling with needing to cook something as opposed to going to buy something or resorting to less healthy choices.

I have several other recipe books to hopefully identify some other options for good meals, particularly weekday meals, to try over the next little while.

This recipe comes from CSIRO and Baker IDI Diabetes Recipe Book

Serves 4
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour

1 tablespoon olive oil
500g lean minced lamb
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 eggplant* cut into 1cm cubes
2 zucchini* diced
600g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
1 tablespoon tomato paste (puree)
400g reduced-fat Greek-style yoghurt
1 egg
80g cooked basmati rice (from 80g uncooked)

*also known as aubergine and courgettes

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and cook the mince in two batches, stirring until browned and baking up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon Set the cooked mince aside, discarding any liquid in the pan.

Heat the remaining oil and cook the onion for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, eggplant, zucchini and 400g of the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Return the mince to the pan with the oregano, parsley , tomato paste and remaining tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then move the lid so it is half-covering the pan, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. If there is still quite a lot of liquid, remove the lid and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes or until reduced.

Preheat the oven to 180C

Beat the yoghurt to loosen then beat in the egg and season well with freshly ground black pepper.

Add the rice to the mince and vegetables and stir to combine. Transfer to a 2 litre capacity baking dish. Spoon the yoghurt sauce evenly over the top and bake for 20 minutes. Leave to stand for 5 minutes then scatter over some extra parsley.

In the book it suggests serving with steamed green vegies for a compete meal, and that if you wanted this can be prepared the day before but should be heated for an additional 10 minutes to ensure that it is heated all the way through.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Blueberry Muffins with Crispy Topping

Forgive me blogging gods. It has been nearly a month since my last post. It's not like I don't have stuff to post about, but the sitting down and writing part of the equation is what is missing.

This year has been an interesting year for me so far. I have taken some steps towards making some long overdue changes in just about every area of my life. In a lot of ways these changes are happening because it is time, or rather because it is way past time. In one crucial way, it is a change that has been kind of forced upon me.

I have been overweight from the time I was 16 or 17 years old. I started putting on weight at that time and I pretty much never stopped. Over the years I have made half-hearted attempts to lose weight. Some have been relatively successful, or at least they were until I stopped doing what I was doing and put it all back on again. I am an emotional eater with a terrible relationship with food. Time to change that.

Earlier this year I noticed that my clothes seemed to be a bit looser and so I decided that instead of losing momentum I would actually try to lose weight. And so far, so good. I have lost quite a bit and, for whatever reason, it seems to be coming off quite easily at the moment. And it is a change that I have to make because, after suspecting for some time, I finally went to the doctor and heard him say the words. I have type 2 diabetes. Now that isn't precisely a surprise, and I am not treating it as the end of the world as such, but I can't pretend it isn't there anymore or unhear the words.

One of the things I was concerned about was what am I going to cook. I have a growing teenage boy in my house so I still need to be able to cook food that both of us can eat. First stop was the cookbook section of the library where I picked up a number of different cookbooks with varying levels of success. The first couple seemed to feature quite complicated and non family friendly type meals that I just couldn't imaging cooking, but after looking at quite a few I think I have found some recipes that will be worth trying.

I also borrowed a couple of issues of Diabetic Living magazine and I have to say I was so impressed with the range of recipes and information in the magazine! I found a ton of recipes that look really tasty, are really healthy, and most importantly look like something I can cook.  I have already subscribed to the magazine and hope to find lots more delicious sounding recipes in future issues including some sweet treats, but only in moderation of course. I particularly like that each recipe is clearly marked with details on lots of nutritional info including carbs, energy and so much more.

The first thing that I made from the May/June issue of the magazine was this recipe for Blueberry Muffins with Crispy Topping. One of the big things around breakfast for me was speed. In the past if I didn't have breakfast at home I might grab a muffin from the petrol station or cheese and crackers. Now, I am either having yoghurt and berries, porridge or certain cereals and not missing breakfast. I suspect that I will be trying a few more muffin recipes going forward because it is so convenient to grab a muffin from the freezer. Yes, one of the other changes I am making is trying to be more organised.

Blueberry Muffins with Crispy Topping

Prep time 15 mins
Cooking time 25 mins

Cooking spray
160g (1 cup) self-raising flour
80g (1/2 cup) wholemeal self-raising flour
80g (1/2 cup, lightly packed) brown sugar or 1/2 cup granulated sugar substitute
2 x 50g eggs, lightly whisked
50g light margarine, melted, cooled
160 ml (2/3 cup) skim milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g punnet blueberries
Tea, to serve.


80g (2 cups) Special K cereal
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 egg white (from 50g egg), lightly whisked
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat over to 170C(fan-forced). Spray six 185 ml (3/4 cup) muffin-tin holes with oil. Line bases with baking paper

To make topping put cereal in a medium bowl. Crush slightly using your hands. Add honey, egg white and cinnamon and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Put flours and sugar in a large bowl and stir to combine. Whisk eggs, margarine, milk and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add wet mixture to dry mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until just combined. Stir in berries.

Spoon batter into muffin holes. Spoon topping evenly over batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Set aside in tin for 5 minutes. Run a flat-bladed knife around each muffin to loosen. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with tea.

* To freeze individually warp any leftover muffins in plastic wrap. Put in a resealable freezer bag and expel any air. Label, date and freeze for up to 3 months

As an aside, I was completely thrilled that I managed to separate the egg first go. I am have never even tried to do that before and it worked first time. Go me!!

I haven't quite decided how open I want to be here about this journey I am on. Because another of the changes I am making is around trying to get my head right and I am actively taking steps to do that I am a bit emotionally fragile at the moment. I am also a bit scared that if I start "bragging" about how well I am doing that I might shoot myself in the foot. It's all a bit of on emotional rollercoaster right now. Maybe I should just post photos along the way and be done with it. Thoughts?

What you can expect is that a lot more of the recipes that I post will be diabetic friendly, lots of healthier recipes. Some will be easy, some will be obvious and others will be less so as I try to find the food that is going to be part of my future.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chocolate Brownies

Do you have a recipe that you know as soon as you try it will always be your go to recipe. The one that everyone loves? And that you are asked for the recipe for all the time? For me, this is one of those recipes, along with the Lemon Syrup Cakes recipe I have posted previously. A couple of months ago I made a batch of these to take to work and my son was very disappointed that he didn't get to have more than a couple so then I had to make more!

Last year, I posted a couple of brownie recipes, one of which was a Triple Choc Brownie. That recipe was a perfectly serviceable recipe, and I made it several times and each time it was well received. One day I thought I would try this recipe instead, and I basically have never even thought about going back to the other recipe. It is just that good.

Part of what I like about this recipe is that it is very moist but it has a really crusty top which is just delicious although to get that effect I need to cook it for much longer than the 40 minutes mentione but I think that is because of my oven more than anything. I should also mention that I have never actually made the chocolate sauce that is recommended to go with these brownies. I also don't use the dark chocolate buttons. The first time I made this I didn't have any of those so I used milk chocolate melts that I had broken up into pieces and because it was so good I have just made it the same way ever since.

Chocolate Brownies

345g (1 1/2 cups) caster (superfine) sugar
85g (2/3 cup) cocoa powder
60g (1/2 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, beaten
200g (7 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g (7 oz) dark chocolate button

Preheat the oven to 160°C (315F/Gas 2-3). Stir the sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add the eggs, melted butter and vanilla and mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate buttons. Pour into a lined 22cm (9 inch) square tin and bake for 40-45mins

Allow the brownie block to slightly cool then cut into eight pieces. Place on serving plates with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Dust with extra cocoa powder if you like, then serve with the chocolate sauce.  Serves 8

Warm Chocolate Sauce

125g (4 1/2 oz) dark chocolate
185ml (3/4 cup) cream

Place chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and place the bowl over a saucepan of just simmering water. Whisk occasionally until a thick sauce forms. Cool sightly before serving. 

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Weekend Cooking: The Hundred-Foot Journey

I was lucky enough this week to have tickets to two preview events. The first was to watch the first episode of the Outlander series (squeeeee) but it is the second that I wanted to talk about in my Weekend Cooking post today. 

A couple of years or so ago I remember reading something about the book The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. As a result, I went out and bought the book and it has sat, unread, on my shelves ever since. When I heard that there was a movie coming out I had every intention of reading the book, but given my current lack of reading it just didn't happen. I therefore broke my own rule and decided to watch the movie before reading the book.

With a lead actress with the standing of Helen Mirren, a gorgeous setting in the south of France, a fun story exploring and contrasting the differences between Indian and French traditions and lots of beautiful food, this movie is a treat for the senses. It is a gentle story, and there is little in it that will offend people. At times it is a little ponderous, maybe a deliberate choice from the production team which includes such big names as Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Lasse Hallstrom.

The story starts in India where the Kadam family runs a successful restaurant until they lose everything. The family is determined to make a new start and head to Europe where fate lands them in a small French village. Whilst most of the family wants to move on it seems that their life is instead going to now take the form of running an Indian restaurant in a run down building that happens to be opposite a Michelin star restaurant which is run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).

Madame Mallory's restaurant is her life, and she has devoted herself to the pursuit of an illusive second Michelin star. Everything is perfect and precise, with traditions treasured at all costs. She is appalled that there is to be an Indian restaurant a hundred feet away, especially once she sees the fake temple facade and hears the loud music that emanates. So begins a battle of wills between Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam that doesn't seem to have any hope of a ceasefire until a particular incident thaws the relationship. Click on the link to see an example of the very early banter between the two combatants.

Whilst this aspect of the story is key to framing the story, it is really young chef Hassan's story that is the heart. He learned to cook at his mother's knee and is passionate about food, not only the Indian food that the restaurant specialises in, but also French food of his new home. Despite earlier rejection, Hassan persists in trying to persuade Madame Mallory to let him come and cook in her kitchens, bringing his knowledge of Indian traditions and flavours and combining them with the traditional French cuisine, surprising everyone especially Madame Mallory.

One of the other major scenes in the movie is when Hassan is allowed to cook for Madame Mallory who insists that she can tell if a chef is any good or not by just taking a single bit of an omelette. I have to say I would love to taste something that is so good that you can change someone's life! Here is the recipe for Omelette aux fine herbes.

There are also a number of other recipe cards around the intenet including Chicken Tikka and Sauce Tomate.

Throw in a little romance, some humour, delicious looking food from both Indian and French food traditions, mix well and you end up with a gentle film that will entice most viewers who enjoy foodie films.


Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Chilli Con Carne

I don't know about you but I some times, or maybe I should make that often, have a problem when I decide I am going to make a new recipe. I write out the shopping list, adding all the ingredients that I need, go to the shops and purchase said ingredients and then come home and start cooking.

And that is the point that I realise, oh, I actually forgot to buy one ingredient or another, or that the ingredient that I thought I already had in the cupboard is really not there at all! So the decision then becomes do I stop cooking and go back to the shops or do I make adjustments. I must say that I am not normally someone who varies a recipe very much.

And so it was when I recently decided that I was going to attempt to make Chilli Con Carne from scratch for the first time ever.  A few years ago now, I posted about how there is a particular brand of chilli con carne sauce that I used to use in the UK that is very difficult to get hold of here. Since returning to Australia nearly 15 years ago I have tried a few other recipe bases but still have never managed to find one that I like anywhere near as much.  And so, when I saw this recipe come up on I decided it was time to try doing it without a recipe base from a jar or packet!

The first ingredient that I thought in the cupboard but actually didn't was beef stock so I ended up just adding more wine and the next one was the chilli powder. Instead of powder I threw in some smoked paprika and some chilli flakes. I may actually have been a little heavy handed with the chilli! The boy wasn't so keen but I quite liked it, which is lucky seeing as I was eating this for a week.

The actual recipe was advertised as cooking for a crowd so this recipe actually feeds 8-10 people, especially if you make the associated corn bread and herbed rice that I have linked to at the bottom of the recipe. I didn't make those. I just served made half the recipe and served it with plain rice. Oh, and I used bacon because my supermarket didn't have pancetta.

I do think I will make this again though, after making sure that I have everything I need!!

Chilli for a Crowd

Image from Photography by Ben Dearnley
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
2kg beef chuck steak, trimmed, cut into 2cm cubes
2 onions, chopped
150g piece of pancetta, rind removed, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/3 cup (4 tablespoons) tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup (250ml) red wine
700ml tomato passata* (sieved tomatoes)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 cups (750ml) beef stock
2 x 420g cans red kidney beans, rinsed, drained
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, to garnish

Herbed rice and cornbread to serve

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over high heat. Cook the beef, in batches, until browned all over, then set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the onion, pancetta and garlic and cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes until onion is starting to brown. Add the cumin, tomato paste, chilli powder and dried oregano, and stir for a further minute. Add the wine, passata, sugar and stock, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Return the beef to the pan and bring to the boil, then cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours until meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

Just before serving, stir in the red kidney beans and return to the stove to warm through over low heat. Garnish with parsley and serve as part of a buffet with the herbed rice and cornbread.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.


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