Okonomiyaki for One and Road Trip Excitement!

This weekend Chris and I are heading up the coast for the long weekend, and I for one am looking forward to doing these three things: one – a walk on the beach; two – drinking a glass of white wine at lunch time; and three – sleeping in on Monday morning. All week long thoughts of standing barefoot on the sand with cool spring waves ticking my feet have sustained me through meetings and the fever of office-moving activity. So on Friday night, instead of thinking of my commute home, I will get in the car, kick off my shoes and crank the radio while my darling and I hit the highway and make a getaway for the Sunshine Coast. I don’t care that Friday freeway traffic is hideous because at the end of that black tarmac is a little house by the water with a light on just for us, and I will be travelling the road with my favourite companion.

 

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Now, enough about my excitement over the long weekend, and let’s get onto this recipe. Yesterday, while in a particularly long meeting with lots of old men in suits, I kept fantasising about something delicious for dinner, something that tasted naughty but wasn’t, and that could be prepared quickly after my evening run so that I could spend more time reading and lying on the couch serenading Mum and Chris with my own lyrics (just make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh…). The perfect cure for my quick-and-naughty-but-nice craving was okonomyaki, or really as close to it as I could make. Okonomiyaki are Japanese savoury pancakes whose fillings vary by region (or so Wikipedia says). My okonomiyaki are filled with pre-shredded vegetables and made with buckwheat flour and a touch of sesame oil and soy sauce, then topped with a cucumber and sesame seed salad.

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This recipe makes the perfect amount for one, but I imagine it is quite easily doubled or tripled. I have even used this to make smaller okonomiyaki as appetisers for a dinner party. This is the perfect dinner to make on those nights when you want to pack in the vegetables, but still think you’re eating something a little naughty. In fact, perfect for pre-long weekend swimsuit eating! (Or, for a Monday long weekend brunch!)

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Okonomiyaki for One

Serves One, but easily doubled. This is the gluten free version, but you can use wheat flour if not catering for those with allergies. I have recently been head-over-heels for Woolworths ‘Shredded Rainbow Salad’ and it makes this meal so easy to prepare. I also used Kewpie brand mayonnaise, which I fell in love with at my local sushi train. 

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoon soy sauce (check that it’s gluten free)
  • 2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup (packed) pre-shredded salad vegetables (without any dressing)
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Asian mayonnaise to serve

Method

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, cold water, sesame oil and one teaspoon of soy sauce. Whisk in the buckwheat flour until there are no lumps.
  2. Add diced onion and pre-shredded salad and mix until the batter covers all the vegetables.
  3. Heat a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat and spray with a little cooking oil. Spoon all the mixture into the frying pan and spread out to an even thickness.
  4. Cover pan with a lid and cook for 3-5 minutes. Flip over and cook for 3-5 minutes on the other side. I have found the easiest way to flip the okonomiyaki is to slide it out onto a dinner plate, cover the plate with the over-turned frying pan and flip the uncooked side onto the pan.
  5. While the pancake is cooking slice the cucumber on an angle and then slice the slices so that you have cucumber matchsticks. Mix cucumber with remaining one teaspoon soy sauce and the sesame seeds.
  6. Place okonomiyaki onto plate, top with cucumber salad and drizzle mayonnaise across the top.
  7. Enjoy.

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I have found the best thing for keeping a body going while driving long distances is a well-selected playlist. I am usually a podcast girl, but to get in the mood for a relaxing beach weekend here are my picks.

I hope you all have a lovely long weekend! Any recommendations for my road trip play list?

Pesto Chickpea Patties

In all truth, I meant to make these last night for dinner, but work things happened. Then gym things happened. And the next thing I knew all that was happening was me asleep on the couch while watching Agatha Christie’s Poirot with an empty bowl of sautéed mushrooms, kale, and chickpeas sitting next to me.

I meant to make them because the thought of this flavour combination had been racing through my head all day. So, I delayed gratification, which is a sound psychotherapy tool (or so I’ve been told), and it was totally worth it. The brilliant thing is: I now have six more of these beauties stashed in my freezer for next time the craving hits. Take that delayed gratification!

This time I topped them with a dripping early season tomato salad, but I imagine they would be just as at home on a fluffy hamburger bun laden with all the usual trimmings and some garlic aioli.

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Antipasto Chickpea Patties (gluten free, vegetarian)

These patties are a little tender, so just be careful when handling them after they are cooked. Despite this crumbliness however, they are deliciously pesto flavoured and very filling.

 Ingredients:

  • 400g can chickpeas
  • 400g can butter beans
  • 1/3 cup diced mushrooms
  • 1 salad onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup diced capsicum
  • 3 tablespoons pre-made pesto
  • 8 semi-dried tomatoes in oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoon rice flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled feta (or more…)

 Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (356F) and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Spray a medium-size frying pan with cooking oil and place over a low heat. Add diced mushroom, onion, and capsicum and sauté until the onion is transparent and capsicum and mushroom are softened. Set aside to cool.
  3. Drain chickpeas and butter beans and rinse very well.
  4. Place chickpeas, butter beans, pesto, and tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor and process until well combined. Add egg, flour, and salt and pepper, and process again.
  5. Remove mixture from food processor and place in a large bowl. Stir in cooled sautéed vegetables.
  6. Place bowl in the refrigerator to chill for 10 minutes.
  7. While patty mixture is chilling prepare the tomato salad (see below).
  8. Divide mixture into 8 portions and shape each into a round(ish) patty.
  9. Place patties onto the lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Flip over halfway through cooking time. The patties are a little tender so be careful.
  10. Place two patties on each plate, and divide tomato salad between. Sprinkle with feta. Serve and enjoy.

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Tomato Salad

 Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 large handfuls baby kale
  • ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • Salt and black pepper

Method:

  1. Halve cherry tomatoes and place in medium-size bowl. Thinly slice spring onion and add to tomatoes along with baby kale.
  2. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chopped oregano, salt and pepper.
  3. Mix dressing through salad and allow it to stand while you prepare the patties.

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Red Wine Braised Beef Short Rib Stew with Rosemary Pecorino Cornbread

I have spoken before of my difficult relationship with winter. There is something about the empty cold blue sky and long windy nights that leaves me feeling expectant somehow (no, not that kind of expectant), restless, waiting for spring. One thing I do love about winter though is the long walks I take in the mornings, and the stories that I listen to along the way. I am currently obsessed with historical podcasts, in particular ‘Stuff You Missed in History Class‘ (I am currently working my way through their back catalogue) and the podcast produced by The National Archives.

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Some of my fondest memories as a child are the nights when either Mum or Dad would read to my sister and I before we fell asleep. When Jess and I shared a bedroom, Mum would settle herself between our twin beds and read to us from ‘Listen with Mother’ (a book produced from the BBC radio show of the same name). ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ she would ask. My sister and I would reply with a sleepy chorus of ‘yes’, and Mum would begin to weave a story in her smooth, perfect voice. Other nights my Dad would be on storytelling duty. These were the nights that Jess and I would be allowed to fall asleep in Mum and Dad’s big bed. All three of us would pile into their water bed, Dad snuggled in between, our very own captive storyteller. With his glasses perched on the end of his nose so that he could see on the awkward angle he was forced into. He would crack open ‘Stuart Little‘ or ‘The Giant Baby‘ and read us a chapter or two until our heads would drop back onto the pillows.

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Listening to stories about historical figures or events makes me feel like I am back inside the cocoon of comfort woven during those story-filled nights. I am lost in the world of whichever character or adventure is the topic of discussion. From the strange life of Margery Kempe, to the spine-tingling true story of Broadmoor Hospital, or the real life pirate story of Stede Bonnet, I am kept captivated by the tale until the very last minute. Long winter nights are similarly made for tales – true or fantastic. A belly full of something warm and satisfying is all you need before settling back in your favourite chair with a book, or a podcast, or your favourite storyteller and losing yourself in the pursuit of adventure.

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Red Wine Braised Beef Short Rib Stew

For the beef to most satisfyingly fall from the bones and melt into the thick vegetable and wine stew this must cook for at least four hours. A longer cooking time of six hours will render the flesh so tender and flavoursome that angels and demons will weep together. There was little conversation at our dinner table last night as Mum and Dad scooped their bowls of stew out with Rosemary and Pecorino Cornbread (recipe follows). Make this on a weekend when you can curl up comfortably with a book while the scent of red wine and paprika fills the house and drives away the coldest winter day.

A note about wine: I used Lambrusco because my Dad loves it and the rest of the bottle didn’t go to waste. You can use whatever your favourite red wine is, and then serve the leftovers with dinner (or drink it while you wait for dinner to cook – we don’t judge in my house).

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 chunky beef short ribs (about 800 grams)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large brown onion, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, diced
  • 1/2 red capsicum, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, chunkily chopped
  • 3 small-medium potatoes, diced
  • 400 gram tin tomato purée
  • 400mL red wine (measured in tomato tin)
  • 1L beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 150°C (300ºF) and arrange oven racks to accommodate a large casserole dish.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large stove top safe oven-proof casserole dish with a lid. Brown the beef short ribs on each side and then remove to a plate. Add celery, onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until the onion is clear.
  3. Tumble the capsicum, carrot and potatoes into the dish and add the paprika and thyme leaves. Stir so that all the vegetables are coated. Cook for about 5 minutes with the lid off.
  4. Add the short ribs back into the dish and add the bay leaves, tomato purée, red wine and beef stock. Give the mixture a big stir so that all the ingredients are covered by the liquid.
  5. Bring casserole to a simmer. Remove from the stove top and place in the preheated oven.
  6. Cook for four to six hours. Give the casserole a stir every forty-five minutes. At the end of the cooking time you may want to thicken up the sauce a little. Simply remove the beef ribs and in a small glass mix together one tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch) and one tablespoon cold water and stir this into the stew. Bring to a bubble on the stove top again and then replace the short ribs.
  7. Serve in big deep bowls with a decent chunk of cornbread. And maybe a little butter too. And wine, definitely wine (or red fizzy drink for Mum).

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Rosemary Pecorino Cornbread (gluten free)

Just a few notes: one, I used fine grain polenta, not the the quick cooking or pre-prepared kind in the US this is probably labelled cornmeal; two, you can replace the buckwheat flour with plain flour if you are not cooking for a coeliac. If you cannot find pecorino cheese use a sharp cheddar or parmesan instead.

Ingredients:

  • 160 grams fine grain polenta
  • 80 grams buckwheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (gluten free)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary)
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). If you are cooking this at the same time as the short ribs above, 170ºC will be fine and may just require a few more minutes to cook. Line an 8-inch square baking tin with baking paper.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together polenta, buckwheat flour, salt, black pepper, and baking powder.
  3. Whisk in rosemary and pecorino. Set aside for the moment.
  4. In a small jug measure out the buttermilk. Into this whisk the olive oil and eggs until thoroughly combined.
  5. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and briskly mix in the wet ingredients.
  6. Pour batter into lined tin and slide into the oven.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  8. Allow to cool, or not, before serving with a steaming hot bowl of soup, or simply a generous dob of butter.

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Tell me, dear reader, what are your childhood memories of storytelling? Any favourite books? Do you still like listening to a soothing voice telling tales of adventure and daring?

Lunchbox Love: Quinoa, Chickpea, and Capsicum Salad with a Lime-Honey Dressing

I have a confession: as much as I love salad even I get bored of the same leaf, tomato, legume and antipasto combination. This often leads to me resorting to my next option: cottage cheese and crackers or avocado sushi.

In an attempt to revamp my lunch situation, and to ease night-before-work decision-making fatigue, I made a big batch of this quinoa salad. Full of bright vegetables, healthy protein (from the chickpeas and quinoa), fibre, and complex carbohydrates (slowly broken-down for longer-lasting energy and fullness) it will last in the refrigerator all week long safely divided into four lunchbox-ready containers.

I have also made this salad for a work function and a family barbecue. It makes a perfect pot luck dish because it suits so many different special diets (gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free) while still tasting delicious (I’ve had reports). I simply doubled the amount and it made a healthy side dish for 10-12 hungry people. Vegetarian friends, this is a complete protein meal; omnivorous friends, I have reports that it goes rather nicely with grilled chicken or fish.

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Quinoa, Chickpea, and Capsicum Salad with a Lime-Honey Dressing

Gluten-free. Vegetarian. Dairy-free.

Serves 4 as a main dish. 6-8 as a side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa (I used red, but any colour will be delicious)
  • 3 cups salt-reduced vegetable stock
  • 1/2 medium red capsicum
  • 1 400 gram can of corn kernels
  • 1 400 gram can of chickpeas
  • 1 small cucumber
  • 2 stalks of spring onion
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1-2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Method:

  1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly and add to a small saucepan with the vegetable stock. Heat on a medium-high stove until it comes to the boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover pot and cook for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain well and return to pot to cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile dice cucumber, capsicum, and spring onions. Drain corn kernels. Drain and rinse chickpeas well.
  3. Add quinoa to a large bowl and add diced and drained vegetables. Toss mixture together with spinach leaves.
  4. To make the dressing whisk together all dressing ingredients.
  5. Add dressing to bowl and toss well.

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Serving suggestions: Perfect the way it is, although sometimes I crumble some feta over the top of mine, or add a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds. Omnivores may like to add grilled chicken or fish (dressed with some extra lime perhaps). Vegans you can substitute agave for the honey.

Nutrition Information: (Per serve. 4 serves per batch.) 315 cals | 1315kJ | 5.55g fat | 0.9g saturated fat | 13.8g protein | 57.8g carbohydrates | 7.8g sugar | 5.2g fibre |

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Soothing Spiced Lentil Stew

Mist rose steadily in clouds from the storm water creek as we started the day with a morning walk. The crisp air reddened cheeks and numbed hands even as the sun rose bright and clear in the unclouded blue sky.

In the depths of midwinter we decided that it was time to clean. To purge the old, save that which is needed and useful, and shed the superfluous in favour of simmering down to essentials. From the sorting and shifting, the de-scaling of our lives, there arises a sense of rebirth, of purity, of the elemental needs of life that are exposed when we chose to lose the clutter. It can however be a little exhausting, a little exposing, and soul-wearying. At the end of a day like this a soothing spiced lentil stew studded with sweet potato and peppered with kale serves to warm and restore.

Soothing Spiced Lentil Stew

A blend of spices lends this stew depth of flavour. I owe a great debt to Nigel Slater as this is adapted from one of his wonderfully warming recipes.

Serves 2 but is easily doubled, or makes great leftovers for a single girl like me.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium brown onion, diced
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 150g dried Puy lentils
  • 500mL water
  • 1 tsp powdered vegetable stock
  • Few stems of kale
  • Natural yoghurt, to serve.

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan heat a dash of olive oil. Add the diced brown onion and sweet potato. Cover with lid and cook on a low heat until onion has softened.
  2. Add paprika, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Stir to distribute spices, and take a moment to revel in their fragrance.
  3. To this pot add Puy lentils, water, and powdered vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. The lentils should still be firm and the sweet potato soft.
  4. While the lentils are simmering away add a splash of olive oil to another smaller pan. Keep on a low heat and add thinly sliced red onion. Cover and cook until onion is golden brown; then, add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
  5. Remove stems from kale and roughly chop the curly leaves. Add to the cooked lentils and cover so that the kale wilts into the stew.
  6. Serve lentils topped with onions and a dollop of natural yoghurt.

Allow the stew to soothe you, and the spices to restore your soul. Then sit back and take in the night, and the new start that every dawn brings.