Roasted Carrot and Mountain Rice Salad

I was asked recently to seriously consider these questions: What do you want from your life? What would you like people to say about you at your 90th birthday party?

I was being asked to think about my life goals in reverse. What do you want to be able to say when you reach the end? Let that lead your life goals rather than looking out from the situation you find yourself in at the moment. The glasses looking from here into the future are murky and smudged, but the lens from that future point back to where you are anchored at present is sharper.

When I (hopefully) reach that milestone birthday and have blown out the candles on my three-tier chocolate cake (you know it) what would I like people to say about me? What would I like to be able to say about my own life?

Firstly, I would want people to say that I lived, I didn’t just survive or exist, I lived my life. I took risks and played the game of life. I didn’t sit on the sidelines. I was the adventurer, the discoverer, the unafraid.

I would want people to know that I lived my life with love. I let love guide my actions and decisions. It might not always be the wisest of actions, but letting love guide your life will lead you to more unexpected blessings than letting logic guide your every step. I would want the people gathered around my armchair to know that I loved them, for them to be able to say that we never parted on an angry word, that they always knew I loved them, that I showed my love through service to the people around me.

I would want the speeches to say that I was leaving work behind that mattered; I had created something that would endure long after my name had been forgotten by my descendants. I had crafted something that touched people’s lives, not in a grand way, but in some small way that was unique to me.

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I would want people to reminisce about the meals we had shared at the kitchen table. Our home had always been open to any travelling past, any lonely soul, any celebratory moment, and there was always a spot at the table for the ones who wanted to stay. I would want them to talk about the simple nights, the rowdy nights, the late into the morning nights, the breakfasts, the long lunches, and the smell of baking wafting from my ever-busy stove. I would want to look over at Chris and see in his eyes the shared memory of nights when it was just the two of us, hungry after a walk, with a bag of mixed rice and a few carrots, that became nourishment and a moment stolen from a day dictated by the world’s demands. That too speaks of love, of what my life goals really are.

This meal came together in the middle of a busy week. Chris was waiting at the door for me when I got home, and suggested that we go for a walk along the harbour. We walked along, hand in hand, the most timeless expression of togetherness, of being tethered heart to heart. We talked about now, about then, about the future. We arrived home relaxed and I carried that spirit of simple joy into the kitchen. Some mixed rice, a few sweet carrots, some basil freshly picked from my co-workers garden, some honey, and a dollop of mustard, added together we had dinner fit for two.

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Roasted Carrot and Mountain Rice Salad

I used a mountain rice blend (from here) because Chris doesn’t like brown rice, and white isn’t quite right for a salad. You could of course, replace the mountain rice with the same amount of brown rice or even spelt. Cooking times may vary from those listed below. Replace honey with agave or maple syrup to make this a vegan meal.

Serves 2-3. Gluten free. Vegetarian. Vegan option.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mountain rice blend (see note)
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 small carrots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon local honey
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup flaked almonds
  • 2 cups rocket leaves

For the dressing

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon local honey
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons seeded mustard
  • 1 handful fresh basil, finely chopped
  • Salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F) and line a medium size baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Place rice and water in a medium size saucepan and bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Drain rice, return to pot and cover to keep warm.
  3. While rice is cooking. slice carrots lengthwise into long fingers. Place into a bowl with olive oil, honey and pepper and toss to coat. Spread out onto prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until carrots are tender.
  4. Spread almonds onto a small baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Watch them carefully because they will cook very quickly. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  5. While the rice and carrot are cooking make the dressing. Place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk vigorously with a fork. Set aside until needed.
  6. To serve: spread rocket leaves onto a large platter. Spread rice over the rocket. Place carrots on top. Pour over the dressing and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

I served mine with some toasted chickpeas while Chris enjoyed his with crispy skinned salmon. This salad is equally pleasant and filling as a meal in itself.

Quick Creamy Tomato Soup

As soon as I feel the slightest indication of rain or cooler, wetter weather moving in over our sun-bleached plains and golden crisp grass I insist on getting into comfort food cooking. I think I might have thrived somewhere that experiences four seasons. We get about two and a half here in Brisbane: Summer, not quite summer, and wint-eh (like winter but not quite as cold). On those days that there is a chill in the air, or the storm clouds start gathering on the horizon I take full advantage of the drop in temperature to make something that is only suitable when you can comfortably hold your face over a steaming bowl of something long enough to enjoy eating it.

Last week we had such an evening. I drove home beneath threatening skies with a hopeful thrum for rain beating in my heart. When I opened the door Dad was cooking something tomato-filled, spicy and hearty for himself and Mum – ‘Pork Creole’ he has since named it (I need to enlist his help with recipe names clearly).

Quick Creamy Tomato Soup

It seems Dad and I had the same idea. Something hearty and tomato-y was needed on such an evening. I pulled out the soup pot and started chopping, simmering, and taste testing.

I have made a tomato soup before. Something light and perfect for a summer night. This is heartier, richer, deeper and more satisfying. It has weight and heft from the lentils and potato, which also make it slightly creamy. It’s full of herbs both dried and fresh, and at the end you add a dollop of your favourite collection of antipasto things to give it a rich, salty, briny finish.

Perhaps one of the most perfect things about this soup is that you can make it in the dead of winter, with tinned-at-their-peak tomatoes, and recapture that late summer feeling all year long.

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Quick Creamy Tomato Soup (vegan, gluten free)

Serves 4

Note: I used a pre-made Italian herbs paste here because I have it on hand all the time and it’s a great way to supplement the herbs that come out of my garden. And it makes dinners quick!

My antipasto mix was from the supermarket deli and contained my favourites: semi dried tomatoes, green and black olives, and feta. Use your favourite, or simply top with a generous spoonful of grated cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium brown onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 medium washed potato
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 400g tin whole peeled tomatoes
  • ½ cup uncooked red lentils
  • ⅓ cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (low sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoon Gourmet Garden Italian Herbs paste 
  • 2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ cup your favourite antipasto mix, for finishing

Method

  1. Peel and dice onion. Dice carrot, potato, and tomato.
  2. Heat oil in a medium size pot (I used a 4L soup pot) over medium heat.
  3. Add diced onion and carrot and sauté until onion is transparent. Stir in potato and tomato. Cook for about 4 minutes with the lid of the pot on.
  4. To the pot add peeled tomatoes, red lentils, tomato paste, vegetable stock, and dried thyme. Stir until well incorporated.
  5. Leave to simmer on a low heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring a few times, or until the lentils and potato have broken down.
  6. Add Italian herbs, balsamic vinegar, and sugar and mix well.
  7. Remove from heat, and using a stick blender (bar mix thingy) blend soup until creamy. Be careful, the soup will be very hot!
  8. Ladle into bowls and top with scoops of antipasto.
  9. Serve with bread or, as I did, with crackers and a slice of sharp cheddar.

Quick Creamy Tomato Soup

This yields spectacular leftovers, and only gets better after a day or two in the fridge. Perfect for winter work lunches.

Tell me, dear reader, do you dive straight into the comfort foods as soon as the weather turns? I know some of my northern hemisphere friends are probably ready to send winter our way by now – what have you guys been cooking to keep warm?

Balsamic-Glazed Onion Tacos Two Ways

Let’s get back to some regularly scheduled eating now, shall we?

Relationships, like dinners, are about compromise.

I don’t see compromise as a negative experience – at dinner or in a relationship. In fact it’s usually an essential ingredient for true satisfaction in both endeavours. I believe that when two people come to the table (literal or figurative) with open hearts and minds in the absence of malice or greed then they can together forge a third option that is more fulfilling than either one’s idea alone.

Chris and I often come to a middle way when we decide what’s on the menu:

  • He wants chicken, I want chickpeas: we have stuffed capsicums suited to our individual tastes.
  • He craves bacon, I crave poached eggs: we top our vegetable fritters with our protein of choice.
  • His tastebuds seek deep fried satisfaction, my skinny jeans demand a slimmer option: we get takeaway. Fish and chips for him, vegetarian sushi for her.

See relationships – compromise – dinner.

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Luckily, when it comes to tacos we are on an even playing field. We both love them. We also both love balsamic-glazed onions on just about anything. Anything.

Compromise: steak for him, mushrooms for me. Happy tummies all round.

You need to make these tacos (in either or both incarnations) very soon. They fulfilled every nook and cranny of our taco craving. The sweet vinegary onions that almost melted together into a gravy, the grilled meat/mushrooms with a savoury perfumed edge from the thyme, the soft crunch of the butter lettuce, topped with salty cheese and wrapped into one easily eaten parcel inside a soft corn tortilla. Perfection.

 Despite the scarily long list of things to do, these come together very quickly, and if you aren’t greedy with the onions they make an excellent addition to a cold sandwich or salad the day after.

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Balsamic Glazed Onion Tacos – two ways (gluten free)

Serves two. One omnivore, one vegetarian.

Easily multiplied to serve more. If making for vegetarians only leave out the meat and double the mushrooms to serve two plentifully. If only serving omnivores increase the steak to 400 grams and still make the mushrooms as they are a delightful addition to a steak filled taco.

Ingredients

For the onions:

  • 2 medium red onions
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar
  • Pinch each of salt and pepper

For the steak:

  • 200 grams rib fillet steak
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil

For the mushrooms:

  • Two large field mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Pinch each salt and pepper

To serve:

  • 4-6, 6-inch corn tortillas (check package to ensure gluten free if required)
  • 2 cups torn butter lettuce leaves
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar (feta would also be enchanting here)
  • Optional: sliced avocado or sour cream

Method:

  1. Prepare your onions first. Peel and slice the two medium red onions into medium-thick half moons. Place them into a small saucepan with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook with lid on over low heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are softened. Remove the lid and continue to cook for another 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the steak. Mix together thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil on a small plate. Coat both sides of the rib fillet in this mixture. Heat a heavy-based non-stick pan to medium-high heat and sear the steak for one minute. Turn over to sear the other side. Cook to your preferred level. This article from Taste.com.au is very useful for those of us who are a little nervous when it comes to cooking steak. Once the steak is cooked to your preference, remove and allow to rest before slicing into strips.
  3. While your steak is cooking, slice the mushrooms thickly. Heat a non-stick pan to medium-high and warm the oil. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper and stir-fry until well cooked.
  4. Once onions, steak, and mushrooms are cooked, heat your tortillas and serve.

I layered mine thus: tortilla, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, and cheese. Chris added some steak into his.

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