Monday, October 21, 2013

Meat Free Mondays

Meatless Monday is a global campaign attempting to change the health of the population and the planet, by reducing the amount of meat eaten worldwide. Monday, the start of the work week, is when many people re-set their goals, re-establish routines and think about their impact on the world around them a little more, before the hectic nature of modern life pulls them back into its clutches.

Australians are the among the highest meat-eaters in the world, and this is impacting our health, and the health of our planet. Red meat is generally high in saturated fat, which is associated with heart problems, and has been linked with some cancers, particularly bowel cancer. Meat production, particularly grain-fed beef,  requires a greater input of water than the production of grains or many vegetables. This meat production puts extra strain on our planet. Meatless Monday is about being kind to our bodies and kind to the planet.

Many of us can manage a meat free breakfast and even a meat free lunch, but when it comes to the evening meal we are pre-programmed to look for meat on our plate. It doesn't have to be that way, start your Meat Free Monday campaign with a bowl of pumpkin soup for dinner, made using vegetable stock, rather than chicken stock. The next week try a mixed vegetable stir-fry with brown rice. As the weeks progress you can become more adventurous in your Meat Free Monday journey. This recipe for a Roast Vegetable Salad may inspire you.

Roast Vegetable Salad

1 sweet potato, cut into thick slices
½ butternut pumpkin, cut into chunks
1 zucchini, sliced into 2.5 cm pieces
1 red capsicum, seeded and quartered
1 red onion peeled & quartered
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
2 avocados, sliced
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons Herbies Greek Seasoning
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 200C.

2. Place sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini, red onion and red capsicum in a mixing bowl. Add 1½ tablespoons olive oil, garlic and Greek Seasoning and toss to make sure all the vegetables are coated in oil.

3. Spread the vegetables evenly onto a baking tray and season with freshly ground pepper.

4. Bake in oven for approx.  40 minutes or until tender and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

5. Place cooled vegetables into a serving bowl. Add tomatoes, avocado, baby spinach, balsamic vinegar and a little more olive oil. Toss well. Sprinkle with pine nuts.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gluten Free Cooking

At The Fresh Ingredient we are seeing more and more customers looking for gluten free foods. Gluten Intolerance and Coeliac Disease are becoming more common in Australian society. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but one of things that we, as food professionals have noticed is the amount of gluten that is added to foods, especially convenience foods and highly processed foods. If you read the ingredients list on jars of curry sauces, pasta sauces etc you will find thickeners are often added, along with other preservatives, colourings etc. Many people comment to me that Gluten is in everything. I don't agree. Gluten is in many foods, but with knowledge and care it is easy to eat Gluten Free.

All fruits and vegetables are gluten free, as is meat. The majority of dairy products are gluten free, you just have to check what has been added to your cheese and yoghurts. Eating grain based foods is a little more difficult, but rice, quinoa, tapioca, buckwheat, corn, millet and amaranth are all gluten free and they are becoming more readily available.
I often hear people say "I don't want to eat grilled meat and steamed vegetables every night, but I have to eat gluten free, what can I do?" At The Fresh Ingredient home we eat gluten free most nights, we love warming casseroles, pies, risotto and even pasta dishes. We use gluten free pasta, and make our own meat and vegetable based sauces. When making casseroles or stews I still coat the meat before browning it, but I use rice flour and a selection of Herbies spice mixes, rather than gluten based prepared slow-cooker bases. Risotto can be a filling, tasty and relatively easy dinner dish. If you use good quality stock and fresh meat and vegetables this will be a gluten free dinner that the whole family will enjoy!
Smoked Chicken and Capsicum Risotto
6 cups chicken stock - either homemade or The Stock Merchant Chicken Stock
1 cup good quality white wine,
1.5 cups arborio or carnoli rice
1 brown onion, finely diced
1 golden shallot (eschallot), finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup finely diced mixed capsicum (red, green and yellow)
1 smoked chicken breast finely diced
2 tbs Brookfarm Macadamia Oil
1 tbs butter
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste.
1. Heat chicken stock over low heat and maintain at a simmer. It is best to heat the stock before adding to the rice so that the rice cooks more quickly at a steady temperature.
2. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add finely chopped brown onion, golden shallot and crushed garlic cloves and cook, while stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens. Add diced capsicum and stir until capsicum softens, then add one and a half cups of carnoli/arborio rice and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 1 to 2 minutes or until the grains appear glassy and are coated in the butter mixture.
3. Add one cup of white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is completely absorbed. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir continuously until the liquid is completely absorbed. Continue adding the stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring continuously, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more.
4. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the rice is tender yet firm to the bite and risotto is creamy. Remember to stir every minute or so. In the last 5 minutes add the diced smoked chicken.
5. Remove from heat and add parmesan.
Serve with the remainder of the white wine and a green salad if desired.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fresh Food Love

Recently a customer asked me what it was that made me smile. I had to think for a moment, not because I don't smile; I smile and laugh often every day, anyone that visits The Fresh Ingredient will have experienced the quirky style and sense of humour that pervades the business, I had to pause and think because I needed to pinpoint what it was that made me smile. I replied that the sound of children laughing made me smile. I thought about this conversation often in the days following and added many things to my mental list of things that make me smile. This list includes; the snuggly cuddles of my children, the feel of an anticipated book in my hand, a cup of coffee made by my husband and handed over with a smile, but the thing that keeps coming up in my list is always related to food. Food is not just fuel for my body, it is also food for my soul.

I love cookbooks, I always have. I remember as a child often sitting and reading cookbooks, I didn't necessarily want to cook what I was reading about, I just loved to read the recipes. I love to read menus, I will take a long time to decide what to order in a restaurant or cafe, because I am reading each item and thinking about how it will taste, or how it has been prepared. These make me smile.

I love to look at fresh food, I love to hold fresh food, these make me smile. I love to cook. Cooking food for family and friends makes me smile, however I don't have a lot of free time, so I need to have a repertoire of "recipes" that are tasty, family friendly and reasonably fast to prepare. I am inspired to create meals by the beauty of fresh produce, I will think about flavour combinations and play around with the ingredients, with what I have on hand and what is affordable.

With pumpkin in season I am creating many dishes inspired by this delicious vegetable, soup comes to mind first, but The Fresh Ingredient family also love  a pumpkin pasta dish. I turn the oven on as soon as I get into the house, ready to roast the pumpkin and also to heat the kitchen, which is the heart of our home. With this dish I don't measure or weigh out ingredients and I substitute if I don't have something on hand. The protein element in this dish can be either chicken or bacon (or both). The sauce can be cream based, or stock based or both.

Creamy Pumpkin and Chicken Pasta
Ingredients(serves 4)
1/2 butternut pumpkin, peeled and diced, or use a good sized wedge of Jap Pumpkin.
2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 eschallot, diced
1 double chicken breast, sliced.
2-3 rashers best quality bacon, cut into strips (I love Seller's Butchers at Merewether, they smoke their own bacon. It is the real deal!)
1/2 cup pure cream (Udder Farm if available)
1/2 cup chicken stock (or pasta cooking water)
3 cups dry penne pasta
1/4 cup pine nuts
fresh parmesan, grated
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. 
2. Toss pumpkin in half of the oil and roast for 30 minutes or until tender and golden. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to oven for the last 10-15 minutes. In the last 2-3 minutes place a small roasting pan with pine nuts into oven, agitate to make sure they roast evenly.
3. Shortly before the pumpkin is ready, boil salted water for the pasta, cook the pasta following packet directions.
4. Fry bacon, add garlic and eschallot to the pan, (use remaining olive oil if required) turn heat down to low heat.
5. Add pumpkin to frypan contents stirring gently, slowly stir in the cream and stock. Pumpkin should go a little mushy and blend with the cream. 
6. When pasta is ready, stir the parmesan and chicken into the pumpkin mixture and season with salt and pepper.
7. Drain pasta and combine with pumpkin mixture. Serve with a little extra parmesan, the roasted pine nuts and a grind of black pepper.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Super Soup

Soup is common to most cultures throughout the world, from the traditional pea and ham soup of the Anglo-Saxon people, to the chowder & gumbos of the Americas and the Tom Yum of South East Asia. Soup is a comfort food for many, the continual references to "chicken soup" in popular culture attest to its place in society. Homemade soup is very nutritious, easy to digest and generally easy to prepare. As long as we watch the salt and fat content and the amount of bread or croutons consumed with the soup, then it can be a tasty addition to many diets.
Whilst soup is available in packets, tins & microwaveable plastic containers, many of these products are high in salt, preservatives and artificial colours and flavours, not the best things for our bodies or our souls. Making soup at home is very good for our body and soul. The rhythm of chopping the vegetables, the smell of sautéing your aromatics, the gentle bubbling sound of the soup simmering in the pot, the sight of a steaming bowl of your own handmade goodness and finally the taste, not just of the beautiful fresh ingredients used, but also the love that has gone into this meal.
At the Fresh Ingredient we love soup throughout Autumn and Winter, and we love to hear about our customer's cooking adventures. Throughout April and May we are inviting people to submit their soup recipes, via e-mail or our facebook page. The one judged to be the most interesting/creative will win a gift box from The Fresh Ingredient. 
Good Luck. Mary/The Fresh Ingredient

Moroccan Sweet Potato Soup

Ingredients - Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large brown onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons Herbies Chermoula Spice Mix
  • 600g orange sweet potato, peeled, diced
  • 500g carrots, peeled, sliced
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 300g can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Turkish bread to serve.

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Stir in chermoula spice mix. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add sweet potato and carrot. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add stock. Cover. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
  • Add chickpeas to soup and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are tender.
  • Blend soup, using a stick blender, or if using a processor, blend in small batches, until smooth. Return soup to saucepan, bring to medium-low heat. Check seasoning and adjust salt and pepper. Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice, continue heating and stirring until the soup has warmed through. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with pepper and serve with Turkish Bread.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pumpkin and Olive Oil Risotto With Hunter Valley Verjuice

This recipe was supplied by Bob Leonard from The Hunter Valley Verjuice company. You can purchase verjuice from The Fresh Ingredient, in fact you can purchase all the ingredients for this dish from The Fresh Ingredient! This recipe serves 4, adjust ingredients to increase or decrease servings.

  • 1.5 litres of chicken stock
  • 1 x large onion
  • 20ml olive oil
  • 75grams of unsalted butter
  • 700 grams of peeled pumpkin cut into 2cm pieces
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 400 grams of Arborio rice
  • 150ml of Hunter Valley Verjuice
  • 80 grams of Parmigianino cheese
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 60ml of Hunter Valley Verjuice for deglazing the pumpkin

  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees C
  • Heat the stock in a saucepan
  • In a wide-based pan or shallow-sided large saucepan, sauté the onion in the olive oil and butter until golden
  • Place the pumpkin pieces on a tray, drizzle with additional extra virgin olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked pepper
  • Bake for 10 mins until pumpkin edges become a little caramelised
  • Deglaze the pumpkin with about 1 – 2 tablespoons of Hunter Valley Verjuice and cook for a further 2 minutes
  • When the onion is cooked, add the rice and stir to coat
  • Cook for 1 -2 minutes, then increase the temperature
  • Make a well in the centre of the pot and add the remaining Hunter valley verjuice and continue to stir until the liquid evaporates
  • Reduce heat, adding a full ladle of stock and stirring until all this stock has been taken up by the rice
  • Repeat the process – adding the stock ladle by ladle, stirring continuously until ¾ of the stock has been used – it should take 15 – 20 minutes
  • Check seasoning and add salt, Add half of the pumpkin and its juices
  • Increase the heat, add last of the stock stirring continuously until the rice is cooked
  • Remove from the heat and stir in about half of the Parmigianino cheese
  • Top the risotto with the remaining pumpkin, drizzle with olive oil, cracked pepper and parsley.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kids in the Kitchen

We are in the middle of Summer. The days are warm, the evenings long, and for many families our meals get simpler. These easy meals are the perfect opportunity to get kids into the kitchen.

I believe that one of the most important things that we can teach our children is a love of food, a respect for food and from those, we teach them how to prepare food. I was brought up with food growing in the backyard; I saw the life-cycle, the seed, the plant, the fruit or vegetable and then the meal on the table. I helped with this process, planted seeds, weeded and watered the garden, harvested crops and watched and helped with the preparation of the food. I respect food; I respect the effort that goes into producing our food.

We are teaching our children this respect. They travel with me when I collect produce from local growers, they see the trees with the fruit laden, and they see the farmers working to harvest the crop. They see the fresh food on the shelf at The Fresh Ingredient, and they see it on the kitchen bench at home. They love to stand on a stool and help to cut up vegetables, stir a cake batter, shake a salad dressing, or assemble a burrito. Our children understand that food comes from nature; it is not a pre-packaged, plastic product that gets heated, or rehydrated. It was a living thing, which helps us, as humans survive. I often hear little Miss 5 telling her brother (4) that “if you don’t eat good food you won’t grow up to be big and strong”.

Child-rearing books and experts tell us that we should model the behaviour that we want our children to exhibit, use good manners, stand-up straight, read books, be kind. We should also model food behaviours, let them observe us as we eat our fruit and vegetables, as we work to avoid wastage, as we prepare meals. Studies have shown that if children are involved in the preparation of a meal, they are more likely to eat that meal; they have a sense of ownership.

Our children love pasta and they love cheese, so this is a winner in our home. They can be involved in the preparation of this meal by helping to grate the carrot and cheese, measuring out the milk, weighing out the pasta and butter, measuring out the vegetables, and helping to assemble the bake. It can be served with a simple tomato and leaf salad, or a spinach and avocado salad, my personal favourite!

Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake
·       350g shell or penne pasta
·       30g Udder Farm butter
·       2 tablespoons cornflour
·       2 cups Udder Farm milk (full cream or light)
·       2 cups grated cheddar cheese
·       1 medium carrot, grated
·       2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves
·       1 cup fresh corn kernels
·       ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

·      Grease a 2L capacity baking dish.
·      Preheat oven to 180°C.
·      Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water, following packet directions, until just tender.
·      Melt butter in a saucepan, stir in cornflour and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat; slowly pour in milk, whisking all the time to make a smooth white sauce. Return to heat, continue stirring until sauce thickens.
·      Drain pasta, return to pot and stir in white sauce. Add cheese and vegetables, stir well to combine.
·      Spoon mixture into baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake for 25 minutes until golden and heated through.