Saturday, May 28, 2011

Red Lentil Soup with Parsnip & Thyme

Soups can be such a saviour in the kitchen. When you're tired, pressed for time, or you have a mish-mash of ingredients and don't know what to do, the humble soup can always come to the rescue. You don't even need to be a good cook to create one, as long as you can boil water you're pretty much sorted.

That said, the difference between an okay soup and a delicious soup can come down to the extra bits of flavour you choose to add. For this soup the added wow-factor is fresh thyme, but you could add any other fresh herb you have handy, such as oregano.

I especially love this soup as it is really economical and simple to make, yet it tastes complex and is utterly yum. And if you're not a fan of parsnips you could replace them with another vegetable, I made it with gold kumara once and it was great. So feel free to experiment. Yay for soup!


50g butter (you can use olive oil if you prefer)
2 onions, peeled and sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and cubed
3 medium parsnips (approx 450g), peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
2 teaspoons salt
350g (about 1 and 1/2 cups) red lentils
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
50g/1/2 cup chopped spring onions (reserve some for garnish)


Sauté the onions and garlic in the butter (or oil) for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the parsnips, salt and 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil. Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the lentils, cook for a further 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat.

Blend the soup with a stick bender (or food processor etc) until smooth. Add more water if you prefer a thinner soup.

Mix in the thyme and spring onions.

Serves 4-6

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lemon Cupcakes with Chocolate Cardamom Cream

Cupcakes are an extremely popular baking item for many reasons. They are easy to make, can be decorated in so many ways and the flavour options are limitless. However, the main reason I love making cupcake (apart from my love of eating them) is because they take such little time to cook. This means it saves power, (I am the queen of cheap), and the bonus is that it takes less time for yummy cakey goodness to be in my belly. It's win, win.

With yummy cupcakes, like these lemon ones, I don't often bother decorating them; not frosting them also saves me money. Plus I'm a bit of a piggy and just can't resist eating them still warm from the oven. But for extra decadence you can't beat a yummy topping that compliments, not overpowers, these little cakey treats. I like buttercream as a topping, but sometimes it can overwhelm a delicate cupcake. So for something different I like to use this chocolate cardamom cream recipe from Peter Gordon. It's not so sweet and has a delicious undertone of cardamom, it goes really well with citrus or berry cupcakes. It also makes a great cake filling.

Lemon Cupcakes:


125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar ( I use vanilla sugar)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 eggs
125g self raising flour (or use plain flour and add a teaspoon of baking powder)
2 tablespoons milk


Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, flour and milk and beat until smooth.
Divide the mixture between 12 cupcake cases and bake at 190 Celsius for 12-15 minutes, or until they have risen and are just firm to the touch in the centre.
Remove them from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Cardamom Cream:


70g dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa)
1/4 teaspoon powdered cardamom
200ml cream, chilled
1 tablespoon caster sugar


Melt the chocolate with the cardamom.
Take off the heat and add the sugar and 1/4 of the cream. Stir well.
Once the chocolate has cooled a little (but before it sets) add the remaining cream and whisk the mixture until it forms soft peaks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nutty And Spicy - Fried Brussels Sprouts

I feel sorry for Brussels sprouts. They seem to be the number one stereotypical vegetable that everyone hates. But is it really true? Do we all hate them? Personally I love them, and I even loved eating them when I was a kid. Sure we grow up disliking different foods, and probably need to try things a few times, or prepared different ways, before we get accustomed to eating them. But it's sad when one poor innocent (and delicious) vegetable has to be the poster-child for "yucky vegetables".

I don't even know if this stereotype has any basis any more, and I don't know how these vicious rumours even start. But I do know that most of the people I know actually like Brussels sprouts, and some (like me) even love them. So today I thought I'd share my fun and yummy way of preparing them. Maybe you could even give it a go if you've never been a fan of these cute little cabbages. 

The flavours in this dish give a bit of excitement to the humble sprout, but they don't overpower. I should also mention that you should feel free to do away with the measurements and just splash stuff in. Taste as you go, add more chilli if you like more kick, and why not sprinkle in some chopped peanuts if you like things more 'nutty'. Brussels sprouts definitely don't have to be that boring ignored vegetable any more. Ignore the myth.


250g Brussels sprouts (this is about 12 medium sized sprouts)
1 tablespoon crushed fresh ginger, can also grate or finely chop
1 garlic clove, crushed (or grated or chopped)
1 dried red chilli, chopped finely (fresh chilli is fine too)
1 and 1/2 teaspoon thai fish sauce
1 heaped tablespoon peanut butter (I like to use 'crunchy' peanut butter)

Slice the sprouts into 3 pieces.

Heat a little oil in a pan to a high heat. Peanut oil is ideal.

Add the sprouts and fry for just a minute or two at the most.

Add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Fry for a minute.

Whisk the fish sauce and peanut butter together with a few tablespoons of water, then add to the pan.

Make sure everything is combined well and cook for a few minutes more until they are just tender.

Serves 2 as a large side, or 3 as a small side dish.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Ginger Cream Cookies

There are certain flavours which I consider my secret weapons when it comes to cooking. Top of the list are lemon and ginger.

Apart from the fact that my taste-buds just love the fresh zing of lemon and ginger, they are my favourites because they have the simple ability of lifting a dish from "blah" to "wow!".  For example, a little lemon zest in a leek and potato soup makes the dish come alive, and fresh ginger can bring a bland stir-fry back from the dead.

Since they are my favourite ingredients I will eat them in anything, sweet or savoury, their inclusion will no doubt make my mouth water. So today's post is an ode to my trusty pal "ginger".

The cookies are nice and light and ever so soft and crumbly and the butter cream filling has lovely chunks of crystallised ginger. They are best eaten fresh but if you are able to refrain from eating them all, they will keep fresh for a few days when stored in an airtight container.

Anyone else have favourite 'secret' ingredients that they love to rely on?


250g butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch salt

Ginger Cream:
100g butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
45g ( a few tablespoons) chopped crystallised ginger


Cream the butter and sugar.
Beat in the egg and golden syrup.
Stir in the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt.
Roll large teaspoons of mixture into balls, place them on greased or lined baking trays. Flatten them with a fork.
Bake at 180 Celsius until light brown.
Transfer to a rack to cool.
Create the Ginger Cream by beating together the butter, icing sugar and ginger.
Spread the Ginger Cream onto the cookies and sandwich them together.

Makes approx 20 filled cookies