Monday, 18 July 2011

This one's for you, Nachos

I've been attempting to make cheaper alternatives for dinner and lunch lately. I love cooking, but it's hard to find the time to do it these days. I have constant competing demands on my attention. Some more delightful than others.

Normally, I cook with a very fixed focus and I'm 100% involved in the process. I cook based on what I have in the fridge and pantry and often I start without knowing what I'm creating. This is the theme of tonights dish and the recipe below is the result.

This isn't about to turn into a food blog. There are many people out there more talented and dedicated than I to hold the cooking blog flag loud and proud. But I have a secret love for food and who says I have to choose a narrow field of style for my own creative corner.

I really enjoyed this dish and the pasta I used was amazing. Now I have enough of it for the next three lunches and two dinners (as well as sneaky second helpings tonight). As I had all the ingredients already, this whole dish probably would have cost me just under $15, taking into account the portions of each ingredient that I used. Not bad for my budget conscious (dwindling) bank balance.

And, of course, I always welcome suggestions for improvement!

Sultry Stovetop Salmon with Red Sauce and Pasta or Rice


1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 a bunch of coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
400gm can salmon
1 broccoli head
1/4 of a pumpkin, diced.
2-3 carrots, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves
1 red onion
200gm can of whole tomatoes
50gm can of tomato paste
200gm can red kidney beans
I - 2 chilies w/out seeds
1 cube of reduced salt chicken or vege stock dissolved in 50-100mls water
pepper to taste

1-2 cups short pasta or rice. (one cup will make 2- 2.5 cups of rice/pasta. 2 cups will make 4 - 4.5 cups)

Roast Pumpkin

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper


Turn oven on to 200 degrees, fan forced

1. Dice pumpkin and mix with fennel seeds, cumin seeds, olive oil, rock salt & pepper. Put in oven for 20 minutes or until cooked. After 10 minutes, check pumpkin and turn.

2. On stovetop, turn heat to high under saucepan and wait until hot. Put cumin seeds and fennel seeds in pot and swirl around the base until just after they become aromatic. Turn heat down to high/medium. Add tablespoon olive oil.

3. Put chopped garlic and seedless chili in saucepan and stir till lightly browned.

4. Put diced red onion, roughly sliced broccoli, and carrot in saucepan. Stir until combined then put lid on saucepan to partly steam the veges.

5. In separate saucepan, start boiling water for the pasta or rice. 2.5 cups of water to one cup of rice/pasta.

6. Open can of red kidney beans over a strainer and wash with cold water until all traces of bubbles from the can-water are gone. This may take up to two minutes.

7. Add kidney beans to the sauce, stir, then add tomato paste, paprika and drained can of whole tomatos. Mix, then put lid back on.

8. Wash the strainer and then open the can of salmon over it to drain the can-water. When drained, add salmon to sauce and gently break apart chunks slightly as you mix it in. Put lid back on.

9. Dissolve reduced-salt chicken or vege stock separately in 100mls boiling water. Leave for around 30seconds, then stir until dissolved. Slowly add stock to sauce while stirring. Turn heat right down to a low simmer then put lid on.

10. By now your separate saucepan of water should be boiled, so add the pasta/rice and stir. When this reaching boiling point again, add half a cube of chicken stock to flavour the pasta/rice.

11. Take the pumpkin out and check with a knife to see if it's cooked. If it is, then eat one, say mmm, then mix the rest in to the sauce (be careful not to pour the excess oil from the baking tray in to the sauce) and put the lid back on.

12. When the pasta is cooked, drain, run for a quick second under the tap to get rid of any starchiness from the pasta/rice then turn off the heat and serve with a generous helping of the sauce on top.

Viola! You have a saucy Salmon pasta for your delightful dinner.

This whole thing took me about 20-25minutes to cook and prepare.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Tales From The Garden

I've been starting to cook a lot more, recently. I really enjoy it. It's something that I can become completely immersed in, and has so many rewards connected to the delicious pastime. Also, it's a creative pursuit to smooth my worries and help forget the uncreative work of the day. It has immediate gains - praise from dinner guests - cooking can produce beautiful food when done right. I particularly reveal in the challenges I face making something from what most people would consider to be nothing special. The basics: a single carrot, a can of chickpeas, broccoli stalks garlic and chili, tomato paste and of course my herb garden. For me, it's all about the taste.

This mix and others from the depths of my fridge almost always creates the most tantalising aroma from a bubbling pot of Italian inspired ingredients. Italian food being so simple and good - just as life should be. Magical tastes arise from a dish infused with herbs.

Some of my strongest memories are food related. Not fussy, showy food; good, strong peasant style dishes and home made. We had six or seven plum trees, while I was growing up in rural New South Wales. My brother and I use to help pick the plums for an assortment of mum's creations, including plum sauce, stew, pudding, jam. It was glorious.

There's a picture of me under the plums trees from when I was about four years old, a wicked smile on my face, with wild plum blossoms softly nestled in my hair. I vividly remember moments like this; standing on top of our wooden garden table and reaching for plums. But plums weren't the only fragrant plant in my parents garden.

Fennel is a bulbous herb that is coming back in to cooking fashion at the moment, but I'll always associate the smell and taste with the (seemingly) giant fennel bush growing in my parents backyard, in the country. I'd hide under it with the dog panting in the sun just across from me, pink tongue out and glistening. The cat stalking insects of the other side of me, tail twitching with lively intent.

As I reached up and ate bunches of fennel, chewing slowly on the strong, stringy herb, I would hear the murmur of my parents voices floating over me, as they worked in the vegetable garden, and feel comforted by their presence.

Food has always had a tugging emotional attachment with me, and I'm certain I'm not alone in this fact. Food is enough to bring people together and, when good, can silence a rowdy table to occasional slurps and appreciate moans of culinary delight.

I know people who take photo's of the food they eat. While this behaviour on one hand puzzles me, on the other it makes perfect sense. In a world where we can capture every moment, these people are attempting to capture delight and surprise at the colour, smell and sensation of food. Food is a sensory symbol of their emotional attachment and their sense of satisfaction with the social situation they're in. Food brings people together, and in my experience, seems to strengthen the bond of relationships when experienced socially.

Despite my strong roots of a childhood spent in gardens, until recently I was never what one would consider a green thumb, and was more closely linked to that unfortunate group of individuals that manage to kill cactuses.

I had a cactus. I named him Gary and he gave me a good five to six months of cactus love before his untimely demise. I worshipped that cactus. I would greet it as I came home after work, and bid goodbye to it as I left in the morning. Gary and I were getting along fine; but, like any relationship with an untimely demise, Gary couldn't give me the affection I was after, and could often be quite - dare I say - prickly. He suffered under the weight of my constant love and watery affection. And was so infrequently allowed outside, into the warm arms of the waiting / lurking sun.

In short, Gary died from an overdose of affection. Luckily those days are behind me. These days I have my own garden. It's not as impressive or as ambitious as my parents garden, but it has a small selection of herbs and leafy veges. When I grew some herbs from seed, I was fascinated by the slow growth of the green shoots, struggling up through the softly packed dirt, and defying the slow, intent snails, ready to pounce and chomp their way through my baby shoots.

My garden and the plants within it bring me pleasure, and perhaps pride in what I and my neighbours have achieved. I've been cooking a lot more, recently, and the other day I even caught myself taking a photo of my latest culinary creation (my dinner), to send to my mum. I tend this garden with some of the people in my apartment block, and it's one of the many links that ties the building together. We share the herbs, and I have been known to pick giant bunches of rosemary and press it upon people who come to visit me. Perhaps I am becoming a bit of a green thumb after all. Who would have imagined it, but it makes me happy, and that's a fact.