Cookbook challenge - hearty

This week's theme was hearty, which lead to a discussion about what makes a meal hearty. We agreed that some soups are hearty, but not all soups are. I think stews are hearty, and that a stew that can't be described as hearty isn't a very good stew at all. My dining companion in chief disagreed. In the end, neither of us could describe what qualifies. I think this recipe is, he wasn't entirely convinced. Regardless, it's very enjoyable and certainly didn't leave me any room for dessert.

The recipe is from one of my newest books - Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes. I wanted dinner a little bit quicker than that, so cooked it all in my favourite French oven. It worked perfectly well this way, and I probably wouldn't get my slow cooker out unless I needed the oven for something else. I replaced the peanuts with cashews and cashew almond and brazil nut paste, as I prefer their flavour. Since they're not as strongly flavoured as peanuts, I think I'd use half a jalapeno next time, with the added benefit of letting the flavour of the ancho through, too.

All in all, my only quibble with the recipe is the name. Describing something as an "African stew" makes about as much sense as calling ratatouille "European". Still, that's the name the cookbook used, so that's what I'll go with.

African-style Peanut Stew

2 tbspn coconut oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbspn ginger, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tspn cracked pepper
800g tinned tomatoes, with juice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 sweet potato, cubed
2 dried ancho chillies
1/2 to 1 jalapeno chilli, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/4 cup coriander, roughly chopped
1 capsicum, seeded and diced
1/4 cup roasted peanuts


Preheat oven to 190 Celsius. Heat the oil in a large French oven or stockpot. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened.

Cook the vegies for around 7 minutes
Add garlic, ginger, slat and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and stir well. Add vegetable stock and sweet potato. Place lid on pot and cook for around one hour.
Ready to go in the oven
Meanwhile, soak the ancho peppers in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid and stems. Transfer to a blender, and add the jalapeno, peanut paste, coriander, and around 1/2 a cup of the stew liquid. Puree. Add to the pot along with the capsicum, cover and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes until the capsicum is tender and the flavours have melded. Serve over brown rice, garnished with roasted peanuts.

Cookbook challenge - comfort food

I recently joined a cookbook challenge with the goal of getting some of my very neglected books out of the cupboard and into use. The rules are pretty simple; each week has a theme, the goal is to find a recipe, cook it and blog it by Monday.

The theme for this week is comfort food, which posed a bit of a problem. For me, comfort food doesn't normally appear in a cook book. It's stuff like cheese on toast, or baked potatoes with chilli beans. But then I started thinking about other things that I like to eat on a cold winter day, and decided it would have to be something you can cook in the slow cooker or a Le Creuset. The Le Creuset won in the end, mostly because I wasn't home at the time when I would have needed to get the slow cooker going.

The recipe I chose was Risotto Verde from Tasty Vegetarian (Quick and Easy Series).

Use a good stock or run the rick of getting a really bland risotto. I garnish with parmesan and toasted pine nuts, too.

Risotto verde

1.75 litres vegetable stock
2 tbspn olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 leeks, shredded
225g arborio rice
300 ml dry white wine
4 tbspn chopped mixed herbs
225g baby spinach
3 tbspn natural yoghurt
salt an pepper


Pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Menawhile heat the oil in a separate pan. Add the garlic and leeks and saute over a low heat, stirring occasionally for 2 -3 minutes, until softened. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring until each grain is coated with oil. Pout in half of the wine and a little of the hot stock. Cook over a low heat until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the remaining stock and the wine, a little at a time, and cook over a low heat for 25 minutes, or until the rice is creamy. Stir in the chopped mixed herbs and baby spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the yoghurt. Garnish and serve immediately.

Spicy orange and red vegetable soup

Lately I've been trying to mix things up a bit in the kitchen. Mostly because I want to make sure we have a diverse diet, but also because I'm sick of cooking the same meals over and over. So rather than making a standard red lentil and sweet potato soup, I had a flick through some cook books for inspiration, decided on a recipe, than changed it to suit the stuff in the fridge.

The end result was a combination of sweet and spicy flavours that complimented each other perfectly. It's not a heavy soup; more a starter, or the main course in a meal that includes an energy-dense dessert. If you wanted to make it a healthy main course, try adding lentils or cannellini beans for a bit of bulk.

I'm not a fan of super hot chilli, so used Goya Smoky Ancho Piquant sauce, which is a blend of ancho and habenero chillis, with a little bit of other stuff thrown in for extra flavour. Its yummy, but if you can't get any, then Tobasco red or chipotle would do the job.

Spicy red and orange vegetable soup

1 tbspn olive oil
4 leeks
4 cloves garlic
1 tbspn cumin
1/2 tspn cracked pepper
1 large sweet potato
5 carrots
6 cups vegetable stock
1 red capsicum
1 orange capsicum
1 tspn chilli sauce


Heat half the oil in a large stock pot or French oven. Chop the leeks finely and saute until softened. Crush the garlic and add to the pan along with the cumin and pepper. Cook for around 1 minute, then reduce the heat. Roughly chop the sweet potato and carrot, then add to the pot with the stock. Allow to simmer over low heat for 30 - 45 minutes, until the carrot is soft. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and cook the capsicum until soft and fragrant. Add to the soup with the chilli. Simmer another 5 - 10 minutes, then allow to cool slightly before blending with a stick mixer. Serve with sour cream.

Lemon sponge pudding

Lemon is one of my favourite flavours. Silly little personality quizzes always ask if a person prefers chocolate or vanilla, but I reckon chocolate or lemon would be a much better choice. Not that I don't love vanilla; I nearly always choose it over chocolate. But lemon is better. I love it preserved, turned into curd or marmalade, as salad dressing and in hollandaise, as cordial and sorbet, and definitely squeezed over pancakes. And now, I love it as a pudding flavour.

If you're the type of person who likes a packet mix self-saucing pudding, you can bake this and get the same sort of crispy top. If you've got the time and inclination, steam it for a softer pudding.

Lemon sponge pudding

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tspn coconut essence
2 eggs
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup millk
1 1/2 cups SR flour
1 cup lemon curd


Cream the butter and sigar together. Beat in the coconut essence, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well. Place the lemon juice in a measuring jug. Add enough milk to make up to 2/3 cup. The milk will go sour and get the consistency of yoghurt. Add a third of the flour to the batter, and mix well. Follow with half the milk. Continue adding flour and milk until all combined. Grease an 8 cup pudding basin if steaming, or a casserole if oven baking. Place the lemon curd in the base, then top with cake batter. Seal the basin and steam for 45 - 60 minutes, or bake uncovered at 180 Celsius for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream.

Spinach and broccoli soup

By now it should be fairly obvious that I'm a fan of soup. This one tastes fantastic, and has the sort of silky texture that you normally only get from adding loads of cream. Despite that, it's very light, and would be perfect as a starter or for a late supper. Garnish with grated parmesan or a dollop of yoghurt for a bit of extra zing.

Spinach and broccoli soup

1 tbspn olive oil
1/2 tspn cracked pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 leeks, chopped
250g spinach, chopped
2 heads broccoli
1 potato, peeled and cubed
4 cups vegetable stock


Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan or stockpot. Saute the leek until softened. Add the pepper and garlic, and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Add the chopped spinach (in batches if using fresh), broccoli, potato and stock. Cover and simmer until the potato is cooked - around 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Blend on high speed using a stick mixer.

Warm and hearty

It's definitely stew season at the moment; we're having the coldest winter in the past 15 years. Despite being a great lover of all things summery, I'm handling it pretty well. Possibly because I've been filling up on warm and hearty soups and stews.

This recipe is really simple to make, without compromising flavour at all. If you're looking for something low fat and full of fibre, then look no further. If, on the other hand, you're on a low carb diet, keep browsing because this recipe is defintely not for you.

Spinach and chickpea stew

1 tbspn olive oil
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 pinch safron threads
1 tbspn ground cumin
2 potatoes
2 x 420g cans chickpeas, drained
1 tspn paprika
2 tbspn water
1 tbspn red wine vinegar
200g baby spinach leaves


Preheat oven to 180 Celsius. Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Saute the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, saffron and cumin and cook until fragrant. Grate the potato, add to pan and toss to coat. Stir through the chickpeas and remove from heat. Place in oven and cook for around an hour. Remove from oven and return to stove top. Combine paprika, water and vinegar. Add to chickpea mix and stir well. Add spinach in batches, and cook until heated through. Serve with your favourite stew accompaniment.

Chocolate orange cake

Another family birthday, another cake to make. This one for little bloke's favourite uncle. He requested a jaffa cake, but I'm a bit over chocolate at the moment, so decided to emphasise the orange instead. The end result has the chocolate and orange flavours, without giving anyone a cocoa overdose.

Chocolate orange cake


6 eggs
1 cup caster sugar
2 oranges - juice and zest
3/4 cup butter
3 cups SR flour

Orange syrup

1 orange, juiced
4 tbspn caster sugar


2 cups cream
700g dark chocolate
1 tspn orange essence


Preheat oven to 180 Celsius. Grease and flour 2 x 20 cm sandwich pans. Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Melt the butter and allow to cool, before mixing in orange juice and zest. Slowly add to egg mixture, mixing and low speed. Sift flour and gradually add to cake mixture. Pour into prepared pans and bake 25 - 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before turning out on to cake rack. Meanwhile, mix sugar and juice together over low heat. Bring to simmering point, stirring to prevent burning. Set aside to cool. Add orange essence to cream and heat slowly. Add chocolate and stir until smooth. Allow to cool and thicken. To assemble, brush both cakes with orange syrup. Sandwich with ganache, and top with remaining ganache.
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