I’ll have the Dal, Darl

Dal. Dahl. Daal. Doesn’t matter how you spell it, all that matters is that you eat it. A staple of Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Bangadeshi and Pakistani diets, Dal is one tasty, healthy (and cheap!) meal to eat.

For all of you vegos out there, the lentils that go into making dal are high in protein. And they’re high in lean protein – lentils contain virtually no fat. They have plenty of fiber to improve your digestive system. They are high in iron. They contain folate, essential for cell growth and reproduction. They contain vitamins C and K. For all of you guys that go for the Glycemic Index, lentils have a low GI – it takes a lot of work for your body to break them down. Basically, summing all of these together, lentils could be described as a super food.

Anyway, in my attempt to change unhealthy ways that full-time sitting in a full-time job has brought, I decided to turn this superfood into a delicious meal. Here’s my recipe for Dal.

You will need:
– 1 cup of lentils
– 1 tbsp cumin
– 1 tbsp turmeric
– 1 tbsp garam masala
– 1 tbsp chilli powder and/or a chopped red chilli
– 1 onion, chopped
– 4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
– a decent handful of chopped coriander
– 3 1/2 cups of veg stock (or water)
– any sort of veg that you might want to add – I went with some pumpkin and sweet potato, and also some kale left over from my epic kale chip recipe
– olive oil

Step 1 – fry me a river: heat some oil in a saucepan and fry off your onion until it’s tender and translucent. Add your garlic, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and chilli/s. Fry these for a few seconds to release their fragrance and then add your lentils. Give them a bit of a stir.

Lentilly goodness

Step 2 – low and slow: tip your stock/water into the pot. Bring to the boil and then turn that heat right on down. You pretty much just want to be leaving this hear, lid on, stirring occasionally – like, every 20 minutes or so – until the lentils are tender and most of the water has soaked in. Think – an hour / hour and a half-type thing. About 30-45 mins into the cooking process, I added some chopped pumpkin and sweet potato – sort of square-inch sized pieces, and just let them cook along with the rest of it. About 5 mins before the end, I also added some kale and some fresh chopped coriander. The veg is optional, really, but it’s a great, healthy and tasty addition!

Herbalicious

Have it with rice; have it with curry. I had mine with a smashing bit of barra

What a meal – your body will thank you

 

Give me the chips!

Kale. Beautiful green, wriggly, wiggly kale. If you’ve read anything in the last little while, anything at all, I’m sure that one of those things you’ve read is a tout on how great is kale. It’s low fat, it’s high fibre, no fat, high in iron, high in vitamin k (for all of you people out there that think everything is caused by cancer, vitamin k is supposed to reduce it all), high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory powers, can help lower cholesterol, high in vitamins A and C and high in calcium. Seriously – remember back in school how there was always that obnoxious over-achiever? Was his name Kale? No? Well, it should’ve been.

My super healthy snack for today is kale chips. Yes. You heard it – chips. I’m going to blow your minds by showing you how to make healthy chips quicker than you can zip down to the local store and buy a bag of oily, fatty, salty potato chips.

Let’s make like a tree and leaf

For all of you health nuts out there who are about to rebut my claims of making healthy chips out of kale, yes I get that cooking leaves takes away the goodness. I get that fresh it best. But considering these things are so damn healthy, and considering that if you do like them, it’ll mean you eating lots more kale than you otherwise would…hell, why wouldn’t you chip these things?

To make these little leaves of godliness, you will need:
– Kale. I used about half a bunch – say, 5 leaves, washed and dried
– Olive oil – enough to lightly coat the leaves, so, about a teaspoon
– The smallest amount of salt – half a pinch
– Grated parmesan – just grate as you go, to nicely cover the leaves

Step 1 – tear me apart: preheat your oven to 190 degrees fan forced. Rip apart the kale leaves, discarding that thick stemmy stem, into, say, half the size of your palm. They’ll shrink a little during the baking process. Chuck these in a bowl.
Step 2 – mixaroo: drizzle over a small amount of olive oil – start with about a teaspoon, and then sprinkle over literally half a pinch of salt. Get your hands in there and mix the leaves around, so that they’ll all evenly coated with the oil.

Kale and friends

Step 3 – shake and bake: lay your leaves on a lined baking tray, flat. All we want is one layer. You want the leaves to dry and crisp, not to steam and wane. Whack the tray/s into the oven for 5 minutes, then take out, grate over some parmesan to coat nicely, and put back into the oven. I’ll say that it takes another 5 minutes, but you want to be watching it closely. It only takes half a minute for the leaves to go from epic crunchy bright green-ness to bitter gross brown-ness. When they are still green, but ever so slightly going golden (or as golden as the colour green can go), you want to take them out. Brown = overdone.

So leafy

So wrinkly

Let your trays cool for a couple of seconds, and then eat! Don’t worry – you won’t die – just give it a go. They’re crisp, nicely salted from the parmesan and disappear in your mouth. If they taste bitter, then they’re probably a little overdone. Cook them for a minute less next time.

Munching right on to good heatlh

 

Muesli bars – the non gross variety

So just last week I went for this epic hike with an old housemate of mine from my uni days. We drove 6 hours from our respective homes and walked 70km in 4 days, up hills, down hills, through long grasses, stumbling over rocks, crossing waist-deep creeks, warming ourselves by roaring fires, dodging stinging nettles and generally having an awesome outdoorsy time.

I appreciate that this sounds like absolute HELL to most people, but fear not, this post is not about convincing everyone that camping out for a week will benefit human kind; I’m here to tell you about food, of course! Walking along in the bush you end up burning up a heck of a lot of energy, so you need something that’ll (a) give you a quick hit to get you up those hills; and (b) provide some longer sustenance to get you through those many, many kilometres.

I stumbled across a recipe for some home-made muesli bars. Packed full of nuts, dried fruit and seeds, as far as muesli bars go, they’re actually pretty healthy and epic-ly tasty!

You will need:
– 1 cup of flour
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
– 2/3 cup brown sugar
– 2/3 cup sultanas
– 1/2 cup cashews
– 1/2 cup almonds
– 1/2 cup dark chocolate in little pieces
– 1/2 cup various seeds (I used a mix of sunflower, pine nut and pumpkin)
– 10 dried apricots
– 10 dried dates
– any other dried fruit you like – I used in total about 1/2 a cup of dried apple and dried pear
– a dash of vanilla essence
– Honey to drizzle (I used about 3 tablespoons)
– 1 egg, whisked lightly
– 125grams of cooled, melted butter

You can basically use whatever ingredients you like. Don’t like dates? Leave them out! The thought of almonds gross you out? Don’t bother with them.

Step 1 – gettin’ hot and heavy: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celcius, fan forced. Grease a slice tin with butter and line with baking paper.

Step 2 – mix it up: this is quite possibly the easiest recipe since those raspberry muffins I made a little while back and is pretty much the same theory: chuck everything into a bowl and mix it up. You’ll want to be cutting up your apricots / dates / any other large bits of dried fruits into smaller bits (I cut my dried apricots into quarters) – this way the various ingredients mingle better and you don’t end up with a huge bite of apricot and nothing else. So whack in your oats, coconut, brown sugar, nuts, fruits, seeds and chocolate and mix it up. Then add your egg, vanilla essence and butter and stir until it’s all well combined. Spoon this nutty conglomerate of a mixture into your slice tin and really give it a good press to flatten it all down (this way it’ll all hold together better in the end). If you so choose, you could sprinkle a few extra nuts / seeds on the top…not outrageously necessary though. Drizzle the honey all over the top. Bake for around about 15-20 minutes – until you can see everything turning a delicious, welcoming, scrumptious golden brown. Once it’s cooled, slice and enjoy.

Fruity, nutty, seedy deliciousness

I can, you can, pecan, toucan

I’m not sure where I was going with that title, but I am sure where I’m going with this post: pecan pie. The greatest of all pies, and if you disagree, then we’re absolutely not friends (unless you’re allergic…in which case, how unfortunate).

Anyhoo, pecan pie. Crunchy, nutty, golden, caramelly – what could possibly be better? There are two components to this recipe – the shell and the filling, so it does take a little bit of prep time – but it’s definitely worth it. And you’ll feel ever so vaguely healthy. Anything with nuts in it is good for you, isn’t it?

First up, the shell. You will need:
– 250 grams plain flour
– 190 grams unsalted butter, chopped
– 1 egg yolk (not strictly necessary, it just acts as a bit of extra shortening and gives the pastry more of that epic golden colour)
– Iced water

Step 1 – the world is crumbling around me: whack the butter and flour into a bowl and start rubbing it together. You want to rub the flour and the butter together so that you ultimately end up with what looks like really course bread crumbs. That way you’ll know the butter has been properly dispersed and you won’t end up with these random oily bits and random crumbly dry bits in your pastry. It usually takes me, say, 5-10 minutes to really get it all mixed. Now add your egg yolk if using.

So crumbly

Along with that, whack in a tablespoon or so of iced water. The idea is to add JUST enough water so that the pastry JUST comes together. Add a tablespoon, have a mix, add another tablespoon if you need (you really shouldn’t need more than that). If you use too much, it’ll basically mean that when you bake your pastry it’ll end up steaming and you’ll have this limp, soggy, sorry wonder instead of a crisp, short, crumbly shell of brilliance. Knead the dough for a couple of moments, flatten it into a disk shape of sorts, wrap in gladwrap and chill for an hour or so. (or longer…if, like me, you’ve forgotten about it)

Something like this…

Step two – shake and bake: Ok, so there’s no shaking per se, but we are baking. Roll out your perfectly chilled pastry into, say, half a centimetre thick. It really doesn’t matter – I’m a fan of a decent chunk of crispy pastry but you can make it thicker or thinner if you like – it’ll just effect how long you back it for. Lay your pastry in a pie tin (grease it first if it’s not non-stick), use a fork and prick little holes all around (this way you won’t get random air bubbles around the base of your pie crust), cover with baking paper and fill with dry beans / rice / baking stones, and bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove the baking paper / weight and bake until just golden.

Pie shell…with a nice little bit where it’s cracked on the left. Oops

Now, the filling. For this one, you’ll need:
– 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
– 1 cup of golden syrup (well, I never said it was good for you)
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 3 large eggs
– 2 cups of pecans
– pinch of salt

Step 1 – stairway to caramelly heaven: Melt the butter in a saucepan, and simmer it until golden brown (give it a bit of a stir). Let the butter cool to room temperature, then add the golden syrup, sugar and salt and mix it all in. One at a time, whisk in the eggs, and then stir in the pecans. At this point, control your drooling.

Caramelly, pecan-y heaven

Pour this epic sea of deliciousness into your perfectly baked pie shell and bake at 190 degrees celcius (fan forced) for 10 minutes and then turn down to 180 degrees for another 15-20 minutes (or until it looks nice and golden). Let the pie hang out for a while, while the pecans get to know each other. It’ll set and go all treacle-y and also will cool down to avoid the brutal error of eating hot sugar. Ouch! Serve with ice cream, cream or just guzzle by itself!

Yum, yum pig’s bum

Some say macaroon, some say macaron

Ah, macarons. The dish that makes Matt Preston say that Adriano Zumbo is the “dark horse” of patissiers every single season of Masterchef. But in all seriousness, he’s kind of right. They’re actually kind of difficult to make! I’ve made a couple of batches now – the first turned out supremo; the second sorted of ended up looking like cracked whoopie pies (though that was due to my brash confidence after my first attempt and my apparent ability to skip steps) and then finally the third worked out well again. Eh – two outta three ain’t bad!

But they’re sort of beautiful, really. It’s a beautiful texture to have this slightly crispy shell that morphs into this slightly softer, chewy interior and perhaps a little zing of a tangy filling. Incredible.

I read many, many (oh so very many) sites on macarons after my dismal second attempt and the main reasons people seem to point to are factors like overmixing, a humid environment, differing temperatures in the oven, dryness/wetness and just, plain, taking your time with things. I’m gonna make it my tip (because everyone has to have a tip on this) to get yourself a set of scales. Everyone has a different definition of “a cup” and I think it’s kind of important to get the specifics right.

So there’s basically two ways to make a macaron – the Italian way and the French way – and the main difference occurs in the egg white-whisking process. The Italian method basically involves making this sugar syrup get to a certain temperature (100 degrees?) and pouring it into your egg whites whilst whisking – they say this makes the macaron more “stable”, but also risks making it too crunchy and hollow in baking. The French method, which I have been using, is just pouring the little granules of sugar into your egg whites as you whisk – less stable, but easier to get to that “slightly crispy shell morphing into chewy interior” effect.

The recipe that follows is actually super basic. A basic almond macaron, there for the flavouring and the colouring and the filling. When I say basic, the process is not difficult. It’s not the sort of…dish (?)…that takes technical excellence. You just want to be following the steps and not taking shortcuts. Have a read around the net – EVERYONE has a different method, a different idea of what is right and wrong, a unique tip that they “swear by”. It’s kind of like stock tips: everyone claims to know what they’re talking about. Make up your own mind. If your first one screws up – hey, you wouldn’t be the first. Find a recipe you like, like I did with this, and stick to it. Hone it, flavour it, develop it.

Here we go…

You will need:
– 120gm almond meal
– 200gm powdered sugar (as in, icing sugar, not icing mixture)
– 100gm egg whites
– 30gm caster sugar
– colouring. Most people seem to recommend powdered or gel colours because (a) you need less of it to get the desired effect; and (b) it won’t upset the wet-dry ingredients balance
…and then whatever you want to fill it with. Chocolate ganache? Raspberry Jam? Passionfruit creme? It’s all gonna be good!

Step 1 – get prepared: Line a few baking trays with two layers of baking paper – maybe even draw little circles to help with sizing / placement when it comes to piping (the size of an upturned champagne glass, perhaps). Also get yourself a piping bag prepared – I actually just used one of those disposable sandwich bags and cut a little hole in one of the corners.

Step 2 – let the sieving begin: you want to be blending your almond meal and powdered sugar. In case your almond meal has a little moisture, “toast” it in the oven on about 150 degrees for up to 10 minutes then let cool (cool. not warm). I found that a good way of (a) blending; and (b) making the grains even more fine is to whack your almond meal and powdered sugar into a blender and whizz it up for a few pulses. Now it’s sieving time. Sieve your almond / powdered sugar mixture a couple of times into a bowl and don’t force the little grainy bits (you want nice, smooth biscuits here). Set aside.

Getting friendly

Step 3 – just beat it: tip your egg whites into a metal bowl – hand whisk, electric mix – however you like. Beat the whites for a while until they’re really frothy and only then start adding the sugar bit by bit. (And gel / liquid colour, if you’re using it). When the egg whites are stiff, stop. Do the old test – if you can hold the bowl upside down over your head without becoming egg white sally, then you’re good to go. Once you get to this stage, just stop. You don’t want to keep whisking and get these gross dry egg whites.

Egg whites (pinks)!

Step 4 – I’ll have the combination, thanks – quarter by quarter tip your almond mixture into the egg whites. Fold in and then add the next quarter. Your concern here is not so much about trying to keep heaps of volume in the egg whites – we’re not making a souffle. But you don’t want to overmix the thing so that it comes really runny and goopy (otherwise your macarons will spread and become really thin instead of plump and inviting). They say that your mixture should ultimately look like lava. Not having hung out in many active volcanos, I have no idea what this looks like but for me, what worked was to think of it as if you were to pick some of the mixture up in a spoon, it should slowly ooze back into the bowl, and then after maybe 20 seconds, settled back into the mixture and not stay as this obvious lump that you’ve just dropped back in. In my excitement, I actually forgot to take a picture, but it should look something like this:

Step 5 – the pied piper: Scoop your batter into that piping / sandwich bag you had lying around. Pipe the mixture into those rounds you conveniently drew on your baking paper (or freehand if that’s your style). Once your little rounds are piped, bang the tray a few times – this evens out the surface and also brings air bubbles to the top. You need to leave this alone for, say, an hour, until the top starts to almost dry out a little – i.e. if you lightly touched the top with your finger, you wouldn’t get a big goop of macaron batter coming off. Preheat your oven to 140 degrees (fan forced) and I mean preheat. Leave it for a good 10 minutes – you don’t want to be wasting precious oven time with a mediocre heat oven.

Once again…too excited with the process – your resting macarons should look like this:

Step 6 – get baked: times vary, but for my oven, 15 minutes seemed to work pretty well, turning the tray 180 degrees half way through cooking. None of this “take it out when it’s golden” – actually do time it. A minute is the difference between a soggy and a crunchy / hollow macaron. Also only do one batch at a time – pain in the ass, yes, but ovens are often terrible in their heat distribution. Once they’re done, take the macarons out of the oven, let them cool for a little while and then peel them off the paper. If you’re having a bit of a difficult time, I find it a good idea to slide the baking sheet onto a damp cloth – only for a little while – so that a little moisture / steam loosens the biscuit. Woohoo – this time I actually DID manage to remember to take a picture.

Woohoo!

The filling can essentially be whatever you want. I went with a raspberry jam. I did this by mixing a cup of frozen raspberries along with, say, half a cup of water and a few tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan, bringing to the boil (and mashing up the raspberries as I went) and then mixing in the teensiest bit of cornflour/water to thicken it a little. It was a nice, tart touch (especially because I had topped my chocolate frosted cupcakes with these).

Anyway, the point is, take your time and be patient. This site here is epic on the topic of unbelievably in-depth experiments with macarons – check it out!

Oh, and what to do with all of those spare egg yolks? How about my deathly chocolate ice cream recipe? or maybe this freakin’ delicious lemon and lime curd?