Thursday, 25 September 2014

Chicken Miso Soup

After having visitors with us for a few days, a low calorie day is necessary today. Need I say anymore. However, a low calorie day for me still needs to be tasty, nutritious and not leaving me wanting for more. I have been hearing a lot of chatter recently about the success of the 5:2 diet, regarding weight loss. That is, eat what you want within the healthy range for 5 days, and fast on only 500 calories per day for 2 days, 500 calories for women, and 600 calories for men, and not on consecutive days.

So that we don't feel deprived, and so that if I decide to start taking counting calories seriously, I have modified 3 meals from the 5:2 diet goodtoknow website, so that the calorie count legitimately sits within the 500/600 calories range today.

Breakfast was a Spinach Omelette Roll (94 cals) , followed by half a grapefruit. Lunch was Chicken Miso Soup (132 cals), and dinner will be Moroccan Root Tagine with Couscous (238 cals). No cappuccinos today, or white tea, only  hot black beverages, and definitely no cake or sugar, and all things considered we are faring pretty well.

I am pleasantly surprised at how simple to prepare and how delicious this Japanese soup is. It will also be on my list for easy to prepare meals when we start travelling, given that the miso paste, mushrooms, and soy sauce are prepackaged and easy to carry, and the other ingredients can be obtained from a good Farmer's Market wherever we are based.

Chicken Miso Soup:
  • Serves 2
  • Calories: 132
  • Preparation time: 15 mins
  • Cooking time: 10 mins

30 g Japanese miso paste  (or 2 x 15 g sachets)
1 chicken breast, skinned and finely sliced
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Splash of soy sauce
1/2 bunch of fresh spinach, or 1/4 savoy cabbage, or whatever green vegetable is available to you
Substitute chicken with tofu if preferred

  1. Pour 600ml boiling water into a wide solid-based pan and whisk in the miso paste
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the spinach, and simmer for 10 minutes
  3. Stir in the spinach, cook for 3 minutes and serve.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Roasted parsnip, puy lentil, and watercress salad

The watercress which is growing rampantly in my garden has inspired this recipe. I never thought I would be able to grow watercress in the tropics, however the garden is semi-shaded and well mulched, and as I was gifted a couple of small plants there was no loss if they didn't survive, although I would have been disappointed. Perhaps as the imminent tropical heat sets in it will die back, I hope not, so I am  making the most of their lush green foliage and peppery flavour. I found this recipe in the River Cottage Veg everyday book, and whilst a couple of the ingredients need slight modification the dish is healthy and delicious.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to the authentic Lentilles du Puy, "puy" lentils, then use them for this recipe, although only those grown in the volcanic soils of the Auvergne region of France can legitimately be called puy lentils. A similar story to champagne.The lentils are tiny, and slate green in colour with delicate bluish marbling. However, a French style lentil is now grown in Australia, and packaged by McKenzies as premium French style lentils, and is available from our supermarkets and the Asian supermarket. This is what I used in this recipe for puy lentils.

Rapeseed oil is grown abundantly in beautiful golden fields throughout Europe, and can be found growing occasionally in Australia, however over here it is still marketed as Canola oil. Perhaps in the larger Australian cities cold pressed Rapeseed Oil can be sought out.

This recipe serves 4 as individual servings.


5 medium parsnips or use sweet potato instead
2 tablespoons canola or rapeseed oil
125g McKenzies French style or Puy Lentils
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion, unchopped
A few parsley stalks
A large bunch of watercress, tough stalks removed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 garlic clove, crushed with a little coarse sea salt in a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon English mustard
2 teaspoons clear good quality honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons canola or rapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 190 deg. C. Peel the parsnips and halve them length ways.Cut the wider top parts in half again so that you end up with chunky sections about the same size. Put the parsnips into a roasting tin, scatter with some sea salt and pepper and toss with the oil. Roast them for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through to avoid sticking, until tender or starting to caramelise. TIP: Cook some extra as when they come out of the over they look and taste delicious, and everyone wants to eat some straight away.

Put the lentils in a wide based pan, add plenty of water and bring them to the boil. This won't take long. Simmer for a minute only, then drain. Return the lentils to the pan and pour on just enough water to cover them. Add the bay leaf, onion and parsley stalks. Bring back to a very low simmer and cook slowly for about half an hour until tender but not mushy.

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together thoroughly with some salt and pepper or shake vigorously in a small glass jar with lid on.

Drain the lentils and pick out the bay leaf, parley stalks and onion.While still hot, toss the lentils with the dressing. Taste and check the seasoning. Add more if necessary.

Add the warm lentils, roasted parsnip chunks and watercress sprigs onto serving plates or a large salad dish, and finish with a few cheese shavings if desired. Add shavings of Parmesan, hard goat's cheese or another well-flavoured hard cheese.

Serve warm.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Orchids in Paradise at the Orchid Extravaganza, Queen's Park, Mackay, Q'ld

Lou Battersby admiring the Orchid display

The highlight of the Orchid Extravaganza at Queen's Park in Mackay, Central Queensland, being held this weekend, would have to be the tropical Orchid House. A magnificent display of spring flowering orchid species blooms, bromeliads, and luscious ferns were captivating everyone when I was there this morning with Lou.  Even for those people who don't grow orchids or even confess to being gardeners, it is an inspiring morning out at an orchid extravaganza that is possibly unrivalled anywhere else in Australia. Perhaps the recent Garden Flower Festival in Singapore might be considered a rival, I say with tongue in cheek. However, Sue and her team of eager volunteers including Anne my neighbour, and our friend Tess,  should  be congratulated on the various decorative and professional effects they designed, created and donated to enhance the presentation of the plants in the Orchid House for the pleasure of Mackay residents and visitors.
Tess Brickhill

It is no wonder that Mackay has been selected to host Orchids in Paradise in 2015, the 20th Australian Orchid Council Conference and Show, from Friday 18th-Wednesday 23rd September, 2015.
Click here for more information about the conference. It is already in my calendar of events not to be missed.

In the grounds outside the Orchid House, at Queen's Park, passionate orchid enthusiasts whilst selling hundreds of orchids, natives and other species, are also very generous in providing experienced information to existing and potential orchid enthusiasts, including me.

It was really nice to meet up again with friends including Anne Douglass, Judith Wake and Isobel Gillman, who were flying the flag in  support of growing Australian Native plants at  the The Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) stand.

A wonderful event for Mackay residents and visitors with free entry except for the cost of a gold coin donation to enter the Orchid House. Beware though, take some extra cash with you as the exquisite and reasonably priced orchids and native plants on sale will try to entice you to take them home, like this one did to me.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


Strawberry Jam is part of my  childhood memories and a bottle was always to be found somewhere in the kitchen to be eaten on fresh bread and butter, pikelets, scones and fresh cream for special occasions or with sponge cake.When we drove out to the strawberry farm at Cameron's Pocket near Mackay last weekend to do some strawberry picking with Paul and Jenny, and came home laden with strawberries both for eating and jam making, Neil suggested we try and do something different this time with the jam.

That is enough strawberry picking for now, let's have morning tea.

Neil and Paul picking strawberries.

 After all, strawberry jam has been around forever and it is time we became a little bit more creative with its flavour. Luckily, I have also been looking for another culinary use for my rose scented geraniums, besides enhancing chocolate cake, and Neil agreed that the rose geranium  would be a nice, subtle, flavour enhancer to the strawberry jam.

The daily fragrance of the Rose Scented geranium when I water the garden also takes me back to my time living at home when my Mum and I  used to visit the old-fashioned St. Aubin's herb farm in Rockhampton near the airport, now a village nursery, and where the mesmerising smell of the rose scented geraniums always wafted above the other herbal aromas to greet us and say goodbye. Perhaps I have tried to recreate the essence of that memory in my own garden. Enough reminiscing, let's make jam.Spring is in the air.


2 kg small ripe strawberries
1.7 kg sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
1 50g sachet of Fowlers Jamsetta with Pectin
8 average sized jam bottles
A handful of rose scented geranium leaves (optional)
A square of muslin
Kitchen string

  1. Hull the strawberries and discard any spoiled fruit.Set aside about 10 of the smallest berries, and then mash the rest up into a rough pulp. Put them into a wide, thick-bottomed pan, add the the sugar, and the lemon juice and leave for 30 minutes to soften the sugar and bring the strawberries to room temperature. 
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your bottles and lids for sterilising in the oven or the dishwasher. Place 2 saucers in the freezer for testing the setting point later.. This quantity makes about 8 average size bottles of jam. Prepare your geranium leaves by tying them up in a square of muslin, as you would with Bouquet Garni, and secure with string. Or if you would prefer a little bit of extra texture in your jam, chop them very finely and add to your mixture as you bring it to the boil. I might try this next time.
  3. Add the Fowler's Jamsetta Pectin Powder, and geranium bag to the mixture and bring the pot to the boil on a high heat. Boil the jam for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly, and checking the setting point every minute or so during the last 5 minutes. Do this by placing a teaspoon of jam on the cold saucer from the freezer,  and put it back in the freezer to cool a minute. Take it out and if it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, then it is done.It should be ready after five minutes of testing if not before. However, don't be tempted to overcook the jam, as it can move past its setting capacity.
  4. Strawberry jam is unlikely to set very solid like marmalade, and is difficult to tell if it is set from the mixture in the pot. If you think it is setting on the saucer, have faith that it will set in the bottles when it cools. 
  5. Take the pot off the heat and skim off the pink scum. Pour into warm sterilised jars through a wide funnel, and cover with  sterilised lids, or Fowlers Vacola Kleerview transparent preserve covers and rubber bands, if you are out of lids. 
When the jam has cooled and set, pat yourself on the back because strawberries are one of the most difficult fruit to make jam from.

Having said all of the above, would you believe that I am an amateur at jam making, and this is my first batch of strawberry jam, and it worked. So you can do it too.