Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lentil and Ham Soup

On cold Winter nights, and we have had a few lately, I think of soups and comfort food.This soup can be cooked long and slowly in the slow cooker, or in your pressure cooker, depending on what you prefer. Red lentils don't require any presoaking which is a bonus for busy cooks. For those that leave the house in the morning to go to work, there is nothing nicer than putting this meal on early in your slow cooker before you leave, and then coming home to the enticing smell of ham and lentil soup. Dinner is ready. However, if you are lucky enough to be enjoying your time at home as I am, you can use your pressure cooker for quick results. 

There are many variations on this kind of soup. I used to make an even faster one using bacon stock cubes which gave it  a nice smoky flavour as well. However they don't seem to be available anymore. I used bacon bones this time which left plenty of room in the pot for the the rest of the ingredients. 
I decided to make this and then realised I had used up all of my onions for a previous recipe. How could I run out of such a staple? However I had a whole bottle of dried onion flakes in the pantry that I had bought for another recipe so I used 3 tablespoons of those instead, and they worked well. This recipe serves serves 8. 


500 grams/1 lb dried red lentils (or any kind will do)
1 ham bone/hock or 250 grams bacon bones.(Whatever will fit in the slow cooker)
1 large onion, chopped or 3 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 small chopped sweet potato ( optional)
fresh or dried parsley (about 6 stalks of the fresh)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
8 cups of stock or water (homemade vegetable/chicken stock is preferable)

I would only add salt at the end of cooking as the bacon bones may be salty enough.

Let's Cook:
  1. Wash the lentils thoroughly under cold running water and place in the crock pot with all the other ingredients, except the liquid, ensuring it all fits in the pot.
  2. Add water or stock. 
  3. Put the lid on and set the slow cooker to low for eight hours, or high for five hours.
  4. Check the soup 30 minutes before the due time, remove the ham bone or bacon bones, put them aside, and stir the soup. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste, with a grinding of black pepper and a pinch of salt.
  5. If you like less vegetable lumps, allow the soup to cool slightly and  puree with a stick blender. Add the meat from the bones back into the soup. Simmer for another 30 minutes if you have time. 
  6. A little swirl of sour cream across the top is nice if you have it before adding more chopped parsley for a garnish.
Enjoy this soup with some nice crusty bread or toast. My homemade sourdough bread does the trick.

 My blogging friends will be aware that Blogger has changed it's format so I have changed over for now, and am persevering with the new look. It's all taking more time than usual. I am not aware yet of any new exciting functionalities that are available on this platform but I'm sure there are or will be and look forward to hearing about them from anyone that would like to share and who has been adventurous. 

We are in for some very wet weather here today apparently so this soup will hit the spot. I also have some of it in the freezer for another day. If you are trying to live frugally at the moment as I think a lot of us are, cooking soups like this are one way to do it.

Take care, stay healthy,  and thanks for dropping by,


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Roasted Eggplant (Aubergines) with Anchovies and Oregano, and a quick batch of Sweet Chilli Jam

"Anchovies and eggplant might sound like an unlikely combination but it's one that really works. The anchovies bring more of a salty depth to the dish (rather than anything really fishy.)" This is a quote from Yotam Ottolenghi's book, SIMPLE. I love this book, and there are so many practical and delicious Middle Eastern inspired recipes in it.

My friends who grow eggplants, often find themselves with too many to use and are always looking for easy and new ways to use them. Or if you are given some by a generous friend this recipe is also for you. I found myself in that situation when my Lebanese eggplant bushes yielded 1 1//2 kilos in one harvest. They stay fresh for days so I wasn't under too much pressure to cook them however  I tried out this new way of using them as a side dish which was delicious. I'm so pleased I harvested them when I did though, as two days later when Mr. HRK and I were checking the bushes, four of the eggplants had been eaten out, presumably by possums. I can't imagine how raw eggplant would be too tasty, however the texture is quite crispy and they are a mild flavour so I suppose it depends how hungry the possums were. I had to laugh though as we have Locky, our large chocolate Border Collie, sleeping very comfortably in his bed on the patio at night, just near this garden.  Need I say anymore, so much for being a watch dog, he is more of a big cuddly bear. He will bark though if he doesn't know our visitors just to alert us, but then the tail starts wagging.


Serves four as a side

4 medium black globe eggplants or 1kilo of any other variety (sliced into 2 cm thick discs)
100 ml olive oil
20g anchovy fillets in oil, drained and finely chopped
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
5 g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

I chopped the eggplant up into short pieces, however next time I think I will cut this variety into long thick pieces, more for presentation than for any other reason.The globe eggplant is best sliced lengthwise into 2-3 cm pieces


Preheat the oven to 220 deg. C fan forced.

Place the eggplants in a large bowl, and mix in 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Then using your hands, if you wish, mix through 70 ml of olive oil to coat them all thoroughly. However if you don't like the idea of using your hands, transfer the eggplant slices to two large baking trays, lined with baking paper, and brush each slice on both sides with the oil. I think the first method is much quicker.

Bake for 35 minutes, and check after 20 minutes just in case they are cooked. Mine were because I was using much smaller slices. They should be cooked through and browned up.

Now for the delicious anchovy dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the anchovies, vinegar, garlic, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Slowly pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, whisking continuously, until combined.

Leftovers of this dish are even more delicious heated up or brought back to room temperature, and served the following day. This one isn't for freezing though. It's lovely as it is,  spooned on top of toasted sourdough and also works as a side dish to all kinds of mains.

 A batch Sweet Chilli Jam

It's time to start cleaning out my freezer and use up some of the frozen bags of chillies that I have squirrelled away during Summer when the chilli bushes are at their best. Frozen chillies worked perfectly this time. I left them in the frig overnight, and they were marginally softer than when freshly picked. They still minced up well in the food processor.

Ingredients and equipment: 
(A large batch)

30 medium mild red chillies (or any combination of other mild chillies you might have),including seeds
8 small Birds Eye chillies (very hot), including seeds
3 red capsicums
4 large brown onions
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 cups of white sugar
1 cup of white cooking vinegar
1 cup water
juice of 3 lemons or limes
2 teaspoons fish sauce
Pair of plastic gloves for hand protection
7-8 medium jam jars for this recipe


Wash the chillies and dry them.
Have your food processor ready to use on your kitchen bench.
(At this stage I generally have my small jam bottles on a short cycle in the dishwasher so that they will be sterilised and nice and hot when the jam is ready and I can just ladle in the hot, sweet and spicy finished jam. Or you may prefer to have them washed in soapy water, and ready to sterilise in a warm oven set to 120 deg F.)

I took all of the chillies, capsicums, and onions, 2 cutting boards and a couple of bowls outside onto my patio, made a cup of tea, and then sat down in a comfortable chair at our outside table in the sun and started chopping, enjoying the beautiful day outside.

Top and tail the chillies, and don't bother removing the seeds, except in the capsicums.
I chopped them all up roughly outside.

Place the chopped chillies, capsicums, onions and garlic in your food processor and blitz until they are chopped into small pieces.

Add the contents of your food processor to a large saucepan, add the sugar and other liquid ingredients.

Bring the jam slowly to the boil, which will dissolve the sugar. This is where you test the taste to check if it is too hot or not sweet enough. Very carefully take out a teaspoon of the jam, taste it, being careful not to burn your mouth, and if it is too hot and spicy, add another chopped capsicum. Or if it's not spicy enough for you, add another hot chilli.

Let the jam cook on a rolling boil for 45 minutes. To quote Rhonda from her Down to Earth blog, "a rolling boil is when the jam boils and even when you put a spoon in it to stir it, it continues boiling, but won't boil over". Very important.

After 45 minutes on a rolling boil and being stirred, the jam should be the right consistency.

Ladle it into the hot jars, put the lids on straight away and tighten them.

Leave them out on the kitchen bench to completely cool, label, and then store them in your pantry. The vinegar and sugar will act as very efficient preservatives. The jam should last for about 6 months in the pantry.

I always place a bottle in my frig straight away to use, as I will have already tasted it.

You might hear quite a few of the jar lids popping over the next few hours, ensuring the jars are well sealed.

This batch was just how we like it, suitable to eat as a condiment at anytime of day, with the taste of chilli but not too much heat. Add more Bird's Eye chillies if you like it really hot. You can find my original recipe for this jam here, and I changed this recipe slightly to an extra lemon and an extra capsicum as I always end up adding another capsicum to the original two anyway. The pectin in the extra lemon helped it to set even better than before.

These two recipes aren't mutually exclusive, as we ate this Eggplant dish as a side with my
Tuna Kedgeree, and a dollop of the Sweet Chilli Jam. Delicious. I think it's pretty hilarious and quite wonderful, that my daughter was telling me the other day that our son-in-law Daniel, has really taken to my Sweet Chilli Jam, and my Mango Chutney. More often than not, they will be sitting down to dinner, and he will say, "Do you know what would go really well with this dish, Pauline's Sweet Chilli Jam." So off he goes to the frig and comes back with a bottle and adds some to his plate. Needless to say they have now run out, so some of this batch will be heading to Cairns very soon.

Here in Queensland, we are feeling very relieved for the economy and everyone's mental health that it is almost back to business as usual, whilst southerners are chafing at the bit to get into Queensland, despite the borders being closed. We are all hoping and praying that there won't be a recurrence of the virus in Queensland and if everyone behaves themselves and remains vigilant there shouldn't be. However the staggering increase in daily infections, albeit all around the world,  is very sobering, and reminds us that we are not yet in the clear here in Queensland by any stretch of the imagination.

Stay well and happy,

Warm wishes


Thursday, July 9, 2020

Pickled Cumquats

Those were the days when most backyards had a cumquat tree. Nowadays, a lot of people keep their ornamental cumquat trees in tubs on patios and verandahs, however when grown in the open in the ground, the trees flourish and provide fruit for many jars of marmalade, as well as a beautiful screen and windbreak. One of my fondest childhood memories is of the bountiful, compact cumquat tree in our backyard, and then my industrious Mother making bottles and bottles of cumquat jam which always thickened and turned out perfectly. The blossom on the tree is also highly perfumed, a magnet for bees, birds and insects alike. It is a native tree of China, and is not a perfect citrus fruit. Real citrus have 8-15 sections, whilst cumquats have only  3-6 sections. Considering its size, I'm not surprised, are you?

Cumquat marmalade on toast is synonymous with a delicious leisurely breakfast. I was given 500g of cumquats this week, so decisions decisions. How should I use them? As much as we love cumquat preserve, I wanted to try something different. Stephanie Alexander's idea of pickling cumquats enticed me, as she says that then after several weeks of pickling, these little gems can be used to flavour a roast chicken or duck beautifully, and a tablespoon of the vinegar can be used to deglaze the baking dish before adding a glass of wine for stock.The cumquats and the juices can also be made into a cumquat butter, and frozen until ready for use. I have to wait several weeks now for the pickling to process, and then I can start experimenting with my pickled cumquats. I am pretty excited about doing something really different with them. If I manage to track down some more cumquats this season at the markets, I will brandy them, so I am really hoping that will eventuate as well.  

Have you pickled or brandied cumquats before or do you prefer to make marmalade? The good thing about working with cumquats is that they only require a good wash and don't need to be peeled before using them.


500 g cumquats, washed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick cinnamon
600 ml water
150 g castor sugar
1 teaspoon cloves
600 ml white wine vinegar


Dissolve salt in water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over cumquats in a bowl and stand for 12 hours. Drain.

Simmer sugar and spices in vinegar until sugar has dissolved. Simmer a further 5 minutes. Carefully pack cumquats into a hot sterilised jar, then pour in boiling vinegar syrup and seal. Store in a cool place. Leave for several weeks before using. Both the pickling syrup and the cumquats can be used.

Thanks for dropping by, 
Best wishes, 


Thursday, July 2, 2020

In My Kitchen - July 2020

I've been doing a lot of cooking this past week, as we have had a succession of visitors here since Friday. It's great to see Queensland travellers on the move in Queensland, travelling North up the East coast to Cairns, soaking up our sunshine, although yesterday was rainy, but that's okay. In addition to three lots of visitors, including my brother and sister-in-law, we had 11 friends from our tennis group for dinner on Friday  night, and then my Mahjong ladies were here Tuesday afternoon for cake and Mahjong, in that order, ha, ha. It was a lovely afternoon, with the lorikeets putting on a dazzling display around our bird bath.