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Yoghurt & Kofta Curry

Ever had that feeling where you’re bored with cooking?

Well it may surprise you but even though I’m completely obsessed with food, there are times when I do feel a little ‘meh’.

Bored even.

This doesn’t happen often. But it does happen.

Like last week when Fergal was sick and I was running on less than 3 hours sleep a night.

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Irresistable Mashy Peas

I hate peas.

Actually, I should rephrase that. I used to hate peas. Ever since my mother forced me to eat them, I’ve had a few pea ‘issues’.

I’ve always known my pea phobia was totally irrational. And I often wished I loved peas like my Irishman does.

I’d gotten to the stage where I didn’t ‘freak out’ whenever they were served. And I thought this was as good as things were going to get.

But recently I came across a recipe for Mashy Peas which rocked my world.

And turned me into a pea fan.

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Spiced Chickpeas with Cauli Mash-3

I‘m not a fan of ‘hiding’ vegetables. Even with a toddler in the house who is becoming more and more a fan of the word ‘No’.

Basically I believe that vegetables taste delicious when prepared properly and ‘sneaking’ them into things sends the wrong message.

But recently I was talking to my best mate in Melbourne and she made me reconsider my stance on stealth veg…

About 4 months pregnant, my friend was really worried because she had completely lost her taste for eating vegetables. She knew she should be eating loads of fresh produce but the thought of broccoli, kale or salad was leaving her cold.

Which got me thinking about my favourite ways to eat veg that don’t feel particularly ‘healthy’. I hope you find this helpful next time you have a fussy pregnant lady (or 2 year old) in the house…

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Turmeric Tea-2

Each month I like to choose 1-2 habits to focus on for improving my health. For a very long time, ‘quitting sugar’ has been on my list, but for some reason I kept putting it off.

My main rationale was that I normally only have sugar once or twice a week. Surely I didn’t have a problem with it?

But there was something in my hesitance to give up the white stuff which made me curious. So in April I committed to quitting sugar for a month.

Before I share my experience lets have a look at some of the reasons why sugar has been getting such a bad rap lately…

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Super Easy Baked Salmon

One of the things I still miss about living in Sydney is being able to visit the fish markets.

When we were in Cooma I used my lack of access to the fish markets as an excuse not to cook fish very often. But to be honest a large part was the reaction my Irishman would have when faced with a steaming plate of salmon or snapper…

Fish for dinner? Really? (with a really unhappy look on his face).

No fun for anyone.

When we moved to our little farm, much closer to fresh fish, we made a deal to try and have fish at least once a week. With no complaints.

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Blueberry Yoghurt Cake-2

This week, if Stonesoup feels a little different it’s because I’m writing from the Northern Hemisphere.

For the first time in three years we’re back in Ireland for one of my Irishmans mates weddings. So! Excited!

The timing is great because on Sunday Fergal turned two!

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Spiced Cauli 'Couscous'-3

Before I learned about the perils of eating lots of carbs and started (mostly) avoiding grains, I used to LOVE couscous.

I mean its so quick and easy to prepare and has all that carby comforting goodness. What’s not to love?

But as I’ve discovered, couscous didn’t love me.

So it’s been literally years since I made couscous. I had tried using grated raw cauliflower as an alternative. It was fine but didn’t really look or taste like couscous.

Recently I was inspired to try it again. But this time I did a few things differently…

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Bean Soup-3

Back just after Christmas, I had this crazy idea. My Irishman had given me a copy of David Tanis’ brilliant book ‘A Platter of Figs’ and I had devoured it. Cover to cover in almost one sitting.

There were so many meals from the book that I wanted to cook which got me thinking…

Maybe I should have a project to cook them all?

Something like Julie and Julia where a New York blogger cooked everything from Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.

I sat with it for a few days and the idea only grew stronger. And so the ‘Jules & David Project’ was born.

Six months later, I’m happy to report that I’m half way through the meals and I’m so glad to be doing it. There have been so many lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

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Bean Soup-3

A few weeks ago I was reading the Guardian newspaper online. The food section, of course, not that depressing current affairs stuff.

Anyway there was a link to an article about ‘cooking once and eating all week’, which instantly grabbed my attention.

Great concept. Isn’t it?

Basically the article consisted of a recipe for how to cook a big pot of beans and then 4 different recipes for how to use said beans during the week.

I’m already a huge fan of this way of cooking.

I use it pretty much every week.

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Bean Soup-3

When I was 11 years old my parents sent me to boarding school. It actually wasn’t as bad as it sounded. In many ways it was a big adventure to make new friends and be out in the world on my own.

I learned some big lessons that year.

But the thing that really stuck with me was how amazing my mum’s cooking was. And just how bad boarding school food could be.

It’s easy to trace my fear of over-cooked vegetables back to that time. I distinctly remember beans and broccoli always having that dull army green thing going on. Ick

And the texture. Always of mush.

So it’s not surprising that I grew up to be a fan of ‘al dente’ crunch in my vegetables.

But recently I’ve had a change of heart.

Especially with my broccoli.

It all happened, as the best cooking discoveries tend to happen… by accident.

I was ‘steam-frying‘ a pot of broccoli to have with my poached eggs one morning and got distracted with Fergal. Next thing I knew my broccoli had nothing resembling any crunch left.

But here’s the thing…

I LOVED my super tender broccoli ‘mistake’. The flavour was more subdued and it just melted away in my mouth. I couldn’t wait to have more.

Moral to this tale?

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Bean Soup-3

You know that guilty feeling you get when you uncover an ingredient that’s on its last legs?

Well a few weeks ago I had a case of it. Big time.

The ingredient in question was a bunch of bok choy (why is it always a vegetable?).

For almost a week, every time I’d see it lurking in the crisper drawer, I’d think ‘Man, I really need to use that bok choy’.

And promptly forget about it.

Then one day I noticed the outer leaves were starting to turn yellow. Which made me feel guilty enough to take my sorry-looking bok choy out of the fridge.

With dinner already organized, I couldn’t think of a way to use the bok choy then. So I decided to ‘prep it’ so my future self would be able to find it a home before the yellow took over…

It only took a few minutes to wash, discard the incriminating yellowish leaves and finely chop the rest. But the best part? I instantly felt better.

Then I popped my prepped bok choy in the most visible place in the fridge. Done.

And you know what?

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Fish & Fennel

A few months ago I was really excited about discovering frozen edamame (soy beans) in my local supermarket. So I wrote a blog post about my new love.

As you do.

What really surprised me was the amount of people leaving comments and emails warning that edamame were soy beans which are GM. Something I hadn’t even thought of.

Anyway after doing some investigation, (aka reading the label!) I realised my edamame were from China. So probably were GM. So I decided to stop buying them and made a mental note to write a followup blog post about my thoughts on genetic modification of food…

So here we are!

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Chinkiang Beef-2

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to no longer feel stressed about getting dinner on the table night after night?

Imagine actually looking forward to cooking dinner at the end of the day.

Imagine preparing dinner being a time for you to relax and unwind rather than another chore.

Imagine having your meal planning done for you so you wouldn’t have to think, you could just get cooking.

Imagine how much more often you’d eat a home cooked meal?

And how much better you’d look and feel…

Well I have good new for you!

All this imagining doesn’t have to be left to your dreams. It could be your new reality.

How do I know this?

I know because I’ve had feedback from hundreds of people who have used my done-for-you meal planning service since I started it early last year. Hundreds of people who are finding it much easier (not to mention more fun!) to get dinner ready.

So why am I talking about it today?

Well I’ve added a new feature to Soupstones Meal Plans.

Yes! It just got better.

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berry crumbles-3

Normally I love flying. But late last year I had one of those trips where I started to worry whether we were going to make it.

I’m not sure if it was because I’d had a big night out with the girls in Melbourne, or if it was being at the very back of the plane, or the rough storm we were flying through or a combination of all three.

Fortunately I survived, but the experience did make me think about what I would want to pass on to Fergal if something were to happen to me.

I realised it’s an easy one to answer. I hope my boy inherits my love of books and reading.

The fact that he’s constantly asking me to read the Gruffalo, Spot, Dr Seuss or Thomas the Tank Engine looks like we’re heading in the right direction…

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I thought I’d do something a bit different to celebrate and share a list of books I hope he reads one day.

10 Books I Hope Fergal Reads One Day

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Hassel Back Spuds-3

My husband is Irish. So you probably won’t be surprised that the humble spud is the vegetable that raises the most excitement around here.

Yes, we take our potatoes very seriously.

So much so that GB and I have often talked about writing a book dedicated to all things potato. We’ve come up with a name, ‘Potato Love’ and a rough list of recipes. But that’s as far as we’ve gotten.

As you can imagine, I’m always on the lookout for interesting potato recipes to keep my boys happy.

When I saw these Hasselbacks by Nigel Slater, I knew they were going to be a winner.

Oh boy, are they a winner. Even worthy of our ‘new favourite spud’ title.

And I don’t make such claims lightly…

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Sweet Potato Hummus-2

Is meal planning something you struggle with? Well you’re definitely not alone!

Whenever I talk to Stonesoup readers about their biggest cooking problems, meal planning it always near the top of the list.

Last minute changes in plans and chaotic schedules are some of the most common problems. As is the fact that meal plans often ‘fall apart’ because you don’t ‘feel like’ eating what you’d planned to cook that night.

Then there were the people who struggle to come up with new ideas and feel bored with their current meal routine. And running through all this was the costly problem of wasted ingredients and leftovers going bad and having to be thrown out.

Sound familiar?

What IS the No. 1 Meal Planning Mistake?

In a nutshell, it’s deciding what you’re going to cook in advance and then building your shopping list around that plan.

Having a list of set recipes or dishes is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it takes a lot of time to figure it all out in advance. But the biggest problem is the lack of flexibility to cope with the changes that naturally come up with modern life.

It’s nearly impossible to predict that Wednesday is going to be the coldest February day on record and you’ll be craving a comforting bowl of soup, rather than the cool & light salad you had in the meal plan.

No wonder meal plans tend to get broken.

How Do I Avoid This Mistake?

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Roast Broccoli & Chorizo

A bit of a crazy title for a cooking blog this week, don’t you think? I know. When I started Stonesoup, I didn’t think nail polish remover was something I’d ever be writing about.

But here we are. Another ‘never say never’ moment.

So why do I keep nail polish remover in my kitchen?

No, I haven’t started giving myself a pedicure while dinner is cooking. I’m not that good at multitasking.

The reason is I’ve finally figured out a labeling system for the jars in my pantry that works a treat.

I just write on my jars with a marker (which I also keep in the kitchen). Then when each jar gets empty, I whip out my nail polish remover and the labeling is gone in seconds.

It’s a little thing but it makes me feel so much more organized.

I also use the marker to label anything I put in the freezer. Another big winner on the organization front!

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Stupidly Easy Banana Bread-2

One afternoon late last year, Fergal and I were out on our daily walk when a car pulled over and stopped in front of us. Given we live on a quite country road, you can imagine this made me a bit wary….

I was relieved when a super fit lady got out of the car. She didn’t look too dangerous. Anyway she ran across the road, introduced herself as Heather and asked if we knew about the local play group.

I told her we did and were planning to start going in the new year.

Fast forward a few months and I’m not sure who is loving play group more… Fergal or me.

While he get to explore the swings and sand pit and bikes and trucks, I get to chat with the other mothers about growing veggies, knitting, how to operate a chain saw and of course cooking!

So when Heather said she had the best banana bread recipe, I quickly gave her my email address. When the email came through with the title ‘Stupidly Easy Banana Bread’ I knew it would be a winner.

Trust me it lives up to its name!

But that’s not all.. I’ll let you in on another of its virtues. Yep, it’s sugar-free.

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20. ketchup beans

When I was learning to cook I was a slave to recipes. While it was a good way to start learning different techniques and ingredients, it did have some frustrating limitations.

Like what happens when you can’t buy a particular ingredient? And what do you do with that leftover half bunch of herbs? Or jar of sauce?

Or worse still, what do you do when you need to eat but don’t have time to search through recipes and go shopping for exotic ingredients?

Over the years, with a lot of trial and error, I began to learn to cook more instinctively, on my own.

Without other people’s recipes.

In my head, without really being conscious of what I was doing, I started thinking of recipes in general terms rather than specific ingredients.

From there, I developed a collection of starting point or ‘template recipes’. So whenever I walked into the kitchen and looked into the fridge to figure out what to cook, I had a head start.

I knew what had worked before to make that soup or stir fry and could use that knowledge as a springboard for a new dish or meal.

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Bangers & Beer

The most radical shift in my meal planning process happened at a very specific time in my life. I was working as a young winemaker in the beautiful Barossa Valley. It was vintage, the busiest time of the year, so my life pretty much revolved around working and sleeping.

There wasn’t much time for ‘luxuries’ like eating and bathing. So as you can imagine, sitting down to figure out a meal plan and write a shopping list was out of the question.

As luck would have it, my one ‘treat’ was a weekly pilgrimage to the Barossa farmers market. I’d grab a coffee and a bacon & egg roll and then take my time buying my produce for the week.

It was heaven.

Because I didn’t have a plan or a shopping list, I was guided to choose what looked best. Sometimes I’d know exactly what I was going to make with my bounty. But more often than not I wouldn’t. So each night I’d walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and decide what to cook then and there.

Sometimes I’d look up recipes but mostly I’d make it up as I went along. Just trusting my instincts and cooking from the heart.

I should mention that this was completely new territory for me…

Before my Barossa days, I always consulted a recipe. But my limited time circumstances meant I had to try another way.

Mostly the results were delicious, or at least edible. There were the occasional ‘disasters’ which meant, I’d use my backup plan of cheese on toast and take it as a ‘learning experience’. But over time these happened less and less frequently.

These days, I pretty much follow the same approach to meal planning.

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