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baked lentilotto-2

So I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Before I started Soupstones, my done-for-you meal planning service, I thought there was absolutely no way I would enjoy following a meal plan.

You see, I like to think of myself as a ‘free spirit’, someone who hates being told what to do. I was worried about stifling my creativity.

But you know what?

Over the last year I’ve found myself following my meal plans more and more.

The thing I love about the weeks when I use Soupstones meal plans is that I don’t have to think. I just download the plan, buy what’s on the shopping list. And then walk into the kitchen each night and cook. It really is so easy (if I do say so myself!)

Anyway over the last few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time on the phone and skype talking to the wonderful people from around the world who have been using the meal plans.

My main aim was to find improvements. But I’ve also been hearing how the meal plans are helping people.

There were the things you’d expect to hear like…

“I’m saving money because I’m only buying what we need”

“We’re eating so many more home cooked meals”

“I’m wasting so much less because I actually use the ingredients I buy”

“Everything is so quick and easy to prepare”

“I’m eating much more healthfully”

“We’re trying new and tasty recipes all the time. It’s helped me break out of my food rut!”

But there were a few surprises too!

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spanish meatballs-2

This time last year I did something I wasn’t sure would work.

It all started when my friend Caroline was telling me about her experience with one of those weight loss programs that comes with an exercise schedule and detailed meal plans.

With her new, more slender figure Caroline was looking amazing.

What surprised me was her insistence that the thing she had found most helpful was the meal plans. They made it so easy to eat really healthfully day in and day out.

Each week she’d print out the shopping list and buy what was on it. Or better yet, get her husband to do the shopping.

Then at meal times she’d walk into the kitchen, look at her notes and just start cooking. No having to ‘think’ at the end of a long day.

She told me,

“Jules you really should offer a meal planning service. Some of the recipes in the plan I was following were pretty time consuming. It would be even better to have healthy meal plans using your quick, easy Stonesoup recipes.”

That got me thinking. I wasn’t sure it would work.

But I decided to give it a shot. So this time last year, ‘Soupstones Meal Plans’ was born.

Since then there have been 917 people who have used the meal plans to eat well and be well.

And today I wanted to share the stories of how Soupstones has helped change the lives of some of its members…

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parmesan edamame-3

Now that I have a toddler in the house, I’m very well acquainted with the degree of difficulty involved with getting said toddler to eat anything green.

Fortunately Fergal loves peas, so I always keep our freezer well stocked. But there are only so many times you can serve up peas each week. So I’ve been on the lookout for a Fergal-friendly green veg alternative.

And I’ve found a real beauty!

Yep. Edamame are our new family favourite veg.

What are edamame?

Basically they’re fresh soy beans still in their pod. I always have some when I go to Japanese restaurants. They’re usually served in their pods and you just pop out the little beans inside and discard the pods.

They’re a vibrant bright green and have a lovely sweet, mild fresh beany flavour. Fergal loves them and so do my Irishman and I. So they’re definitely for adults too!

Where can I get them?

Try your supermarket freezer near the frozen pea section. My local supermarket stocks them but it’s pretty large. The next best place to look would be an Asian or Japanese grocery store.

What can I substitute if I can’t find them?

Frozen peas or broad beans would be the closet thing. Or I guess fresh snow peas or sugar snap peas where you eat the pod as well.

Are frozen veg as good for you as fresh?

Absolutely! Freezing is pretty good for keeping most of the nutrients intact. I’ve even seen studies where the nutritional content of frozen veg was better than unfrozen veg that was getting on the ‘old’ side.

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kung pao chicken

About this time two years ago my Irishman and I had a lovely holiday in Sydney staying in our friends Walsh Bay apartment with killer views of the Sydney harbour bridge.

One night we had an especially delicious dinner at Mr Wong. A seriously great Chinese restaurant in the CBD.

To cut a long story short, My Irishman was blown away by their Kung Pao Chicken.

As soon as we were home, he was in the kitchen trying to replicate Mr Wong’s KPC.

Now my Irishman is pretty handy in the kitchen but he doesn’t cook that often because I tend to hog the stove.

I love to be cooked for as much as the next girl, so I was thrilled to be the ‘guinea pig’ for his experiments.

Months later, when KPC was still on high rotation, I wasn’t quite so appreciative of being cooked for. So I took matters into my own hands and sent an email to Australian Gourmet Traveller, my favourite food magazine. I explained my predicament and asked if they could request the recipe from the chef.

A few months later my prayers were answered.

We had the official recipe! My Irishman was finally happy with his kung pao efforts. Life was good.

I’ve been wanting to tell you this story for a while now but I figured it needed a fitting occasion. And this week we have such an event!

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bas vin-4

Last year I read a great little book by Chris Guillebeau who fulfilled his dream of visiting every country in the world.

With the title, ‘The Happiness of Pursuit’, Chris’ latest book is all about quests. It chronicles the adventures of not only Chris’s globe trotting but a heap of other people with quests as diverse as cooking a meal from every country in the world to watching a baseball game in every major league stadium in the US.

Being a Virgo who loves writing (and crossing things off) lists, I found the whole ‘quest’ idea super inspiring.

Not only did it motivate me to finally start my ‘bucket list’, it also gave me the idea for a few mini quests that I’m working on this year.

My Quests for 2015

1. Cook every meal from David Tanis’ ‘Platter of Figs and Other Recipes’.

2. Post one photo on Instagram every day for a year.

3. Eat at every restaurant in Canberra on the Good Food Top 20 list.

4. Have a conversation in French in Paris.

The David Tanis Project

My best Christmas pressie this year was a copy of ‘A Platter of Figs ‘. I fell in love instantly with Tanis’ writing but even more so with the sound of his food.

I just love the way he tells a story about a meal and then gives the menu and recipes.

I also love that even though he is a chef, his favourite way to spend time with family and friends is to cook at home. A man after my own heart.

After reading the book cover to cover, an idea struck.

Maybe I should try and cook every meal from the book over the next year?

And the ‘Jules & David Project’ was born.

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japanese broccoli-2

If you’ve been reading Stonesoup for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in the power of simplicity in all areas of life. But especially in the kitchen.

And over Christmas I was reminded of just how complicated most published recipes are.

For our Christmas feast I decided to make a couple of salads from Yotam Ottolenghi‘s latest book, Plenty More.

I’m a huge fan of his books and if you’re looking for new ways to cook vegetables, I recommend having a look at Plenty More.

As with many chefs, the recipes I chose were super delicious. But when I was buying and preparing all the ingredients, I couldn’t help thinking that a bit of simplifying would make my life so much easier and I’m sure still totally tasty.

Anyway it got me thinking that while I did write recently about how simplifying my life has had such a positive impact, it’s been a while since we had a post focusing on simplicity in the kitchen. So at the risk of giving away all my secrets, here goes…

What is the easiest way to simplify recipes?

Easy. Remove any duplicate ingredients.

What do I mean by that?

I look at the ingredients which have similar form or function and then choose just one of each and replace the others with extra of my chosen ingredient.

It’s a bit tricky to explain in abstract terms so I have a real example of an Ottolenghi recipe I simplified for a lovely lunch over the holidays…

An example – Japanese Broccoli

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spiced eggplant with farro-3

This time 5 years ago I was staying in a tiny apartment in the beautiful city of Barcelona, trying to pretend I was Spanish. Without much success.

The main purpose of the trip was to have dinner at El Buli – at the time the best restaurant in the world.

As often happens when I travel, there was lots to think about.

To cut a long story short, I made the decision to leave my safe fun job designing chocolate biscuits (cookies) and have a go at turning my blog into a business.

I had no idea how I was going to do it. But that was part of the fun!

I did know WHAT I wanted to do.

I wanted to help people by sharing my knowledge of food science and my passion for simple healthy food. I was bursting to help people like you discover what I had – that delicious healthy meals need not be complicated or time consuming.

I wanted to share that by reducing the number of ingredients and using simple techniques, cooking can be amazingly easy, healthy AND tasty.

I had no idea what lay ahead. Not even the possibility that I could and would start an online cooking school helping students from places as far flung as Mozambique, Iceland and Peru.

It’s been so much more rewarding than I ever dared to dream.

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quick fish salad-2

Back in September, I ‘outed’ myself here on Stonesoup by revealing my 3 worst cooking habits. A bit of a brave move for an introvert like me.

Anyway, I promised to report back on my progress. So here we are!

BAD HABIT 1. Picking While I Cook

This is easily the toughest habit for me to break. So don’t be surprised that I still pick from time to time. But I do feel like I’ve made progress.

I’ve been tracking whether I feel ‘full’ or ‘hungry’ when I sit down to dinner in my habit tracking app on my phone (it’s called ‘habit keeper’). Usually it’s only one or two nights a week I’ve been over doing the ‘picking’.

Having more of a focus in this area has helped.

But the biggest change is that Fergal moved to having one nap a day. So we now have lunch at 2pm rather than midday. This means I’m much less hungry in the evenings.

It’s amazing how changes to your schedule can have a knock on effect to how much food you eat.

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beet caviar

Recently, my Irishman came across a fascinating documentary called ‘Gut Reaction: What You Eat Could be Making You Ill‘.

To cut a long story short, the program focused on the latest research on gut bacteria and health.

It boils down to this…

Eating processed food = unhealthy gut bacteria = unhealthy person.

and…

Eating lots of fiber from fruit and vegetables = healthy gut bacteria = healthy person.

I was surprised at the number of diseases linked to poor gut bacteria. They include emphysema, inflammatory bowel disease, MS, autism and asthma.

The clear message was healthy gut bacteria calm the immune system and reduce inflammation.

So even if you aren’t suffering from these diseases, your health will benefit from eating more veg and encouraging the growth of ‘good’ gut bacteria.

How do you eat more veg?

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super moist zucchini & tuna salad-2

I often get asked where I get the ideas for my recipes and blog posts. And the truth is I find inspiration pretty much everywhere… magazines, restaurants, online, my veggie garden, when I’m looking in my fridge…

But one of my favourite places is the Stonesoup by request survey I set up to capture your questions or ideas for future blog posts.

It’s been a while since I took a request, so today I have a great one for you…

“How do you balance out saltiness? I liked your post on vinegar, and would like more of the food “sciency” posts!”
Marilen

For me, seasoning is the most important skill when it comes to making your meals taste delicious.

I’ve already written about ‘How to Season to Taste‘ and the ‘2 Most Common Seasoning Mistakes‘. If you need help with seasoning in general, they would be great places to visit.

But what happens when you add too much salt?

This isn’t a cooking mistake I make often. Basically, over salting is very difficult to rectify so I’m paranoid about not adding too much.

I always err on the side of under seasoning and have a jar of salt at the table for everyone to do the ‘fine tuning’ themselves.

But on the odd occasion I find myself with an excess salt situation, there is only one reliable method I turn to…

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asparagus bread torta-4

When I was studying biotechnology, (as part of my Food Science Degree) if you had asked me whether eating healthier could change your genetics, I would have automatically responded ‘no way’.

I used to think that our genes are something we’re born with. Something we can’t change.

So you can imagine my surprise when I happened across a study which showed the opposite.

Yes, changes in our lifestyles such as diet, exercise and stress levels actually change which genes are expressed in our bodies.

Amazing stuff.

In the study 30 men with low level prostrate cancer were tracked over 3 months where they changed their diets, exercised for 1/2 hour every day and engaged in stress management practices such as meditation.

As expected, the men all improved their health with lower blood pressure and weight loss. The surprising thing was they also changed the expression of around 500 genes.

Disease prevention genes were turned on and genes known to be linked to disease were turned off.

So next time you feel like getting pizza instead of cooking something fresh for yourself, remember this study.

Any positive changes you make to your lifestyle aren’t only going to impact your external health, it’s making a difference at the genetic level!

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roast cauli with chorizo

Recently I’ve been reading a fab little book by one of my blogging friends. It’s called ‘The Butcher and the Vegetarian’.

It chronicles my friend’s journey from vegetarian to occasional meat eater for health reasons. And it’s a great read.

Tara talks about growing up, when her mother was all about making everything as healthy as possible. They often ate steamed veg with brown rice and NO oil or salt. Not exactly tasty.

It made me a little sad because I think there is often a misconception that healthy food can’t be pleasurable.

The thing is, if you eat broccoli and actually enjoy it, you get the same health benefits as if you ate it like it were a badge of honour.

So today I wanted to share my favourite tricks for making veg taste amazing… Because aren’t we all more likely to eat more veg if we actually enjoy them?

6 Ways to Make Vegetables Taste as Good as Potato Chips*

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h&t 3D cover

OK, I’m super excited and a little nervous because it’s been almost 2 years since my last new eCookbook.

Anyway, here goes…

‘Healthy & Tasty Meals Made Easy’ is now ready!

For all the details go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/handt/

With love,
Jules x
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I love this time of year.

Here in Oz, Summer is just around the corner and the lure of long lazy days on the horizon. Yay for holidays.

Even though we don’t officially celebrate Thanksgiving here, I love the concept of this holiday.

When I lived in California, I really embraced it. Taking the time to get together with your loved ones and give thanks with a big feast thrown in.

What’s not to love about that?

But the holidays can come with their fair share of stress.

So I thought I’d talk about the 2 biggest mistakes most people make when it comes to entertaining. And of course my tips for avoiding them…

Mistake 1: Trying to do too much

It’s so easy to get carried away when planning a feast. Even though I’m a big fan of keeping things as simple as possible, especially in the kitchen, I still fall for this rookie mistake from time to time.

So what’s the solution?

Easy. Write down your menu. Leave it aside for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.

Then read through and cut out anything that feels like too much effort. Be ruthless!

Mistake:2 Not allowing enough time

Things in the kitchen always take longer than you expect. Even for experienced cooks like me.

Again the solution comes down to planning. And being realistic and honest with yourself and realistic.

If you think you could do with some help in the planning department, I have something you might find helpful over here.

Here are some of my favourite recipes for entertaining…

Starters

roast butternut pumpkin-4
1. Roast Butternut ‘Hummus’ – serve with flat bread or crusty bread or celery sticks.

broad bean pesto-3
Broad Bean Pesto – If it’s not broad bean season make it with frozen peas. Either way serve with crusty bread.

Mains

slow roasted lamb shoulder-6
Succulent Slow Roast Lamb with Spicy Beet Sauce I love slow roasting meat because you end up with super tender meat AND it can be done ahead so there’s no stress about getting the timing right.

ham
Amazing Glazed Ham – if you’re in charge of the main protein forget about turkey and focus on the ham. A glazed ham is super forgiving and you don’t need to stress about getting it cooked through because it’s already cooked. You just need to focus on getting it looking gorgeous and glazed. I make this every year and this year we’ve even cured and smoked our own ham but you don’t need to go to that much trouble. The other great thing about ham is that is tends not to be ridiculously expensive.

pecan crusted sweet potato-4
Pecan Crusted Sweet Potato – if you need to keep the vegetarians happy, this is the main course for you! If you have any carnivore guests I can guarantee they’ll want to try this too.

warming onion & white bean bake-2
Onion & White Bean Bake – This will double as a side if needed.

Sides

green chickpea salad-3
Green Chickpea Salad – chickpeas are still one of my all time favourite foods. And this salad is no exception. Kale makes a brilliant ‘pot luck’ salad green because it tastes better after a bit of time marinating in the dressing, more than you can say for most regular salad greens.

burnt carrot salad-3
Burnt Carrot Salad – This is still on high rotation in our house. It’s best if you toss everything just before it’s time to eat, so it is a little bit higher maintenance. But worth it!

potato salad-7
Preserved Lemon Potato Salad – the preserved lemon makes this salad far more exciting than a regular mayonnaise-heavy potato salad. There are 2 other delicious potato salad recipes to choose from on this page as well. If there’s an Irish person among the guests you may have them pledging their undying love for you… don’t say I didn’t warn you ;)

roast cauliflower & quinoa salad
Warm Salad of Roasted Cauliflower & Quinoa – also great served at room temp. Just keep the cheese in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Quinoa always gets loads of questions and compliments.

rolls royce 'slaw
Rolls Royce ‘Slaw – One of those salads that can sit in the fridge as long as needed. Especially good at barbeques.

lentil & beet salad-8
Roast Beets, Lentil & Balsamic Onion Salad – this one takes a little bit of effort to prepare but is super low maintenance after that. Great if you aren’t sure how long it will be before you eat.

Sweet Treats

toblerone ice cream cake
Toblerone Ice Cream Cake – only make this if you know there will be plenty of freezer space. Guaranteed crowd pleaser.

croissant surprise bday cake-4
Croissant Surprise Cake – I can’t tell you how many readers have contacted me telling me of all the compliments they’ve had after making this cake. Great because it will sit at room temperature for hours or is equally happy straight from the fridge.

chocolate peanut butter cake-5
No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake – This cake is super easy and super rich. And it’s better if you make it the day before. Get ready for the recipe requests!

molly's chocolate chip cookies-3
Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies – the salt makes them slightly unusual but apart from that they’re as good as cookies get. I love taking these to parties because they’re easy to serve and don’t create any washing up.

Like to overcome your entertaining mistakes?

holiday special square logo NEW2

To celebrate the Holidays this year, I’ve bundled together 4 quick online cooking classes.

They include:
* Stress-Free Entertaining
* Thanksgiving, Made Easy
* Make Your Christmas Merry
* Made with Love (Delicious Gifts Made Easy).

AND if you join today you’ll get access to all 4 quick classes for LESS THAN the price of 1.

To get all the details and make sure you don’t miss out on this LIMITED TIME offer go to:
http://thestonesoupshop.com/holiday/

With love,
Jules x
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_____________________________________________________

ps. And if you’re interested in simplifying your life in 2015, the early-bird pricing for ‘A Simple Year’ ends 15th November!.

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To make sure you don’t miss out on this really great program go to:
www.simpleyear.co/

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Today I have a bit of a favour to ask…

In a few weeks I’m going to be releasing my new eCookbook called ‘Healthy & Tasty Meals Made Easy‘. I’m super excited about it because it’s been almost 2 years since my last new book.

But before I put my latest ‘baby’ out into the big wide world, I’d love to get some feedback on it.

That’s where you come in.

If you’d like to be one of my early ‘previewers’ and score a free copy of ‘Healthy & Tasty’ before it’s available for sale, I’d love to hear from you.

To register your interest, just leave a comment below letting me know how you could benefit from having a FREE copy of ‘Healthy & Tasty’.

The competition is now closed. Huge THANKS to the over 300 people who entered!
The winners have been notified via email.
And the winners are (drum roll)…
Wendy 
Emily 
Alison
Mike
Jess 
Ali
Dena
Laurie
Amy Findakly
Susan
BC
tom
Amanda Brook
Crystal
Robyn
Joann
Narelle
Lisa

UPDATE: ‘Healthy & Tasty’ is NOW Available!

h&t 3D cover
For all the details including the special 30% OFF launch discount go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/handt/

The fine print:
There are 20 FREE copies up for grabs.
Entries close: Monday 3rd November.
Entries will be judged by me. I’m looking for creativity and enthusiasm.
_______________________________________

Zucchini Mac & Cheese

Zucchini Mac & Cheese

This is a recipe that was inspired by English chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It certainly fits in with the ‘tasty’ criteria for my new ebook but with the pasta it didn’t really come up to scratch from a health perspective. So rather include it in my new eCookbook, I thought I’d share it here.

enough for 2
4 zucchini, sliced finely
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
4 tablespoons cream
150g (5oz) short pasta
2 handful melting cheese
salad leaves, to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Bring a pot of water for the pasta to boil.

2. Heat a little olive oil on a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add zucchini and cook until the zucchini are super soft and reduced. 10-15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, boil pasta according to the packet timing. Drain.

4. Add garlic to the zucchini (if using) and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove pan from the heat and toss in the pasta, cream and half the cheese.

5. Divide the mixture between 2 x 2cup oven proof dishes. Top with remaining cheese and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until everything is hot and the cheese has melted.

6. Serve with salad leaves on the side.

Variations

carnivore – brown some bacon or crumbled pork sausages and toss in with the pasta.

more substantial / carb lovers – serve with garlic bread.

different cheese – I use a combo of emmental, gruyere and parmesan but cheddar, mozzarella and swiss cheese are also good.

vegan / dairy-free – just toss the garlicky zucchini through the cooked pasta with a little extra olive oil. And serve with finely grated brazil nuts and a handful of mint or basil leaves on top.

healthier / more veg – replace some or all of the pasta with steamed chopped cauliflower.

different veg – the zucchini are pretty special here because they cook down and concentrate in flavour but you could use asparagus, broccoli, peas, red bell peppers (capsicum) or cauliflower.

gluten-free – use GF pasta (I did) or replace the pasta with steamed chopped cauliflower.

With love,
Jules x
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___

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ps. And if you’re interested in simplifying your life in 2015, the early-bird pricing for ‘A Simple Year’ ends SOON.

To make sure you don’t miss out on this really great program go to:
www.simpleyear.co/

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This time 5 years ago I was at a big crossroads.

I loved my job designing Tim Tams (chocolate cookies) for Australia’s largest biscuit manufacturer. I mean who wouldn’t love working with chocolate?

However, earlier in the year I’d had a glimpse of another life. Writing my first cook book was an experience that I’d loved so much.

Maybe it was my calling to write about food?

At first I dismissed the idea. How on earth could I earn as much money as I did in the corporate world?

But like most good ‘scary’ ideas, it kept coming back.

About the same time I’d discovered the blog, Zen Habits. I was getting deeply into the concept of simplicity in life. As I read about Leo’s own transition from a job he hated to full time blogger, it dawned on me…

I didn’t need to match my 6-figure corporate salary. If I put my mind to it, and really simplified my life, I could live on a fraction of the amount.

All of a sudden the change seemed within reach and in January 2010 I quit my job.

I haven’t looked back.

These days I feel incredibly blessed. I get to help people all over the world discover that healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated. I only work on projects I love. I have the freedom to fit in my work around taking care of my 16 month old.

And for the last few years I’ve made way more money than I ever did as an ’employee’.

The thing is, I wouldn’t have made it here if I hadn’t simplified my life. That really was key.

Which begs the question… What opportunities might open up if you started to simplify YOUR life?

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about this. Well I just wanted to share a really exciting project that I’m a part of…

It’s called ‘A Simple Year’ and basically it’s a year long program of guided simplicity that focuses on simplifying a different area of your life each month.

If it sounds like something you might be interested in go to:
www.simpleyear.co/

NOTE: Registration for 2015 ends 10th January.

___________________

yogic green salad

Yogic Green Salad

This salad was inspired by my Kundalini Yoga teacher, the lovely Odette. In preparation for a special early morning practice recently, Odette encouraged us to try a 24 hour ‘green foods’ detox. As she was describing a suggested meal of peas and avocado, all I could think was ‘yum’. And here it is…

enough for 1
2 handfuls frozen or freshly podded peas
1 avocado
1 lime
1 handful pistachios (optional)

1. Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a small pan on a medium high heat. Add peas and stir fry for a few minutes until they’re hot. If using frozen just pop them straight in the pan from the freezer.

2. Place warm peas in a bowl. Top with scoops of avocado and a splash of lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Serve with pistachios on top (if using).

Variations

different veg – use chopped asparagus, green beans, broccoli or podded broad beans.

more veg – serve with a handful of baby spinach, mint, flat leaf parsley or basil leaves.

carnivore – it won’t exactly be a yogic detox salad but feel free to fry some chopped bacon, sliced chorizo or chicken thigh fillets before cooking the peas.

nut-free – just skip the pistachios or serve with the herbs suggested above.

more substantial / carb lovers
– again this will take it outside the realms of a ‘yogic’ salad but you could serve with crusty bread and butter or toss in some cooked quinoa, brown rice or other cooked grains.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Here’s what people are saying about ‘A Simple Year’ 2014…

“Participating in “A Simple Year” has offered me the opportunity to focus on several areas of my life and reconsider, unclutter, and ponder changes that I would not have pursued without the program. The structure of the course allows you to dig in as little or as much in each area as you care to or can manage. For me it’s been life changing.”
–Carole

“Signing up for and participating in “A Simple Year” has been one of the best things I did in 2014. It has allowed me to make some significant changes in my life, each leading to other new changes and opportunities.”
–Kathy

Registration for 2015 ends 10th January.
Here’s the link again:
www.simpleyear.co/

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Do you ever feel ‘too tired to cook’ after a long busy day? Well you’re certainly not alone!

A few years ago I surveyed Stonesoup readers for their biggest cooking challenges. The number 1 response was being ‘tired at the end of a long day’.

We all know what that feels like.

But how do you make it easier to cook when you’re tired AND hungry?

Or as one of my students calls it…’HANGRY’.

So here’s my simple 2-step process to make it easier to get into the kitchen and cook the delicious, healthy meals you and your family deserve…

STEP 1. Have actual food in the house

If there isn’t food in the house we’re all more likely to pick up takeout than go to the store, buy ingredients, come home and cook. Food in the house gives you a HUGE head start.

I find there are 2 parts to this.

First, having a well stocked pantry can be a huge life saver.

The other piece of the puzzle is a regular system for buying fresh ingredients. It might be an idyllic weekly trip to the farmers market, a Monday night supermarket run or an online order that gets delivered.

The type of system isn’t important. Just find one that works for you.

STEP 2. Have a collection of fast, simple recipes at your fingertips.

Having a collection of quick, healthy, easy recipes is key. If you know dinner is only going to take you 10-15 minutes, aren’t you more likely to be able to find the energy you need to make it happen?

I can hear you asking…

“Great Jules, but where am I going to find such a collection?”

To be honest, you don’t need to look any further than Stonesoup. This collection of 50 healthy 10-Minute meals is a great place to start.

BUT if you want a collection of super easy, healthy and yummy recipes that you can save on your phone or tablet to access any time, even when you’re not online, then I have just the thing for you..

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The best selling of my eCookbooks is called the ‘Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion’.

It’s all about helping you avoid becoming ‘Hangry’!

If you’s like to discover more go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/tiredhungrycookscompanion/

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easy fish curry-2

Easy Fish Curry

My Irishman and I have been on a mission to eat more fish so we have been having a regular pescetarian Monday. This curry was inspired by one such Monday. I’ve found buying fish at our local farmers market makes fish cooking much more affordable and delicious. I’ve served it on a bed of cauliflower ‘rice’ (raw grated cauliflower) but you’re welcome to use steamed basmati rice if you prefer.

enough for 2
450g (1lb) fish fillets, chopped into chunks
1-2 tablespoons garam masala
1-4 red chillies, chopped
1 can tomatoes (400g / 14oz), chopped
4 tablespoons whipping cream (35% milk fat)
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves picked

1. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan (skillet) over a medium high heat.

2. Add the fish and brown for a few minutes. Then add the garam masala and chilli. Stir for a few seconds.

3. Add tomatoes and their juices. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the fish has cooked through.

4. Stir in cream and bring back to a gentle simmer.

5. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with coriander on top.

Variations

vegetarian – replace fish with drained canned chickpeas or home cooked chickpeas.

vegan – replace fish with diced eggplant. Will take longer for the eggplant to cook in the sauce, around 20 minutes. And replace cream with coconut milk.

dairy-free – replace cream with coconut milk. Butter or ghee could also be used instead of cream.

different herbs – if coriander (cilantro) isn’t your thing consider basil, mint, a handful of fresh curry leaves. Or just skip the herbs.

carnivore – replace fish with diced chicken thighs fillets or sliced steak. Adjust the cooking time as needed.

no garam masala – replace with a mild curry powder or loads of black pepper and a little ground cumin.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Not sure if the Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion will help YOU?

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Here’s what people are saying about it…

“I’m really enjoying the Tired and Hungry Cooks Companion – it’s helping me to become somebody who actually cooks for herself! Because there are few ingredients, I can read the recipe once and remember it. I am starting to have repertoire of recipes in my head. I’m saving money because I am not buying lunches or eating out. I’m enjoying my food more.”
Jen, Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion Owner.


“I love your latest eCookbook. It has been my saviour with a newborn along with international postings for my husband. We are currently in South America and even though not all the ingredients are available, the fact it’s transportable and 5 ingredients to whip up in minutes has saved our night life!

Emma, Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion Owner.


“I love how your five-minute meals are actually meals, not just haphazardly thrown-together salads or supplemented pre-packaged ‘foods’. Most of those recipes are exactly the amount of effort I’d want to exert if I was tired and hungry, but didn’t want to settle for noodles or fast food.”

Aldrea, Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion Owner.

pps. Here’s the link again:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/tiredhungrycookscompanion/

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When I was getting into cooking, one of the few things I found really intimidating was working with spices. I’m not sure what caused my ‘spice phobia’ but I do remember only using spices if the recipe called for them. I’d always use exactly the types and amounts listed.

Talk about restrictive.

Over the years, with a lot of trial and a little bit of error, I’ve adopted a more liberated approach to cooking with spices.

Why Use Spices?

If you’re ever short on time or short on space in your pantry, spices can be an absolute life saver when it comes to making food taste amazing.

Not only that, using different spices is by far the quickest and easiest way to make a boring old dish taste new and exciting.

What’s not to love about spice?

Anyway its been literally years since I last wrote about spices on Stonesoup so I thought it was high time that we had a little spice love.

I specifically wanted to share my 3 favourite spice blends because these days I find I’m far more likely to reach for a blend than faff around with adding a heap of different single spices.

Using spice blends means you get the complexity of flavour of loads of different spices all in the one little packet. Love it!

My 3 Favourite Spice Blends.

1. RAS EL HANOUT
This is a Moroccan spice blend that translates as ‘top of the shop’. It’s traditionally the best spice blend a Moroccan spice merchant will sell. The ingredients lists can be lengthy, with as many as 23 different spices. And as you can imagine the flavour is exotic and complex without being too ‘out there’.

It’s my favourite blend for the tajine recipe below and it works really well with fish and chicken and vegetables like eggplant (aubergine).

Best substitute for Ras el Hanout: Equal parts paprika, coriander, ginger and a pinch of saffron OR just ground coriander.

2. BAHARAT
A Lebanese blend of 7 spices including paprika, pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. It’s a bit darker and more intense than Ras el Hanout but still works well with meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Best substitute for Baharat: Equal parts paprika, cumin and cinnamon OR ground cumin.

3. GARAM MASALA
I always spell this Indian spice blend wrong but think I’ve got it right today! For some reason garam masala is my ‘go-to’ Indian spice if I’m in the mood for a bit of curry. I tend to reach for garam masala over a generic curry powder.

I think this is because garam masala tends to be more laid back than some in your face curry powders. Which tends to suit my cooking style better.

Best substitute for Garam Masala: Mild curry powder OR loads of black pepper.

What about you?

Do you have a ‘spice phobia’? What are your favourite spices or blends? I’d love to hear in the comments below :)

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moroccan meatball tajine-3

Moroccan Meatball Tajine

This is a dish I’ve been making for years and am kinda surprised I haven’t ever written about it on Stonesoup. About time! It’s a brilliant example of how using spices can transform a boring old dish (Italian meatballs) into something exotic and super tasty.

enough for 2-3
1 onion, peeled & chopped
450g (1lb) minced (ground) beef
125g (5oz) almond meal
2 teaspoons ras el hanout, baharat or ground coriander
1 jar tomato passata or puree (700g / 24oz / 2.5 cups)
4 tablespoons butter
1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves picked
cauliflower rice or cooked couscous to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Place onion in a small pan on a medium heat with a little oil and cook until soft but not browned. About 5 minutes or a little longer.

2. Combine cooked onion, beef, almond meal and your chosen spice in a large bowl. Season generously with salt. Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls and place in an ovenproof dish.

3. Pour over the tomato passata or puree and top with butter. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or longer until the meatballs are browned on top and cooked through.

4. Serve meatballs on a bed of cauliflower rice or couscous with coriander leaves on top.

VARIATIONS
to serve with couscous – cook couscous according to the packet but add some extra butter.

to serve with cauli rice – grate 1/2 small cauliflower using your food processor or a box grater and serve meatballs on top. No need to cook or warm it.

different accompaniments – great wrapped in lebanese bread, tortillas or other flat bread. Could be served with your favourite pasta.

short on time – skip the onion and simmer the tajine on the stovetop until the meatballs are just cooked through. You might also like to skip the meatball rolling and just cook the meat more like a bolognese sauce.

different meat – beef is a favourite but lamb is also great. Pork, chicken, turkey or buffalo could all be used.

vegetarian – try adding the spice above to these lentil balls.

nut-free – replace almond meal with soft bread crumbs or cooked quinoa.

dairy-free – replace butter with lots of extra virgin olive oil.

different herbs – mint, basil, parsley or baby spinach are all great.

italian meatballs – just skip the spice and serve with basil instead of the coriander.

indian meatballs – use garam masala as your spice and serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt.

With love,
Jules x
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If I mention the words ‘mindless eating’, what thoughts pop into your head?

Probably nothing healthy, right?

For me ‘mindless eating’ normally evokes thoughts of chowing down on junk in front of the TV or computer. Big bags of chips or pop corn at the cinema. Or shoveling ice cream straight from the tub.

While I’m a huge fan of the concept of MindFUL eating, I’ve also come to appreciate that there’s a place for mindLESS eating in a healthy lifestyle.

Really? Mindless eating = healthy?

Mindless Eating for good is a concept I discovered via the lovely Darya Rose. It was coined by researcher Brian Wansink in his awesome book, ‘Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think’.

Basically Wansink’s research team have found that our bodies aren’t very good at accurately keeping track of how much food we eat. Most people can eat 20% less and not actually feel like they’re missing out on anything.

Wainsink calls this the ‘mindless margin’. It’s basically a ‘buffer zone’ where our brains don’t detect whether we’ve eaten more or less.

Over time, the extra (or less) food eaten in the mindless margin adds up to weight gained (or lost!).

So today I wanted to share some tips from Wainsink’s book that I’ve found helpful.

3 Tips to Eat Less Mindlessly

1. Use smaller plates
It’s an optical illusion but it really does work. The same amount of food look like much more if served on smaller plates. So you’re more likely to feel satisfied with less.

Same goes for smaller glasses, something to think about if you’re trying to limit your wine consumption. (Nothing to see here…)

2. Serve (slightly) less food
Most of us keep eating until our plates are empty. So a great way to eat less is to serve yourself less food to begin with. The trick is to find a balance, you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out. It’s about keeping inside the ‘mindless margin’.

3. Only serve healthy options in the middle of the table.
I love serving big platters of food in the middle of the table because it looks so appealing. But as you probably know yourself, if food is there it gets eaten.

I’ve found by serving healthy options like salad and vegetables in the middle, I still get the look and feeling of abundance. However keeping the extra servings of meat and potatoes in the kitchen, means we’re far less likely to have too much of these.

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easy chinese chicken

Easy Chinese Chicken

The simple sauce for this chicken was inspired by my favourite food writer, Nigel Slater. A bit of garlic, some 5-Spice powder and soy sauce. So easy and really delish. I can get Chinese 5-Spice at my local supermarket but if you can’t, an online spice merchant will be able to help you out. Or see the variation below for an alternative.

Enough for 2
2 teaspoons Chinese 5-Spice
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
500g (1lb) chicken thigh fillets, slice into bite sized pieces
250g (1/2 lb) snow peas, trimmed
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
handful cashews

1. Combine 5-spice, garlic and 2 tablespoons oil. Toss in the chicken and allow to marinate for as long as you’ve got. A few minutes is fine but for anything longer than an hour, keep it in the fridge.

2. Heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan on a very high heat. Add snow peas and stir fry until bright green and just cooked but still very crunchy. Remove to a clean bowl.

3. Heat a little more oil in the wok and stir fry chicken until well browned and just cooked though. About 5-10 minutes.

4. Return snow peas to the pan to warm through. Remove from the heat and toss in the soy sauce.

5. Serve in two bowls with cashews on top.

VARIATIONS
vegetarian – replace chicken with sliced hallomi and pan fry until golden instead of stir frying.

vegan – replace chicken with sliced eggplant. Allow more time stir frying for the eggplant to cook properly. Undercooked eggplant is one of my least favourite things.

no Chinese 5-spice – make your own approximation with equal parts ground cinnamon, fennel seeds, black pepper and star anise. Or at a minimum just use cinnamon and fennel.

different veg – asparagus, sugar snap peas, bok choy, broccolini, broccoli, Chinese broccoli, red capsicum (bell pepper), zucchini (courgettes).

more veg – serve on a bed of cauliflower ‘rice’ (grated raw cauli).

carb-lovers – serve with steamed rice or rice noodles cooked according to the packet.

different meat – minced (ground) chicken, chicken breasts, pork fillet, steaks – any tender cut that will stir fry well.

With love,
Jules x
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I‘m a huge believer in the power of habits for helping to put everyday decisions on autopilot, making it much easier to live a healthy life.

One of the things I’ve learned in my study of habit formation over the years is the power of public commitment.

Earlier in the year, I joined Febfast and committed to a month without alcohol.

It was tough. Especially the night we were staying with friends in Sydney and everyone else was drinking really lovely wine.

One of my friends tried to persuade me to have some. They weren’t going to tell anybody…

It was tempting.

But you know what kept me from caving?

The thought of having to sit down here and admit to you that I had broken my promise.

While Febfast is long gone, I have a few bad cooking habits that I’ve been trying to kick on my own. And if truth be told, I haven’t been having much luck.

So today I’m ‘outing’ myself on my 3 worst habits. I’ll report back in a month or so to let you know how I’ve gone.

BAD HABIT 1. Picking While I Cook

As I mentioned in my interview with the lovely Darya Rose a few weeks ago, picking at food while I cook has long been my worst cooking habit.

Now that I’m getting dinner ready for Fergal before I start cooking for my Irishman and me, it’s been getting worse.

I hate that feeling of sitting down to dinner and not being hungry.

Darya had some brilliant advice around setting boundaries for snacking, like using a plate and only doing it sitting at the table. I’ve been working on implementing this for a few weeks now, and while I have made some progress, there have been times when I have had my official snack and still picked while cooking.

I need a bit more help with this one.

BAD HABIT 2. Dull Knives

Even though we have top quality knives and the easiest sharpening system ever, I’m very embarrassed to admit that I can easily go weeks if not months without sharpening.

I know dull knives are dangerous. I just can’t explain this terrible habit apart from being super lazy.

So I commit to sharpening my knives at least once a week on Sunday or Monday. I’ve started this week off with sharp knives. It feels great.

BAD HABIT 3. Not Washing Leaves and Herbs

I think this habit started when we were buying most of our veg from the supermarket. Those pre-washed bags of salad leaves and herbs are just ‘oh so easy’.

Now we buy the lions share of our veg from the farmers market. I’m loving the increase in quality and freshness but have honestly been ‘pretending’ to myself that the leaves don’t need washing.

When clearly they do. I know.

I can’t believe I’m going to put this in writing, but we had a guest staying who found a slug in the salad. Even that mortification hasn’t wrenched me out of my slothfulness.

It’s definitely time for a change. So when I report back I’m planning on my salad spinner being my new best friend.

What about you?

Do you have any bad cooking habits that you’d like to break? Or even some good habits you’d like to form?

I’d love to hear about them in the comment below :)

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kale 'cabonara'-4

Kale ‘Cabonara’

OK so if you’re a purist when it comes to the naming of dishes, you’d better block your ears. I know that cabonara traditionally includes egg yolk and no cream, but I really liked the sound of kale ‘cabonara’ and I felt more in the mood for cream than egg yolk… so that what we have.

Enough for 2
4-6 slices bacon, chopped
1 bunch kale, ribs discarded (if tough) & leaves sliced into ribbons
1-2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons cream
2 large handfuls grated parmesan + extra to serve

1. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook bacon on a medium high heat until well browned.

2. Remove bacon from the pan and add the kale and garlic. Cover and cook, stirring every few minutes until the kale is wilted and deep green in colour. It will take about 5-10 minutes. If it starts to burn, add a splash of water to help generate some steam.

3. Return bacon to the pan and add cream. Stir over the heat to warm through then remove from the heat and add the cheese.

4. Divide between two plates and serve with extra cheese if you like.

VARIATIONS
more substantial / carb lovers – toss in some cooked pasta at the end. A drained can of chickpeas or white beans will do the same job without causing blood sugar problems.

paleo / more classic cabonara – replace cream with 2 egg yolks. Add the yolks with the bacon off the heat. And see the dairy-free option.

dairy-free – replace cream with 2 egg yolks and replace parmesan with grated brazil nuts and if you like a teaspoon of nutritional yeast.

vegetarian – replace bacon with chopped smoked tofu – a really lovely ingredient. OR serve with a big handful of smoked almonds or other nuts.

different greens – as much as I love kale, any leafy greens such as spinach, baby spinach, chard or silverbeet can be used.

vegan – cook sliced kale with garlic in olive oil and serve with more olive oil and a good few handfuls of roasted nuts or cooked legumes.

With love,
Jules x
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