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easy fish curry-2

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.

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moroccan meatball tajine-3

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?

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easy chinese chicken

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.

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kale 'cabonara'-4

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.

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bacon & cabbage-2

A few weeks ago, my Irishman was in a lift with a family with a sick baby. He mentioned that he has a one-year-old and the other parents were like, ‘Oh you must be used to him being sick’.

My Irishman was a little taken back by this.

Over dinner he told me about his encounter with the sick child.

We both realized we’ve been very lucky with Fergal. Apart from the odd runny nose, he hasn’t ever been really sick. (Excuse me while I just go and touch some wood!)

But is this just good luck? Or good genes? Or something we’re doing or not doing?

In all likelihood, it’s a combination. However, our habits and lifestyle must be having an impact.

4 Ways I Keep My Family Healthy

1. We eat real food.
The rate of obesity has increased at the same rate as our consumption of processed food. Coincidence? I think not.

What do I mean by ‘real food’?

Basically, it’s anything without a complicated ‘ingredients list’ on the pack. Or better yet, food that doesn’t come in packages. Like vegetables, fish, meat etc.

While most of our food falls into the ‘real’ category, we don’t obsess. I’m happy for occasional processed conveniences like commercial curry pastes or tomato ketchup.

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kale with pistachios-3

You know when you come across someone who is a kindred spirit? Someone who has similar philosophies to your own?

I love when that happens.

Like when I discovered Darya Rose from the fab little blog summertomato.com.

Darya and I share a lot in common including a love of vegetables and legumes, a background in science (Darya has a Ph.D) and a firm belief in the power of healthy eating. We’ve both written guest posts for Tim Ferrissblog, which is how I discovered her.

Anyway, Darya’s book Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting is one of the best books I’ve read on healthy eating.

Actually I love it so much I’ve read (listened to the audiobook version) about 5 times in the last year.

If you’re at all interested in how to use real food and healthy habits to control your weight, or even just after some inspiration to help you eat healthier, I can’t recommend Foodist enough.

But in case you need more convincing, I contacted Darya and asked her a couple of questions…

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red velvet brownies-3

Can you believe it’s September already?

I know!

I really love this time of year. Spring is just beginning to make an appearance both in the weather and the produce available at the farmers market. The days are getting longer.

And it’s my birthday(!)

This year, I’m continuing my birthday traditions of sharing a new cake recipe with you and having a birthday sale. So let’s dig in!

The Birthday Cake!

In case you’re new to my Stonesoup birthday tradition, previous celebrational treats have included a lemon delicious cake, a croissant surprise cake and last year’s birthday ice cream sandwich.

I actually started developing this year’s recipe over 12 months ago because I take my Birthday cake very seriously. I wanted to make a sweet treat using one of my favourite vegetables, beetroot.

Most baking recipes that use beets just call for grated beets, similar to carrot cakes. But I’ve always found the results disappointing. As much as I adore the earthy flavour of beets, it’s too much for me when used raw in a cake.

So the solution?

Easy, just used cooked beets.

And combining them with dark chocolate in a rich squidgy brownie doesn’t hurt. At all.

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sauerkraut-3

So I was very pleasantly surprised with the response to my previous post on fermenting vegetables.

It made me super happy to hear that so many of you are interested in fermentation and put in a request for my sauerkraut recipe.

So today that’s exactly what I have for you.

But before we get to that I have a quick favour to ask…

A Favour

It’s been over 18 months since I last released a new cookbook. A long time, I know.

So I’m super excited to announce that I’m working on a new eCookbook. The only problem is I have so many ideas of what I’d like the book to cover, after all I’ve had 18 months to think about it!

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fish with asparagus & goats cheese-2

Without a doubt, the saddest day of the year for me is the 20th August.

You see it’s the day that nine years ago my family huddled in a little hospital room and watched my Mum breathe her last breath.

I still really miss her.

This year I’m feeling it even more than usual. I think it’s because now that Fergal is getting more interactive I often imagine how much my mum would have delighted in spending time with him.

I also wish she was around so I could ask her questions about this whole motherhood thing.

But I didn’t sit down today to make myself or you cry.

I just wanted to share a trick that’s really helped me deal with the loss of someone so special.

Whenever I’m feeling lost and wishing I could call Mum and ask her for help, I ask myself a question instead. ‘What would June do?’

The funny thing is as soon as I ask it, I usually feel exactly what the answer is.

Just something that I’ve found useful. If you’re ever missing someone, try it. It might just help you too.

And of course I wanted to remember my Mum. So I have a little June-friendly recipe that includes some of her favourite things (asparagus and fish) and lots of her favourite colour (green).

Enjoy!

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fermented carrots-3

A few months ago took an online course called ‘Debunking PCOS‘ which is all about improving fertility and conquering Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome which I was diagnosed with over 10 years ago.

The thing that really surprised me about the course was that the number 1 action we were encouraged to take was to heal your gut.

Not exactly the most glamorous topic, but when you consider how important the gut is to helping you absorb and use the nutrients you need, it really makes sense.

A healthy gut isn’t just important for fertility. It impacts everyone’s health.

So I hear you asking…

“OK Jules, so how do I make my gut healthier?”

Well funnily enough, earlier in the year I went to a workshop on how to ferment vegetables. It was led by Sandor Katz, author of ‘Wild Fermentation’ and ‘The Art of Fermentation’. And was completely inspirational.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself…

So what is the number 1. way to improve your gut health?

Easy. Eat more fermented foods!

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kale gratin-2

Not long after we moved into our little farm house earlier in the year, I was beginning to question my ability to cook without burning something.

It started one night when I was making a bolognese sauce…

Somehow I got side tracked and forgot I had the pot on the highest setting. The next thing I know my Irishman (whose nose is much more sensitive than mine) was asking ‘Is something burning?’

It was. Not good.

Then to make matters worse, the next morning I was warming up some cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale) to have with our eggs and the same thing happened. Another burnt disaster.

For someone who has a degree in Food Science and writes cookbooks for a living, this was starting to get embarrassing.

But as I was scrubbing my poor burnt pots that morning, I realized there could be one good thing to come out of my kitchen disasters. I was getting a lot of experience in how to rescue burnt food.

A great blog post topic!

So here we are…

6 steps to rescue a burnt kitchen disaster

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I love Winter. The frosty mornings. The crisp clear days. Snuggling up by the fire with a good book and a glass of red.

And then there’s the food. Soups and slow cooked delights. Self saucing ginger puddings with ice cream.

If I was forced to choose my favourite season it would be a toss up between Winter and Autumn (Fall).

That being said, it’s about this time of year when I get a little nostalgic for long, sultry Summer evenings. And not having to pile on wellies and layers just to go and feed the chooks.

I also get a little nostalgic for basil. Especially in the form of verdant green pesto.

Of course, I can still buy bunches of basil at an exorbitant price all throughout the Winter but it’s just not the same.

The good news is I’ve discovered a Winter-friendly alternative. If you’re a stickler for tradition, it’s probably best if you stop reading now and check back next week.

But if you like to try new things, read on!

It uses mint and almonds instead of basil and pine nuts. And it’s just the thing to liven up Winter soups and stews.

Although if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment and are sick of eating basil, this could be just the thing for you too!

I can also imagine it sitting proudly on an outdoor table waiting to accompany a piece of fish or chicken from a Summer evening BBQ…

What about you?

What’s your favourite season and seasonal foods? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

mint & almond pesto-2

Mint & Almond Pesto

Serve this pesto pretty much any where you’d serve regular pesto. Dollop on soups or salads. Use as a sauce for pan fried fish, chicken breasts or even steak. My personal favourite is to team it with lamb… Either lamb cutlets cooked until still rosy pink or slow roast lamb shoulder literally melting off the bone. It’s also great to liven up some steamed green beans or peas.

Enough for about 1 cup
large bunch mint, leaves picked
1 small clove garlic
3 handfuls almonds
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Whizz mint, garlic and almonds in a food processor until finely chopped.

2. Add oil and a little lemon juice and mix. Taste and season with salt, pepper and extra lemon if needed.

VARIATIONS
summery – replace mint with basil. You can replace the almonds with pine nuts but I’m also a fan of cashews because they’re delicious and much more affordable.

nut-free – replace almonds with half soft breadcrumbs and half finely grated parmesan.

other herbs – flat leaf parsley, carrot tops, coriander (cilantro) are all possibilities. I’m also a fan of a little bit of sage or oregano combined with parsley.

garlic-free – sometimes I can’t be bothered with garlic and it’s still lovely but I do find it needs more salt and lemon to make up for that garlicky sharpness.

no food processor – just finely chop everything and stir together for a more rustic chunky pesto.

With love,
Jules x
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Yesterday morning I decided to do something a little differently. I’ve been trying to get into the habit of waking up early. I used to think I wasn’t a ‘morning person’ but when I make the effort, I love having that extra quite time to meditate and get a little work done.

So what did I do differently?

Basically I just moved my phone / alarm out of reach so I had to get out of bed to turn it off.

Of course I was up then, so it wasn’t hard to light the fire, make a pot of white tea and let the day begin.

My job yesterday morning was to read through the entries of people looking to win a free spot in my new online cooking program ‘The Organized Cook‘. It was lucky that I got up early because there were 225 people who had left comments.

After reading through all the ways that you guys are struggling with being organized cooks I felt a bit emotional. But thinking about it another way, I had to smile.

You see, it’s my job to help.

So in a funny way knowing that you need help feels good on some level. I guess it’s nice to feel needed :)

Anyway, there were a few themes that kept coming up so today I wanted to ‘debunk’ the most common myths about being an organized cook.

But before we get to that, I’d better announce the winners!

Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School 12 Months Membership

It was tough trying to decide. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to share your thoughts.kindvall_stonesoup_school_B

And the winners are:
Alex
Niall Sheridan
Julie B
Sue S
Pal

Congratulations! You should have an email in your inbox with details on how to claim your prize.

The 3 Biggest Myths about Being an Organized Cook

Myth 1. You have to spend hours in the kitchen sacrificing your precious weekend time.
Lack of time is often cited as the biggest obstacle on the path to organization. But here’s the thing, you don’t need to dedicate huge chunks of time to make a difference.

In fact, unless I’m cooking for a dinner party, I rarely spend extra time in the kitchen getting ready for the week ahead.

What I do is use the time I’m already in the kitchen to get extra items prepared.

I’m not a big fan of ‘multi-tasking’ as a rule. But there is a time for it in the kitchen.

I often pop on some veg to roast (1 hour but 2 minutes active time), cook up a pot of quinoa (15 minutes) or make a quick ragu (20 minutes) like the one below for the future while I’m cooking for today.

If you’d like to explore this more, I’m going to be going much deeper in my new online program, The Organized Cook.

Myth 2. If you’re organized there’s no room for flexibility
This ties in with the misconception that being organized means you have to eat loads of the same reheated meals. If you focus on using ‘mise en place‘ or preparing certain ingredients rather than pre-cooking whole meals, there is loads of room for flexibility and creativity.

And even better, cooking this way means you can pull together healthy meals in very little time.

Myth 3. Pre-prepared food is not as healthy as fresh
Just because fresh food is healthy, doesn’t necessarily mean that food cooked in advance is devoid of nutrition.

Whenever we cut or cook food we’re exposing it to oxidation and light in the case of the former and heat in the latter. So any light, oxygen or heat sensitive nutrients will be lost during food prep.

Whether we eat the food straight away or store it and eat in a few days time doesn’t make a significant difference. Most of the sensitive nutrients will have already been lost.

The other thing to consider is if we’re talking pre-cooked home meals vs takeout you know who will win in the health department.

All that being said, I think it’s important to serve something raw and fresh if possible with every meal; both freshly cooked and pre-cooked. For example, add a handful of fresh parsley leaves or some baby spinach to the ragu below or serve it with a green salad.

Need more help getting organized?

Well you’re in luck!TOC2014 square logo NEW

Registration is NOW OPEN for ‘The Organized Cook‘.

You have less than 72 hours to join us for The Organized Cook because Module 1 will be released this Saturday.

To make sure you don’t miss out, use the link below:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/toc/

UPDATE: REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED.

_____________________

quick pork ragu

Quick Pork Ragu

Today’s recipe is an example of the types of things we’ll be covering in The Organized Cook. It’s a quick meal that can be made in advance if you prefer. It’s the type of one pot meal you can get going and have simmering away while you do something else in the kitchen.

Enough for 2
4 thick pork sausages
1 can tomatoes (400g / 14oz)
2-3 tablespoons butter

1. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan or skillet on a medium high heat.

2. Remove sausage meat from the casings and crumble into the pan. Discard casings.

3. Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring to break up the chunks, until the meat is starting to brown.

4. Add tomatoes and butter and cook for another 10 minutes for the sauce to reduce a little. Taste and season.

Variations

vegetarian – replace pork with drained canned chickpeas.

vegan – replace sausages with 1 drained can of lentils or about 250g (9oz) of cooked red or green lentils and swap the butter for olive oil.

different sausages – pork are a firm favourite in our house but feel free to use other sausages such as beef or chicken if you like them.

pescatarian
– replace sausages with peeled green prawns (shrimp) simmer until just cooked.

herby – cook a few thyme leaves or rosemary in with the sausages.

budget – replace half of the sausages with cooked or canned white beans.

more substantial – feel free to serve the ragu with your favourite cooked pasta, preferably something short like rigatoni or penne.

gluten-free – use GF sausages or replace with about 400g (14oz) minced (ground) pork or other meat.

Do Ahead Potential

Excellent! Takes 15-20 minutes. Will keep in the fridge for a week or so. Or can be frozen for up to 12 months.

Usage Suggestions

paleo / low carb – serve on a bed of baby spinach (pictured above) or grated raw cauliflower (aka cauliflower ‘rice) or grated raw broccoli. Also good on top of a big plate of wilted greens.

carb lovers – serve on top of your favourite cooked pasta. I like it with rigatoni. Hot buttered toast is also good.

slow carb – serve on top of canned or cooked legumes such as lentils or cannellini beans or even chickpeas.

cheesey – A grating of fresh parmesan can be a welcome addition.

herby – in Summer I like to serve with a crowning of fresh basil leaves.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Not sure if the Organized Cook can help YOU?TOC2014 square logo NEW

Here’s what Gerry and Rebecca have said about classes at the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School…

“I LOVE THE SVCS!! I have completely changed my eating habits AND am LOVING IT! What I especially love about your recipes, is the versatility if I do not have something available, there’s always something else I can use instead.”
Gerry, Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School Member.

“I really appreciate how your (classes) have freed the way I cook. From reducing the number of ingredients, to using what I have on hand, and to your many, many other ideas: thank you. I love your approach and imagination. You have inspired me.”
Rebecca, Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School Member.

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

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It may surprise you to learn that we actually eat lots of do ahead meals in our house.

Even though I love cooking. And would be happy to cook every day, I’ve found that when I’m taking photographs for my blog, or a book or a new online cooking class, it’s much easier to batch the work and have a big cooking and photography day.

This means we often end up with a fridge full of pre-cooked meals. Especially when there’s a new class on the horizon.

Over the last 4 years I’ve had a lot of experience in the best way to store and reheat all sorts of meals. Even the ones you wouldn’t normally think of as make ahead dinners.

And before I forget, I wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to all of the 888 people who took the time to complete last week’s survey about my upcoming online class, ‘The Organized Cook’.

When was going through the results and saw ‘do ahead meals’ as the second most requested topic, it sparked some inspiration. So today I thought I’d share with you my ‘golden rules’ for making sure do ahead meals taste their best…

The 3 Golden Rules of Do Ahead Meals

Rule 1. Just make more of what you’re making.
The thought of getting extra meals ready in advance can be off putting. The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to be ‘captain organized’ to get the benefits of having some extra meals prepared in advance.

The easiest and most efficient strategy is to cook extra of whatever you’re already making. Eat some now and store the rest. While there is sometimes a bit of extra work in doubling or tripling a recipe, it’s rarely double or triple the effort. And usually doesn’t take any extra time.

Rule 2. Keep the components separate to store.
This is all about making sure the texture and temperature of each component aren’t compromised.

Keeping the components separate enables you to store, reheat (if needed), and serve each in the best way for each component. This means your slow cooked lamb shanks can be served piping hot with a cool crisp salad on the side for contrast and maximum deliciousness.

It also makes it easier to ‘mix it up’ and add variety so you’re not serving a carbon copy of the original meal each time.

Rule 3. Serve with something fresh.
Whenever I’m serving a pre made meal, I always try to add something fresh just before it goes to the table. This helps to make the whole meal feel fresh and new. It also helps balance things from a nutritional perspective.

Sometimes it will be a green side salad as in the example above, other times it’s some fresh herbs scattered on top. Or even some toasted pine nuts for some extra crunch.

kindvall_stonesoup_school_B

Like some help becoming more organized in the kitchen?

Do you want to win one a FREE spot in my upcoming online program?

To celebrate the launch of ‘The Organized Cook (how to prepare for the busy week ahead)’ next week, I’ve decided to have a little competition and give away 5 FREE spots in the Organized Cook with 12 Months Membership to the whole Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School.

To enter you just need to leave a comment below answering this question…

What do you struggle with when it comes to being an Organized Cook?

_______________

UPDATE: The Competition is NOW CLOSED
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to share your thoughts.

And the winners are:
Alex
Niall Sheridan
Julie B
Sue S
Pal

Congratulations! You should have an email in your inbox with details on how to claim your prize.

_______________

Entries close Friday 18th July 2014.
The winners will be chosen by me and announced here on Stonesoup…

________________

whole roast cauli-2

Whole Roast Cauliflower with Almond Tabbouleh

I think cauliflower is one of the most underrated vegetables. I love that it packs the same nutritional punch as its cousins broccoli and cabbage, yet its white colour gives it more flexibility than green veg.

And I should mention, if you’ve been looking for a gluten-free tabbouleh recipe that’s also ‘paleo’ then this almond tabbouleh is for you. We’re just using almond meal instead of the cracked wheat. I love the softer texture and creamy slightly nutty flavour you get from the almond meal.

Enough for 4-6
1 cauliflower
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup (60g / 2oz) almond meal
hummus, to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Trim outer leaves from cauli and place the head in an oven proof pot that holds the cauli snugly.

2. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Bake uncovered for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cauliflower is well browned and tender enough to cut with a butter knife.

3. Meanwhile, for the salad, combine lemon juice with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Season. Toss in the parsley and almond meal.

4. Slice the cauli into wedges and serve with hummus, tabbouleh and more extra virgin olive oil drizzled over. Plus lots of salt and pepper!

VARIATIONS
do-ahead – roast cauli then cool and refrigerate. To reheat just pop back in the oven for 15 minutes or until warm. The tabbouleh is one of those rare salads that can be made ahead and will keep in the fridge for a few days, just give it a good toss before serving.

carnivore – Serve as a side to roast chicken or brown some minced (ground) beef and scatter it over the hummus before serving.

nut-free – replace almond meal with cooked quinoa, cooked couscous or bulghur wheat that has been soaked in water until soft and then drained.

spiced cauliflower – combine a tablespoon each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and dried chilli flakes with a few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle over the cauli before roasting. If you have some baharat (Lebanese 7 spice blend) it works really well too. Or try some finely chopped red chilli.

make your own hummus – whizz 2 cans chickpeas with 6 tablespoons each of the canning liquid, lemon juice, tahini and 2 cloves garlic. When you have a creamy paste season and add in a little extra virgin olive oil.

different herbs – feel free to mix up the herbs in your tabbouleh. Mint, coriander (cilantro) and basil are all worthy additions.

more substantial / carb lovers – serve with warm pita bread or tortillas.

With love,
Jules x
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Since becoming a Mum just over a year ago, there have been many changes in my life.

Easily the biggest one, from a food perspective, is that I just don’t have as much time to spend in the kitchen as I used to…

So meanwhile I’ve been relying on the quicker recipes in my repertoire like the ones in 5 Ingredients 10 Minutes.

The other habit I’ve really found life saving is a little technique or ‘secret’ I like to call ‘mise en place‘.

What is ‘mise en place?’

Mise en place is a French term that roughly translates as ‘put in place’. It’s used to describe the practice of chefs preparing food up to a point where it is ready to be used in a dish during food service.

It may be as simple as washing and picking herbs into individual leaves or chopping vegetables. Or more complicated like caramelising onions, cooking dried beans or slow cooking meats.

The main benefit in a restaurant is that it makes it much quicker and easier to get food on the table after the customer has ordered.

The secondary benefit is that the preparation can help to extend the shelf life of fresh produce.

How can this ‘secret’ help you?

1. Save you time during the week.
By taking the time on weekends to do a little ‘mise en place’ preparation, we can make it much quicker and easier to get dinner on the table when we come home from work late and everyone is hungry.

2. Prolong the shelf life of your produce
Happily, there’s another side benefit… A little bit of preparation can extend the shelf life of fresh produce. This is usually because the preparation involves some sort of heat which reduces any microbes present.

Just think of a slow cooked meat dish which will last for a week or longer in the fridge, compared to a piece of fresh meat that may only keep for a few days. Same goes for wilted kale vs a bunch of fresh kale.

Like to go deeper with this?

I’m in the process of revamping my online cooking program that focuses on ‘Mise en Place’ or building block recipes. It’s going to be released in a few weeks and before then I’d love to get your input to make sure the class is as useful as possible.

I’ve created a quick 2-question survey below, I’d really love to get your thoughts…

quinoa with broccoli pesto

Quinoa with Broccoli Pesto

Most weeks I either cook up a big pot of lovely lentils or quinoa to use during the week for breakfasts, lunches or dinners. I’ve also more recently been getting into grating raw veg like broccoli or cauliflower in the food processor and keeping it in the fridge for a quick veg hit to serve with my poached eggs in the morning or in a salad like this.

If you’re not a fan of raw broccoli, see the ‘more wintery’ variations below.

Enough for 2
1 head broccoli
400g (14oz) cooked quinoa
6 tablespoons pesto
squeeze lemon juice
8 tablespoons ricotta

1. Chop broccoli into small bite sized pieces or grate it using a box grater or your food processor.

2. Toss prepared broccoli in a bowl with the quinoa and pesto. Add lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Taste and add more salt / pepper / lemon, if needed.

4. Serve with ricotta on top.

VARIATIONS
not-so-organised – cook 200g (7oz) quinoa from scratch, just boil in a big pot of water like pasta for 10 minutes. Then drain and you’re good to go.

warm salad / more wintery – follow the ‘not-so-organised’ instructions above and add broccoli to the cooking water after 5 minutes. Drain and toss in the pesto and lemon and serve warm with cold ricotta on top.

make your own pesto – whizz one bunch basil leaves with 1 clove garlic, a handful pinenuts and large handful grated parmesan. Add enough extra virgin olive oil to make a chunky paste and season well with s&p.

no quinoa? – replace with any cooked grain or legume. Barley or brown rice would be my first choices.

dairy-free / vegan – replace ricotta with hummus or a drizzle of tahini and use a dairy-free pesto like this Sicilian Nut Pesto.

With love,
Jules x
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When I decided to quit my corporate job designing chocolate biscuits (cookies) over 4 years ago, there was one thing I knew I was going to miss… working as part of a team.

I’ve absolutely loved the transition to full time blogger and entrepreneur. And these days with social media, I never have to worry about being a lonely writer.

But I have missed collaborating and the energy that comes from working with other people.

So when my sister Nao and I were tossing around the idea of starting a blog together I was super excited about it on many levels.

Having a dedicated space to talk about how I’m navigating the world of introducing a child to the joys of eating was definitely an attraction.

Working with my littlest sister was equally exciting, especially as we have a similar philosophy on cooking and eating.

We’ve been having so much fun with it.

So today I thought I’d share an interview I did with Nao so you can learn some of the tricks behind her slender waistline and feeding two little girls.

3 Quick Questions with Nao Cronan

JULES. I’ve always wanted to ask you this! What’s your secret to maintaining your amazingly slender waistline?

NAO. I think it’s my love for fruit and veggies. I prefer to have greens like kale and spinach with my meal rather than rice, bread or pasta.

I do have a pretty sweet tooth so I tend to eat a lot of fruit everyday. And, water. Lots of water.

JULES. What are the 1-2 most useful habits you have that help you and your family eat as healthy as possible?

NAO. I find cutting up fruit and veggies and storing them in the fridge when you buy them means they are an easy go-to snack so you won’t resort to snacking on biscuits and chips.

I also like to find new ways of incorporating vegetables in our diet.

When making muffins I try to include fruits and vegetables to make them a nutritional snack and to show to my girls that they do like vegetables. Our favourite at the moment is a processed sugar free applesauce and zucchini muffin.

JULES. You have two adorable little girls, and I know the oldest one is a bit of a fussy eater. What has been the most helpful thing you’ve found for helping to deal with it?

NAO. It can get very frustrating and stressful when your little one won’t eat, however, the more relaxed I am about food, the more receptive they are. So, I’m all about making food fun!

If the girls are having fun, they are definitely more agreeable AND more open to trying new things.

We like to do games with food (forget what your mum told you about playing with your food!) like being apple monsters and seeing who can crunch their apple the loudest or play sword fights with our asparagus spears.

Jemima is at the age where she likes to tell you everything she knows about something so we might talk about carrots and use as many adjectives as possible to describe them – long, pointy, hard, crunchy, orange and also talk about where carrots grow and who else likes to eat carrots? The Easter Bunny!

Another way to keep meals fun is to have fun names for foods/dishes. For example, it’s not broccoli, it’s a ‘dinosaur tree’. And if you eat dinosaur trees you’ll grow big and strong like a dinosaur!

Or, this week I found a recipe which I tweaked a little. It is basically honey chicken with corn and black lentils aka ‘bumblebee stew’. So much more appealing to those little taste buds with a fun name!

naos caramel slice-2

Nao’s Caramel Slice


Recipe by Nao Cronan from theyellowbench.com.

Our Mum used to make a super decadent caramel slice that was so tasty but full of processed sugar. Nao’s version is just as delicious (maybe even more so!) and it avoids refined sugars and gluten. Although there’s still plenty of sugar in dates so I wouldn’t call it exactly ‘guilt-free!’.

That being said, I love how the caramel filling comes together and am keen to try it with peanut or almond butter instead of the tahini.

for the base:
100g (3.5oz) almond meal (1 1/4 cups)
100g (3.5oz) coconut oil, melted (1/2 cup)
75g (3oz) pitted dates (1/2 cup)
150g (10oz) pecans (1 1/4 cups)
for the caramel:
250g (9oz) pitted dates (1 1/2 cups)
250g tahini (1 cup)
150g maple syrup (1/2 cup)
for the topping:
200g (7oz) dark chocolate

1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Line a rectangular slice tin, approx 28 x 18cm (11″ x 7″), with baking paper.

2. Process the base ingredients, almond meal, coconut oil, dates and pecans in a food processor until you have a sticky crumb.

3. Press base into the prepared tin. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until starting to brown. Cool.

4. For the caramel, process dates, tahini and maple syrup until smooth and sticky.

5. Spread caramel over the cooled base. If too sticky to spread, use the back of a spoon dipped in boiling water. Leave in fridge while you get the chocolate ready.

6. Melt chocolate and spread over caramel. Leave in fridge to set for approx 1 hr.

VARIATIONS
Processed Sugar-Free – replace chocolate with cocoa nibs melted with rice malt syrup.

No maple syrup– haven’t tried it but you could soak pitted dates in boiling water and use the boiling water instead of the maple syrup, or replace with raw honey.

Short on time – make base out of a packet of biscuits (cookies) processed with some melted coconut oil and press into lined tin and leave to set in freezer for 10 minutes.

Nut free – replace almond meal and pecans with 1 cup self raising flour and an extra 1/4 cup dessicated coconut.

Oven-free – for the base use 1/2C of pitted dates, 1/2C peanuts and 1/2C pecans with 1/4C desiccated coconut and process til crunchy, crumb and spread into lined tin.

No coconut oil? – use melted butter.

No tahini? – replace with peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter or sunflower seed butter.

With love,
Jules x
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BestofStonesoup 3D cover

You might remember a few months back, I mentioned that I was planning to pull together a new FREE eCookbook for Stonesoup email subscribers.

And my lovely assistant Caroline had the brilliant idea to make it a ‘best of Stonesoup’ compilation and to get you to vote for your favourite Stonesoup recipes.

Well today that idea becomes a reality.

So if you’ve ever wondered what the 25 most popular recipes are from my blog, now you can find out!

All you need to do is enter your email address below. And you’ll get to download a FREE copy of my new ‘Best of Stonesoup’ ebook.

I really hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

With love,
Jules x
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This time last year I was heavily pregnant. Heavy was totally the right word to describe it. Enough people had asked me if I was having twins that even I was beginning to wonder.

Anyway, I knew my life was about to change in a major way. But what I didn’t know was just how much I was going to love being a mum.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe just how lucky I feel that a certain baby boy came into my world this time last year. But for once words are escaping me.

Let’s just say that I couldn’t be happier. Every day I feel just so thankful. Even those days there hasn’t been enough sleep.

So to celebrate Fergal, my Tiny ‘B’, turning the grand old age of one, I have two treats for you today…

Treat Number 1. The Cake!

For about 3 years I’ve had a tradition of creating a new cake recipe to celebrate my own birthday. And when Fergal was born last year we had a steamed caramel cake with peanut butter ganache to celebrate.

This year’s creation was inspired by a recent trip to the Blue Mountains. We were celebrating the 40th of a friend of mine and I made a sticky date pudding at his request. It’s an old favourite from way back and it struck me that dates would be an excellent sweetener for a cake instead of processed sugar.

And I was right!

I was going to call it a ‘date cake’ but that didn’t quite have the same ring to it. So let’s stick with Fergal’s cake ;)

Treat Number 2. The Sale!

The other part of my birthday tradition is to have a sale on one of my ebooks. So I thought I’d have a very special ‘One-Day-Only One Year Old Sale’ to celebrate Fergal’s first birthday…

30Dinners 3D Cover2

For the next 24 hours only, you can pickup a copy of ’30-Dinners in 30-Days’ for 30% OFF.

This is the first time I’ve discounted my latest ebook since it was launched almost 18 months ago.

To find out if ’30-Dinners’ is right for you before the ‘One Year Old’ Birthday Sale ends go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/30dinners/

UPDATE: The one day only sale is now over.

PLUS!slow cooking 3D Cover
As an extra special bonus, to celebrate Fergal being born on the shortest day of the year, I’m going to throw in a copy of the ebook version of my online cooking program called ‘Super Slow Cooking’ ($37 value).

This special ebook isn’t available to buy on its own. The only way you can get it is to buy ‘30-Dinners’ before the sale ends.

______________________

fergals first birthday cake-5

Fergal’s First Birthday Cake
aka Supermoist Caramel Cake

This cake was inspired by the classic dessert sticky date pudding. Here we’re using the dates as our only source of sugar so I guess we could call it ‘processed sugar-free’.

Enough for 6-8 adults
250g (9oz) pitted dates
200g (7oz) boiling water
250g (9oz) unsalted butter, at room temp, chopped
2 eggs
250g (9oz) almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat your oven to 160C (325F) fan assisted.

2. Place dates in a heat proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Stand for a few minutes while you line a loaf pan with baking paper.

3. Transfer date mixture to your food processor and whizz until you have a smooth puree. Add butter and whizz.

4. Add eggs, almond meal, baking powder and vanilla and whizz again until smooth.

5. Transfer mixture to the prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes or until cake is golden, feels springy when you touch it and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

6. Cool in the tin.

VARIATIONS
nut-free – replace almond meal with regular all purpose (plain) flour and expect the cooking time to reduce to 45 minutes or so. Also expect the texture to be less moist.

dairy-free – replace butter with coconut oil or a neutral flavoured oil.

egg-free – replace eggs with 1 large mashed banana. I haven’t tried it but expect you shouldn’t have any problems.

vegan – combine the egg-free and dairy-free variations.

round cake – should fit into a 20cm (8in) round cake pan.

fergals first birthday cake

Birthday Cake Icing

We have a bit of a tradition in my family of having my mum’s super delicous, sugar-packed frosting on our birthday cakes. I think there’s a picture of each of my siblings with ‘birthday cake’ frosting all over our faces on our respective first birthdays.

I was tempted to go with chocolate frosting for Fergal but in the end this vanilla version won because I think it’s a better accompaniment to the caramel cake.

Enough to cover the top and sides of a medium loaf cake
250g (9oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
400g (14oz) icing (powdered) sugar

1. Beat butter and vanilla, if using, in an electric mixer or food processor until light and fluffy.

2. Gradually add in the sugar until well combined.

VARIATIONS
less sugary – replace some of the sugar with corn flour (corn starch). I tried replacing half the sugar with corn flour and it ended up tasting very ‘floury’ so I’d recommend keeping the flour to 1/4 or less.

chocolate frosting – add 1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder with the sugar.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Not sure if ‘30-Dinners’ will help you?30Dinners 3D Cover2

Here’s what Sage had to say about it…

“I’ve been doing the 30-day eworkbook with my 3 homeschooled girls and we are loving it. So delicious and so easy!! This workbook is helping us see that simple and fast still tastes great!”
Sage, 30 Dinners Reader

pss. The ‘One-Day-Only’ Birthday Sale is strictly limited to 24 hours from when this blog post was published.

Once it’s gone… It’s gone.

UPDATE: The one day only sale is now over.

Here’s the link again:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/30dinners/

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Once upon a time I worked for a multinational breakfast cereal company as a young food scientist developing new breakfast and snack products.

One of the ‘perks’ of the job was the canteen filled with an amazing array of free cereal and milk. As you can imagine, pretty much everyone had their breakfast at work. Including me.

But do you want to know something I always found a bit weird?

Everyone also had their lunch really early. I mean as soon as the canteen started serving lunch there would be a huge queue.

Looking back, I can see now this super early lunch was a sign that our free cereal breakfasts weren’t keeping us full for very long. And now that I understand GI and the whole carbs thing, it makes sense.

Anyway, I still love breakfast but these days I don’t head straight to the cereal box.

It can be the most easy meal to ‘fall into a rut’ with. So I thought I’d share my current favourite breakfasts ideas and a trick I have to help me avoid the dreaded breakfast rut.

My Trick for Avoiding Falling into a Breakfast Rut

It’s simple. I have a little ‘rule’ of not having the same breakfast two days in a row.

It’s a small thing, but it’s amazing how it make me keep my breakfast ideas feeling fresh.

9 Favourite Healthy Breakfast Ideas

1. Poached Eggs
Ever since I figured out the secret to making beautiful poached eggs, these have been my favourite breakfast eggs.

I tend to serve them on a bed of either cooked or raw vegetables. My favourites are raw baby kale leaves from the garden, cooked kale, baby spinach, grated raw cauliflower or grated raw broccoli. I’ve also been getting into making my own sauerkraut which goes really well with poached eggs. Some mornings I add a decadent dollop of home made mayo and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. But some mornings I don’t.

Now that we have chickens, I can wait for them to start laying so I can take my ‘poachies’ to the next level!

2. Fried Eggs
My Irishman loves fried eggs. And my son Fergal has been having an egg yolk for breakfast most morning for a few months now and he finds the flat shape of a fried egg yolk the easiest to eat. So some mornings we all have our eggs sunny side up. I go for cooked or raw veg as mentioned in the poached eggs above as an accompaniment.

3. Breakfast Lentils
Lentils are one of my favourite foods and not just for breakfast! I tend to cook up a pot on the weekends to use as a ‘building block’ for breakfasts and lunches. Some mornings I’ll have just lentils with some flat leaf parsley and a dollop of mayo or some ricotta.

Check out my ‘Versatile Lentils‘ recipe if you need some help getting started.

4. ‘Paleo’ Pancakes
A relatively recent addition to my breakfast repetoire, I love these for every day breakfasts with savoury accompaniments as per the recipe below. And for a more decadent weekend treat, I go for the sweet options.

5. Home Made Yoghurt
Making yoghurt is one of those things that seems really tricky, but in actual fact is super easy and VERY rewarding. For tips on getting started making your own yoghurt, including a coconut yoghurt recipe see this post.

I usually have my yoghurt with some lentil or quinoa granola or if I’m out of that just a handful of almonds and sometimes a few fresh berries.

6. Lentil or Quinoa Granola
If I am having a cereal-like breakfast, its usually more of a bowl of yoghurt with a little granola on top for crunch. This lentil granola is one of my more unusual breakfasts. Lately I’ve been getting into using quinoa flakes instead of the cooked lentils.

7. Chia Seed ‘Bircher’ Muesli
Chia seeds are awesome from a nutritional perspective given that they’re super high in Omega 3s, protein and gentle soluble fibre. One of my favourite ways to eat them is to soak them in some sort of liquid for a quick and very filling breakkie.

Just combine 1/4 cup chia seeds with 3/4 cup milk, almond milk or coconut milk and allow to sit in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour but up to a few days. The longer it sits the thicker it will be. I like to eat it straight up but it’s also good with berries and some yoghurt.

For more on chia seeds see 13 things you should know about chia seeds.

8. Chocolatey Coconut Granola
Chocolate for breakfast? Healthy? If you’re struggling with this concept check out ‘Can Chocolate for Breakfast Be Healthy?’ and while you’re there try out the Chocolatey Coconut Granola Recipe.

9. ‘Protein’ Porridge
Now that it’s winter here, I’ve been feeling torn between the urge to have a super warming bowl of porridge and to keep my breakfasts high in protein. So I’ve come up with a solution that I call protein porridge.

I take 1/3 cup quinoa flakes and mix with 2/3 cup milk. Then just simmer for a few minutes until thickened and remove from the heat. Stir in a beaten egg and cook for just a few more seconds. Serve with your usual porridge favourites.

If you can’t find quinoa flakes, rolled oats will work instead.

Looking for more breakfast ideas?

Have a look at my 6 slightly unusual healthy breakfast ideas.

'paleo' pancakes-3

‘Paleo’ Pancakes

I call these ‘paleo’ in inverted commas because not all paleo gurus allow chia. So while they’re not strictly paleo, I’m happy to eat them on a regular basis.

Because they’re egg based, rather than flour like regular pancakes, they’re gluten-free. They’re also really sensitive to being overcooked so you need to watch them very carefully.

UPDATE: A Stonesoup reader emailed me to ask if almond meal could be used instead of the chia seed bran. So I tried it on the weekend and it was a big success! So for a real paleo version, replace chia seed bran with 4 tablespoons almond meal (or other nut meal).

Enough for 1
2 eggs
2 tablespoons chia seed bran
aioli, natural yoghurt or mayo to serve, optional
salad leaves to serve

1. Heat a small frying pan on a medium high heat.

2. Whisk together eggs and bran in a small bowl.

3. Add a little oil to the pan. Add egg mixture and cook for about 2 mins first side or until the egg looks set around the edges.

4. Carefully turn the pancake then cook for another 1-2 minutes or until just cooked through.

5. Serve asap with aioli or mayo on top and salad greens on the side.

VARIATIONS
sweet pancakes – cook in unsalted butter instead of the oil and serve with your favourite sweet pancake toppings instead of the aioli and salad. I love them with a big dollup of double cream and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

no chia bran? – Replace with 4 tablespoons almond meal. Oat bran works really well as a substitute (but isn’t paleo!). Other bran like wheat bran would probably be fine. Don’t try this with psyllium though.

other chia options – if you can’t find chia seed bran, ground chia will work as a replacement. I’ve tried it with whole chia seeds and wasn’t a huge fan of the texture. You could always make your own ground chia by whizzing the seeds in a coffee or spice grinder.

What about you?

What are your favourite healthy breakfasts? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

With love,
Jules x
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These days, if I get asked to describe my diet, the shortest answer is that I’m ‘mostly paleo’.

Now if you’re wondering ‘what on earth is Jules talking about?’,
allow me to explain…

‘Paleo’ is a way of eating that is loosely based on what our paleolithic ancestors ate. In short that includes meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, seeds and nuts. For a more detailed explanation see 3 Reasons I (Mostly) Eat Paleo.

Anyway my ‘mostly’ qualifier is because I choose to include a few items that strict paleo followers don’t, such as dairy and legumes.

The other exception I make is quinoa.

While not technically a grain, quinoa tends to be shunned by the paleo folks.

I, however, do quite like to have quinoa from time to time because basically it’s delicious. It also happens to be higher in protein than most grains and so it’s less carb heavy. It’s also gluten-free.

Anyway, I’ve really noticed over the last few years how readily available quinoa has become. One of the most popular blog posts on Stonesoup is 12 Things You Should Know About Quinoa.

Another thing I’ve noticed about quinoa is that most recipes instruct you to cook it using the absorption method which I find a bit ‘hit and miss’.

So today I thought I’d share my ‘fool proof’ quinoa cooking method…

How to Cook Quinoa

1. Bring a medium pot of water to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, place quinoa in a fine sieve and rinse well under running water. Drain.

3. When the water is boiling, add the quinoa and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until quinoa is tender.

4. Drain and allow to sit in your strainer for a few minutes for the steam to disperse and allow the quinoa to dry out a little. Serve or store in the fridge. It also freezes well.

Want to learn more?

Then have a look at 12 Things You Should Know About Quinoa.

kale with quinoa

Crisp Kale with Quinoa & Ricotta

Inspired by Rodney Dunn’s super lovely book ‘The Agrarian Kitchen’. It was Rodney who gave me the idea to shallow fry the kale, and I just love the result. So different from the texture of kale when it’s wilted.

Actually, I’m just thinking you could probably get a similar effect by baking the kale with a good drizzle of oil, in a similar manner to kale chips… will have to add that to my list of ideas to try out!

enough for 4 as a side or 2 as a main
1/2 cup oil for shallow frying (I used rice bran oil)
1 bunch kale, finely sliced crosswise
1 cup cooked quinoa (150g / 5oz)
1 lemon
8 tablespoons creamy ricotta

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan and fry half the kale until crisp.

2. Drain the kale on paper towel while you fry the remaining half.

3. Transfer kale to a serving platter. Scatter over the quinoa.

4. Squeeze over a good drizzle of lemon juice and season well.

5. Top with dollops of ricotta.

VARIATIONS
paleo – replace quinoa with almond meal or finely chopped nuts and use coconut oil to fry the kale. And see dairy free and vegan options below for ideas to replace the ricotta.

less oil – saute the kale in a few tablespoons oil instead and remove the word ‘crisp’ from the title.

dairy-free – replace ricotta with poached eggs or scrambled eggs.

vegan – replace ricotta with hummus, cashew butter, tahini or chunks of avocado.

different cheese – replace ricotta with goats cheese, creamy blue cheese, shaved parmesan or sliced camembert or brie. A stinky washed rind would also be lovely.

no quinoa – replace quinoa with whatever cooked grains or legumes you have. Green lentils, barley or brown rice would be my first choice of substitutes. But chickpeas or white beans would also work.

carnivore – serve as a side to roast chicken or a juicy lamb chop.

different greens – replace kale with spinach, chard, silverbeet, collard greens or any other greens you have handy.

With love,
Jules x
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