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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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A Sneak Peek…

new icons2Earlier in the year, we had a family trip to Sydney. Since we were staying with friends, we offered to cook dinner.

Our hosts agreed and being the generous souls they are, they insisted on buying all the ingredients for us.

I was cooking a Thai-inpsired meal, so there were lots of fresh herbs on the shopping list.

When I opened the fridge at my friends house, though I found the herbs sitting uncovered, looking very wilted and sorry. Very disappointing!

Now I’m not telling you this to be ‘nit-picky’ or to put down my fabulous friends. I was really grateful for their hospitality.

I just wanted to share this story to help you avoid such needless waste…

The air inside a refrigerator is super dry so if fresh food is left uncovered, it doesn’t take long for it to wilt.

The good news is, by taking a few seconds to pop the herbs in a plastic bag, the wilting herb fiasco could have easily been avoided.

It’s small things like this that can make a huge difference to your food waste over the weeks and months.

That’s why I include an ingredient storage ‘best practices’ page with every Soupstones meal plan. So you know exactly the best way to store your ingredients and avoid wilting and waste.

Speaking of Soupstones, one of the most common questions I get asked is ‘How do Soupstones Meal Plans work?’

So I’ve created a super short ‘sneak peek’ video tour of the Meal Planning service…

Before we start the tour, I just wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to comment and enter the competition to win one of 5 free lifetime memberships to Soupstones Meal Plans.

There were 355 entries which was a little overwhelming!

And tough to judge, so I’ve ended up choosing 10 winners. Yay!

The lucky winners winners are:
Beth
Kate M.
Robert
Romi
Emily Upton
Diana D.
Marina D.
Usa Klein
Tessa F.
Erika J.

Congratulations to the winners!

You should have an email with details on how to claim your prize. If you haven’t received it please contact me [jules@thestonesoup.com].

How it works…

Click below to watch the ‘sneak peek’ video tour.

Wondering if Meal Plans will work for you?

Here’s what Edith, Stephanie and Alexandra have had to say about their experience with Soupstones meal plans…

Edith, Soupstones Member.

“My first impression was to be pleasantly surprised on how short my shopping list for 3 recipes. Then I was also pleasantly surprised on how quickly I made my first dish! And it’s so easy, so tasty and so healthy! Love it! I also love the pantry recipes, because I never know if I’m going to eat home or out! Since I started I noticed from my jeans that I lost weight without thinking about it, I am also saving money because I buy less ingredients than normal. I like your recipes because they rarely include carbs and it’s teaching me a new way to cook and eat.”

Stephanie, Soupstones Member.

“The meal plans are simple, easy to prepare, tasty and healthy. I love that it comes in a simple PDF format with a shopping list already broken down. You’ve made it SO simple to actually cook meals 5 nights a week – it’s wonderful!”

Alexandra, Soupstones Member.

“I’m very happy with the time saving one-stop-list, with the ideas, the recipes and the shopping list all done for me.”

Sound good?

If you think that you could benefit from having your meal planning ‘done for you’, I would love you to join me for Soupstones.

Basically It’s a weekly meal planning service that takes the headaches out of deciding what to cook every night.

It consists of:
1. Flexible meal plans to help you get healthy dinners on the table without hassle.
2. ‘Adjustable’ shopping lists
3. Recipes for 5 healthy easy weeknight dinners each week.

It gives you pretty much everything you need to ‘eat well and be well’ even when you’re tired after a long day at the office.

For more details go to:
http://thestonesoupshop.com/soupstones/

With love,
Jules x
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One of the things I’m super passionate about in my business is making my products as useful and user friendly as possible. Unless my customers get real value in their lives, I really don’t feel like I deserve to keep their money.

Which is why last week I decided to have a week of following one of my Soupstones meal plans.

With the relaunch of this relatively new service coming up, I wanted to see if I could discover any ways to make the Meal Plans even better.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the experience.

You see, normally I’m someone who doesn’t like to follow instructions. I usually prefer to do my own thing.

But I was surprised!

Very pleasantly surprised at just how easy the whole shopping and cooking process was for me following the plan.

So this week I wanted to share my lessons from the experience. And here they are…

7 Surprising Lessons from Using my Own Meal Plans

1. It’s nice not to have to ‘think about dinner’.
These days I usually don’t start cooking dinner until after Fergal has gone to bed at 7pm. As much as I love thinking about food, it was actually a relief to just whip out my phone and check the meal plan and recipe for that night. And just start cooking without any deliberation.

2. Short shopping lists are the way forward.
Here at Stonesoup you know I’m all about keeping the ingredients in a recipe to the bare minimum, mostly to just 5 ingredients. And it gets even better when you look at it in terms of meals for a whole week. When I excluded the pantry items I already had, there were only 12 items that I needed to buy to have dinner for 5 nights.

3. You don’t need to go all over town to get ingredients.
When I lived in Sydney it wasn’t unusual for me to go to 4 or 5 different shops in 4 or 5 different suburbs to get my food for the week. I loved the thought that if I wanted I could get all 12 items on my shopping list in my local supermarket.

4. I could still enjoy the farmers markets.
The thing that I was most worried about in committing to following a meal plan was that I would be restricted and not able to enjoy shopping for ‘what looked best’ at the farmers market on Saturday morning.

Happily, I found I was able to channel the ‘spontaneous’ shopping into our weekend meals (which weren’t covered by the meal plan). So I didn’t miss out on the super fresh brussels sprouts or the broccoli which was labelled ‘best broccoli in the world’!

And I was also able to find the ingredients on my [short] meal plan shopping list without too much effort. Win. Win!

5. The Adobe Reader App is awesome.
For the longest time I’ve been a big fan of Adobe Reader for reading my ebook PDFs on my computer. But it’s only since I launched Soupstones Meal Plans back in January that I discovered the iPhone app. Using the app on a daily basis with my meal plan has given me a deeper appreciation for how useful the app is.

Basically, it allows you to edit any PDF and save your changes.

You can copy text and paste it into other apps or into a text message (perfect for sending shopping lists to your husband if needed!).

You can free write or type new text anywhere in the document. And you can cross out wherever you want (perfect for customizing your shopping list for the items you already have).

I also loved the bookmarks and internal hyperlinks which made for super easy navigation to whichever recipe I was after.

6. Meal plans can still be flexible.
Of course, my week didn’t end up exactly as planned. But fortunately my meal plan was able to cope!

My brother was meant be be staying all week but he ended up only being here Monday and Tuesday. It was easy for me to figure out what to do with the extra ingredients. But if I hadn’t known, I could always have referred to the ‘Waste Avoidance Strategy’ that comes with each recipe in the meal plans.

7. Outsourcing meal plans saves time.
One of the biggest hassles of doing a weekly meal plan is that it takes a lot of time to choose the recipes and write and organize the shopping list. I know because I’ve been pulling together a new Soupstones Meal Plan for our members every week since we launched back in January.

Outsourcing these tasks is a brilliant way to save yourself an hour or two each week.

What about you?

Do you think you could benefit from a ‘done for you’ meal plan each week? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

With love,
Jules x
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Of all the cooking techniques, deep frying would have to be the one that comes to mind when we think of food that is ‘bad for us’.

As Elvis knew, deep fried things can taste super delicious.

But here’s the thing…

Fried foods don’t have to be super unhealthy. The deep fryer, or at least a large pot of oil, can have a place in a healthy kitchen.

You just need to follow these 5 guidelines…

5 Easy Ways to Make Fried Food Healthy


1. Do it yourself

Here at Stonesoup HQ, I’m a huge fan of Michael Pollan’s philosophy that ‘junk food’ is fine to eat as long as you make it yourself. So much so that these days, if I feel like something indulgent, I’m much more likely to cook it at home than to head to a ‘fast’ food place.

When you cook yourself you know exactly what’s going into your food. You’re in control of the quality of your ingredients. Also, there’s only so much you can make yourself which means there’s a natural limitation on how much you can indulge.

2. Use correct temps
Frying is a bit like Goldilocks in that the temperature needs to be ‘just right’. Too cool and the food is likely to soak up excess oil and be super greasy. Too hot and your oil can start to break down, releasing nastys into your food.

I highly recommend investing in one good digital thermometer for the kitchen. We have one that I use for everything from testing meat for doneness, to deep frying, to making yoghurt and even checking the temp of Fergal’s bottle.

3. Use good oil
Different oils have different stability at higher temperatures. Also called the ‘smoke point’. Basically the higher the smoke point the more stable your oil and the better suited it is to cooking at high temperatures. Meaning the less ‘nasties’ released into your food.

I use rice bran oil because it’s readily available where I live, it isn’t hideously expensive and it has a high smoke point.

4. Use fresh oil
The more oil is exposed to high temperatures, the more readily it breaks down and releases free radicals etc into your food. Another reason to avoid your local take away joint.

I do reuse my oil but tend to start afresh after about 3 times. It does make frying more expensive, but for the sake of our health, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

5. Fry healthy ingredients
This is my favourite way to make fried foods more healthy! Although we do make home made potato fries from time to time, and I adore a wicked onion ring, I’m really getting into frying other vegetables.

Cauliflower would have to be my favourite. Brussels sprouts are also pretty tasty when fried. And I haven’t even started with the world of tempura veg…

fried cauli with chickpeas-2

‘Addictive’ Cauli with Chickpeas

Inspired by the clever boys at Porteno where my Irishman and I had our wedding feast!

If I can’t convince you to try deep frying your cauliflower, there’s no need to miss out on this dish! You can easily roast the cauli instead (about 1/2 hour at 180C / 350F). Just remember to be generous with the oil!

enough for 2
oil for deep frying (I use rice bran oil)
1/2 cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 can chickpeas (400g / 14oz), drained
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bag baby spinach
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan on a high heat.

2. While the oil is heating, warm a little more oil in a frying pan and add chickpeas and cumin. You just want to warm them through.

3. When the deep frying oil reaches 180C (350F), fry cauli in batches for 3-4 minutes or until deeply golden. Drain on paper towel.

4. Add spinach to the chickpeas and allow to wilt slightly.

5. Serve spinach and chickpeas with fried cauli on top, lemon juice drizzled over and lots of salt and pepper.

VARIATIONS
carnivore – serve with super finely sliced prosciutto on top.

paleo / chickpea-free – just skip the chickpeas or replace them with roasted almonds or cashews. I’m also thinking it would be delicious with meatballs instead of the chickpeas.

more substantial – serve with crusty bread and butter or pita bread and extra virgin olive oil. Or serve as a side dish to roast chicken or pan fried chicken breasts. Also a great side with lamb cutlets.

tiny person-friendly – don’t let on that cauliflower is healthy! For more family meal ideas check out www.theyellowbench.com.

different spices – cumin is really lovely but you could use coriander seed, smoked paprika or a spice blend like garam masala or baharat (lebanese 7 spice).

different veg – brussels sprouts are amazing fried or you could try broccoli, pumpkin or sweet potato.

more decadent – serve with a big dollop of your favourite mayo or aioli (home made of course)

With love,
Jules x
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Rainbow 3D cover

This year is a very special (and different!) Mother’s Day for me. Yes, it’s my first proper Mother’s Day on the other side… as an actual mother.

So to celebrate, my sister Nao and I have pulled together a new eCookbook that we’re giving away for FREE from our new blog, The Yellow Bench.

The Yellow Bench is dedicated to helping you bring the JOY back to your family meals.

And the new eCookbook looks at easy ways to get more variety in your meals by eating all the colours of the rainbow. Plus of course there are plenty of tasty, easy recipes.

Would you like to download your FREE copy for yourself? Or as a gift for your favourite mother(s)?

Well, there’s a catch!

To get our shiny new Rainbow eCookbook, you need to subscribe to our FREE email updates from www.theyellowbench.com.

Although it’s not that much of a catch because you can easily unsubscribe at any time with just one click.

I really hope I get to ‘see’ you over at www.theyellowbench.com soon.

Happy Mother’s Day!

With love,
Jules x
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Rainbow 3D coverps. The Rainbow eCookbook is completely FREE and we would love it to help as many Mums (and Dads for that matter!) as possible.
So if you know someone who could do with more JOY in their family meals, please feel free to send them the link to www.theyellowbench.com OR give them a copy of the FREE eCookbook.

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As someone who runs an online cooking school, I often get asked for tips to help people improve their cooking.

And you know what I always tell them?

No, it’s not to spend hours chopping onions to perfect their knife skills.

I always tell them to focus on getting the seasoning right.

Yes.

Seasoning.

It’s easily the biggest game changing skill when it comes to cooking.

If you’re new to seasoning, best to check out this earlier post to get you up to speed with the basics on How to Season to Taste.

And then come back here to find out what the 2 most common seasoning mistakes are and how you can avoid them :)

2 Most Common Seasoning Mistakes
AND How to Avoid Them…

Mistake Number 1. Thinking All Salt is Bad
While too much salt isn’t good for anyone, it’s important not to be afraid of salt.

Using the right amount of salt in your cooking is the easiest way to make the flavours sing. Far from being evil, salt has an almost magical ability to make food taste amazing.

And the good news is, unless most of the food you eat comes from a packet or a ‘restaurant’ that has a drive through option, then you’re probably not eating too much salt.

So there’s no need to worry about the salt you add in the kitchen or at the table.

Mistake Number 2. Forgetting to Season
Whenever I have a seasoning ‘fail’ it’s usually because I haven’t used enough (or any) salt.

Luckily, this is easy to avoid.

I now keep a pot of sea salt flakes and a pepper grinder on the dining table so we can add salt as needed.

The added benefit of this approach is that everyone gets to season to suit their own taste buds.

halloumi salad-2

Quick Halloumi & Rocket Salad

Whenever I post a recipe with ‘rocket’ in it, I always get funny comments and questions. So in case you’re wondering, ‘rocket’ from the French ‘rocquette’ is the same as ‘arugula’ which is the Italian name. Nothing to do with space craft I’m afraid.

While I love the sharp pepperiness of wild rocket with the cheesy halloumi, any salad greens will work here.

enough for 2
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-3 fresh chillies, finely sliced, optional
1 packet halloumi (300g / 10oz)
4 large handfuls rocket leaves

1. Combine lemon, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and chilli, if using, in a large bowl.

2. Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan on a medium high heat.

3. Slice halloumi into slices about 5mm (1/4in) thick and pan fry on both sides until deeply golden, about 2 minutes each side.

4. Toss leaves in the dressing and divide between two plates. Top with the hot halloumi and serve ASAP.

VARIATIONS
carnivore / dairy-free – replace halloumi with chicken breasts or steak and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

different cheese – halloumi is a wonderful cheese that grills superbly, going lovely and golden without melting all over the place. If you can’t get your hands on halloumi, feta can be used but be careful of the saltiness!

no ‘rocket’? – use whatever salad greens you prefer.

vegan – replace halloumi with 4 field or portabello mushrooms. Slice and pan fry in oil until lovely and golden. Serve scattered with roasted pine nuts or drizzled with tahini to make it a bit more substantial.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. While I’ve got you…

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way back in January 2010, I quit my job designing chocolate biscuits (cookies). The plan was to focus on figuring out how to make a living from doing what I love most namely cooking, eating and writing about food.

My first project was to pull together a free eCookbook to use as an incentive for people to sign up for my free weekly email updates.

It took me a few weeks to finish it. And at the time I remember being so proud of my little creation.

But I’ve been thinking it needed revamp for a while now. So when Caroline (my lovely assistant) and I were catching up a few weeks ago I asked her to think of ways we could improve the free eCookbook.

The next time we spoke about it Caroline had come up with a super brilliant idea…

Why not find the most popular Stonesoup recipes and turn the free eCookbook into a ‘best of the blog’ collection?

Love it! (She’s very clever our Caroline).

So that’s where you come in…

Your Help?

What are your favourite Stonesoup recipes?

Let me know in the comments below to help us decide which recipes to including in the new Stonesoup Favourites eCookbook.

Some Ideas…

If you need some prompting, here are my top 10 favourite Stonesoup recipes in no particular order.

* Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry
* Simple Baked Meatballs
* Chorizo with Kale
* Quick Steak & Rocket Salad
* Green Chickpea Salad
* Salt Crusted Burgers
* Parisian Lentils
* Cheesey Broccoli
* Spiced Beef with Hummus
* Self Saucing Ginger Puddings

Thanks so much for your help! And watch this space for the new FREE eCookbook ;)

With love,
Jules x
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On the weekend, Fergal and I had a lovely Saturday morning outing to our local farmers market. It’s been ages since I had the luxury of doing our weekly shop at a real farmers market and I’d forgotten how much fun it is.

I love strolling through the stalls, choosing from beautiful displays of produce. For me the joy of shopping at the farmers market isn’t just about bringing home the freshest, best tasting produce.

For me, a huge part of the fun is allowing what looks best to dictate what I buy and ultimately what I decide to cook.

It’s really the easiest way to keep your cooking seasonal.

The thing I was reminded of was how market shopping is a bit of a skill.

If you’re used to planning your meals, writing a list and buying what’s on the list, I can imagine that shopping at the farmers market would be frustrating.

Traipsing from stall to stall trying to find what you need isn’t much fun.

I know because that’s how I used to shop. But over the years I found a better way…

When I was living in the Barossa Valley, the highlight of my week was the Saturday morning Barossa farmers market. I’d grab a coffee and a bacon and egg roll. Then I’d wander around tasting this and that, chatting to the farmers and buying whatever took my fancy.

I wouldn’t have had time to make a list so I’d just buy what looked good. And try not to buy too much.

Then when I got home, I’d figure out what to cook based on my market bounty.

Sometimes I’d consult my cookbooks for ideas. But often I’d just make things up.

It was incredibly liberating and because I wasn’t writing a list, it took no time up front. Not even 2 minutes.

And do you want to know the best bit?

Shopping and cooking based on what looks best is a skill that anyone can learn which is why I wrote the ‘2-Minute Meal Plan’.

Speaking of which…

2MMP 3D Cover

2 Minute Meal Plan eCookbook Anniversary SALE

It’s actually been 2 years since I first released the 2-Minute Meal Plan. It’s easily the most unusual ebook that I’ve ever written in that it’s all about showing you the easiest way to cook with the ingredients you have on hand using ‘template recipes’.

This frees you from the constraints of shopping lists and traditional recipes while providing the support you need to get healthy meals on the table with minimum fuss or effort.

To celebrate the second anniversary of the best selling of all my eCookbooks, I’m having a 2 day or 48 hour sale.

The 30% OFF Anniversary Sale ends in less than 48 hours.

For more details and to make sure you don’t miss this once-a-year occasion go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/2mmp/

20. chunky veg soup

Chunky Zucchini & Pesto Soup

This recipe is based on one of the template recipes included in the 2-Minute Meal Plan. The template recipe is called ‘Chunky Veg Soup’.

In this version, I’ve used the classic combo of zucchini and basil in the form of pesto. But to get a feel for how the ‘template’ recipes work, see the ideas listed in the ‘variations’ for each type of ingredient. There are endless possibilities.

per person
1 onion or other aromatic vegetable (see below for ideas), chopped
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
200g (7oz) zucchini or other vegetables (see below for ideas), chopped
small handful pesto or other ‘highlight ingredient’ (see below for ideas)

1. Heat a little oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion or other aromatic vegetable and cook, covered for 5-10 minutes until soft and golden.

2. Add the stock or water and zucchini or other veg. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the zucchini or other veggies are cooked.

3. Taste. Season and serve with the pesto or ‘highlight ingredient’ on top.

VARIATIONS
aromatic veg – onions are my favourite but celery or carrots would be good instead.

vegetables – I used zucchini in the photo. Try parsnips, sweet potato, pumpkin, brussels sprouts, fennel, peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas, cabbage, beets, asparagus, jerusalem artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, red capsicum (bell peppers), bok choy, asian greens, spinach, silver beet or any combination of these. Legumes are also great here.

highlight ingredient – I used pesto. Hummus is good too or other sauces. Yoghurt, sour cream, guacamole. Goats cheese, parmesan, ricotta. Croutons or small slices of bread with melted cheese. Crispy bacon pieces, finely sliced salami or prosciutto.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Not sure if the ‘2-Minute Meal Plan‘ will help you?

Here’s what people are saying about it…

“I just purchased the ebook and I am only on page 57 of the first part, but can already tell I LOVE IT. I’m so excited to start implementing the things I’m learning, and to gobble up the rest of the books. Thank you a million for this ebook, it is absolutely brilliant. I really can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a purchase. I will also be getting a much happier husband thanks to this book.”
Amy, 2-Minute Meal Planner

“The whole system was very useful to me. I learned better planning of meals for a week and, besides that, to improvise with ingredients. Preparing food ceased to be stressful factor and became a joy!”
Kate, 2-Minute Meal Planner

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This year I’m super excited about Easter, and not only because of the whole extra long weekend thing. This year, for the first time in ages, possibly a decade, my family are getting together for an Easter lunch.

And the best bit is that we’re hosting it at our new tiny farm house. Yay!

As Fergal is getting bigger (9 months already! See pic below) I’m really excited for him to spend more time with his city cousins.

So to get you in the Easter mood, today I have not one but 2 unusual ideas for chocolate treats.

Unusual Chocolate Idea Number 1.

The first is a silky smooth chocolate ganache. Rather than being made with cream, however, we’re upping the decadence and using unsalted butter instead.

It’s an idea I got from the packet of the butter I sometimes buy. And I have to say I don’t think I’ll be going back to using cream for my ganaches.

Yes. It’s that good.

You can use it as a chocolate sauce or as a frosting for cakes. Or even roll it into little balls and dust with cocoa powder for super easy truffles.

chocolate butter ganache

Chocolate Butter Ganache

This make a wonderful glossy topping to a chocolate cake. But feel free to let your imagination run wild with it!

Enough for the top of a 20cm (8in) round cake.
250g (9oz) unsalted butter
250g (9oz) dark chocolate

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan.

2. Break chocolate into chunks and place in a heatproof bowl.

3. Pour hot butter over the chocolate and allow to stand for a few minutes.

4. Stir until chocolate is melted and you have a lovely glossy mixture.

5. Cool until thick enough to spread on your cake.

VARIATIONS
different chocolate – milk chocolate will also work here. I haven’t tried white chocolate but it should be fine, you may need to refrigerate the mixture to get white chocolate to firm up due to the lower cocoa butter content.

dairy-free / vegan – replace butter with coconut oil.

Unusual Chocolate Idea Number 2.

I’ve been thinking about ways to include more vegetables in my baking. And a little while ago the idea to try chocolate and kale together popped into my head.

I mean if green smoothies work, why not?

And that’s how I came to develop this very unusual kale & chocolate cake.

This cake won’t be for everyone.

I personally love the subtle vegetable, almost tobacco-ey flavour the kale adds to the cake but I can imagine non-vegetable lovers seeing it as a crime against chocolate!

If you’re after a more purist chocolate cake recipe, this fudgy one is my favourite.

kale & chocolate cake-3

Kale & Chocolate Cake

If you are game to try this unusual cake, serve with a good vanilla ice cream or lashings of double cream.

Enough for 6-8
200g (7oz) butter
200g (7oz) chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
1/3 bunch kale (100g / 3.5oz) washed and chopped
4 eggs, separated
75g (3oz) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
200g (7oz) almond meal

1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Melt butter in a small saucepan and use some to grease a 20cm (8in) spring form cake tin.

2. Whizz chocolate and kale together in a food processor until you have a very fine mixture.

3. Add the chocolate kale mixture to the hot butter and allow to stand off the heat.

3. Whisk whites with a pinch of salt until white and foamy and the volume doesn’t seem to be increasing any more.

4. Gently scatter in the sugar and keep whisking eggs for a minute or so. Then attend to the chocolate mixture.

5. Stir the melted chocolate / kale and butter together. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Stir. Add nuts. Stir.

6. Gently combine chocolate mixture with egg white mixture. Transfer to your prepared cake tin.

7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the top feels firm with a springy mass underneath. Cool on a wire rack.

VARIATIONS
different veg – replace kale with grated carrots, grated zucchini, roast beets, roast parsnip or roast sweet potato.

sugar-free – use 90% cocoa solids chocolate and replace the caster sugar with erythritol or a commercial erythritol / stevia blend like Natvia.

different nuts – I often use hazelnuts or pecans instead of the almond meal. Most nuts will work well here.

nut-free – You could try replacing the nuts with flour, but I’d be worried it would dry the cake out. My first step would be to replace half the nuts with an extra egg and replace the other half with extra chocolate to go for a flourless chocolate cake texture. I haven’t tried this so if you do, please let me know!

milk or white chocolate – again I haven’t tried these because I love dark chocolate so much, but there’s no reason they won’t work.

dairy-free – replace butter with vegetable oil or coconut oil.

vegan – I’m afraid we’re relying on egg whites for texture here so this isn’t a cake for vegans.

Happy Easter!

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Fergal wishes you a happy Easter too :)
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Growing up on a farm, I couldn’t wait to leave. As soon as I had saved up some money, I set off to see the big wide world. Backpack in hand.

First stop was San Francisco. Then Paris. And on it went.

It was so exhilarating. And scary. Meeting new people. Exploring new places and of course tasting new cuisines.

But you know what really surprised me?

The more places I visited, the more I appreciated how much I loved Australia. As the saying goes ‘there’s no place like home’.

And so way back then a seed of an idea started to form. One day I would have a little farm of my own. There would be olives and chickens and of course a kick-arse veggie garden.

That was back in the mid 1990s. And ever since then the dream has stayed with me.

It’s been with me through different careers as a wine maker, chocolate biscuit designer and now food blogger and author. It’s been with me as I’ve lived in many different places from the Barossa Valley to California to Southern France to Sydney and the Snowy Mountains.

Lets just say this dream has been a long time in the making.

So I can hardly believe that this weekend we’re finally moving to our little farm. It’s pretty tiny. Just 5 acres of beautiful Australian bush land. But that’s all we’ll need.

Yay for dreams that come true! No matter how long it takes.

The Stonesoup Tiny Farm Moving House SALE!

3D old coverTo celebrate finally fulfilling my dream of buying a tiny farm (and help clear out my garage to make the moving process easier) I’m having a sale on my first print book.

‘And the Love is Free’ is a collection of stories and my Mum’s reliable no-fuss family recipes.

Since the book was first self published, I haven’t ever had a sale like this.

But since we’re moving and I’m keen to set a good example for my Irishman in cleaning out our garage, I’ve decided to have a one-time-only 50% OFF sale.

The sale is strictly for 72 hours or less if we sell out before then.

And I won’t be doing another print run so once they’re gone, they’re gone.

To make sure you don’t miss out use the link below:
http://thestonesoupshop.com/and-the-love-is-free-a-tribute-to-my-mum/

And to give you a taste, here’s one of the recipes in the book inspired by my Mum.

chinese chicken

June’s Chinese Chicken

June was my Mum and this was her only foray into Chinese cooking. She used to make it with chicken wings and serve it as a starter for her dinner parties in the 70s. I’ve simplified it since then and turned it into more of a main course by using chicken drumsticks.

The real gem here, though, is the bok choy. By wrapping it in foil and baking it in the oven it steams to a lovely texture without adding any extra washing up. Win! Win!

enough for 2
6-8 chicken drumsticks
1/2 cup soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground ginger or 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 bunch bok choy or other Asian greens or broccolini

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).

2. Combine soy, honey & ginger. Place chicken in a baking dish and cover with the sauce. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

3. Remove foil and turn the chicken. Return to the oven. Wrap bok choy in foil and place on a lower shelf in the oven.

4. Bake for another 20 minutes or until chicken is well browned and the bok choy has wilted.

Variations

vegetarian / vegan – try Chinese mushrooms. Cook field mushrooms instead of the chicken. You might like to add some cashews as you serve to increase the protein. I’m also thinking tofu or tempeh would be lovely with all the flavours from the sauce. And if you don’t eat honey a little brown sugar or maple syrup would work.

more substantial – serve with steamed rice or cauliflower ‘rice’ (raw grated cauliflower).

different cuts of chicken – feel free to use chicken thighs instead or a whole chicken chopped into pieces on the bone. Both of these options will take about the same time to cook. Boneless chicken breasts or thigh fillets will also work, reduce the cooking time to 20-30 minutes.

different protein – You could use fish fillets (will take about 15 minutes or a little longer). Lamb shanks, pork ribs or beef osso buco will take about 3-4 hours cooked at 160C (350F).

hot! – add in some fresh or dried chilli.

With love,
Jules x
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This week I thought I’d pull together another installment of our Stonesoup vegetable spotlight.

Last time it was all about kale, today we’re talking aubergine, which in Australia goes by the much less exotic name ‘eggplant’.

Before we get to today’s recipe suggestions, I thought we’d better ask the big eggplant question…

To salt or not to salt?

One of the intimidating things about cooking eggplant is when recipes call for salting the eggplant before cooking. They often talk about salting to ‘remove the bitter flavours’ but in my experience, modern eggplants aren’t really bitter. So I tend not to bother with salting.

That being said, salting the eggplant can help minimise the amount of oil it absorbs when you’re pan frying it. Again, I tend not to bother, but it’s up to you…

6 Healthy Recipe Ideas for Aubergine (Eggplant)

1. Tomato Baked Eggplant
This has to be the easiest way to cook eggplant. I usually just serve it as is for a healthy vegetable focused meal but you could mash it up and use as a sauce for pasta.

2. Spiced Baked Eggplant
Eggplant loves spices! See the recipe below.

3. Grilled Baby Eggplant
My favourite way to cook those finger-shaped Japanese eggplant is to halve and grill on the BBQ. Sometimes I do them on their own, but I often cook them with other late Summer veg like red capsicum (bell peppers) and zucchini (courgettes). Wonderful served with hummus or this walnut and white bean puree.

If you can’t get your hands on baby eggplant, slice regular eggplant and use them instead.

4. Soup
My favourite eggplant soup is this White Bean & Eggplant Soup. It’s not the most beautiful creation but is deeply satisfying and well worth the effort.

5. Dip / Spread
No collection of eggplant recipes would be complete without the fabulous Lebanese dip / spread called babaganoush. Charring the eggplant can get a bit messy but it’s totally worth it for the intensely smoky flavour.

6. Eggplant ‘Steaks’
The rich silky texture of cooked eggplant make for a fabulous vegetarian alternative to regular steaks. Especially good served with these parmesan peas.

More?

If you’d like to learn more about eggplant I’d recommend reading 7 Things You Should Know About Eggplant.

eggplant with quinoa-2

Spiced Eggplant with Yoghurt & Quinoa

This dish was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi in his fabulous book, Jerusalem. Well worth a read!

It’s up to you whether you eat the eggplant skins or just scoop out the tasty flesh. I like to eat it all but my Irishman prefers to leave his skins behind.

Enough for 2
2 large eggplant (aubergine)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
150g (5oz) quinoa
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
6-8 tablespoons natural yoghurt
large handful pine nuts, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Halve eggplant lengthwise then score the cut side by cutting in a chunky criss cross pattern. Place cut side up on a baking tray. Drizzle generously with olive oil and scatter over the ground coriander and a little salt and pepper.

2. Bake eggplant for 40 minutes or until very tender.

3. While the eggplant is cooking, bring a pot of water to the boil. Rinse quinoa and add to the boiling water. Simmer for 12-15 minutes until quinoa is just tender. Drain and toss with the parsley leaves.

4. When the eggplant is cooked, scatter over the quinoa parsley mixture. Drizzle with yoghurt and finish off with the pine nuts.

VARIATIONS
different spices – ground cumin, baharat, smoked paprika or a combo all work well with eggplant.

vegan / dairy-free – make a tahini sauce to replace the yoghurt by combining equal quantities of tahini, lemon juice and water.

carnivore – brown some ground (minced) lamb or beef in a pan and scatter over the quinoa.

nut-free – just skip the pine nuts or replace with some finely chopped red onion or red capsicum (bell pepper) for colour and crunch.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. Do you have a favourite way with eggplant? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Married!

Back in 2008 I made one of my best decisions. Ever.

Rather than make another empty new years resolution, I was inspired to dedicate the year to ‘love and happiness.’

I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. Or whether it would really make a difference to my life.

But I figured it was worth putting it out there. What did I have to lose?

With this theme in mind, I accepted the invitation to go out for dinner with an old boyfriend. I know dinner with old boyfriends tends not to be conducive to love or happiness.

But as luck would have it, on this occasion it did…

We ran into my friend Rico who happened to be out with a certain Irishman. After a quick introduction Rico and the Irishman left. I remember thinking that Rico’s friend was cute.

Then about a week later, I was at home and randomly decided to check my spam folder. Something I never do unless an email has gone missing.

To my surprise I found an intriguing Valentines Day message. No prizes for guessing it was from that same Irishman asking me to get to know him better over some food and wine.

Our first date was at a little Italian restaurant in Surry Hills called Il Baretto. And it was well and truly a success. With that accent I could have sat there listening to him all night. Actually that’s what I did.

Anyway to cut a long story short, on Sunday 16th March that certain smooth talking Irishman and I were married(!) Given that we’d met in a restaurant and had most of our best times together in restaurants, it was only fitting that we get married in a restaurant.

It turned out to be an excellent choice.

If you’d like to have a sneak peek at some wedding shots, check out the Instagram hashtag #stonesoupwedding.
http://searchinstagram.com/stonesoupwedding

_____________________

easy duck ragu

Seductive Duck Ragu

I still remember ordering the duck ragu with papardelle on our first date. Ever since then I’ve always associated duck with romance. Is it just me or does duck spell seduction for you as well?

Duck is one of those things that can feel a little scary to cook but is actually super delicious. And its higher fat content makes it much less easy to dry out. So it’s actually easier to cook than chicken.

If you’re serving the ragu with pasta it will feed 4 but if you decide to go with the kale ‘linguine’ it will only serve 3.

Marylands are duck legs with the thigh and drumstick attached. If you can’t find them, you could use whole duck instead… and expect it to take extra time.

Enough for 3-4
4 duck marylands
2 onions, sliced
1 can tomatoes
few tablespoons water
thyme
parmesan to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).

2. Place duck, onion, tomatoes, water and thyme in an oven proof pot. Cover and cook for 90 minutes.

3. Remove the meat from the bones and tear into bite sized chunks. Stir the meat into the sauce. Taste, season and serve with parmesan shaved or grated.

VARIATIONS
vegetarian – make a chickpea ragu by replacing duck with 2 drained cans of chickpeas. Reduce cooking time to 30-45 minutes.

Vegan – as above and serve with a little nutritional yeast instead of the parmesan.

different meat – chicken drumsticks or marylands or thighs on the bone are good. You could also use lamb shanks or osso buco but these will need cooking for longer – around 4 hours.

onion-free – just skip it.

easy duck ragu-2

Kale ‘Linguine’

I’m a huge fan of serving a hearty stew on a bed of greens instead of the usual carb suspects of pasta or mash.

Enough for 3
1 bunch cavolo nero or kale
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil

1. Rinse kale and don’t worry about drying it. Finely slice into linguine sized ribbons.

2. Heat oil in a medium sized pot. Add kale and cook covered for about 10 minutes or until kale is softened.

VARIATIONS
different veg – will work with most greens especially spinach, chard, collard greens or silverbeet.

more substantial – serve with some cheese or a poached egg on top.

With love,
Jules x
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At the risk of sounding a bit geeky here, I’m a huge fan of Bryan Tracy. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s a motivational speaker and author of some great books such as ‘Eat Your Frog’.

For the last few years around December, I’ve been setting aside some time to review the year and plan for the upcoming one. As part of my review process I make some time to reread my favourite Bryan Tracy book, ‘Goals!’.

Actually, I say ‘read’ but in truth I ‘listen’ to it as I’m a huge fan of listening to audio books while I’m walking or running. And if you’re interested in reading more books I highly recommend checking out audible.com… but I digress…

One of the key themes in the book is to identify the ‘one skill’ that if you were to master it, would have the biggest impact on your work or personal life.

It’s a great question to ask yourself from time to time.

And if you wanted to think about it from a cooking perspective, the one skill that really has the biggest potential isn’t how to handle a knife or ‘plate up’ dishes like a chef.

No. The most impactful skill is seasoning.

It’s what separates the so-so cooks from the ones who are always getting rave reviews from their family and friends.

So when I saw this question from Marlene come in to my Stonesoup-by-request survey, I realised it was about time we had a talk about seasoning.

How does one know how much salt to use, in say, soup for instance? “Season to taste,” at the end of any recipe is hard to measure. Thank you.
Marlene xo

Exactly how do you ‘season to taste’?

As someone who writes recipes for a living, it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly how much salt you should be adding to any given dish on any given day. Because it’s a moving target.

Not only will your ingredients be slightly different from mine, they’ll change from time to time. Even if you’re buying the same brand of soy sauce, it won’t taste exactly the same every time.

And there’s another reason. My taste buds are different to yours.

I could give you an estimate or tell you how much I have used. But I don’t.

It’s not because I’m being lazy. It’s a conscious choice.

I say ‘season to taste’ because that’s what I really want you to do. To taste the food, and decide if it could be better. If you think it can, then add some salt. And repeat until you’re happy.

It’s that simple.

I want to empower you to take command of the seasoning. To experiment. To back yourself.

I know it’s a skill that YOU can master. It just takes practice.

My number one tip for seasoning to taste

Apart from encouraging you to get in and practice, the only advice I have is to err on the side of ‘less is more’. You can always add more salt but it’s almost impossible to fix things when you go too far.

Even now, I keep a pot of sea salt and a pepper grinder on the dining table so we can tweak at the table.

Like to go deeper with this?

Then check out the following two articles on Stonesoup…

1. The absolute beginners guide to the art of seasoning

2. A beginners guide to the art of seasoning – the importance of sweet & sour

hot chorizo & creamy ricotta salad-2

Hot Chorizo & Creamy Ricotta Salad

There’s something about the contrast between hot spicy pork products and cool creamy ricotta that gets me super excited!

I prefer to use dried chorizo rather than their fresh sausage counterparts, but either will work here really.

Enough for 2
2-3 chorizo, sliced
250g (1/2lb) cherry tomatoes
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), sliced
2 generous handfuls creamy ricotta
4 handfuls baby spinach leaves, washed

1. Heat a little oil in a frying pan. Add chorizo, tomatoes and capsicum.

2. Cook, stirring every now and then on a medium high heat until chorizo are browned and cooked through.

3. Taste. Season.

4. Serve chorizo mixture with ricotta on the top and the baby spinach on the side.

VARIATIONS
dairy-free – replace ricotta with a nice hummus or some mashed avocado.

vegetarian – replace the chorizo with a drained can of chickpeas and 2 teaspoons smoked paprika. Add in a little chilli if you like it hot.

vegan – combine the dairy-free and vegetarian options.

tiny person friendly – replace chorizo with your favourite sausages or mild chorizo.

budget / more substantial – add in a can of chickpeas, beans or some cooked pasta to make the dish serve more people.

With love,
Jules x
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Have you ever wondered where I got the name for my blog from?

Well it’s a tribute to one of the first things I ever cooked.

When I was little I remember watching Humphrey B Bear where someone was reading the story of Stonesoup. Basically, it’s a fable of how a stranger comes to town and encourages everyone to come together and share what they have to make a soup, with his special stone as the center.

If you’re not familiar with the story you can read it over here.

Anyway, my small mind completely missed the moral to the story. It went straight to the idea that you could make soup from stones. How cool!

Luckily my mother decided to humour me and we made a pot of our own version of stone soup using a stone from the garden and some veg from the fridge.

I remember being super excited with our efforts and so years later I decided to call my blog Stonesoup as a homage to that experience.

One of the next soups I made, when I was a little older was a classic butternut pumpkin soup.

It was hard not to love it with all that velvety sweetness. But over the years I’ve found I haven’t made butternut soups very often for one simple reason. The whole peeling and chopping thing.

So. Much. Work.

But with prime pumpkin season just around the corner, well at least here in Australia, I wanted to share my new favourite butternut soup recipe…

And the best bit?

There’s no chopping involved!

And while I’ve got you…

The Secret to Cooking Without Recipes

The third and final installment of my free meal planning training series has just been released. This final video reveals the secret to cooking without recipes!

It’s only going to be available for a little while longer so make sure you don’t miss it!

Just enter your details below to get instant access :)

_________

no chop butternut soup-2

No-Chop Butternut Soup

The idea for this recipe actually came from a Stonesoup reader who got it from her 80-year-old neighbour!

I just love the idea of putting the whole butternut in the oven to roast and soften into something manageable, rather than having to use all your muscle power to chop up the butternut for soup.

I like to leave the skin on but get rid of the seeds before pureeing because I like the flavour of the skins but prefer to avoid the nutty texture of the seeds. If you prefer to use the whole butternut though, you can.

enough for 3
1 butternut pumpkin
3C stock
1-2T soy sauce
sour cream to serve

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Pop in the whole butternut and roast for about an hour or until it feels squishy when you touch it.

2. Halve the cooked butternut and scrape out the seeds and save them for snacks. Put the butternut flesh and skin, if you like, in a saucepan.

3. Add stock and some soy sauce and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes.

4. Purée using a stick blender until as smooth as you fancy.

5. Taste and season with a little more soy if needed. Serve with sour cream or yoghurt.

VARIATIONS
vegan / dairy-free – serve with cashew sour cream. Soak raw cashews in water for about 8 hours. Drain, then process in a food processor with enough fresh water to make a purée. Season with a little salt and enough lemon juice to make it as tart as you feel like. OR use tahini instead.

other veg – feel free to use sweet potato, any pumpkin or winter squash. Other root veg roasted whole like this also work well in soups. Try parsnip, carrots, beets, onions, turnip, swede (rutabaga) or a combo.

spice – a little ground cumin or coriander can be nice. Or a pinch of cinnamon. Chilli also works well with the sweetness of the butternut.

herbs – try a little fresh thyme or some sage added with the stock.

Thai – add in a few tablespoons of red curry paste and replace some of the stock with a can of coconut cream.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. This is the only time this year that I’ll have these FREE meal planning training videos available. To make sure you don’t miss out, enter your details below:

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MYMP2014 square logo large

YOU can win one of 5 FREE places in the Master Your Meal Plan program!

Here’s how to enter…

1. Watch my FREE training videos. Just enter your details below to get instant access.

2. Leave a comment below answering the following question…

How would your life be different if you were able to ‘reverse’ your meal plan and become a healthy, intuitive cook? What changes would we see?

I’d really love to hear your story. I’m looking for enthusiasm and creativity!

Entries close Monday 3rd March.
Entries are NOW CLOSED

And the winners ARE:

Linda Inness
Anne from France
Grace LeVasseur
Marlo De
Anne O’Grady

the fine print:
* The winning entrants will be notified by Facebook or email.
* The winners will be announced here and on Stonesoup Tuesday 4th March 2014.
* The judge’s decision will be final and no other correspondence shall be entered into.
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