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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 :)
photo1

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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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Are you happy with your current meal planning system?

Is deciding what to cook each week easy for you?

Well, if you answered YES to either of these questions then skip on down to this weeks recipe.

On the other hand, if you ARE struggling with meal planning or getting dinner on the table night after night is a chore, then you’re in the right place!

This week I’m kicking off a free training series focused on getting rid of your meal planning headaches AND how you can become a healthy, intuitive cook who just walks into the kitchen and throws something delicious together.

I’m super excited to announce that the first FREE video in the series is NOW AVAILABLE!

This first installment is all about the number one mistake that most people make when it comes to meal planning. The one big thing you may not even know is causing most of your meal planning headaches.

It’s ready and waiting for you!

Just enter your name and email below to get instant access…

The training will only be available for FREE for a limited time.
Enter your email above to make sure you don’t miss out

________

sesame beef with spinach-2

Sesame Beef with Spinach

I can’t remember what inspired me to make a sesame focused stir fry recently, but I’m so glad I did. There’s something about the subtle toastiness of sesame oil that works so well with beef. I’ve kept it simple here with just two sources of sesame flavour but you could easily up the ante… See the ‘triple sesame’ idea below.

Enough for 2:
450g (1lb) ground beef
2-6 small red chilli
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 bag baby spinach
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame oil

1. Heat a wok or large frying pan on a very high heat.

2. Add a little oil and then the beef and chilli. Cook, stirring frequently until the beef is well browned.

3. Add oyster sauce and spinach and cook for another minute or until the spinach is just starting to wilt.

4. Remove from the heat. Taste season and serve with sesame seeds and oil scattered and drizzled over.

VARIATIONS
vegan / vegetarian – replace beef with cooked lentils. And use a vegetarian ‘oyster’ sauce. They do exist.

triple sesame – serve with a drizzle of tahini.

tiny person friendly – serve the chopped chilli at the table for everyone to add their own. For more family-friendly ideas see my other blog, theyellowbench.com

sesame-free – skip the oil and seeds and serve the beef with a generous handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves.

no sesame oil or seeds? – You could just use one or the other or serve with a drizzle of tahini instead.

different veg – you can add pretty much any stir fry veg such as carrots, zucchini, snow peas, asparagus, broccolini, broccoli.

different meat – lamb is great or use any ground (minced) meat or poultry. If you’re not a fan of minced (ground) meat, use tender meat cut into slices for stir frying.

With love,
Jules
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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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There’s a new method of cooking vegetables I’ve been experimenting with for a while now. I use the term ‘new’ loosely because I’m sure if I googled it there would be millions of references to my new technique.

Sometimes, especially when I have a new idea when I’m cooking, I like to pretend that Google doesn’t exist so my new idea can stay ‘new’. Well at least to me.

Do you ever do that? Or is it just my craziness?

Anyway, back to this technique…

I’ve been calling it ‘steam frying’ and basically it involves rinsing your veg and leaving a lot of the moisture on. Then it’s about heating a little oil in a frying pan or pot, adding the veg and cooking with a lid on until the veg are as tender as suits your mood.

I love it for a few reasons.

First it’s pretty quick. Second it make veg taste super delicious. There’s still the bright, fresh flavours you’d normally associate with steamed veg but they’re more concentrated and have the added complexity of the pan fried notes.

I also love it because it makes an awesome one pot meal so it’s easy on the cleaning up.

Our recipe this week showcases this new technique. The thing that makes this recipe extra tasty is to add a little chilli fire and some rich cheesey goodness. Both of which stops your broccoli from being too goody-two-shoes.

Which brings me to the favour!

I’m SUPER excited to let you know I’m just putting the finishing touches on a new free video training series that’s all about revolutionizing your meal planning.

Anyway I’d love to get your feedback to make sure I’m on the right track. So I’ve created a super quick survey over here:

It will only take you 30 seconds or so and I’d really appreciate your help!

___
cheesey broccoli-2

Cheesey Broccoli

I made this the other night for a ‘batchelorette’ dinner because my Irishman was out. I was craving something healthy but also cheesey and comforting. Talk about hitting the spot! If you have coconut oil, I really recommend using it because it adds a lovely subtle coconutty sweetness which sounds weird but actually works really well. Of course if you don’t have any, butter or olive oil are just as good.

enough for 2
4-5 tablespoons coconut oil, olive oil or butter
2 heads broccoli
2-6 small red chillis chopped, optional
4 large handfuls grated cheese

1. Heat oil in a frying pan or skillet over a medium heat.

2. Rinse broccoli and don’t dry as the water will help the broccoli to steam. Slice broccoli stems finely then chop the top into bite sized chunks. I just hack through it with a knife but you’re welcome to chop into individual ‘trees’ if you like.

3. Add broccoli and chilli to the oil. Cook, covered for about 5 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. You’ll need to stir a few times. If it starts to burn add a little water.

4. Add cheese and stir until well combined and just melted.

VARIATIONS

different veg – also great with cauliflower or broccolini. And in springtime I’m planning on trying some cheesey asparagus. I’m also thinking it would work well with snow peas, green beans or kale sliced into thin ribbons.

more substantial – serve with a handful of nuts, or a little cooked quinoa or a poached egg or toss in a drained can of chickpeas and add a little more cheese.

carnivore – serve as a side to a well grilled juicy steak or chicken breast.

different cheese – I used a combo of parmesan and emmental but any melting cheese is good here. Try raclette, gruyere, cheddar or even some blue. It’s a good way to use up little scraps of cheese floating around the fridge.

tiny person-friendly – skip the chilli or serve it separately so everyone can add their own. For more ideas for feeding your family, see my other blog www.theyellowbench.com

With love,
Jules x
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A few months ago I was chatting with my sister Naomi. She had just been to a lunch with her mothers group.

She was telling me how much they were all struggling to come up with ideas for healthy dinners.

And I can see why.

As a new mum myself, I know how short on time mothers can be. Then add to the equation the need to please both the tiny people in the house and the adults. It’s definitely a tall order to fill.

So as Nao and I were talking, we began to flesh out an idea. We really wanted to come up with a way to help mums and dads walk this difficult tightrope.

I had toyed with the idea of doing something for parents myself, but given that I’m just starting on the parenting journey I didn’t feel ready to branch out yet.

Naomi, however, knows intimately the challenges of feeding a picky almost 2 1/2 year old.

And so ‘The Yellow Bench‘ was born.

We’re both super excited about our new project. And this week to celebrate the ‘birth’ of our new blog dedicated to bringing joy back to family meals, I thought I’d share my 10 favourite child-friendly meals…

10 Healthy (Child-friendly) Meals

1. Pirate Food with Sea Weed

[aka Fish Cakes with Wilted Spinach]
recipe below
fish cakes-2

2. The Magic Sausage Supper

[aka Baked Sausages with Veg]
magic sausage supper

3. ‘Dead Ant’ Salad

[aka Quinoa & Grilled Veg Salad]
quinoa grilled veg salad

4. Dinosaur Tree Stir Fry

[aka Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry]
beef & broccoli stir fry

5. Green Eggs with Ham

[aka Pesto Eggs with Ham]
green eggs & ham

6. Cheesey ‘Moon Rocks’

[aka Cheesey Chickpeas ;)]
cheesy chickpeas

7. Red Lentil ‘Risotto’

[aka Red Lentil Risotto]
red lentil risotto

8. Real Mac & Cheese

[aka Real Mac & Cheese]
mac and cheese

9. Real Kids Eat ‘Dirt’

[aka Parisian Lentils]
8177540726_910d730820_b

10. Do-Ahead Baked Meatballs

[aka Meatballs]
meatballs

Any of these sound tempting?

Why not come over to our new blog and say Hi…
www.theyellowbench.com
___________
fish cakes

Pirate Food with Sea Weed

[Fish Cakes with Wilted Spinach]

One thing we love doing at the Yellow Bench is coming up with more fun names for meals. It’s amazing how a bit of creativity can go a long way to improving the image and ‘edibility’ of a particular food.

Enough for 2 adults
1 large tin tuna in oil (425g / 15oz), drained
1 can chickpeas (400g / 14oz), drained
1 egg
1 bag baby spinach
mayonnaise, natural yoghurt or lemon juice, to serve

1. Preheat an overhead grill or broiler.

2. Mash tuna and chickpeas together in a bowl using a fork or your hands. It’s OK to leave a few chickpeas whole. Or just whizz it all together in your food processor.

3. Stir in egg and form mixture into fish cakes about the size of a golf ball.

4. Place fish cakes on a heat proof tray and drizzle with a little oil.

5. Cook under the grill (broiler) for about 5 minutes or until browned. Turn carefully, they can be partial to falling apart, and cook for another 3-5 minutes.

6. Meanwhile heat a little oil in a large pot and cook spinach, stirring, until just starting to wilt.

7. Serve ‘pirate food’ fish cakes topped with mayo / yoghurt / lemon and serve spinach ‘sea weed’ on the side.

VARIATIONS
adult-friendly – serve with your favourite hot sauce like sriracha or Tabasco.

vegetarian – replace tuna with an extra can of chickpeas.

more summery – don’t wilt the spinach!

With love,
Jules x
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A few years ago I spoke at the Melbourne writers festival. The main focus of the talk was about blogging and business. To be honest it wasn’t my greatest work. I was super nervous and stumbled over my words.

But in the end it didn’t matter because I had a great time listening to the other speakers. And I met some really inspiring people.

One of those people I’ve remained good friends with. Her name is Lesh and she blogs over at www.themindfulfoodie.com about her journey from eating most things out of a packet to being,in her words, a ‘real food nut’.

I love Lesh’s blog and really encourage you to check it out.

Today it gives me great pleasure to share an interview I recorded with the lovely Lesh. We talk about her real food journey AND her tips for you to get more whole foods in your life.

Watch interview on YouTube Here
Links mentioned in the interview:

http://endometriosis.org
http://www.bookdepository.com/Endometriosis-Michael-Vernon/9780007386420

___
nourish cover

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Nourish go to:
Lesh Karan – The Mindful Foodie.

________
And in case you’d like a taster of the type of recipes in the book, here’s my version of Lesh’s nourishing dahl for you to try…

leshs nourishing dahl

Lesh’s Nourishing Dahl

One of the things I love about Lesh is that her family background is Indian – one of my favourite cuisines that I am keen to learn more about! I’ve been looking for a good authentic dahl recipe for a long time. I’m happy to say this one ticks all the boxes.

It does have a few more ingredients than my usual Stonesoup recipes but I think in this case its worth it. Although, I’ve also included a super simple option in the variations below.

Enough for 4
300g (1 1/2cups) red lentils
1 bunch baby carrots, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic
4 cups water or stock
4 handfuls baby spinach
2-4 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
natural yoghurt, to serve

1. Wash lentils thoroughly under the cold tap and drain.

2. Place lentils in a medium saucepan with the water or stock. Bring to a simmer, skimming the foam that arises.

3. Add carrots, turmeric, cumin, salt and garlic.

4. Simmer for another 15-20 mins more until the lentils and carrots are totally cooked. Make sure you stir along the way so the dahl doesn’t stick.

5. Stir in the spinach leaves and allow them to wilt.

6. Taste and season with lemon juice and soy. Serve with yoghurt.

VARIATIONS
dairy-free / vegan – use coconut yoghurt or mashed avocado instead.

carnivore – serve as a side to a meat based curry or add in a few handfuls of cooked chicken.

different veg – feel free to play around. I love the carrots though.

budget – use water instead of the stock (i did).

5 ingredients – just use the lentils, turmeric,

different spices – use a mild curry powder instead of the spices listed.

tiny person-friendly – think about skipping the spinach.

What about you? Do you have any tips for eating more whole foods? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below…

With love,
Jules x
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ps. The links in this email are affiliate links so if you do decide to buy Lesh’s book, you’ll be supporting Stonesoup as well! We both really appreciate it.

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red wine glass & bottleYou may not know this, but in a former life I was a wine maker. From the outside it seems like such a glamorous career.

And I guess in many ways it is.

I got to live and work in some incredibly beautiful places. From the Barossa Valley to the good old Hunter in Australia. And even as far afield as the Rhone Valley in France, Sonoma and Los Gatos in California.

I got to work with some incredibly diverse personalities.

And there was the odd fancy dinner, eating and drinking in the name of ‘work’.

But like most things in life, it had a down side. Most of the time it was hard work. Really hard work. The truth is, that drinking wine is much more fun than making it.

Even though it was a pretty amazing profession, I’m glad I decided to leave that career behind. And my liver is too.

But old habits die hard. Over Christmas and the new year, I’ve found myself drinking way more than I should.

So I’ve decided to go OTP* as my brother calls it, for the whole month of Feb.

With our wedding a little over 6 weeks away (!), it’s time to give my liver a rest so I can look my best on the ‘big day’.

And why am I telling you this?

Two reasons…

First

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 4.57.01 PMTo be honest, if I was just doing it on my own, I’m sure I’d find an excuse not to stick to my pledge. So I’m using some good old public accountability to help my feeble will power.

And while I’m at it, I thought I’d help raise some money for a great cause… finding solutions for youth addiction.

I’d really appreciate it if you could help sponsor me.

All the details are over at:
www.my.febfast.org/PersonalPage.aspx?registrationID=689821

Second

I wanted to invite you to join me in getting a little healthier and kicking one of your vices in Feb.

It doesn’t have to be alcohol. You can choose to quit sugar, caffeine or whatever else happens to be your particular poison.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 4.43.10 PM

Want to get a little healthier?

If you’d like to do it formally, all the details are over on www.febfast.org.au

I’d be really super excited to know that I’m not on my own…

So please leave a comment below and let me know if you do decide to give it a go. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you!

With love,
Jules x
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*OTP = off the ‘piss’.

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Imagine coming home after a long day. You’re tired. You’re hungry. Then imagine having dinner ready and waiting for you.

Imagine something healthy AND super tasty prepared by one of your (I’m hoping) favourite food bloggers… Me!

Well as much as I’d love to come around to your place every evening and help out with getting dinner on the table, I’d hate for little Fergal and my Irishman to feel neglected.

So I guess we’ll have to leave that scenario for another day.

Before you start feeling down there is some good news!

I’ve come up with the next best thing…

Today I’m super happy to announce the birth of a completely NEW meal planning service from Stonesoup!

So how did this all come about?

About this time last year I was talking to my friend Caroline. At the time she was getting all geared up for a weight loss program she’d signed up for. It was one of those ones that comes with an exercise schedule and meal plans for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A few months later Caroline was looking amazing with her new, more slender figure. I asked her how she had found the whole experience.

Her answer surprised me.

While the motivation and commitment to exercise had really helped, the thing she loved the most were the meal plans. Each week she’d just print out the shopping list and buy what was on it. Or better yet, get her husband to look after procurement.

Then each night she’d walk into the kitchen, look at her notes and just start cooking. No agonizing over what to make. No having to ‘think’ at the end of a long day.

But you know what would have made it even better? Some of the recipes were a little time consuming, it would be brilliant to have meal plans using your quick, healthy Stonesoup recipes.

That got me thinking… And here we are

Introducing ‘Soupstones’ Meal Plans!

Soupstones banner logo

If you think you’re a bit like my friend Caroline and could do with some meal planning help, then you’re in luck…

The NEW ‘Soupstones’ Meal Planning service is now up and running!

If you have any interest in trying out my new ‘Soupstones’ Meal Plans, I really encourage you to be one of the first to join me.

I’m having a special ‘introductory’ trial at the moment…

For more details, go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/ss/

_______

bacon sang choi bau-4

Bacon Sang Choi Bau

We love a bit of sang choi bau action for a quick week night dinner in our house. There’s something so delicious about spicy meat being wrapped in cooling lettuce leaves. We love it so much we often serve other stir fries like this instead of with cauliflower ‘rice’ (finely grated raw cauli) or steamed rice.

I can’t remember exactly why I decided to put bacon in the sang choi bau. Probably because we were going away and I didn’t want to waste it. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that bacon made this classic dish taste even more amazing. But I was. And it’s good enough to warrant a stand alone recipe, rather than just tacking on bacon to one of my ‘variations’ ;)

Enough for 2
3-4 slices bacon
450g (1lb) pork minced (ground pork)
1-4 red chillies
4-6 tablespoons oyster sauce
iceburg lettuce, washed

1. Heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan on a very high heat.

2. Cook bacon for a few minutes or until starting to brown.

3. Add pork and chilli. Continue to stir fry until the meat is well browned.

4. Remove from the heat and add enough oyster sauce to season it well.

5. Wrap a little of the hot meat in lettuce leaves and eat with your fingers.

VARIATIONS

vegetarian / vegan – skip the bacon and try seasoning some cooked green lentils with (vegetarian) oyster sauce and chilli. Serve with lettuce. Also works with browning crumbled tofu. Expect to use more oyster sauce.

sugar-free – replace oyster sauce with soy sauce (start with much less so it’s not too salty) and a drizzle of sesame oil.

different meat – also great with minced (ground) beef or chicken. Actually most ground meat will work well.

fish – you could use finely chopped fish fillets. Expect them to cook quite quickly.

more veg – toss in some sliced water chestnuts, chopped red capsicum (bell pepper), mushrooms and/or sliced green onions.

herby – serve with torn mint, basil and/or coriander (cilantro) leaves.

Stonesoup TV

With love,
Jules x
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Soupstones Square Logo no borderps. Not sure if a meal planning service will work for you?

The only way to find out is to try it! You can cancel your membership at any time with one quick email.

For more details, go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/ss/

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On the weekend I had a few ‘guilty’ fridge moments. You know the feeling. When you have a little ‘clean out’ which basically involves just tossing all the things that are now mouldy or otherwise inedible.

While I’m happy this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, somehow over the holidays I managed to let standards slip around here. And I’m embarrassed to say I threw out quite a bit of food.

And the thing that really irks me?

It could have all been avoided.

You could say I had a massive case of ‘should have known better’. Ouch!

On a brighter note, I do have some exciting news to share with you today.

But before we get to that, I wanted to share the 3 simple steps I should have taken to avoid my needless waste. I hope it helps both of us avoid that sinking feeling from now on!

3 Steps to Avoiding Wasted Ingredients

Step 1. Rotate
This is subtle but can really make all the difference. The idea is when you put new items into the fridge, you try and position them at the back and bring the older items to the front.

I’m usually pretty good at doing this with my fresh produce. I have a larger and a smaller drawer in my crisper so before I put away my market purchases each week, I transfer the older produce to the smaller drawer and put the new into the larger. Then I make the effort to look in the small one first.

The second part of this concept is to rotate leftovers. Bring the older ones to the front and put newer ones to the back. Turns out I’m not so brilliant at this, especially over Christmas when leftovers were at an all time high.

Step 2. Really look each day
It’s funny how we can open the fridge door but not really ‘see’ what’s in there. While step 1 helps to make the looking part easier, it’s still important to have a good look each day.

Again I was a little slack with this when I was on holiday mode.

I find asking yourself ‘what needs eating up here?’ can help identify and avoid unnecessary waste.

3. Take action as needed
This is the ‘business’ end of the process. It’s one thing to know you have some chicken breast that is close to its use buy date. But unless you make a plan to cook said chicken or pop it in the freezer, it won’t be saved from the waste bin.

The three most common ways I tend to take action here are to:
1. Eat it
2. Cook it
3. Freeze it.

Not exactly rocket science, but easy to forget. The power to avoid waste is within you!

And if you need more specific tips, see the recipe below for details on how to avoid waste for each ingredient.

And what about this something NEW?

Soupstones banner logo

I’m super excited to announce that next week I’m going to be launching a completely new meal planning service.

The meal plans will include tips for preserving ingredients to help you avoid waste if your plans change (see the recipe below for an example).

There will also be variations for each meal plan to help if you have specific dietary requirements or preferences. They’ll also come with customizable shopping lists.

To find out more go to:
http://thestonesoupshop.com/soupstones/
___

chicken salad-3

Quick Warm Chicken & Parmesan Salad

I love a warm salad for a quick, healthy mid week dinner. There’s something about having something proteiny and warm that makes it feel substantial enough for a dinner. Yet all those leaves keep it light. And best of all they tend to work all year round so well worth adding to your repertoire!

Enough for 2
450g (1lb) chicken thigh fillets
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 handfuls rocket (arugula) or salad leaves, washed & dried
2 handfuls parmesan shavings

1. Heat your frying pan on a very high heat. Trim any fat from the chicken and slice into super fine strips. Drizzle with a little oil and season.

2. Cook chicken in the hot pan for about 1 minute. Then stir and keep cooking till browned on all sides.

3. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Season.

4. When the chicken is cooked transfer to the lemon dressing.

5. Toss in rocket leaves. Serve with parmesan shaved over.

VARIATIONS
vegetarian – replace chicken with field mushrooms or eggplant slices. Cook in a little oil until soft.

vegan – skip the chicken and cheese. Warm some cooked lentils in a pan and toss in the dressing with the leaves. Add some roasted almonds for a little extra protein and crunch.

dairy-free – replace the parmesan with roasted sliced almonds. Or cook some bacon in the pan before cooking the chicken. And serve the crunchy bacon on top of the salad.

little person friendly – reduce the amount of rocket (arugula) or replace with less bitter tasting leaves such as butter lettuce or baby spinach.

different protein – lovely with steak or lamb fillets instead of the chicken. Also good with chorizo.

different leaves – any salad leaf will work well here. In the winter I’d go for red radicchio leaves or witlof (belgian endive).

WASTE AVOIDANCE STRATEGY
With my new meal planning service, I’ll be including this section with each recipe. So if something happens and you don’t make a particular meal in a given week, the ingredients won’t go to waste!

chicken – freeze or cook (either pan fry or gently simmer for 15-20 minutes). Frozen chicken will last for months. Cooked chicken will last for up to a week.

lemon – will keep in the fridge for weeks.

rocket (arugula) or salad leaves – the best option is to use in another recipe. Rocket can be used to make pesto which will keep for a few weeks (just use it instead of basil). The alternative is to wilt down the leaves in a pan with a little oil. Keep wilted leaves in a covered container in the fridge for a few weeks. Warm and serve the wilted leaves as a side.

parmesan shavings – keep wrapped in baking or parchment or waxed paper inside a plastic bag or sealed container. Will keep for months.

Stonesoup TV Video Recipe.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. For more details about my new meal planning service go to:
http://thestonesoupshop.com/soupstones/

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First things first. I just want to wish you a very Happy New Year! I hope you have some exciting things planned.

I have a heap of projects I’m super excited about including buying a little farm house. And hopefully later in the year ‘finding’ a baby brother or sister for Fergal.

So I thought we’d start the new year in a big way! I’m super excited about an idea I got from one of my students the lovely Katie Lee. Katie took my very first online cooking class, solve your dinner dilemma back in 2010. Any she had the brilliant idea to do a series of posts focusing on different ways to prepare different vegetables. Such a great idea!

So I thought I’d kick things off with one of my all time favourite veg. That also happens to be one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.

Yes my friend today it’s all about kale!

What’s so great about kale?

As I mentioned above kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods. Apart from the obvious vitamins (A, C, B6, E) and minerals (manganese, calcium, potassium, iron) it has a relatively high level of protein (for a vegetable).

Even better, it contains a number of chemicals that are thought to reduce the risk of cancer.

And did I mention it’s delicious?

How to choose kale

There are hundreds of varieties of kale. The most common are curly kale and the darker coloured black Tuscan kale (also known as cavolo nero, lacinato kale or dinosaur kale).

Mostly sold in bunches or as loose leaves of baby kale. Pretty much you’re looking for vibrant green leaves with no signs of wilting. Smaller leaves tend to have a milder (less bitter) flavour so if you’re trying to turn a fussy eater into a kale-lover best to stick to the baby leaves.

How to store kale

It will last for 1-2 weeks in the fridge wrapped in a plastic bag.

Mise en place

To store for longer, rinse kale and slice crosswise into ribbons. You can remove the stems if you like but I don’t usually bother. Cook over a medium heat with a little oil or butter in a large pan. Keep the pan covered so the kale can steam and stir every few minutes. Will take about 5 minutes. Keep refrigerated in a container for 3-4 weeks.

9 kale recipe ideas

1. Raw in a salad
One of my favourites, just finely slice and toss in your favourite salad dressing. I particularly like this green chickpea salad if you need a recipe.

2. Wilted with lemon
See below for my latest kale-centric obsession.

3. Kale Curry
Wilt kale into your favourite curry. Or use instead of the spinach leaves in this lamb saag.

4. Soup
The Tuscans have a famous soup called ribolitta with is basically minestrone with some stale bread and kale wilted through it. I love how the kale adds its beautiful dark green colour. I also often use kale in my refrigerator soup.

5. Kale ‘chips’
Perfect for when you feel like a healthier salty snack than potato chips. Toss kale leaves in a little oil and bake on a tray for 10 minutes or until crisp. Also good with parmesan grated over.

6. Topping for pizza
A favourite in our house is this kale and onion pizza.

7. With poached eggs for breakfast
Something I have at least once a week. Just serve the kale leaves whole if small or sliced. Fergal is a fan of ‘gumming’ raw kale with a little egg yolk smeared on one end. And here’s my poached egg recipe if you need some tips.

8. Kale Stir Fry
Like this ground beef with kale. It’s also great with oyster sauce as a substitute for Chinese broccoli or bok choy.

9. Kale with chorizo
Another all time favourite dinner around here.

How to grow kale

A bonus section for garden lovers. I’ve had heaps of luck growing kale. Just plant the seeds directly in the ground in Autumn (Fall) and it will grow right through the Winter. It will withstand severe frosts and actually tastes sweeter after the first frost.

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lemony kale-3

Addictive Lemony Kale

Inspired by my latest favourite YouTube cooking show, Bondi Harvest.

This is the type of thing I love to make when it’s just me for dinner. If I’m not super hungry I’ll just have a heaping bowl of the kale on it’s own because (IMHO) you can never have too much kale. But if I’m ravenous I’ll add some protein in the form of a poached egg or some cheese.

Enough for 1-2
large hunk of butter
1 bunch kale
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or crushed, optional
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 handfuls ricotta, optional

1. Heat butter on a medium heat in a largish saucepan.

2. Wash kale. Don’t dry as the water will help it steam. Cut into ribbons about 2cm (1in) or finer across the stem.

3. Add kale and garlic to the pot. Cover and cook stirring every few minutes until the kale has wilted down. Will take about 5 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat and stir in lemon juice. Season and serve with ricotta on top, if using.

VARIATIONS
dairy-PALEO free – use olive or coconut oil instead of the butter and serve the kale on its own or replace the cheese with a poached egg or some cooked chicken breast or thigh.

vegan – use olive or coconut oil instead of the butter and serve the kale on its own or replace the cheese with a huge handful of roasted nuts or chunks of avocado.

no kale? – will work with pretty much any greens such as spinach, baby spinach, chard (silverbeet), collard greens, beet tops.

different cheese – I’ve used ricotta here but most cheese will work well. Try goats cheese, parmesan, blue cheese, cottage cheese, cheddar, or some pan fried halloumi.

Video Version of the Recipe.

With love,
Jules x
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ps. What vegetable would you like to see me profile next on Stonesoup? Let me know in the comments below :)

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I‘m really not a huge fan of the term ‘superfood’. Basically because there tends to be lots of hype and a big price tag for something that may or may not taste any good.

So I was a bit hesitant to jump on the chia seed band wagon. But my curiosity got the better of me.

And you know what?

They are pretty tasty little suckers. Combined with their nutrition credentials they’re worthwhile having around.

So today I thought I’d share some chia seed facts in case you’ve been thinking about trying them yourself…

13 Things You Should Know About Chia Seeds

1. They pack a mean nutritional punch.
A look on the back of the chia seed pack says it all. They’re made up of protein, fat and dietary fibre. Plus there’s a heap of minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorous.

2. They’re high in fibre
So they’re going to keep you regular. And about 20% of the fiber is soluble. The beauty of soluble fiber is that it promotes a healthy digestive system by feeding the good microbes in your gut.

3. They can absorb A LOT of water.
Which means they bulk up and give you a full feeling for longer. Although if you aren’t drinking enough water, this can cause ‘blockages’ if you know what I mean… So make sure you stay well hydrated.

4. They have a crazy texture.
The seeds themselves aren’t too dissimilar to poppy seeds, nothing too crazy there. But add water and you have a completely different beast. Slimy or oozy is probably the best way to describe it. I really like it but I can see why you might be put off (don’t think about snot).

5. They come in different colours.
I’ve had black and white and apart from the visuals couldn’t really detect a difference.

6. They come in different forms.
You can buy whole seeds, chia bran, ground chia and chia seed oil. I’ve used whole seeds in the recipe below. And have been using the bran as my ‘go-to’ fiber source to have on yoghurt or in a smoothie because it’s gluten free and super low carb.

7. You can sprout them.
I haven’t tried it but remember the chia pet? Yes, if you decide you don’t like them you can always turn the rest of the packet into a member of the family.

8. They make a brilliant low carb breakfast.
I love them instead of oats in a bircher-style muesli. Use 1/4 cup chia seeds and 3/4 cup liquid such as milk, coconut milk or almond milk. If you like grated apple you can add that as well. Either soak overnight in the fridge or leave for 20 minutes if you’re short on time.

9. They are pretty expensive.
That ‘superfood’ label comes with a price tag. Definitely not for you if you’re cooking on a budget. But I’m sure as they become more widespread this will moderate itself.

10. They’re grown in Australia.
So if you’re in Oz you can support a local industry.

11. They’re high in Omega-3s
So if you’re not eating enough fish, they are a great alternative. Like the omega-3s in flax seeds, the chia omega-3s are a bit more difficult for our bodies to digest than fish omega-3s. So best to use ground chia seeds to make it easier on your body to get the goodies it needs.

12. They can be used as an egg replacer.
I haven’t tried this because I love eggs. But Sarah Wilson suggests combining 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water for each egg you’re replacing.

13. They’re not too hard to track down.
I live in a small country town and my supermarket stocks chia seeds. If yours doesn’t, try your local health food store or I’m sure you’d be able to get them online.

chia seed 'risotto'-3

Chia Seed & Mushroom ‘Risotto’

I have 2 warnings with this dish. If you’re not a fan of slimy or gooey textures, this won’t be the best recipe for you. If that hasn’t deterred you, make sure you drink lots of water to keep everything regular.

Enough for 2
3-4 tablespoons butter
4 field mushrooms, sliced
100g (3.5oz) chia seeds
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 large handfuls grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
large handful baby spinach, to serve

1. Heat half the butter in a medium saucepan. Cook mushrooms over a medium heat until well browned and soft. Remove and keep warm.

2. Add the rest of the butter, chia seeds and stock to your saucepan.

3. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes or until the texture is oozy like a good risotto.

4. Stir in parmesan and serve the ‘risotto’ with mushrooms on top and baby spinach on the side.

VARIATIONS
no chia seeds? – Make a red lentil ‘risotto’ instead. Use (200g / 7oz red lentils and 3 cups stock).

dairy-free / vegan – replace butter with extra virgin olive oil and replace parmesan with brazil nut ‘parmesan’.

no stock – like a regular risotto, we’re really relying on our stock to provide flavour. The only thing I’d consider trying is a mixture of tomato passata and water.

carnivore – cook some crumbled pork sausages with the mushrooms.

Video version of the recipe.

With love,
Jules x
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“Eat all the junk food you want
as long as you cook it yourself”

Michael Pollan

I just love this time of year. The mad dash to get everything ready for Christmas. The promise of lazy Summer holidays looming.

And of course the many opportunities to celebrate with my favourite things: good food, good company, good vino and good music.

But as you know, such celebrations can take a toll on one’s waistline. And with our wedding (!) just around the corner, I’m planning on finding the right balance between indulgence and moderation.

So today I thought I’d share my best tips for enjoying all the season has to offer without the usual regrets.

And I have a real treat of a recipe! It’s not exactly Christmassy but it’s the perfect example of what a difference tip number 1. can make.

5 Clever Ways to Indulge Guilt-Free

1. Make it yourself.
I love Michael Pollan’s quote about junk food. It’s pretty much how I get my indulgences. The beauty of making it yourself is that it limits the amount you can make (and eat).

But more importantly, by cooking at home you aren’t restricted by arbitrary profit margins, like junk food factories. This means you can usually afford to use the best quality ingredients, which are often the healthiest option. Or if you choose not to, at least you know exactly what went into your ‘junk food’ treat.

2. Minimise kitchen ‘picking’.
Don’t you hate when you spend hours in the kitchen, picking at things here and there only to sit down to your meal and not feel like eating anything because you’re so stuffed? This happens to me all the time so I’ve been experimenting with ways to avoid this cook’s treats curse.

My sister Nao gave me a brilliant idea. She always has fresh veg chopped in the fridge ready for emergency snacking. So when she walks into the kitchen to prepare dinner and is tired and super hungry, she chomps on carrots, celery or snow peas instead of filling up on tasting whatever she’s cooking.

I’ve tried it and it makes a huge difference for me when I’m tired in the evenings. So I’m planning to have some veg ready for my Christmas cooking.

My other approach this year will be to make sure I have a proper breakfast before I start cooking so I hopefully avoid having an empty stomach eroding my willpower.

3. Watch your plate sizes.
You know the old ‘dieters’ trick to use smaller plates because the same amount of food will look like a more generous serving than the same amount served on a larger plate. Well, I’ve been testing it out and this simple optical illusion does make a difference. So keep your plates small.

4. Be careful of serving ‘family style’.
When there is loads of delicious food in the middle of the table, it’s so easy to keep going back for more and completely over do it. There are two ways to avoid this old chestnut.

First is to only serve healthy things in the middle like big salads and veggies. And plate up the indulgent items individually. Leave leftovers in the kitchen so it’s more of an effort to go back for seconds.

But if you’re like me and you prefer to let everyone serve themselves, the other approach is to serve yourself everything you want to eat first. Lay it out on your place before you start eating. And then only refill your plate once that food is all gone and you’re sure you won’t be overdoing things by having more. Not as easy to master as the first strategy, but at least this way you can keep track of how much you’re actually eating.

5. Be mindful of your mouthful.
My favourite trick for eating mindfully isn’t counting how many times you chew, although that can work.

I prefer to just check in with myself as I’m eating. Each time I go to load up my fork I ask myself am I already chewing? If yes, I put the fork down and concentrate on fully enjoying my mouthful before I pick up my fork to go in for the next one.

Same goes with speaking when there’s food in my mouth (my mum was on to something!)

mac and cheese

Comforting (Yet Sophisticated) Mac & Cheese

When I was pregnant I really got into exploring the world of hard cheeses. There are so many amazing melting cheeses that really elevate the humble mac & cheese to something comforting yet tasty enough to please the most sophisticated palates.

My favourite is a combo of emmental, gruyere and raclette. But pretty much any cheese is good here. I often add a little parmesan for flavour. It’s a great way to use up any small scraps of cheese floating around your fridge. A touch of blue can be lovely but be careful it doesn’t over power.

Best served with a simple green salad to freshen things up.

enough for 2
1 onion
1/2 cup white wine
200g (7oz) cheese, grated
200g (7oz) short pasta
2 tablespoon double cream

1. Preheat oven to 180C and get a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

2. Meanwhile cook onion in a little oil over a medium low heat until soft but not browned. Add the wine and allow to simmer and reduce for a few minutes.

3. Cook pasta until almost tender (al dente). Drain well and return to the pot.

4. Quickly stir in onion mixture, 2/3s of the cheese and the cream. Divide between two oven proof dishes. Top with remaining cheese.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

VARIATIONS

dairy-free – you’re kidding right? Get your fix for a creamy pasta by making a traditional cabonara with just egg yolks and bacon instead.

grain-free – replace pasta with cauliflower chopped into florettes – about 1/2 head cauli for 2 people. Simmer or steam until almost tender then drain well.

gluten-free – just use a good commercial GF pasta or try the grain-free option above. There are some pretty good ones out there these days. Or replace with a drained can of chickpeas.

alcohol-free / tiny person-friendly – replace the wine with verjuice (unfermented unripe grape juice) or use a small squeeze of lemon juice for freshness instead. The other option is to skip the wine and replace the cream with sour cream.

no cream? – replace with a little butter or olive oil.

onion-free – replace with finely chopped celery or carrot or both. Or just skip it along with the wine.

Video version of the recipe.


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red christmas star

I really hope you have a lovely Christmas and wish you and your family all the best for the New Year.

Thanks so much for reading and being a big part of the Stonesoup community in 2013. I really appreciate your support!

Look forward to seeing you when Stonesoup returns on the 7th Jan.

With love,
Jules x
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