Showing posts from 2020


Many years ago I had an office in Lonsdale St. On one cold day I ventured into a Chinese restaurant near China town to grab some lunch. I stood at the counter and looked at the colourful pictures of the meals on the wall behind it and ordered something called a laksa because the colours looked so good. I'd never had a laksa before that day and my (taste bud) world changed. Since that lunchtime surprise, I have been on the hunt for really good laksas and mostly end up being disappointed. The bar was set pretty high by that first encounter.Early on in my quest I bought one of those laksa packs you get from the supermarket. A mistake, say no more. I'd glanced at recipes every now and again but never really had the inclination to try a proper one having convinced myself I'd be disappointed. And they all looked so complicated. For my birthday, Maria bought me a wonderful cookbook from a great little book and gift shop in Bangalow; The Chicken Soup Manifesto. It has authentic ch…

Roasting rack hack

Earlier today I say, "Babe, how about we do that chickpea and spinach curry?" "I feel like roast chicken" she says.When we did a roast (yeah I know, 2 roasts in a week) last time I just threw everything in the roasting dish. Today, because we were in the shops in Lismore, I decided to look for a roasting rack. Two major problems, (i) size and weight: its gotta fit in the smallish roasting dish we've got in the van, and (ii) they don't sell them separately. After poking around for a while I started looking for things I could use instead of the real thing, and found myself pondering the utility of a vegetable steamer. We gave it a crack and it worked great. Nice and light (for the van) and fitted nicely in our square oven dish. Not perfect, I'd say, but it did what I wanted, lifted the food above the base and the juices in the dish.

Fish soup (with miso)

We had a fillet of deep sea bream which I was going to use last night for dinner but we went out and had burgers instead (!) so had to use for lunch today.It's been raining constantly this morning, so we felt like bunkering down and having something nourishing and warm.Servings2Ingredientssesame oil (couple of glugs)dollop of minced gingerdecent handful of finely sliced red cabbagedecent handful of finely sliced kale1 litre of miso stock (about a dessert spoon of miso paste)few glugs of soy saucefew dashes of fish oilabout 300g of fish (bream), cubedMethod sauté the ginger, cabbage and kale in the sesame oil for a few minsadd the stock, soy sauce and fish sauce and bring to a simmeradd the fish and cook for few mins until the fish is cooked but still tendergarnish with sesame seeds and dried shallots

Old school roast

No recipe necessary. Get a roasting dish. Toss the chopped veggies in olive oil, pepper and salt. Bung it all in the oven including the meat with some unpeeled garlic until its cooked. Make the gravy just like your nanna did at the last minute. Then, when you thought you were full, mash the left over veggies in the left over gravy and eat some more ...

Fettuccini with fresh tomatoes and pork sausage

We were going to make risotto last night with some sausage we had in the freezer, but when it cam time to cook we felt like something lighter, so tonight we had to use the sausage. We paired it with some fresh tomatoes to give us a hearty and good feed.Servings2Time about 30 mins 
Equipment Saucepan for boiling the pastaPan to make the sauceknife and chopping boardcolander

Ingredients oil (decent glug)½ onion (diced)3 cloves garlic, crushed500g fresh tomatoes, chopped2 x pork sausages, cut into pieces½ bunch flat leaf parsleypepper and salt200g fettuccini

Method bring saucepan of salted water to the boilSauté onions in the oil until translucentAdd sausage pieces and brownAdd garlic and tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes break down and form a start to form a sauceAdd the pasta to the saucepan and cook until al denteDrain pasta and add to pan (with sauce) along with parsley, stir through and serve

Paella with seafood and chorizo

I read somewhere once that paella was party food. Not in the same way party pies and frankfurters are, but in the sense that when you put a paella dish on the table, its invites a celebratory mood. Indeed it does. I've got my good mate Gavan to thank for getting me onto paella, and the sofrito he shared with me is the key to this recipe ... magic juice. Some recipes integrate the sofrito into the dish. I like this approach because we make enough of it to store in small containers in the freezer (sometimes twice the recipe below), so when the the occasion calls for paella, the preparation effort is drastically reduced. We keep a paella dish in the van, so when we leave home for a decent stint, the sofrito from the freezer comes with us.Perhaps like no other dish, I was determined to figure out how to cook paella properly, and in particular, how to end up with socarrat, one of the most important parts of an authentic paella, and for me, an indicator that I was getting the hang of it…

penne with greens

One evening, and long time ago at home, Maria decided she wanted pasta, but something fresh and light ... so what we refer to as 'pasta with greens' was born. At home we eat it almost weekly, but until tonight, it hasn't been done in our little kitchen in the van.It's uncomplicated. Green veggies, with the classic flavours of olive oil, garlic, pepper and lemon, and then we break up some Meredith marinated goat cheese over the top. Easy, quick, tasty ... what's not to like?Servings
Time about 30mins 
Equipment saucepan for boiling pastapan for sautéing greensknife and chopping boardcolander for draining pasta

Ingredients Oil2x garlic cloves, dicedchopped green veggies: we used 5x kale leaves, 1 x zucchini, 1 flower of broccoli juice of ½ lemon Pepper2 squares of goats cheese200g penne pasta
Bring (at least) 1½ litre of water to the boilHeat oil a few glugs of oil in the pan and add the garlic (careful not to burn it)Add the veggies, the chunkiest bits first, and t…

new go-to

My Japanese style chicken broth has fast become a favourite. Tonight I reckon the broth was the best I've done, so this to note the formula. 4 x chicken thighs browned in sesame oilsimmered (slightly uncovered) for 2 hours in 1 litre of miso stock (~ desert spoon of paste) and about ¼ cup soy sauceadded 500ml of chicken stock at the end(the kale and purple cabbage were great, and the pickled ginger is the X factor.

instant noodles post and vans style

So I go on about real food and all that ... so where do instant noodles fit into that???Truth is we often keep a couple of tubs of instant noodles in the cupboard: post exercise carb load or 'can't be bothered lunch or snack. They usually get spiced up with veggies, cold meat, eggs ...We got home late tonight, not much in the fridge. We were tried (can't be bothered cooking) so we swung past the IGA and picked up some salmon. Maria made a salad, and me ... with some soft poached eggs and celery leaves ... voilà.

cheat's saag with beef

Picked up some curry paste from the fellas from Church Farm, added some coconut milk and loads of spinach to make a saag, and cooked some diced beef in it for four hours. Good. ... but the plated dish, even with carrots looks rubbish.

Fettuccini with Maria's sauce

Pasta with a tomato based sauce can be comfort food, but for us it is more. It is more like centring food. We don't have pasta when we can't think of anything else, we have it when we need it. Maria will say, "I think I feel like pasta tonight," which is code for saying, let's have food that reminds us who we are.
When we left Barwon Heads over two months ago we loaded the van freezer with some goodies from our chest freezer at home, which included some pork mince from Koallah Farm from where we regularly order meat. Yesterday at the Mullum Farmers' Market, Maria spotted a stall with some good looking fresh tomatoes, so the pieces came together ...
In our delineation of duties in our relationship, tomato based pasta is Maria's portfolio :-).
Servings 6 (for the sauce, 2 for now and 4 to freeze or give away)
Time about 2 hours. 
Equipment I used (main) PanChopping boards and knifeSaucepan for pastaWooden spoon, tongs for servingGrater (for parmesan) Ingredients Oil1…

Baked cauliflower and potato soup with Italian sausage (or Sicilian olives for veg option)

Soup. When we are wondering what to make up for dinner, putting together a soup with what's in the cupboard or fridge is always an option. Today it was potatoes and cauliflower, but we cranked it up with some Italian sausage and some trusty spices. The Sicilian olives worked well too ... I pulled a bottle out of the cupboard for my second helping!
Time about 1 hour. 
Equipment I used (main) SaucepanPan (for sausages)baking dishChopping boards and knifeWooden spoon, tongs for turning sausages and ladle for servingMeasuring 'cup' for stockBowl (for chopped cauliflower)BlenderGrater
Ingredients Oil1 onion, diced (I would have preferred a leek if I had one on the fridge)2x garlic cloves, diced1 tbs cumin1 tbs ground coriander1 x cinnamon stick 3 x small potatoes1 x small cauliflowerChicken stock (1 litre)2 x Italian sausages (or small bottle of pitted Sicilian olives)Pepper and saltHandful of grated cheese (tasty)

Method Cut the potatoes into smallish pieces and place in bak…


I had a pizza base in the cupboard that needed using. Luckily we had some fresh basil in the fridge and some cherry tomatoes, so with some passata, mozzarella, pepper and salt I was good to go. To top it off, I drizzled some olive oil from Maria's family in Abruzzo. We keep a bottle of it in the van pantry for occasions just like this. (One of the pieces of 'specialist equipment' we keep in the van is a pizza stone ... first time we've pulled it from under the seat on this trip.)

a plate of veggies

We were out and about today, and our lunchtime toasties were a bit average, so we were keen for something wholesome. One of the things in the fridge was a bag of gourmet mushrooms from the farmers market; we were keen to use them so we ended up building the meal around them.Potatoes and carrots (both also from the farmers market) baked with onion, garlic and some mixed herbs. The kale and mushroom, and some char grilled brussel sprouts) were pan fried in butter, oil and a drizzle of white balsamic glaze.So good and satisfying.

Slow cooked lamb shanks, Italian style

Up the hill from Ballina is a little town called Alstonville that is home to a great little deli and butcher. When we called in recently one of the things that caught my eye were a couple of the plumpest looking lamb shanks I'd ever seen. We don't cook red meat that often but these shanks were calling out to me, so here we go. 
Slow cooked meat is pretty simple really, some fry-able veggies, some liquid and some flavour enhancers and you're good to go. This recipe, as is typical for me, gleans ideas from a few sources and is constrained by what we've got in the fridge or what we can buy easily.
Servings 2 (Normally I'd say 1 shank per serve, but these were huge, so we cooked both and plan to share one, and use the other for a pasta sauce tomorrow :-))
Time Time to chop and prepare ingredients, then at least hours 2½ cooking time. (2½ hours is the magic number if you want soft tender meat.)
Equipment (main) Cast iron enamel potSaucepan (for potatoes)Tongs (for browning sha…


Boring and really important.
One of the critical decisions to make when setting up your little kitchen is which pots to include. Over many years, we find this set serves us really well. Surprisingly, I have never 'wished' for another style pot, these have done the trick for the two of us.
I'll divide the pots into two sections, everyday and specialist (occasional use).
One of the considerations is the small stove top. Large pans or standard woks for example, are too big to position so the heat is under the centre. And, you will need to be able to put dishes beside each other, so anything too big will limit the number of pots in use at anyone time.
So what do we use?:

Three everyday pots 1. 24cm wide, deep heavy base fry pan (with lid). We use this for frying (obviously) but also for risottos, pasta sauces etc.  2. 20cm saucepan, also with a heavy enough base to be able to fry off onions etc if needed. (with lid) 3. 22cm cast iron enamel pot for soups, slow cooking etc. Can be used…

Japanese style chicken broth

Inspired by a lunch dish Johanna had in Maleny a couple of days ago, I decided to have a crack at a style of chicken soup a bit different to my 'go to' traditional chicken soup. The lighter tasting broth seasoned with some soy sauce and the pickled ginger make this a flavoursome and deeply satisfying soup. Very happy.

Servings 2 (generous) 
Time about 2 hours. 
Equipment I used (main) Pan (with simmer pad)Saucepan (for rice)Chopping boards and knifetongs and ladle for servingMeasuring 'cup'Bowls (for chopped ingredients)

Ingredients Sesame oil, couple of glugs½ onion, diced2x garlic cloves, slicedChicken thighs (1 per person / serving)Vegetable stock (500mls)Water (1 litre)Soy sauce (couple of splashes)Vegetables (I used 6x brussel sprouts, finely sliced because I had some, but soem finely sliced cabbage would be perfect too; and some baby broccoli, cut / sliced into match stick size) Rice (I used brown jasmine, ½ cup)Pickled ginger (Japanese style, I used a few slices per ser…

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