Cook this: Roast sweet potato, date & olive salad

In my precious Evernote app, I keep a folder of recipes that I continue to add to every time I see something delicious online that I plan to try at some point. One of those came from Little Market Kitchen last year in the form of a roast sweet potato, olive and date salad, and I kinda forgot about it… until now!

With Melbourne’s weather finally starting to turn a little warmer (sort of, in spurts…), it seemed the perfect salad for us – a good combination of fresh and roasted, substantial enough to call a meal, and with a brilliant twist of roasting not only the potato, but the olives and dates as well. I put my own twist on it, and here’s what I came up with…


Ingredients (serves 4):
– 1 large chicken breast
– 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
– 1 heaped cup of pitted dates
– 1 heaped cup of pitted olives (I like kalamata, but you can use any you like)
– olive oil
– 2 tbsp maple syrup
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tbsp seeded mustard
– baby spinach and rocket (as much or little as you like)
– a handful of crumbled feta cheese (or more, if you really like it)
– a handful of slivered almonds

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and spray a small baking dish with a little cooking oil. Add the chicken breast and drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle some salt and pepper over it. Into the oven to cook for around 20min, or until cooked through. Once it’s done, let it cool enough to be handled, then roughly chop it and set it aside.

2. Once the chicken is cooking, line an oven tray with non-stick baking paper.

3. Spread the cubes of sweet potato over the tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes – you can do this at the same time as the chicken if your oven has enough room.

4. Take the tray out, add the dates and olives to the sweet potato, and roast for another 10 minutes, then take out of the oven to cool a little.

5. That’s the hardest part! To make the dressing, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil and mustard. To put the salad together, layer the baby spinach and rocket, followed by the roast potato, olives and dates, then the chicken, and finally the feta, almonds and dressing. Enjoy 🙂

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Cook this: quick & healthy – Greek lamb meatball salad

Finally, the warmer weather of summer is coming to Melbourne… a little inconsistently, but it is coming! At the change of seasons, I like flicking through my More Please cookbook by Delicious Magazine’s Valli Little. Mum gave me this book years ago, and because it’s handily divided up by seasonal recipes, it’s one of those books I always go back to. As with most cookbooks I own, I don’t usually follow any of the recipes all the way through, but it’s great for a bit of inspiration. I based this recipe on one I saw in there for a Greek lamb meatball salad, trying to keep it quick, simple, FODMAP friendly and healthy – perfect for a mid-week summer dinner and left overs for lunch  : )

You’ll need (for 2 serves):

For the meatballs
– 250g lamb mince
– 1 tbsp sweet paprika
– 1 tbsp cumin powder
– 2 tsp dried oregano
– 1 tbsp garlic infused olive oil OR regular olive oil + 1 minced clove of garlic
– salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C and line an oven tray with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients in a large bowl with your hands.
3. Shape into small meatballs.
4. Heat a non-stick fry pan over medium heat and cook the meatballs for a few minutes, until browned on the outside.
5. Transfer to the oven tray and finish cooking for around 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked through (this will depend on the size of the meatballs).

 

For the dressing
– ½ – ⅔ cup plain Greek yoghurt (depending on how much you want to smother your salad with) – you can also use lactose free yoghurt if need be
– juice of ½ a small lemon
– 2 tbsp fresh mint leaves, roughly shredded

1. Stir it all together in a bowl and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

 

For the salad
– 1 – 2 cups cous cous, cooked according to packet instructions and cooled (depending on how hungry you are). You can also substitute this for quinoa if you need to be gluten free.
– ½ punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
– 1 cup sliced cucumber
– ¼ cup sliced kalamata olives
– ½ cup grilled, sliced capsicum (you can buy this from most delis if you want to make life even easier for yourself)
– 2 heaped cups of iceberg or cos lettuce, roughly chopped
– a few thin slices of red onion (leave this out if you’re low FODMAPing)

1. Depending on your preference, you can either combine everything in a large bowl and serve, or layer your salad like I did (cous cous on the bottom, followed by the other salad ingredients, then the meatballs).
2. Finally, spoon the yoghurt dressing on top, and you’re good to go!

Eat here: Lola Valentina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Lola Valentina
Hidalgo Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lola-Valentina/223565384385551

Let’s keep the international sunshine eats going for a bit longer and head over now from Thailand to Mexico 🙂 Lola Valentina couldn’t have been more different to everything else on Isla Mujeres…

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Going back to Isla Mujeres in January was so exciting for me, because although my last visit had only been for a day, I had the fondest memories of the place. One of my main regrets in not having longer there the first time around was missing the opportunity to try more of the food on offer; not this time!

While we stuck mostly with the dodgy looking but outstandingly delicious, mom-and-pop style corner stores and mobile eateries (read: tacos served off the back of motorbikes), Lola Valentina caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks. It looked way too nice, too hipster even, for this little Mexican Island. The menu was incredible – at first glance, it struck me as something like a Mexican Californian fusion kinda thing… anyway, it got my attention. We visited a few times over our Mexican sojourn, with the first visit being dinner:

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We have the chorizo manchego bombas on the left (perfect little starters that packed the biggest flavour punch), some sort of chili cheese stuffed chicken on a bed of mashed potato (husband’s) on the top right, and the piña colada chicken salad (mine) on the bottom right – highly recommend this one if, like me, you’ve spent a month and a half eating your way around cities like Chicago and New Orleans where deep fried, heavy, fatty foods are king! It was massive, fresh, and the coconut pineapple dressing was insane!!

 

We went back again two days later for breakfast, because the breakfast menu looked every bit as good as the dinner one. Husband’s breaky in the top photo below was a slightly spicy chorizo avocado taquito dish in refried beans – really, really tasty, but a bit much for me for breakfast! I had the very delicious and perfect on-a-hot-Mexican-morning yoghurt, granola & fruit bowl (bottom left) – some of the best granola I’ve ever had! And bottom right was THE THING to order – PB&J empañadas. Seriously. Inspired by a request from the owner’s daughter, Zoe, this is pure magic – creamy peanut butter, punchy jam and perfectly crispy deep-fried empañada shells. Best end to a breakfast and a 6 week international adventure ever!!

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Also highly recommended – the cocktails! Particularly the pineapple and ginger one – super refreshing for those hot afternoons, and it’s clearly healthy, too!

Honestly, looks can be deceiving – this place didn’t look like it really belonged from the first quick glance, but it quickly became a favourite. Incredible and creative food, the friendliest service, and only a few steps away from the beach; the beach which you should make your way to after you’ve eaten, for a nice, digestive relax in the sunshine…

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Eat here: Hellenic Republic Kew, Melbourne (Greek)

Hellenic Republic & Mastic
26 Cotham Rd, Kew, Melbourne
http://hellenicrepublic.com.au/
http://www.mastic.com.au/

 

So, when I took part in Melbourne’s Wanderlust 108 last weekend, I was more than content to be walking away having completed the 5km run in once piece, along with a delicious Mastic quinoa falafel for lunch on my way out. I was more than a little bit surprised to be contacted by Mastic a few days later to be informed that photo I’d posted on Instagram had actually won me a Mastic gift hamper! Thank you so much guys!

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Anyway, seeing as we were going to Kew to collect my winnings over the weekend, and it had been a bit of a long and trying week, we figured it’d be a good excuse to finally treat ourselves to a nice lunch at Hellenic Republic (yes, I know, the shame of living in Melbourne and still not having visited this place). We arrived around 12:45 on Sunday afternoon and were fortunately seated straight away (I know there can be a bit of a wait sometimes, so happy days!) at the big communal table with a few other couples spread around.

Before I hit the food, I have to mention how amazing the service was; I think that a lot of the time the expectation is that a lot of “nicer” restaurants can get away with having shitty service, because the reputation and the (often overpriced) food is just so good. But the team here were fantastic – they took the time to make sure we were happy with our seating, to explain the menu and the fact that they’re happy and able to work with any special dietary requests, and it was all done with a smile. When you’re already expecting great things from the food, having fantastic service to go with it makes the world of difference and turns an already good experience into a really memorable one.

Let’s get to the food now. First up, the pita bread ($5.00) with the beetroot and feta dip ($10.00). Soft, warm pita with chunky beetroot, tasty crumbled feta and a great drizzle of olive oil. It sounds silly, but having such a gorgeous bright dish to start off with really set up our expectations for a fantastic meal, and we weren’t let down!

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Next up, the kefalograviera saganaki with peppered figs ($15.00). This one stopped us both in our tracks – golden melted cheese is a thing of beauty as it is, but those caramelised, juicy, sweet figs were INCREDIBLE! I’d have happily eaten a bowl full of them and called it a day!!

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Next up was the infamous grain salad ($13.00) – lentils, freekeh, nuts, herbs, yoghurt, pomegranate. If salad always tasted this good, a lot more people would be eating it. Crunchy and tasty and those little ruby pomegranate seeds were magic.

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The grain salad was a perfect accompaniment to the main event: the slow roasted lamb shoulder (350g for $32.00). Wow. We knew we’d made the right choice when we looked up and realised that the other three couples sitting on the communal table with us had ordered the lamb and salad, too. It fell off the bone, was cooked perfectly, still just a little bit pink, and perfectly rendered fat with a few crispy charred bits to boot. The lemon yoghurt and sweet roasted garlic were just the cherries on top – absolutely perfect.

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It’s pretty rare for us to get to the end of a meal without thinking “should have ordered that instead of this,” or “the salad was a waste of calories,” “over priced, the food wasn’t that good for what we spent” or something along those lines. We both agreed that not only was our order perfect (and obviously popular choices given the amount of other tables we saw with the exact same dishes), but this was easily the best Greek either of us have ever had, and well worth the money we paid for it. If, like me, you still haven’t visited Hellenic Republic, maybe you think it’s not worth the hype, just can’t be bothered, too expensive, learn from my mistake – believe the hype and make plans to visit this weekend. Kali orexi!

 

Hellenic Republic Kew on Urbanspoon

Ladies who eat & blog: SCARF Community dinner @ Green Park

Hands up who’s heard of SCARF?! Not many, I’m guessing? That sucks… hopefully this will help spread the word about an awesome group who do some seriously good work for the community and also make some delicious food in the process!

So, my last attendance to a Scarf dinner was when I was in a past blogging life at Multicultural Melbourne, way back in 2011, and I’m a little ashamed that I haven’t been back since! You can read all about the amazing work Scarf do on their website, but the Readers Digest version is basically they’re an amazingly dedicated organisation taking disadvantaged youth and mentoring/training them up in all facets of the hospitality industry. Once a week, they take over a restaurant kind enough to donate their space for a few hours and run a full service. Told you they’re amazing! They are currently taking up residence at Green Park in Carlton North, where $40 gets you a two course set menu and the opportunity support a pretty great organisation that’s making a big difference. Everyone wins!

I can’t remember what made me think of it, but I simultaneously thought that I really wanted to head back for a long overdue Scarf dinner and organise a little catch up for some fellow lady bloggers. It really frustrates me to see how competitive women can be these days; at a time where we seem to be hearing about more and more women being attacked, bullied, hurt and victimised, when maybe more than ever we need to support each other and have each others backs (isn’t there already enough pressure on us without being mean and bitchy to each other, too?!), more and more women seem to be getting more and more competitive and judgmental towards each other instead. On the flip side, I’ve been lucky enough to have met some really incredible and inspiring women through blogging and would love to get to know some of them a little better! In the spirit of Scarf and doing good deeds, I thought it might be nice to get a group of women who’s work I really admire together for a great night  : )

IMG_8413So, allow me to introduce to you the lovely ladies who joined me for dinner this week:

Cass from Hungrycookie – Cass’s blog is about “all things fashion, food and travel” who brings you the latest in both food and fashion, both very important to Melbournians!

Terri from Little Wanderings – Terri is a bit of a blogging soul sister to me with so much in common – another Melbourne girl who loves her city, her food, and travelling the big wide world 🙂

Monique from Mon’s Adventure – Mon’s a foodie and a beautiful story teller, who always seems to be on and between fabulous adventures!

Sheena from Chasing A Plate – Sheena collaborates with Thomas for a beautifully photographed and written food journal, based on the belief that life is too short for bad food (amen!).

 

With the introductions over with, allow me to introduce the food and the host restaurant…

Green Park
815 Nicholson St, Carlton North, Melbourne
http://greenparkdining.com.au/

The Scarf menu, designed by Green Park’s chefs and executed by Scarf’s trainees, offered two entree and two main options (thank you very very much to Cass sitting next to me who coincidentally ordered the dishes I didn’t and let me try hers!)…

 

ENTREES:
Roast beetroot, feta, walnut and rocket salad (which I ordered, and was a really nice and light starter)…

IMG_8402… and the chicken liver parfait with onion jam and bread (so rich, so good!)

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MAINS:
Braised beef shin with cauliflower, bacon and hazelnuts (I was stoked with my choice – the beef was delicious and sooo tender, the perfectly little pile fell apart at the first poke with my fork! Also, the hazelnuts were the perfect addition!)…

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and the gnocchi with pumpkin, burnt butter and sage (it’s a classic for a reason, and it was done very well!):

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DESSERT:
Just the one option, and being lactose intolerant and quite unwell for the last week or so, I decided to forgo the deconstructed yoghurt cheesecake, but it looked very pretty and the ladies who did order it seemed pretty happy with it!

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The food was amazing, especially considering the fact that these were restaurant quality dishes made by trainees! They did a fantastic job and both the trainees and mentors should be incredibly proud  : )

Green Park on Urbanspoon

 

Everyone did a fantastic job, from the slightly nervous waitress who must have been at least a little daunted by the five loud women talking about everything from Hodor to potatoes, the waiter who wasn’t looking after our table but still more than happily took our photo at the end of the night, the mentors floating around making sure everything was running smoothly. Yeah, the food is great, but it’s about so much more than that.

If you’d like to do more than dine and support Scarf, you can book dinner right here, and someone will get back to you with a confirmation very quickly! And I must make sure I don’t leave it another four years before dining with Scarf again! Thank you for a great night, and we’re all wishing the trainees all the very best for the bright futures they’ll no doubt have in the hospitality industry!

Cook this: quick & healthy – lamb, haloumi & lentil salad

Every culture has their Easter traditions, most of them having something to do with food. Lamb is a popular choice in a lot of cultures, particularly European; references to the “sacrificial lamb” as a symbol of the crucified Christ pepper the writings in the Bible. While I’m not a religious person, I thought that I’d try to do a lamb dish at home this Easter long weekend; we had some beautiful Melbourne sunshine, despite the colder temperatures, as well as plenty of chocolate, so I went with a light salad option; it turned out surprisingly well, so I won’t be waiting for Easter to cook with lamb again!

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INGREDIENTS (for 2)
– small lamb back strap, around 200-300g
– salt, pepper and dried basil
– 100g haloumi cheese, sliced
– 1 tin lentils, drained
– 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
– ¼ cup fresh mint leaves

 

METHOD
1. Season your lamb with a little salt, pepper and basil. Two options to cook your lamb are:
a) fire up the BBQ , sear it on a lightly oiled hot plate for 2-3min on each side. Then, move it off the direct heat, close the BBQ lid and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how you like your meat cooked and how thick the back strap is.
b) sear the lamb on a hot pan on the stove with a little oil over high heat for 2-3min on each side, then transfer to the oven and cook 5 – 10 minutes (to your preference) at around 170°C.

2. While your lamb is resting after cooking, prepare the salad – throw the lentils, baby spinach and tomatoes together in a large bowl with a drizzle of olive oil.

3. Heat a non-stick fry pan over high heat and cook the sliced haloumi for a minute or two on each side, until it bubbles and turns a little golden and soft.

4. Divide the salad between two plates, top with the haloumi, sliced lamb back strap and mint leaves.

Cook this: quick & healthy – summer prawn & pomelo noodle salad

After almost 6 weeks of cold winter weather in America, it’s actually been kind of nice to have a bit of a warm summer (which is a strong statement from me, because I’m definitely more of a winter person and struggle in Melbourne’s hot weather)!

With warm weather comes the opportunity to put together some quick, healthy meals – the produce we get here is pretty good, and doesn’t need much done to it to make it taste good. It’s also a good time to experiment with salads (things like the pomelo – not an every day ingredient, but I saw it at the market over the weekend and got all excited because I’d used pomelo in a cooking class in Thailand and loved it!), and even though this is crazy easy and really doesn’t require any cooking, I wanted to still put it out there so that people can see that:
a) healthy food doesn’t have to taste like crap
b) salads don’t have to be boring

I think they are both really common misperceptions, and they were certainly big reasons that a lot of my clients struggled with their diets and weight loss goals while I was working as a personal trainer. Anyway, summer salad, get around it!

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Summer Prawn & Pomelo Noodle Salad

To make 2 serves, you’ll need…
– 1 bundle soba noodles, cooked as per directions on packet
– 1 carrot, peeled and grated
– 1 cup snow peas, blanched and halved
– 200g shrimp, cooked (I just fried mine lightly in a little cooking spray oil)
– half cup of pomelo segments
– 2-3 tsp sesame oil to pour over the top
– garnishes (if you wish): torn mint leaves, thinly sliced spring onion (green bits only) and toasted sesame seeds

Pretty easy – just throw it all into a bowl and enjoy!