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Puy Lentil, Pork & Fennel Sausage Stew with Juniper Berries

Last winter I visited some friends who live in country Victoria and they made this delicious stew for me – a simmered sausage and lentil dish with juniper berries. I never got the recipe from them, but I came up with my own and I’ve been making this ever since. This is an incredibly tasty dish – the flavours are intense and piquant, and the combination of sausages and lentils is one I find irresistable.

It’s really important to get good quality sausages for this. You don’t have to use pork and fennel, but I’ve made it with other types of sausages and I can tell you it won’t be quite as good. Whatever type you choose, just make it is the best quality you can find.

Don’t be tempted to cut corners by using tinned lentils, or substituting the Puy lentils for red or green ones – you won’t get the same result unless you use the little black dried lentils that hold their shape when cooked.

Serves 5-6

  • 500 g good quality pork & fennel sausages (from a continental butcher, if you have one near you)
  • 2 cups Puy (French) lentils
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (use malt vinegar if you can’t get sherry vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed a bit to release their flavour
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • water

Wash the lentils in cold water, place in a large pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for ten minutes, strain and set aside.

While the lentils are simmering, slice the sausages into approx 10cm pieces and set aside. Chop the onion and saute with olive oil in a large heavy based saucepan or casserole dish for about 5 minutes. Dice the celery and carrot, and add to the onions with the garlic clove, finely chopped and the rosemary. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are just softening.

Add the sausages cook, turning, for approx 5 minutes until the sausages are just browning on all sides. Add the vinegar and cook until it’s slightly evaporated – just half a minute or so –  then add the red wine and do the same. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, lentils, chilli, juniper berries, and bay leaves. Swish the water around in the tomato cans and add. Season with salt and pepper.

Simmer the stew on a low heat for approx 45 minutes – checking frequently to ensure it’s not catching on the bottom, and to add more water if required.

I like to serve this with big hunks of sourdough bread and steamed silverbeet chopped and tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. And a glass of red wine, of course 🙂


Chicken and Potato Curry with Coconut, Lime and Cinnamon

When it comes to curries, I find it hard to stick to the rule book. This curry is really a hybrid: southern Indian, Malay, Thai. Who cares. It’s easy to make (in spite of the long list of ingredients), aromatic and utterly delicious.

Serves 3-4

  • 500g skinless chicken drumsticks (I like the chicken to simmer in the curry on the bone, which makes it tender. If you prefer, use sliced chicken fillets)
  • 3 medium sized potatoes (any variety in season will do)
  • 1-1.5 cups coconut milk
  • 1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • fresh coriander
Curry paste:
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • about 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 red birdseye chilli, seeds included (1 chilli will make it mildly spicy; use more or less, depending on taste)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cummin
  • juice of one lime
Preheat oven to 180c (you can use oven or stovetop – I prefer oven as you don’t have to keep checking so often).
Peel and cut potatoes into just bigger than bite sized pieces.
Place all the curry ingredients in a food processor and process until a chunky paste.
Heat some oil in a flameproof casserole dish (or large heavy based saucepan/pot if doing on the stove).
Add the paste to the heated oil, stir for a minute or two (stand back a little, it will make your eyes water!)
Add the chicken, coat in the curry paste, and cook for about 5 minutes, turning. Add the potato pieces and coat in the mixture. Stir over heat for a minute.
Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, lime leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Stir to combine. Place in oven for at least one hour, but no more than 1.5. Check throughout to see if it needs a little water or extra coconut milk. When cooked,  the meat should come easily away from the bone.
If cooking on the stove top, reduce the heat to as low after adding the last ingredients, simmer for an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes to stop the bottom sticking, adding more liquid if needed.
When cooked, remove the meat off the bones if you want to, or serve on the bone.
Served with steamed rice and chopped coriander.

A Food Blogger Writes About Football

So what does food have to do with football, and why would I write about it here? There’s no connection really. I just think about football a lot.

I’m a relative newcomer to AFL. I moved to Melbourne from Sydney in 1999, where my interest in Rugby League had been perfunctory. The few games I had been to were an ordeal. The typical crowd member was aged 18-45, white, straight, and male. Is it the cheerleaders, guys?

It was a revelation to come to Melbourne and find that all the women in the office were in the footy tipping competition, and to go to a game of football and see many different faces. It was a great experience to feel included.

I got my first inkling that there may be something about AFL that was so much better than NRL.

My mate Karen and I had moved to Melbourne at the same time, and after a year, decided to support the Western Bulldogs. Really though, the Dogs chose us. By the time we got to the end of the 2000 season, it was never going to be any other team. They didn’t win much, but they had what we were looking for: heart, soul, spirit, guts. There was an emotional connection that we couldn’t ignore. We just loved them.

Many people have asked my why I chose a team that had only won one Premiership, 45 years earlier. I just shake my head at such comments. That Bullldogs supporters are so passionate when they have so rarely been rewarded with the game’s highest prize is what I admire about the Club’s culture: loyalty, and the sheer determination to survive and keep going.

Fast forward 11 years and still no Premiership.

This year, after so much promise in the previous two, my Club has simultaneously raised my hopes, dashed them, restored them, broke my heart, inspired me, thrilled me, frustrated, delighted and devastated me.

Bulldogs supporters always talk about next year and it’s something of a cliché to do so, but many things point to a better 2012. Electrifying new talent, recovery from injuries; the best form of their careers of some of our senior players, and a new broom with whoever will be our coach.

But one thing will never be the same again at the Western Bulldogs.

Since his switch to the Bulldogs two years ago, Barry Hall has been embraced by the Bulldogs faithful as though he’d always been one of ours. Many players divide fans, but I’ve never heard of a Bulldogs supporter who doesn’t love Barry.

How can we not? Sure it’s easy to love the guy who kicks a bag just about every game, but it’s not just that. He adds excitement, class and a rare kind of presence to the game. At times, like a caged lion on the field, but never off.

The big lovable bugger is going to leave a hole in all our hearts. Today, I’ll be taking my son to watch Barry play his last game, and I don’t expect to get through the day with dry eyes.

I sometimes find myself wondering why I love AFL so much. I guess it’s because in my adopted home, I feel part of something now, a connection that’s tribal.

But it’s also that in a city obsessed with one sport – the greatest spectator sport in the world – I’ve found a Club that gives me a lump in my throat like nothing else.

For Barry Hall, Mitch Hahn, and Ben Hudson. Thanks guys.

Diary: The $10/Day Food Challenge for East Africa

This diary relates to my previous post.

I’m costing what I eat each day, including meals I make for my son, to see if we can live on $10 a day for all food and drink, (including alcohol – !). At the end of the week I will donate the balance between what I’ve lived on and what I budgeted for.

I hope to also demonstrate that you can eat nutritious and decent food on a small budget.

The costings are my rough estimates. I am costing all meals even where I have used ingredients I had already purchased, or food acquired at no cost – eg food given to me by friends, or eaten at work or other functions. The amount costed for each meal represents only what was consumed at that meal, not the total cost of making the dish.

Anyone can take up this challenge at any time that suits them.



Although on most days I went a little over my target, I felt really pleased overall with how I did. The point of the task that I set is to make the daily amount a goal – if you go a little over, it’s not failure. Look at it as a realisation of the difference in our lives, where $10 (or whatever amount you have chosen) seems so little, yet for so many it is a significant amount of money. Think about how you’ve begun to appreciate things differently. Take what you’ve learnt about living on less and try and apply it to daily life beyond the challenge. That’s what I’ve tried to do.

All up, my total for the 7 days came to nearly $77. My typical household budget is pretty frugal to start with, but if I factor in the occasional coffee, glass of wine out, or a takeaway Asian or sushi that I might have normally had in a week, a typical week’s food budget would have been about $130. So I’ll be donating the difference.

Things that were hard: trying to come up with meals that were cheap but diverse. If I do it again, I will put more planning into it. I was sick of lentils by the end of the week – and I love lentils! Also, if I’d had a social engagement during the week it would have been a blowout. If you are going to do the challenge and this happens to you, extend it by one more day to compensate. There is no point doing this and beating yourself up over it, or making it impossible to try and stick to.

Things I am proud of: realising we could have fish and chips, and pizza, for under $10 a day. It really is possible, and in fact, the fast food you make at home is not only cheaper, it’s so much better!


Breakfast: Boiled eggs, toast, an orange $2

Lunch: Cheese toasties, fruit bun $1.20

Afternoon tea: apple 70c

Dinner: Homemade pizza with fresh ricotta and roast broccoli – $3; bottle of Aldi Shiraz/Merlot $2.50

Total: $9.40

Comment: How on earth do takeaway pizza places manage to stuff it up so badly? And why do people buy it? Homemade pizza is just so much better and a fraction of the cost. I bought some fresh ricotta at La Latteria on Elgin Street in Carlton – they make it on the premises – and it was utterly divine with the roast broccoli. To make your own tomato sauce – saute an onion until golden, add the garlic, some herbs such as basil, sage or oregano, two tins of diced tomatoes and salt & pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes, puree. Freeze what you don’t use.


Breakfast – Cereal and strawberries, toast, tea $1.80

Morning tea: fruit bun 30c

Lunch: Leftover spaghetti (my son); burek from the Queen Vic Market (me) $3.30

Dinner: Beer battered leatherjacket, roasted bintje potato chips, roast broccoli $5.50

Total: $10.90

Comment:  Three cheers for the Queen Vic Market, where I was able to pick up broccoli for $2/kilo, really cheap bintje potatoes, and leatherjacket for $6.80/kilo. I felt triumphant making fish n chips for $5 for two serves, although I had to fillet my own fish to do it.  Leatherjacket is an affordable and sustainable fish – get on it. I went over my limit with my burek purchase, but I can’t resist them, and at $2.50 they are best value lunch you can get.


Breakfast: Coffee & toast – 80c

Morning tea: Fruit buns – 60c

Lunch: Lentil & vegetable soup $1

Afternoon tea: Lemon slice, apple $1

Dinner: Spaghetti with bolognaise & spinach sauce pulled out of the freezer (my son), aglio e olio (me); a few glasses of wine $13.70

Total: $17.10

Comment: So sick of lentils rice and beans! The spaghetti was a welcome change. Bit of a blowout with the wine, but a friend dropped round and it had been a tough day. Also I’m realising that other than the soup, we’ve been very light on fresh vegies. Must fix that tomorrow.


Breakfast: Porridge with blueberries, milk, and honey; cup of tea $1.40

Morning tea: homemade fruit buns (1 each) – 60 c

Lunch: salad of brown rice, tuna, tinned beans, herbs, 1 small child’s yoghurt, piece of dark chocolate – $3.80

Afternoon tea: half an orange, crackers, cheese and olives. $1.70

Dinner: lentil & vegetable soup. $2

Total: $9.60

Comment: A bit groundhog dayish, but it’s been a busy working week and I need to use up the soup and rice, and I’ve stayed within budget.


Breakfast: cereal, toast and 1 boiled egg (my son), cup of coffee (me) $1.80

Morning tea: homemade fruit buns (1 each) – 60 c

Lunch: salad of brown rice, tuna, tinned beans, herbs, egg and olive (both of us), 1 small child’s yoghurt  – $4.20

Afternoon tea: half an orange; 3 wholewheat crackers; small piece of dark chocolate $1.20

Dinner: lentil & vegetable soup; leftover chicken, broccoli & rice noodle stir fry; another fruit bun. $2.80

Total: $10.60

Comment: Making a batch of fruit buns on Monday night (left overnight to rise, baked on Tuesday morning in 20 minutes while getting ready for school/work) was a great cost saver. Buying them anywhere else is around $1-$2 per bun but you can make them for about 30c a piece (and they are soooo good!). The brown rice and nicoise tuna salad tossed with mayonnaise was healthy and delicious, although my son didn’t have the olives in his. Lentil soup for dinner topped off a healthy day’s eating. I could have left out a few ingredients in the salad and kept under budget, but I’m happy with our efforts today.


Breakfast: Porridge made with frozen blueberries, honey & milk; cup of coffee. $1.50

Morning tea: Apple 80 c

Lunch: White bean & vegetable soup (frozen leftovers); piece of lemon slice (thanks Karen!). $3

Pre dinner: Crackers, cheese and olives. $1.50

Dinner: Rice noodle, chicken & broccoli stir fry (using leftover chicken from soup); lentil & veg soup with cavalo nero $4

Total: $10.80

Comment:  I went a bit over today because I didn’t make it to the Vic Market to get fresh food on Sunday. But
 I made a big pot of my lentil & vegetable soup with the last of the vegetables I had in the fridge tonight. It will keep me going for the next few days, plus it’s delicious and extremely nutritious. Lentils are high in soluble fibre and protein, and low in fat. And cavalo nero is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat.


Breakfast: Porridge made with frozen blueberries, honey & milk; cup of tea. $1

Lunch: Chicken and avocado sandwich on multigrain bread; cup of coffee. $3.50

Dinner: Leftover chicken noodle soup and leftover lentil shepherd’s pie. $4

Total: $8.50

Comment: So far so good. Oats are a great cheap breakfast and are fantastically healthy (a low GI carbohydrate that lowers cholesterol). When you combine them with a few blueberries, they make a powerhouse of a start to your day. I haven’t had to cook yet as I’ve had enough leftovers in the fridge.

The One Week $10 A Day Food Challenge for East Africa

“We cannot let children die. This is the 21st century. ” – Mary Robinson, Oxfam Ambassador & Former Irish President

Some of us on this big, unequal, fragile planet have enough food, and enough discretionary time that we are fortunate enough to luxuriate in it. We exalt food, and more and more of us write about it, photograph it and constantly discuss it among a growing online community.

The current horrific reality for the people of the Horn of Africa could not be more obscenely contrasted.

As someone who participates in that food obsession, I feel a particular responsibility to pay attention to a food crisis, especially when it is on such a devastating scale.

I’m sure you’ve all heard some of the shocking figures about the crisis: 11 million people affected; 500,000 children are at risk of starvation right now. 

I highly recommend reading this interview with Mary Robinson, and watching  this talk by UN World Food Program chief Josette Sheeran.

But if you’ve already donated what more can you do? You’ve only got so much to give, right? Right.

If we think more deeply, however, about food justice, then we can see opportunities to change things permanently in our own lives and lessen food inequalities. Changes such as making better food choices, eating only what we need, not wasting food, and being more aware and respectful.

And for one week, we can convert those changes into dollars for the current crisis in East Africa.

So, join me on my one week $10 A Day Eating Challenge. 

Here’s how it works.

Note, this is just a rough guide, so if you have a household of 3, 4 or more, figure out what a reasonable amount is that is challenging but realistic, while saving money. If you don’t think you can do it on $10, make it $12 – as long as you are changing habits, becoming aware and raising some funds, that’s all that matters.

I’m starting this tomorrow (Sunday 31 July). You can start with me, or do it whenever you’re ready. And by all means, do two weeks if you can.

1. Estimate how much you spend on food and drink (include alcohol) in a week.

2. Put aside $10/day to live on for a household of up to two.

3.  At the end of the week, subtract 2. from 1. above, and donate the difference to a Horn of Africa famine appeal.

Some things to think about:

  • Plan your meals in advance and shop accordingly.
  • Think about curbing social activities, or doing them differently (instead of meeting out for drinks, have drinks at someone’s home with everyone bringing something)
  • Use what’s already in your cupboards and don’t buy what you don’t need.
  • Instead of doing one trip to the supermarket and blowing your entire week’s budget, go to a market if you can and buy what’s on special.
  • Stock up on some basics like lentils, rice, onions, potatoes and tins of tomatoes.
  • Make coffee at home, rather than buying it out.
  • Take your lunch to work
  • Follow my blog and Facebook page for tips on what to cook
  • Share your progress and food saving tips here or on my Facebook page.

For your donation:

What else you can do:

Happy Easter. And Lest We Forget.

From my kitchen.

Top 5: Favourite Cookbooks

Choosing a favourite cookbook is like choosing a favourite dessert. Or child. There are certainly books I love dearly that are not on this list. But if I had to go and live on a desert island and could only take five, I would take these (assuming of course that someone has built a kitchen for me on this island). Why these? Because they pass the test I set for myself of what a favourite cookbook should be: it must be enduring, timeless and comprehensive. It must be a cookbook that you keep coming back to again and again, and one that you would leave to your children.

You may notice that my top 5 cookbooks are all by women. Nothing against blokes who cook – far from it. Perhaps it’s something to do with the type of food I like – traditional food, classic recipes to make at home for every day cooking, or special occasions. Not food to put on a pedestal. I don’t mean to be controversial about this – I love the cooking of Jamie Oliver, Neil Perry, David Thompson, Rick Stein, et al.  And I get off on Anthony Bourdain as much as the next person. But these just happen to be the books I take down off the shelf more often than any others.

What are your favourite cookbooks, and why?

1. Claudia Roden – A New Book of Middle Eastern Food

I bought this 20 years ago from Gleebooks in Sydney. There are no pictures: it has more of a Penguin novel than a cookbook feel to it. Egyptian-born Claudia is almost a food historian of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. The recipes alone in this book are an incredible collection, the historical vignettes she presents around them make it even more special. This is a cookbook you can curl up in bed with for a good read.

Favourite recipes: stuffed capsicums; chicken awsat (chopped chicken mixed with mint, pistachios and cooked chicken livers, and stuffed into a loaf of bread – just incredible); dolmades; cheese & spinach pastries.

2. Pleasures of the Table – Florence Fabricant

This was a gift from a good friend 23 years ago on the, wait for it, occasion of my wedding. Yes, I was a child bride, and the cookbook has outlasted the marriage by well over 20 years. I couldn’t cook when I was given this book, and stashed it away in storage. Years later, bitten by the food bug, I dusted it off, and was thrilled to discover it was full of timeless classics. It’s like finding old Vogue Entertaing mags from the 80’s in opshops –  you pounce on them because you just know they will never go out of fashion. Florence still writes for the New York Times.

Favourite recipes: vitello tonnato; raspberry cream tart.

3. Feast – Nigella Lawson

I know it’s probably a bit cliched and predictable to have a Nigella book on the list, but it passes the test with flying colours. I’ve repeatedly cooked so many things from this book that it is a classic in my kitchen.  At her best, she is the queen.

Favourite recipes: cranberry, oat and white chocolate biscuits; chilli con carne with cornbread topping; old fashioned chocolate cake; basil and goat cheese dip; beetroot puree.

4. Apples for Jam – Tessa Kiros

My sister gave me this cookbook for my birthday when my son was one year old and I don’t know if even she realises how perfect the timing of this gift was. If you only had one cookbook for every day meals with children, this should be it. I adore Tessa Kiros and everything she does, and the cookbook is not only practical, but utterly lovely to look at.

Favourite recipes: banana bread; traditional lasagne; beetroot gnocchi; chocolate and cranberry biscuits; sausage and potato goulash.

5. The Complete Asian Cookbook – Charmaine Solomon

I’m cheating a little here because I don’t own this book anymore, but I used to and I loaned it or lost it. I used this fantastic book to death in my early 20’s when I was first learning how to cook, and I have had a soft spot for this great lady ever since. Charmaine’s contribution to Asian cooking has never been properly acknowledged, in my view.

Runners up: Old Food, Jill Dupleix; The Food I Love, Neil Perry; The Paris Cookbook, Patricia Wells; Preserved by Nick Sandler & Johnny Acton

And finally, my favourite cookbook to NOT cook from: the wonderfully camp and kitsch cookbook of former South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan. You would never see a former political leader publishing a cookbook any more, sadly.

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