Summer Tomato Salad

This past weekend I popped in to a fruit and vege store I haven’t been into for ages and I felt like a kid in a candy store! Of late I’ve been buying fresh produce from the supermarket as it is so much easier getting it all in one place, but my boys were at cricket and I had a little more time than usual. I can’t say there was all that much difference in price, but a little more variety and I loved all the specialty jars, seasonings, health food and other interesting stuff they had in store.

Summer Tomato Salad

We’ve had a glorious summer so far, but that has meant more perfume, blossoms and dust in the air, bringing with them their own various ailments: runny noses, itchy eyes, sinus headaches, sore throats, etc. Trying to eat a healthy diet is never a chore in our home as we all enjoy fresh seasonal fruit and veges, but I seem to run out of ideas and end up getting bored with the same old salads and lack of inspiration.

My trip to this particular store planted a few seeds for new ideas and now I can’t seem to get through my purchases quickly enough to try them all out. The array of different tomatoes on offer, yellow, orange and red cherry varieties, sweet campari vine grown, acid free roma, you name it.

On it’s own, the tomato-filled salad bowl looked glorious, but adding some chopped cucumber, avocado and torn basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil and Italian Balsamic Vinegar along with a tiny dusting of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, this salad is delicious as a light meal or as an accompaniment to a BBQ or braai.

ingredients:
250 g yellow, orange and red cherry tomatoes
4 – 5 mini campari vine tomatoes
1 – 2 roma tomatoes
¼ cucumber
1 avocado
basil leaves
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
freshly ground salt and black pepper

  1. Wash all salad ingredients.
  2. Halve the cherry tomatoes and quarter the larger varieties and place onto a platter.
  3. Slice the cucumber,  peel and chop the avocado and spread out in between the tomatoes.
  4. Add the torn basil leaves (they bruise easily and turn black if cut so tearing is the best way to deal with basil leaves).
  5. Drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar just before serving. Add the seasoning last.

Enjoy!
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Salmon Pasta Salad

Recently I had cause to help a friend out. A relatively new friend, but this family arrived in New Zealand late last year, bringing only their suitcases and the clothes on their bodies ready to begin the next chapter in their lives.

Salmon Pasta SaladAfter a couple of months, a problem with a visa meant the precious job she had lined up had to be put on hold while the paperwork was sorted out, but this meant a good month, at least, with no earnings.  Let’s face it, a new country, mounting expenses, the school year about to start and no income for the forseeable future. Who wouldn’t help?

I put out word on my personal Facebook page asking whether any of my friends had anything they could spare to assist this lovely family and the response from a few very special ladies humbled me to my core. Bags of groceries, petrol vouchers, treats for the kid’s lunch boxes – I feel emotional as I write with the realisation that I am so very blessed to count such generous, kind-hearted and caring people among my friends. When you ask for help, you do it with the knowledge that there may be no response at all. And certainly some of the people I thought would be first in line were very quiet, but I make no judgements, it’s merely a reminder that times are tough and charity starts at home. If we don’t take care of our own, who will? There certainly is no guarantee that anyone else will do it. The basic lessons for me were:

  1. Never be afraid to ask for help.
  2. Expect absolutely nothing and allow yourself to be amazed by good deeds.
  3. Never judge anyone as you have no idea of their personal circumstances.
  4. The smallest amount of help, whether it’s time, love or physical giving, can make a huge difference to someone else; and finally,
  5. The joy that you feel when you give from your heart reminds us of the important things in life.

This experience also gave me renewed energy and focus about preparing meals for a family on a tight budget. The internet is full of recipes by well known chefs and personalities that include lists of ingredients many of us have never heard of, let alone can afford or have on hand for normal week day meals. And although this dish has a fillet of fresh salmon in it, it can be substituted with flaked tinned salmon or a 100g sachet of smoked salmon. An even cheaper option could be a tin of tuna (I prefer the tuna in spring water than the brine or oil).

This light meal is filling, healthy, pleasing on the eye and goes a long way, meaning it can feed a family of four for under $10.00.

ingredients:
250 g pasta shapes
1 cup spinach or lettuce leaves, shredded (I used Ice berg as it was all I had on hand at the time)
150 g cherry tomatoes (if too pricey, dice normal tomatoes)
½ a cucumber, sliced
1 – 2 carrots, depending on size, peeled and julienned (cut into match sticks)
1 fillet fresh salmon (approx 350 g)
sesame seeds
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp soy sauce

  1. Cook the pasta in boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Wash the lettuce/spinach, cherry tomatoes and carrots and peel, dice, slice, julienne as necessary.
  3. Cook the salmon, skin side down, in a non-stick pan over a medium heat – watching the colour change during the cooking process. At the last minute, turn it over to crisp the flesh. Remove from the pan, remove the skin, flake the meat and set aside to cool.
  4. Toast the sesame seeds or use them raw, they add a little crunchy nuttiness and are delicious either way.
  5. Add the honey and soy sauce to the pan and heat gently, stirring until combined. Allow to cool.
  6. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Sprinkle the seeds over the top and drizzle with the soy sauce/honey dressing. Toss gently and serve immediately.

Enjoy!
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White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have to admit that these are a little unusual. Well, not the cookies themselves, but the idea of a white chocolate chip cookie. I’d certainly never had them before, but when you’re desperate for chocolate chip cookies and no dark or milk chocolate in sight, white chocolate drops have to do. And as it turns out, they taste just as good. In fact, my son has announced that they are his new favourite so that is high praise indeed.

White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t often take baking to work, but we had so many cookies and I knew I couldn’t chomp on these in front of colleagues, so I took a few to work. My boss couldn’t get enough of them, so be warned, they may give you extra bargaining power if the powers that be like white chocolate!

ingredients:
250 g butter, softened
½ cup sugar
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 and 3/4 cups flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1½ cups white chocolate chips/drops

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line 2 – 3 oven trays with baking paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric beater until light and fluffy. Add the condensed milk and beat again. Mix in the vanilla extract and fold in the flour and baking powder. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  3. Lightly flour your hands and roll the mixture into balls – you decide how big to make them, I can’t be bothered fiddling with spoons, just use your hands!
  4. Placed them on the prepared oven trays, allowing room to spread and use a fork dipped in flour to flatten them.
  5. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until the biscuits are firm and starting to colour. Leave them to cool for a few minutes before transferring them carefully to a cooling rack. Note that cookies straight out of the oven are still soft and will break if not handled with care – a spatula helps.
  6.  Makes between 30 and 45, depending on the size of the cookies.

Enjoy!
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Prosciutto, Avo and Rocket Salad

It’s not often I find a recipe for an entire meal that looks good, ticks all the health boxes, covers almost all of the food groups and is prepared in under ten minutes, so when I opened my fridge and these ingredients stared back at me, I knew I was onto something.

Prosciutto, Avo and Rocket SaladThe four ingredients making up this salad, excluding the dressing, complement each other really well. The bright green peppery spiciness of the rocket, the pink, sweet, slightly earthy flavour of the prosciutto and the mild cool smooth texture of the avocado are topped off perfectly with the salty dryness of the parmesan shavings. Once together in the bowl, a balsamic based dressing seemed the obvious choice.

Now I know that prosciutto is not your average cold meat that most families have on hand but my supermarket deli had it on special recently so I took advantage and bought some. The pre-packed packages are great in that they generally have a longer shelf life than the freshly shaved ones, but as it is cured and salted, provided the fresh shavings are kept wrapped up and airtight, they should also keep for a while. Prosciutto is salt-cured air-dried Italian ham and is either raw (prosciutto crudo) or cooked (prosciutto cotto) and sold in wafer thin slices. As a fairly rich and salty meat, a little goes a long way and is often included in antipasto platters or as an appetizer, but this salad is a great midday meal or light dinner and worked perfectly on a recent hot summer evening.

ingredients:
Salad:
1 bag fresh rocket leaves, washed
80 – 100 g prosciutto (crudo)
2 avocados, chopped
½ cup fresh parmesan shavings
salad dressing

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and drizzle with the dressing.

Dressing:
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp Dijon mustard
freshly ground salt and pepper

  1. Combine all ingredients and whisk together.

Enjoy!

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Watermelon and Coconut Water Smoothie

As much as I love fruit and veggies, I will seldom reach over for an apple and sink my teeth into it. I like my fruit cut up and as time is almost always of the essence, the luxury of preparing fruit and packaging it to take with me for work lunch, etc. isn’t always available and my daily fruit quota sadly falls short of the “5 + a Day” campaign.

Watermelon and Coconut Water SmoothieDuring a discussion with a friend I used to work with, she admitted she felt the same so her solution was to throw all her daily fruit into a glass and blitz for breakfast. What a fantastic idea! And the combinations are endless so one can honestly not complain about getting bored with repetition. So not only is it a time saver; you get through a lot more fruit than otherwise would be had, and you really do feel fantastic and energised as the goodness is absorbed into and spread throughout your body.

Last year, those of you who follow Chocolate Goose on Facebook might recall that I was experimenting with Coconut Water. It exploded onto our shelves among a gazillion other coconut products in our never-ending journey of exploration into uncharted territory in the pursuit of all things healthy. At first, the taste is a little strange, and I strongly advise against glugging down litres of the stuff as it has a pretty high sugar content so not advisable for anyone watching their waist lines, but it has other health benefits like zero cholesterol, zero fat, is gluten-free and full of energy. Another plus is that most of the cartons I’ve seen for sale state that the contents are not made from concentrate, but claim to be 100% pure coconut water. And for all the Recycle junkies out there, the cartons themselves are more often than not, recyclable.

Being Summer here at the moment, Watermelon is in fresh supply and relatively cheap as a seasonal fruit. It also lasts for a few days if covered and refrigerated properly, so using it up slice by slice works well. With this particular version of my morning smoothie, I combined the watermelon, banana (I generally always include a banana for bulk and extra fruit), plain natural unsweetened yoghurt and coconut water. So simple yet so refreshing.

ingredients: (makes 2 x 300 ml smoothies)
2 cups chopped and de-seeded watermelon
1 large or 2 small bananas, peeled and sliced
1 cup plain natural unsweetened yoghurt
enough coconut water to bring the level up to 600 ml in the jug

  1. Combine the chopped watermelon, sliced bananas and yoghurt in a jug.
  2. Add the coconut water.
  3. Blitz together and pour into two glasses.

Enjoy!

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Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies

Something strange happened the other day – I found myself on the couch, with remote in hand and absolute silence. I have to admit I had a mild rush of panic wondering what to do with myself as the notion of holding the remote, let alone having the house entirely to myself is definitely out of the ordinary.

Cheesecake Chocolate BrowniesFlicking through the channels tentatively, excitement growing that I could had the freedom to choose to watch something other than Top Gear or Science of Stupid or Nickelodeon channel, I settled on a Rachel Allen baking programme – although you probably guessed it would be something like that.

She was creating Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies and although intrigued, I was a little apprehensive as I always prefer my brownies to be chocolate, chocolate and only chocolate…but I just had to try them. The first taste was unusual as you definitely get the cheesecake flavour coming through, but as I always tell my son: Try, Try and Try Again – so by the third piece I was convinced that these not only work, they are absolutely 100% truly and delectably delicious. With it being so hot over the past few weeks I stored them in the fridge which any hardcore brownie loyalist would probably cringe at, but it enhanced the flavour combinations even more. The typical brownie gooey stodginess wasn’t sacrificed at all so I can happily announce my conversion. Not meaning I won’t be making my Best Chocolate Brownie again, cos I definitely will, it’s just nice to have a favourite alternative.

Ingredients:
Chocolate mixture:
100 g butter
100 g dark chocolate
125 g castor sugar
3 eggs
75 g self-raising flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
100 g dark chocolate (in addition to the above)

Cheesecake mixture:
200 g cream cheese
2 egg yolks
75 g caster sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan forced) and butter and line a standard 20 cm square brownie baking tin with baking paper.
  2. If not using chocolate chips or buttons, chop the chocolate into smaller pieces.
  3. Place the butter and first 100 g of chocolate into a saucepan and melt over a low heat. Stir to combine until just smooth and remove from the heat. Beat in the sugar and a pinch of salt*, followed by the beaten egg yolks**.
  4. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder, add the chocolate chips and stir in. Tip the batter into the prepared tin and spread out using a spatula.
  5. In a clean bowl, beat all the ingredients for the cheesecake mixture together until smooth. Dot heaped teaspoonfuls of this mixture across the top of the brownie batter in the tin, then using a skewer or a knife, gently swirl the two mixtures together, right across the tin and up to the edges.
  6. Bake for between 30 – 35 minutes, but I’d advise to start checking from about 28 minutes, depending on your oven as you still want the centre to be a little wobbly and a skewer inserted to check should come out with a little mixture stuck to it.
  7. Remove it from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack in the tin (about 25 – 30 minutes). Removing from the tin too early will cause it to crack and crumble. The wobbly centre will set slightly as it cools but retains the combined squidginess of a brownie and a cheesecake.
  8. Once cool, remove from the tin and paper, but into 16 squares and serve.

Enjoy!

*If you’re using unsalted butter, add the pinch of salt. If using salted butter, leave out the pinch of salt or it will be too salty.

**Place the egg whites into a sealable freezer bag, label with quantity of egg whites and freeze – great for making pavlovas or meringues.

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