Umami Bombs

I used to be a food purist. I would never use pre-made sauces or stocks in my cooking. It all had to come from the meat, vegetables, or grains I was cooking. If it didn’t, I just added more salt.

But then I discovered umami bombs.

I discovered it largely through an American food website called Serious Eats, particularly The Food Lab. I first started following them because of their dedication to determining recipes for the best of the best of junk food. Then I discovered the Managing Director, J.Kenji Lopez-Alt and his dedication to boosting umami in his All-American dishes. This recipe helps illustrate what I’m talking about. I thought there was a whole post talking about umami, but Google is coming up with nothing.

What is umami? No one fucking knows. No one. Alright, maybe it’s glutamate, which is an amino acid, but it’s more than that. People say it’s savoury, but it’s more than just that. It’s that combination of salty-sour-sweet-tiny-bit-bitter-wait-is-that-a-bit-off-check-the-use-by-date. It just makes everything better.

Anyway. To my ‘umami bombs’.

Pictured are my go-to umami flavours. I will try to describe how best to use them, but remember there are really only two rules, in my book:

1. Use your own instinct and, most importantly, sense of taste.

2. You must wait.

The second point is just as important as the first. You cannot rush umami (unless you are cooking Asian food, then, by all means, go nuts). If you are cooking Western style stews, soups, and braises, you must wait for the umami to develop. You can’t rush it, or you’ll end up with a beef stew that tastes mainly of soy sauce. Or worse, Vegemite.

Anyway! In order of (my) preference:

German mustard: It says it’s hot, but it’s not hot. American mustard is a good substitute. It’s got the sourness and saltiness a number of dishes need, without the in-your-faceness of fish sauce or Vegemite. I use it in vegetarian stews and in fish chowder. Use it where a light touch is needed.

Soy sauce: This is mainly salty with a touch of bitterness. It’s useful for all meats, except creamy fish dishes, but definitely use it in robust fish and vegetable dishes that use tomatoes.

Vegemite: I use with all dark meats, especially kangaroo. I have also used it in my Tofurkey recipe, to give the tofu a more meaty flavour. Beware – I believe using Vegemite in my Tofurkey was a gateway drug to using umami bombs.

Fish sauce: But not just any fish sauce, Red Boat brand fish sauce. It comes from Phú Quôc Island in Vietnam, where, I have heard, the anchovy fish are put in a barrel, fresh, with a heap of salt, and nothing else, and just left to ferment. The sauce is the liquid that comes out of the funnel at the bottom of the barrel. Apparently other fish sauces are not as pure. Use it sparingly, when your dish needs a big kick in the pants, like a hearty beef stew or the like.

I don’t think I’ve ever used one type of umami alone. All of my dishes use a combination of two or three, four if I’m feeling lucky. I usually start with mustard or soy sauce and build from there. It’s not like adding salt. There are layers. It’s almost an art form.

Also, remember to season with salt and pepper well after your umami has been built. Don’t do it at the same time, or it will be too overpowering.

There you have it. Go forth and make flavourful dishes!

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Savoury ‘protein’ muffins

I’m not actually sure of the amount of protein per muffin, only that they have a lot of protein-y ingredients. I put this together as a breakfast food I could grab out of the freezer of a morning and pop the microwave at work. I also accidentally found it they are popular with 18 month olds who refuse to eat their dinner.

Makes 12 large muffins.

Preheat your oven to 180C


3 cups of self raising flour
2 teaspoons of salt
6 eggs
1 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup quinoa, cooked
2 cups kale, finely chopped
200g feta, crumbled


1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl, and make a well in the centre.
2. In the well, crack in the eggs, and add the milk and yoghurt. Mix until just combined. It will be a wet mix. That’s a good thing.
3. Mix in the kale, quinoa, and feta.
4. Line two 6 cup muffin trays with baking paper.
5. Distribute the batter evenly between the cups of the muffon tray, filling each to about 4/5 full.
6. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes, testing with a skewer. Remember when testing that the feta cheese might coat your skewer and look like uncooked muffin batter. Use your eyes and your noggin to determine whether they are cooked enough. If in doubt, just cut one open. You can always put it back in the tray if it isn’t cooked through.

The muffins will be dense, thanks to the quinoa and number of eggs used. They should come out very moist, but not sticky in the middle. 

If freezing, I recommend using resealable sandwich bags.

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This is my basic muffin base. I will try to separate it out into both savoury and sweet, without being too confusing, but don’t count on it. 


  • 2 1/2 cups of self raising flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 25g melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 2 eggs, beaten

For sweet muffins

  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain yoghurt
  • About 400g of filling (such as 200g chopped strawberries and 200g white choc chips)

For savoury muffins

  • 2 good pinches of salt (or probably about a teaspoon)
  • 1/2 cup of yoghurt OR 1 tablespoon of mustard mixed into milk
  • About 300-400g filling (such as 100g bacon, 150g feta, and 50g kale)

The acidity in the recipe is important. The acid in the yoghurt or mustard reacts with the bicarbonate in the flour and helps the heavy batter rise. Without it, you’ll end up with a flat dense round thing, and not a muffin.


  • Pre-heat the oven to about 190C (my oven sucks, though, so if this sounds too high for yours, try 170-180C).
  • Mix the dry ingredients together, the dump the wet straight on top. Mix well.
  • Mix in your filling.
  • Grease and line a 6 cup muffin tray with baking paper.
  • Bake for about 25-30 mins. Test with a skewer before removing from the oven. If the tops are getting too brown and the middle is still wet, cover with foil.
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Finally, my Tofurkey recipe

I have been threatening to post this recipe for about 3 years now. Christmas comes, I start making tofurkeys for the vegetarians in my family, people ask for the recipe, and I say, “Absolutely, I’ll blog it later!”, then promptly forget. Repeat. I have finally remembered. Hooray.

This recipe is for individual serve-sized tofurkeys, rather than one large one. I find they are easier to cook, serve, store, and reheat that way.


700g firm tofu
About half a loaf of stale sourdough bread (you can use whatever bread you like, but I usually use the leftovers of sourdough loaves that have gone stale before they can be finished).
Parsley, 1/2 cup, finely chopped
Sage, 1/4 cup, finely chopped
Rosemary, 1/4 cup, finely chopped
Thyme (for no other reason than they are in a song), 1/4 cup, finely chopped
100g butter or vegan spread
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbs vegemite
2 cups of hot water in two separate containers


For the stuffing

1. Process the bread in a food processor or blender, until you get bread crumbs.

2. Melt the butter or vegan spread in a large pan. Fry one half of the herbs, and the garlic and onion on medium heat, until the onion is translucent. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan.

3. Fry the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly with the herbs and onion. Turn off the heat and start to add hot water to the pan. You want enough water so that the mixture will stick together, but not enough so that it become a soggy mess. Season VERY well. Stuffing is supposed to be salty.

4. Set aside to cool while you prepare the tofu.


For the tofu

1. Crumbled the tofu into a food processor.
2. Add the tablespoon of vegemite to one of the cups of hot water and stir until dissolved.
3. Add the remaining half of all of the chopped herbs.
4. Add about a quarter of the vegemite stock and a quarter of the plain water and process. Taste the result. You are looking for a smooth, but firm, paste, with a bit of body to it, not overpowering vegemite flavour. Keep adding vegemite stock and water until you get the right consistency and flavour.

Processing tofurkey
5. Line a 6 cup muffin tin with baking paper.
6. Fill each cup with tofu mixture to about 2/3 way. Form a well in the centre, so that the tofu comes up the sides. Don’t use all of it, because you will need enough leftover to cover the top of your tofurkeys. The ‘top’ needs to be thick enough to form a base.

7. Put about a tablespoon or so of the stuffing mixture into the well of the tofu.

8. Cover the stuffing with the remaining tofu. Leave no gaps, as it will fall apart when you try to remove it from the tin.

9. Brush the tops of the tofurkeys wit olive oil and bake for 20 minutes, or until brown on top.

10. Serve as is, or store in the refrigerator until Christmas Day and reheat for 15 mins in the oven, so that the tops are browned. If storing for longer, freeze and defrost in the fridge when required.



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Vegan Wednesday: Kale and Cashew Pesto (on pasta)

Kale and cashew pesto

I have decided that our household should have Vegan Wednesdays. Vegan because I firmly believe that Western societies should eat far less meat than they do, and Wednesdays because there are no whinging children here on Wednesdays to complain about it.

I love kale. Absolutely love the shit out of it. People say it’s a hipster food. I try to tell them I was into eating it before the hipsters were and they laugh at me. No idea why.


A bunch of kale (I don’t know how much was in my bunch. I just get it delivered to me as a bunch)
75g roasted unsalted cashews (It was a 100g tub, but I ate some)
2/3 cup olive oil (maybe)
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
Salt and pepper to taste

To serve: 250g fettuccine, juice of half a lemon


1. Peel the kale leaves off the ribs and rip them into large chunks.
2. Place the kale leaves in a food processor with the cashews, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil.
3. Pulse the food processor until the pesto is very smooth. Taste the pesto and adjust the olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
4. If not using straight away, spoon into a sterilised jar and store in the fridge. Use within a week. Chuck it out if it grows mould smells bad.

With pasta

4. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water, according to instructions.
5. When the pasta is almost done, fry off 2-3 big spoonfuls of pesto in a large frypan. Don’t overcook it, or the kale will use its flavour.

Frying off kale and cashew pesto

6. Turn the heat off the pesto and spoon the cooked pasta straight from the saucepan and into the frying pan. You want it to bring some of the starchy pasta water into the frying pan. It will thicken the consistency of the pesto to make it sauce-like.


7. Squeeze lemon juice over the pasta and serve.


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Vegan Double Chocolate, Banana and Quinoa Muffins


This recipe was born out of laziness, really. I’m not a vegan, but enjoy the challenge of cooking without animal products. This ended up being a vegan recipe simply because I was too lazy to walk to the shops for buttermilk. I had just made a curry and had leftover coconut milk, so decided to use that. The quinoa came from me overcooking a batch that was meant for a salad and not wanting to waste it. I hate wasting food.


Makes 24 small muffins

3 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup light muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups cooked quinoa
3 overripe bananas, smooshed
400mL coconut milk
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
115g choc chips (or half a packet)


Preheat your oven to 180C

1. Mix the coconut milk and lemon juice together in a small bowl.
2. Mix the wet ingredients together (including coconut milk mixture) in a medium sized bowl. Add the cooked quinoa and mix thoroughly.
3. Mix the dry ingredients together (except for the choc chips) in a separate large bowl. Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking powder, if you’re not lazy like me.
3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until all ingredients are wet and creates a batter, but don’t over mix. The reaction between the self raising flour and the acidity of the lemon juice should be taking place and you don’t want to beat the air out of it.
4. Grease a 12 cup muffin/cupcake tin. Spoon the batter into each cup, filling them almost to the top.
5. Bake in the oven for about 25 mins.
6. Clean your tray and fill it with the other half of the mixture. Obviously, you don’t have to do this if you’re fancy and have two trays.

These muffins are a treat and in no way healthy, but I figure it’s the only way I’m going to get my fussy 6 year old to eat quinoa.

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Aloo Dhal

This is one of those recipes where the amounts are not exact, as I throw in whatever seems right at the time. A good dhal always happens like that.

And I can’t find my photos of it, so here’s a link to a Google image search for Aloo Dhal. It’s supposed to look like them. Well, most of them.


1 cup Toor dhal or yellow split peas
1 cup red lentils
4 french shallots, diced
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
4 potatoes, cut into bite size chunks
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground tumeric
4 long dried (Kashmiri) chillies, rehydrated in boiling water, chopped nely
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
10 curry leaves (or there abouts)
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup loosely packed coriander leaves
Fresh chopped chilli for garnish (if so desired)

Basmati rice, to serve

1. Put the Toor dhal on to boil in about 3-4 cups of water (sorry, I can never remember exactly how much),
2. If you’re lazy like me, you’ll chuck the red lentils the same pot in once the Toor dhal starts to soften up.
3. Put the potatoes on to boil in a separate pot. Drain when cooked, but still quite firm.
4. In a small frying pan, dry fry the cumin and coriander seeds until they become fragrant. Bash them up in a mortar and pestle. Or grind them in a coffee grinder. Or crush them with the flat of a knife. If you have none of these things, you’ve obviously not in a kitchen and should probably stop trying to make dhal in the bathroom.
5. In a frying pan, add the crushed seeds, mustard seeds, rehydrated chillies, curry leaves, cinnamon stick and fry on a medium heat.
6. When the mustard seeds begin to pop, then reduce the heat slightly (just so they don’t burn) and add the garlic and
shallots. I tend to add a fair bit of oil (possibly more than two tablespoons) and simmer for a little while,
so that the oil carries the flavours. Add the tumeric in last.
7. Once the spices and onion look paste like, tip the entire contents of the fry pan into it and stir it around good.
8. Add the tomatoes. Reduce the liquid if it appears too runny.
9. Add the potatoes.
10. Add the lemon juice and stir.
11. Season like a motherfucker. Lentils have no taste. They need salt, my friend. SALT.
12. Serve with rice, coriander, fresh chilli, and lime pickle, if you’ve got any (I do. MUWAHAHAHAHAHA).

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Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa

Sounds weird. Tastes amazing. And is ridiculously simple. Do you have an oven? Can you turn it on? Then you can cook this.

Serves a hungry horde (served it up on Mother’s Day to my very large immediate family), or gives you plenty of leftovers for lunch.


6 potatoes, chopped into 3cm cubes
1 butternut pumpkin, chopped into 3cm cubes (or whatever type you prefer. Need about 1.5kgs whole)
2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
3 large purple carrots (or 6 small), sliced into 3cm chunks
3 zucchini, sliced into 1cm rounds
1 head of garlic, top sliced off
1 bunch spinach or kale or both, sliced (ribs removed if you use kale)
Few sprigs of rosemary
A bunch of lemon thyme

1 lemon
1 bunch parsley
As little or as much sliced chillies as you like (no deseeding that shit)

1-2 cups of quinoa


1. Pre-heat the oven to 210C. If your oven is like every other decrepit one in the Inner West, such as mine, put it on 240C.

2. Put the potato on to boil. Start another pot and put the pumpkin in once boiling. Once cooked, remove from heat and drain.

3. In a baking dish, tip the entire punnet of cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Bung in the oven.

4. Do the same with the potatoes and carrots. Dress them with half of the rosemary and lemon thyme. Put them on the second rack in the oven.

5. Give the tomatoes about a 10 minute head start, then add the broccoli, zucchini, and pumpkin. Did I tell you that you needed a large baking dish? Yeah. Season well and dress with the rest of the herbs.

6. Swap the potato and carrots to the top rack and put the rest of the veggies on the bottom. The aim from now is to brown everything – including the broccoli. Oh, yes, the broccoli.

7. Walk away from the oven and get distracted by Twitter/4 year old/planning setlists for your Engagement Party. Remember only when you start to smell burning (probably about 30 minutes).

8. Realise it’s not burning, but the broccoli is caramelising. Oh, yes. This is when you put on a pot of water to boil and pour the quinoa in once bubbling. It will be ready when the ‘germ’ detaches and the grain is translucent. If in doubt, taste some. If it’s still hard or gritty, it’s not cooked.

9. Drain in a fine colander (or with a cloth in one with big holes).

10. Get your veggies out of the oven. Mix the smallest tray into the biggest tray (or whichever is easiest). Mix in the spinach and/or kale. Dump the quinoa on top.

11. Mix delicately, as your tomatoes and pumpkin are likely to break up. This is all part of the flavour, mind you, but you don’t want them to disappear completely.

12. Add the juice of 1/2-1 lemon, depending on your preference for acidity (I love it, so put a whole lemon’s worth in), parsley, and chilli, if you prefer (again, I like lots). Season well, remembering all of the vegetables were seasoned. Mix well, but not too well.

I have been kinda vague with the amounts, with good reason. There’s not fixed amount for anything – you can put in as much or as little as you like of each ingredient. The idea is simplicity paving the way for the veggies to speak for themselves.

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Pumpkin, eggplant, and barley braised in miso

I *think* I may have stolen this from Gourmet Traveller – at least the idea of it. Hopefully they don’t mind.

This is so easy. Definitely a colder weather dish.


1kg or so of pumpkin (I used butternut, but it’s way too sweet. Go for something else)
3 or so Japanese eggplants
1 cup of barley
3 tbs miso
3 tbs soy sauce
Bunch of asparagus

1. Slice the eggplant into 1cm rounds. Fry them in oil until brown and cooked through. Set aside.
2. Cut the pumpkin into approximately 4cm chunks.
3. Fill a pot with about 2L of water and bring to the boil (I think. I can’t remember! You need enough to boil your barley and eventually cover all of the pumpkin).
4. Throw in the barley, miso, and soy sauce. Leave the barley to cook until almost done. Top up the water if necessary.
5. Throw in the pumpkin to cook. Once the pumpkin is soft, turn down the heat and throw in the eggplant to warm through.
6. In a dry pan, brown the asparagus. Dress with salt, pepper, and olive oil, once done.
7. Check the seasoning of the dish. I find this is one that needs A LOT of salt, otherwise it’s too cloying. Add soy sauce and/or salt to taste.
8. Serve in bowls with asaparagus plonked on top. Dunking the asparagus in the miso braise it OH MY GOD SO AWESOME.

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Fettucine Carbonara

There are very few ‘authentic’ (and I use the term loosely in reference to my recipe) recipes for Fettucine Carbonara on the web, apart from this awesome one from Abstract Gourmet. So, I figured I’d add to the ‘closest to authentic but not really’ list and hope that a bunch of people somewhere out on the interblargs end up making their own awesome, and very easy, fettucine carbonara.

This all needs fairly awesome timing, though.


500g Fettucine
125g chopped bacon/pancetta/guanciale
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
3 eggs
1/2 cup grated pecorino
Handful of chopped parsley, to serve

1. First you need to boil your pasta. Start the water around about the same time you put the bacon on to render. Put a splash of olive oil in the pan, keep the bacon on a low heat and let it render slowly.

2. Add the sliced garlic after the bacon and let the bacon and garlic flavour the surrounding oil. FAT IS FLAVOUR.

3. Crack the eggs into a bowl or, if you’ve got one, the leftover high-walled jug from a Kenwood mixer that an old flatmate reclaimed the rest of.

4. While the pasta is cooking and the bacon and garlic making sweet, sweet, oily, love, mix the pecorino with the eggs, like so.

5. Once the pasta is done, move it into the frying pan with the bacon and garlic, using a pasta scoop. The pasta scoop will bring some of the starchy pasta water with it, which will make the sauce thicken.

6. Add a whole bunch of cracked pepper, just cos.

7. Now this is the bit I can’t show you in pictures, as I was the only photographer and it needs to be well timed. Tip the egg and pecorino mixture into the pan with the pasta and mix quickly. You don’t want the egg to cook into little omelette-like lumps, but to create a beautifully unctuous sauce. Take it off the heat immediately. The residual heat will continue to cook the egg to the stage that it’s still sauce like, but doesn’t have a raw egg flavour. Season with salt to taste, remembering you’ve got salty bacon and pecorino already in there.

8. And this is what you end up with! Except I didn’t have any parsley at the time. I recommend only chucking the parsley in just before serving.

Once you get used to the timing of the pan-pasta-egg combination, this is an easy dinner to throw together. It only has a few ingredients. It tastes FANTASTIC, too, if I do say so myself.

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