Niš: ancient city with a youthful vibe

While we were in the south of Serbia we visited the city of Niš a couple of times. It is the closest big city to Aleksinac (Marco’s hometown) and his place of birth. It is also the third largest city in Serbia, one of the oldest Balkan city and was considered a doorway to the west and eat in ancient times. Despite its ancient roots, this city has a youthful vibe. With bustling alleyways, live music, pop up markets and plenty of places to get good food and drinks, it definitely the place where you can have some fun.

We drove to Niš from Aleksinac, which only took 30 minutes, so we didn’t need to book a hotel. We visited a couple of times but unfortunately both times we didn’t have that long so we didn’t get to do all the sites. We did do a bit of shopping, visit the Fortress and Holy Trinity Cathedral and have a couple of great traditional Serbian meals.

 

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Weekend roundup of delicious eats

Over the past weekend and mid-week, we have been eating out quite a bit so I thought I’d share some of the photos and details of these delicious eats. These include some restaurants and cafes on the Gold Coast and in my hometown of Brisbane.

This roundup started from last weekend when we took a little break to the Gold Coast.  We stayed in two family hotels, at Sanctuary Cove and Benowa. We don’t normally do hotel crawls, but it was great fun to do. We got to experience two different places and give my toddler new surroundings to explore.

 

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Green Split Pea and Broccoli Pasta

I am always trying to find quick and nutritious ways to cook broccoli and legumes in an interesting way for my daughter. Broccoli is probably the only vegetable she will outright say is yucky. However recently she has been saying she wants to eat it in between meals. I’m not sure if she is joking or shes finally coming around due to the daily exposure. Legumes have also been a challenge to serve in their whole form. Split peas and lentils are great introductory legumes for little people because they are small and soft when cooked and don’t have that skin that can get stuck in their throat (like chickpeas). I like to add them to pasta sauces, lasagna, curries and stews, for more fibre and protein.

I’ve made this recipe a couple of times and it has gone down without a fight. I have left the option of adding organic free-range ham, for carnivores or flexitarians. My daughter loves ham, which she discovered at Kindy. My local organic butcher makes their own leg ham, so it’s the only one I let her eat occasionally. She would seriously choose ham over sweets any day. If you’re a grown-up vegan you could use some liquid smoke or vegan ham. Although this recipe is delicious and healthy without these additions. If you still don’t use salt in your toddlers’ diet, you can always skip the liquid stock or just make your own salt free version. I use to do this and freeze them in baby freezer pods. You could also use the first part of the recipe of green split peas mixture as a healthier alternative to potato mash.

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Aleksinac: Our Serbian hometown

So last time I left you with my European trip we were in Italy. Next, we made our way to Serbia to visit Marco’s family. We spent a week in their hometown of Aleksinac and did some day trips to Niš and Sokobanja and a couple of days in Belgrade.

This is the second time I’ve been to Serbia and visited Aleksinac. The best part of this trip was seeing Marco’s family and introducing Octavia to her little cousins. Since I don’t speak Serbian I didn’t have many people to talk to. Luckily one of Marco’s aunts was an English professor. Octavia understands Serbian and she didn’t let it stop her having fun with everyone.

So you may be wonder where is Aleksinac? It is a town and municipality, which is in the Nišava District of the southern Serbia. It is believed that people have inhabited this area since the Neolithic age and most of the settlements are of the Vinča cultural group. Like much of Serbia, Aleksinac has been under the rule of the Romans, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. There are many archaeological sites in the area and nearby, which have largely been left untouched. So if you enjoy hiking this region has many mountains and old castles to discover.

To get to Aleksinac we first had to fly Belgrade, where we were greeted Marco’s father. From there it took a couple of hours to drive to the small town of Aleksinac. On the way back we took a bus, which took a little longer but was easy enough.

Aleksinac town centre isn’t really a tourist hot spot. I think there is only one hotel on the edge of town. However, there are nice places to stay at spa towns like Sokobanja or Ribarska banja or in the larger city of Niš. I did enjoy visiting Aleksinac to get a feel for every day of small town living. However, it does get boring in the centre of town. I found myself just wanting to get out of town to see some of the natural beauty of nearby sites and villages.


 

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Roasted Potato Salad with Coriander Pesto Aioli

Do you hate coriander (cilantro) or just not that fond of it? I am not crazy about it myself and my partner really hates it. However, there is one way that we love it. When blended into a creamy pesto sauce, the taste transforms into something else.

We love coriander pesto drizzled over roasted potatoes. I usually serve it over roasted kipfler potatoes or roasted sweet potato mash (flesh removed from whole sweet potato).

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Vegan Tuna Salad: 3 ways

Tuna is something I gave up long ago. I was wanting to avoid BPA, Mercury and was trying to follow a plant-based diet. Fast-forward a few years later and I still remember the delicious taste of tuna but it’s not so tempting anymore. I came up with this recipe a while back I found that it really fixes my tuna craving.

This mock tuna is primarily made with chickpeas and get’s its fishy taste from the umeboshi vinegar and nori. You can enjoy it in a salad, on a sandwich or wrap it in a nori roll.

 

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Carrot Ginger Mojito

Now that it’s starting to warm up again juices are back on the menu! I love this recipe. Its refreshing, healthy and a little bit fancy.

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Carrot Ginger Mojito 

(vegan, gluten free, soy free, nut free)

Ingredients:

4 small carrots

2 apples

small knob ginger

3 cm wide round slice lemon (including skin)

mint leaves from 2 sprigs

cold sparkling water

Method:

1. Place all the ingredients except the sparkling water in a juicer.

2. Place the juice in a tall glass or large jar and top with some sparkling water and some mint leaves to serve.

*Serves 1

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Veggie Pasta Bake with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce

Trying to get my toddler to eat vegetables every day is a really challenging. Considering I have been giving her green vegetables every day since she started eating, she still decided that green foods are yucky. I’m not sure how she got so picky, but I guess it’s normal for most toddlers. She also isn’t a fan of chewy her food, so if it’s not soft it comes back up. She also hates anything pureed, since she isn’t a baby anymore. Strangely pasta, rice, meat and biscuits seem to get chewed and never come back up. Despite this not eating vegetables in this house is non-negotiable. So I’m trying to normalising it as much as I can, so it doesn’t become an issue. I try not to hide the veggies, but rather serve them in a way she would prefer. Sometimes that means having something else on the table that she likes and can eat between bites. Other times we reward with stickers or shovel it down while she watches her favourite Disney song clips or TV show.

So this recipe was created to get my daughter to eat her most despised vegetables. Cauliflower and broccoli seem to be the most disliked. Green beans get choked on and leafy greens are picked out. Now when I prepare pasta or noodle dishes I try to steam the vegetables first and put them in at the last minute. That way they are soft enough but still retain their nutrients. The crunchy bread top is her reward between eating all her greeny mouthfuls. This is also a great recipe if you need to empty the fridge.

This is also a great recipe if you need to empty the fridge or just want to incorporate many vegetables into one dish. You can add or subtract depending on what you have or like to eat. If you like your cheese you can always add some grated pecorino, crumbled feta or your favourite vegan melting cheese before baking.

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Spaghetti Squash with Sun dried Tomato, Olive, Red Wine Sauce

Just because your trying to skip gluten, grains or just want a more nutritionally dense meal doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Italian flavours. Spaghetti squash is an amazing vegetable that when roasted has an amazing stringy texture that can lend itself as a pasta substitute. I love big bold pasta sauces with wine. This sauce doesn’t take long to prepare and will go perfectly with any other pasta or substitute.

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Spaghetti Squash with a Sun Dried Tomato, Olive, Red Wine Sauce 

(vegan, gluten free, soy free, nut free)

Ingredients:

1 Spaghetti Squash (90g -100g)

olive oil

sea salt to taste

black pepper to taste

1 small brown onion, diced

2 garlic, cloves diced

1 red chilli, diced

6 sun dried tomatoes, chopped

1 can good quality tomato pulp (I used Mutti)

1/2 can filtered water

sea salt and black pepper to taste

pinch raw sugar

2 tablespoons red wine (I used Lambrusco)

8-10 black olives

8 basil leaves, chopped

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

2. Cut off the stem of the squash, then cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds and remove some of the guts. Sprinkle some sea salt and black pepper and roast for 30-40 minutes or until cooked.

3. Heat a pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and add onion, garlic and chilli. Saute for a few minutes until the onion starts to brown.

4. Then add sun dried tomato and saute for another couple of minutes. If you like add some of the oil from the sun dried tomatoes or olive oil.

5. Add the tomato pulp, water,  sea salt, black pepper, raw sugar. Bring to a light boil, then leave to simmer.

6. Add the red wine and black olives. Leave to cook for 20 minutes or until the spaghetti squash is cooked. Add more sea salt and pepper if you need to the sauce.

7. Once the spaghetti squash is cool enough to handle, run a fork through the flesh to produce small strains of spaghetti.

8. Before serving, add the basil leaves to the sauce and stir it through to them let it wilt.

9. Top the Spaghetti Squash flesh with the sauce.

*Serves 2

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Crazy for pasta at Spaghetti House

Recently we visited a restaurant I haven’t been to in a long time. The Spaghetti House Trattoria is a family-run Italian restaurant in Southbank. They were previously situated in West End, which is where we used to frequently visit them.

They offer a great selection of Italian fare, including bread, small share plates, pizza, pasta and main dishes. The dishes are a collection of regional favourites prepared very traditionally. Over the years we have tried many of their dishes and they never disappoint in taste and quality.

Over the past couple of years, they moved from Westend to Southbank on Little Stanley Street. The new location does feel a bit more formal than the previous one and is styled like a modern trattoria. From the polished floors, beautiful rustic table settings, lighting and gold framed mirrors, everything is perfectly elegant, yet cozy.

On the day we visited we were all really hungry and were craving pasta. We all ordered the thicker kinds of pasta with simple sauces. I had the Pappardelle Boscaiola, which had pancetta, porcini mushrooms and olives in a fresh tomato sauce. The fresh pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce had a full depth of flavour. My companions had Pappardelle Carbonara and Fettuccini Ragu alla Bolognese. They were also very happy with their dishes. We all ordered the larger size plate, which were generous and very filling. If we ordered more food, I’m sure a small portion would have sufficed.

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Spelt Pumpkin Baked Donuts

I was so inspired by my recent visit to Nodo, I decided to create my own baked donuts. Mine aren’t gluten-free however, they are vegan, soy-free and nut-free. They are also made from mostly spelt and with fresh pumpkin, so they nutritious and easier to digest. Coconut sugar also works beautifully in them, so they are just sweet enough. I hope you like them!

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Mothers Day at Jamie’s Italian

Happy Mothers Day to all the mums out there. This year is my third mothers day. I can’t believe I’ve already had three. Time has gone so fast. This year I got my first present from my daughter. A plant and painted card with a picture of her and a lovely message that she made a Kindy. It was the sweetest thing ever. This year Marco and I decided to have a nice lunch without our toddler. She spent some time with her nonna and we had a relaxing lunch at Jamie’s Italian.

We have been to Jamie’s Italian a few times since it opened. I know it gets mixed reviews, but we have had good experiences every time. The food is always fresh with quality ingredients and cooked well. What I love about this place is that its real food, cooked from scratch. We have only been to the Brisbane location, but you can find the franchised restaurants in most capital cities in Australia and more across the world.

The Brisbane location just off the street level but actually has a second level of seating under the ground. The top level features the entrance bar and a beautiful marble bar with hanging Parma hams, garlic and chillis, where the antipastos are prepared. The lower level also houses the kitchen, so it’s also nice to sit in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen atmosphere. The rest of the decor is very industrial, yet homely. The walls feature exposed concrete and recycled wooden panels and the floors are polished wood. The tables are mostly wooden, with leather booths or red metal seat. The ambience of the restaurant really makes you feel like your in an Italian trattoria.

I have noticed the menu has changed over time to keep up with the current trends. However, the heart of Italy still shines through with their handmade pasta, classic antipasti and some traditional secondi dishes.

 

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