Monday, January 30, 2012

Menu Planning Monday - last week of January into February

Another week. Another menu. I had a lovely weekend away with friends so I should be all charged up for the week but I'm not so sure I'm feeling it. Maybe I needed another day or two away.

Life returns to some semblance of normality this week. School returns. Activities begin and as a result we have something of a schedule.

You would think that would make menu planning easier but we are also having quite an unexpected heatwave which means sometimes what sounds like a good plan on Sunday is less so when Thursday rolls around and is sweltering.

That's part of why I menu plan the week but am not too fixated on when we eat each meal.

Monday - Chicago style deep dish pizza
Tuesday --smoked salmon crepe cakes
Wednesday  - roast chicken
Thursday  - book club for me, burgers for them
Friday -   pasta
Saturday - tacos or fish  
Sunday - tacos or fish

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A meat pie for Australia Day

January 26th is Australia Day, obviously if you're Australian you know this, but unlike Bastille Day or 4th of July I doubt anyone else on the planet is aware of the date. It signifies the date the First Fleet led by Captain James Cook sailed into Sydney to set up the penal colony of New South Wales.

Australia's indigenous population refers to the day as Invasion Day.

On this day Australian's go to the beach, throw bbq's and hang out with family. It happens to also
co-incide with the end of the Australian summer holidays/vacation. Basically school goes back straight after Australia Day.

On our Australia Day 2012 my husband has worked this morning and it was pouring with torrential rain. We were invited to a lunch at my mother-in-laws which we do usually attend because she lives across the road from a beautiful beach. Unfortunately for me I really get rather agitated when a lot of people are crammed together in a small space and my mother-in-law lives in an apartment. Needless to say I had to decline the invitation because the twenty something people in that little space would have been too much for me.

So instead today my daughter and I are making an Australian Meat Pie and a pavlova. The meat pie is the traditional Australian fast food. It is to Australians what the hot dog is to Americans. Every suburb has a bakery selling meat pies and sausage rolls and most have more than one.

Here is my version of a family meat pie. It's a really yummy meal and it's easy on the budget. I made this family pie for under $5. I use a regular pie plate.

Australian Meat Pie - serves 4
1 quantity of shortcrust pastry or one pie shell (I'll post my recipe soon)
olive oil
2 small or 1 large onion diced
500g beef mince
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 beef stock cube
2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons water (extra)
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg yolk.

1. Heat oil in pan and add onions, cook stirring until soft. Add mice, cook stirring until browned.
2. Stir in sauces, stock cube and water (I dissolve the stock cube in water first) simmer 15 minutes. Stir in cornflour and extra water. Stir over high heat until it boils and thickens. Cool.
3. Grease a pie plate with butter or olive oil and roll pastry to fit pie plate. Cover pastry with baking paper, fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake in moderate oven 8 minutes. remove beans and cook a further 8 minutes.
4. Fill pie shell with meat mixture. Brush edges or pastry with egg yolk and press puff pastry on top. Cut to fit. You can use any scraps to decorate. Brush pie with more egg yolk. Bake in oven 20-25 minutes until golden.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eggplant Sichuan-style

This is a recipe we are having tonight for dinner. I found it in the book The Thrifty Kitchen by Suzanne Gibbs and Kate Gibbs.

This book came out last year and had been very popular. I have the hard-back version but noticed it is now also out in softcover so it must have done well. It has lots of good basic information for running a kitchen with minimum waste and without it costing you a bomb. I think if you are already a  reasonably thrifty or frugal cook like me, or you do a whole lot of scratch cooking then it's probably not a great purchase but if you are starting out or trying to learn ways to be more economical in the kitchen then it is worth getting.

It would be a great book for someone moving out of home, learning to cook or someone who wants to cut their grocery budget but not the quality of what they eat.

I really liked this particular recipe when I first made it because it was a bit different to Asian-style dishes I had made before and because I love eggplant. We usually make this as part of a "Chinese feast" when we have starters like spring rolls or san choi bow and then a couple of mains. Tonight, however we will just have this and rice.

This is my slightly adapted version...which suits better what we eat and keep in our pantry which makes it more thrifty.

Eggplant Sichuan-style
2 medium size regular eggplant, diced
oil, for frying
1 teaspoon of rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon vinegar (I have used white and cider..basically whatever I have)
1 teaspoon sugar
1  clove of garlic crushed
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce (adjust to taste or use a fresh chilli you you have them)
1/2 an onion finely diced
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
125g lean pork of chicken mince
1/2 a cup of coriander leaves (I have used parsley when i didn't have coriander or you could use mint)
steamed rice to serve

1. Heat oil in wok and fry eggplant in batches until slightly browned and tender. You will need to add oil for each batch. Set aside on paper towel to drain. Mix rice wine or sherry, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar and set aside.

2. Heat another dollop of oil in wok then stir fry garlic, leek and ginger until onion is soft (if using real chilli add now, if using sweet chilli sauce add later). Add the pork or chicken mince and stir fry over heat for 5 minutes or until cooked.

3. Add rice wine mix and chilli sauce, then eggplant. Stir fry until everything is coated in sauce. Stir through coriander and serve immediately with steamed rice.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Menu Planning Monday

Well I have committed to doing this so I will but if last week is anything to go by whatever I plan will go out the window quickly. Between changes schedules, visitors and illness our plan went quite array but perhaps having a plan to fall back on is really the key.

Monday - dinner out
Tuesday - our daughter is away so maybe shrimp or maybe we will sneak out on a date
Wednesday - smoked salmon crepe cakes
Thursday - homemade meat pie in honour of Australia day
Friday -Sunday I am away.

See not too much to plan.

I do however need to do some baking for my weekend away, and I think I am making a curry as well. School is back next week and I need lunch-box fillers for that as well so my kitchen will see some action but not too much at dinner time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cheats caramel coffee syrup

So this morning I decided to at last try to make some caramel coffee syrup. I really needed a coffee and I was out. Perfect synergy I thought. Then my computer went into meltdown far half an hour and I couldn't find any of the recipes I had previously located that were quick and simple.

Then I decided to look on my phone instead and I still didn't find the original ideas.

I was lucky and found a simpler recipe that added caramel syrup. I don't even know the difference between caramel syrup and caramel coffee syrup so that was out. What I did have was some caramel ice-cream topping left over from our annual Christmas party Make-Your-Own Sundae bar. (Why do I even bother to buy caramel and strawberry topping every year when only one kid ever uses them and all the others go straight for the chocolate? Someone remind me next year. Anyway...)

So while I still plan to make a proper version here is my cheats recipe. I don't think it tastes as good but it cost me a cup of sugar and some left over topping that would have been tossed so with that in mind it is not a bad cheat.

I have a espresso machine so I added it to my cappuccino and it was fine. It wasn't life altering but it was fine. I'll make the real deal later in the week and compare. The real deal uses vanilla beans and so will be certainly more expensive per serve but that's fine with me if it delivers.

Cheats Caramel Coffee Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup caramel topping

1. Combine sugar and water in a small sauce-pan and stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.

2. Carefully (don't splash yourself) add topping and stir until combined. Cool and add to coffee.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

The power of the freezer

I have been a bit off the air the last few days. Friday was a big day on the harbour and then friends for dinner. Then I woke up with a truly disgusting head-cold. What is it about a summer cold that makes it seem so much worse? It just doesn't feel right to want to snuggle up under a blanket on a hot day.

Of course my lovely family are in complete holiday mode and not very proactive on the cooking front. Oddly enough they're pretty good most of the time but some how when life has no schedule it can be six o'clock and no one had even thought about dinner.

This is when having a few meals in the freezer ready to go is a a true life-saver. Tonight we're having stuffed peppers I froze in December. All my lovely husband had to do was get them out and turn on the oven. Nice and easy.

There are lots of ways to get extra meals in the freezer but the simplest is to simply make a double batch of something when you are cooking dinner. Just double the meatball recipe, make some extra soup or as I did fill a few extra peppers with stuffing and you will be set for nights like these. We could get take away food but we generally don't eat take-out (that's a whole other post for another time) but this is quick and convenient and saves us money.

Some other options are:
- pre-made hamburger patties and buns
- minute steaks for steak sandwiches
- spaghetti bolognese
- taco meat (for tacos, burritos etc)
- a curry

What do you keep in your freezer for emergency meals?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Take one chicken...

One of my goals this year is to reduce waste in mysydneykitchen. This of course makes good economic sense but I also read some incredibly alarming statistic recently about the amount of food Australians throw away as scraps and rubbish, mainly due to mismanagement. I am going to say it was 20%, off the top of my head, but I suspect it was a higher figure than that read.

So my lovely husband was making paella for dinner. This is one of his specialities and we gave him a new paella pan for Christmas to encourage him to make it often.

He needed some bone in chicken pieces so we took a chicken and he removed the wings, thigh and lefts to put in the paella. I must say it came out very well. He used mussels this time which I am not a huge fan of generally but they were very nice in this dish.

We then removed the breasts from the chicken and I poached those with some dill and bay leaves. We will  use the chicken in sandwiches over the next day or so.

Finally I took the frame and popped it in the slow cooker with some herbs, carrot, celery and water to make some chicken stock.

Now we have a fresh batch of stock to use next time we have paella or perhaps in our next risotto. We could use it in soup of course but we're not really having soup weather right now in Sydney, still we'll be ready if we need to be.

Cooking with kids

I have a gorgeous 11 year old daughter and we love to cook together. At the moment she is in the kitchen making a chocolate packet cake mix into cupcakes for a playdate she is going to tomorrow.. I've turned on the oven and she will do the rest.
This isn't the most gourmet offering but she's doing it herself and it's a very frugal afternoon's entertainment for her...she has already painted a canvas as well and been swimming.
I think teaching kids to cook is important for a host of reasons. It teaches them that dinner doesn’t magically appear courtesy of the dinner fairy, it teaches them about nutrition and ingredients, it teaches organisation, measurement and planning. Most importantly it teaches them how to feed themselves.

My daughter’s repertoire now includes:

-          Spaghetti Bolognese

-          Spagetti and meatballs

-          Hamburgers

-          Pasta salad

-          Scrambled eggs and bacon

-          Pancakes

-          Salads

-          Sushi

-       Various sandwich fillings such as chicken salad and tuna salad

-          Toblerone Mousse

-          Cakes

-          Cookies

-          Various confections (eg truffles, caramel popcorn etc)
-      Chicken Satay and Nasi Goreng
-      Vietnamese Spring rolls
-      Tartare sauce

She has done menus and run her own restaurant at home for my husband and I twice now creating a three course meal.

She likes the independence and the control cooking gives her. I like to think if I got sick or was incapacitated that she would not starve.

 What are your favourite meals to cook with kids? We are always looking for new ideas here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Menu Plan January 17-21

So here is my menu plan for this week. it's actually already Tuesday in Sydney but my blog doesn't seem to know that yet so maybe I am not technically late yet.

We're on holidays and so we're keeping it loose for the next couple of weeks. The order of things may change as the week progresses but for now here we go!

Let's hope the weather stays nice and we get to have lots of lovely breakfasts and lunches like these.
Monday - BBQ tuna steaks, sweet potato fries, salad and mango mayonnaise (We already had this and it was delish!)
Tuesday - paella
Wednesday - San Choi Bow and eggplant Sichuan-style
Thursday - tacos
Friday - homemade pizza or lamb shoulder on the BBQ
Saturday - will be which-ever we don't have on Friday

Saturday, January 14, 2012

BBQ Quesadillas

I suppose I could have entitled this post "getting your husband to make lunch" as opposed to BBQ Quesaldillas but the result is the same. We came back from a long walk and swim at the beach late.

I decided to suggest quite emphatically that it might be someone else's turn to make a meal and this was the result. Had I been making these myself they would have relied a whole lot more heavily on leftovers than they did.

The ingredients were:-
- tortillas
- the meat from 1/2 a bbq chicken
- grated cheese

- taco sauce
- home-made guacamole
- sour cream

Here we have the tortillas on the bbq with the fillings.

And here we have the finished quesadillas. As with most things I feel like on a nice summer day everything tastes better outside.

Menu planning Monday

All over the internet you will see references to Menu Planning Monday. This is a movement where food, organisational and frugality bloggers share their week's menu on a Monday.

I think this stems from the US where Sunday newspapers include the week's coupons and loss leader advertisements. As a result people plan their menu on a Monday when they shop.

Here in Australia the deals start Wednesday or Thursday. My fliers arrive in my letterbox on a Sunday but the deals are not available until mid-week and sadly we really have no coupons. As a result I don't really plan my menu on a Monday but I like the idea that I could be part of a cyber community of people (mainly women) all planning their week's menu in unison.

So I think from this next week I will join in. When I plan my meals sometimes a week and sometimes a month at a time I don't set the meal to a fixed day because my lovely husband never knows what his work schedule will be.

I include a mix of easy meals and complicated meals, meals using red meat, fish, chicken and vegetarian options too. I try to also include a mix of family favourites, a variety of international cuisines and new ideas. To me whether we eat paella on Saturday or Tuesday is not as important as knowing we can eat it sometime this week.

So we will see how participation in Menu Planning Monday pans out but I'm prepared to give it a try.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I made some pesto today. I had a bunch of basil that wasn't going to get used in the next couple of days so I thought it would be a good idea to find a use for it. I foolishly offered my husband a choice between honey soy and pesto chicken for dinner and he chose the former so I made the pesto anyway and put it in the freezer for another day.

There are a zillion basic pesto recipes out there in the universe so I won't add mine except to say that for some reason pine nuts cost an absolute bomb and seem to go rancid really quickly so I tend to use walnuts in my pesto instead. I buy them in large packs at the fruit shop as they last longer and I always have them on hand. So my recipe is basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, walnuts, salt and pepper...and whiz....

The thing I like about pesto, apart from the way it smells like summer is it's versatility.

Here are some ideas for pesto:
  • Pesto bread - add  a tablespoon or two to a loaf of bread machine bread when it bips and asks for "add ins".
  • Pesto cheese bread - spread on french bread, top with cheese and bake. This is really yummy with soup.
  • Mix with fresh tomato and use to top bruschetta
  • Spread on bread stick and top with shaved Parmesan for yummy bruschetta
  • Mix through cooked arborio rice and stuff into vegetables (peppers, zucchini etc) pour over some spaghetti sauce, top with cheese and bake for a yummy vegetarian dinner
  • Add a tablespoon or two the mix when making chicken meatballs
  • Creamy pesto chicken is a favourite here - brown sliced chicken fillet or thing and a diced onion, add chopped tomato, sliced mushrooms and soften, add pesto and some cream. Let it bubble a bit. Serve over brown rice (my favourite) or pasta.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Choc, banana, berry mini muffins

In the school holidays (as we say in Australia) or vacation as they say in the US one of the hardest things as a parent is to keep enough healthy snacks available for picnics, play dates and other outings. We eat lots of fruit for snacks but sometimes that's just not quite what everyone is in the mood for.

These are also the items that send the grocery budget sky-rocketing. A packet of chips, a box of flavoured crackers, store bought muffins or cake all add up pretty quickly at the check-out. Then there are all the added fats and flavourings as well.

I'm not going to lie to you, I do buy those things but I also try to bake healthy yummy snacks.

Yesterday I thought we were off on a boating picnic today. I was tired and not really in the mood but the oven was on for last night's sweet potato fries so I got up and made a batch of these yummy mini muffins. I had a banana on the turn and a few strawberries and blueberries that weren't going to last so I tossed them in. By making the muffins chocolate they seem like a treat when honestly it's just a bit of cocoa powder.

I'm a big fan of mini muffins. I find a regular Texas-style muffins too big to eat and half always ends up in the trash. Two mini muffins is about what an average kid needs. This recipe made 36 muffins or 16 serves based on that theory. I have put quite a few in the freezer for other days. I like having mini muffins and cake slices in the freezer. When school goes back I can reach in and grab them and toss them in my daughter's lunch or my husband's (he brown-bags when he can). It makes that morning rush easy. A sandwich, some fruit and a couple of muffins is a yummy and healthy lunch.

Choc,banana, berry mini muffins
 2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 egg lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 soft banana, mashed with a fork
1 cup mixed berries, chopped if using strawberries (you could use frozen)

1. Combine flour and sugar in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre.
2. Combine milk, vanilla, egg and oil in a jug. Pour into bowl and stir until just combined.
3. Gently mix in fruit.
4. Spoon into greased mini muffin tins. (You can use muffin papers/liners if you choose)
5. Bake in moderate oven about 10 minutes (will vary according to your oven so check). Turn onto wire rack to cool.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Some recipes I would like to try...

Nothing too exciting happening here in the kitchen today. I have a piece of beef in the crockpot for dinner because I'm feeling lazy and low on iron. I'll make a sweet potato crumble to have with it later.

I was just surfing the net thinking about some recipes I have had on my "must try" list for a while.

For well over a year I have been planning to make gozlemes. I'm not sure why I put of making them. I think perhaps it is the thought of rolling that dough out so thin, but really they are cheap and easy and oh so yummy so I really must get onto this. I'm sure my daughter would enjoy helping with these and I stumbled upon a recipe in a magazine today so it must be a sign from the universe.

Similarly I have wanted to try pannacotta. I keep thinking I will do it when we have friends over and in the end I go for something tried and true, or something easier instead.

Ricotta gnocchi is also on the list. These always look so light and deliscious. They are not hard but I seem to buy the ricotta and end up using it in some other recipe. Another one I really shouldn't put off.

This week I am also definitely planning to make some caramel syrup for coffees. I did make some pumpkin spice latte syrup a couple of years back so I know it's not hard. Santa gave me some caramel syrup for Christmas so I think as the little bottle will be empty in a day or so I will make my own to refill it. I do try and drink coffee at home. I like to add the $4 a coffee out would have cost me to my savings jar. It makes me feel virtuous even though I am anything but most of the time.

I'll post the recipes and pictures for these things and the many many others on my list when I make them. I better go turn some withering berries into muffins for tomorrow's picnic now.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Summer lentil salad

In summer, just like everyone else, we eat lots of salads. This is a simple lentil salad that is a twist on tabbouli. I had planned to make that but inexplicably I was out of burghul. It's funny that because burghul and polenta and cous cous seem to be strange items that either multiply or vanish from my pantry -in this case it was vanish.

Anyway this recipe uses, herbs, tomato and spring onions just like tabbouli but tinned brown lentils instead of burghul (cracked wheat) which made it super quick as I didn't need to waste time waiting for the burgul to soak. The addition of lentils makes it a good option for adding extra fibre to the diet, also a good thing as we start the New Year with all the usual resolutions for healthy eating.

We had ours with fish done on the bbq but this would be nice with grilled chicken or a nice lamb chop as well.

Summer Lentil Salad
1 tin brown lentils, drained and rinsed
8 cherry tomatoes quartered (you could easily dice a whole tomato)
3 spring onions sliced
1/4 cup of baby spinach leaves, shredded
100g feta crumbled
juice of 1/4 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and chill till ready to serve. Serves 4.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Homemade baked beans - the breakfast of champions

My family love my homemade baked beans. My daughter in fact does not even eat tinned baked beans but she, and her friends when they visit, can't get enough of these. They are low in fat but high in both flavour and fibre.

This is a recipe I adapted from one in Jill Dupleix's cookbook, Old Food. I have had this book for years and it is very well-worn. Her baked cheesecake was a  make-ahead dinner party staple for years. My recipe varies from hers in a several ways but keeps the original flavours.

You will love these baked beans. They are inepensive but delicious. They do use maple syrup with can be expensive here in Australia but there Queen now bottles some in Tasmania and Aldi also stocks sometimes so there are options out there.

I use a ham hock, the end of the Christmas ham is perfect and is what I used when I made these a few days agao, but they sell them year-round at the supermarket deli.

Homemade Baked Beans
1 ham bone or hock
1 onion diced
4 240g tins of beans drained and rinsed (any combination of navy beans, white beans, cannellini beans will do, you can make one tin kidney beans for variety)
2 cloves
1 tin diced tomatoes
1tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp maple syrup
2tbsp worstershire sauce
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 extra tablespoon brown sugar (optional)

Heat some olive oil in a heavy based casserolle dish or saucepan with a lid. Add the onion and cook on low until soft, about 5 minutes. Stick the cloves into the ham hock and add to pan. Add remaining ingredients (except extra brown sugar) plus 2 cups of water to pan. Stir and cover.

This is mine just before I put it in the oven.

Bake in the oven for 1.5 hours, stirring once or twice, if you feel it's too dry you can add extra water, though I have never had to. Remove lid and take out ham hock, remove meat and fat from the bone. Also remove the cloves and bay leaf at this time. Return meat to the pan and extra brown sugar if using and bake an additional half hour.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year, New Start Again

Apparently I decided at the same time last year to commit to posting regularly on this blog. Clearly that didn't happen in 2011 so let's hope for a much better result in 2012.

Summer is in full swing here and for us it means lots of picnics, boating and catching up with friends. Yesterday as I was preparing for a houseful of guests I decided I would host a themed dinner every month in 2012.

Last night's dinner was an easy favourite a pizza and pasta night. We made a double batch of pizza dough and made up four pizzas; ham and pineapple, ham and mushroom, supreme and bbq meatlovers. I also did a big batch of bolognese suace and pulled a ham, pea and mushroom pasta bake from the freezer. Friends brough nibbles, garlic bread and salad. Easy.

Some of the themed dinners I have in mind for the year include:
  • Chinese New Year
  • Greek night
  • Indian or Curry night
  • Christmas in July
  • American
  • Paella night
Meanwhile we have been doing some dinners of fish which we catch on the harbour. We usually serve it with home made tartare sauce. Tartare sauce is really very easy to make and the homemade is far superior to the stuff you get in the jar so take 5 minutes to make your own next time you are having fish for dinner. The most important thing is to use good whole egg mayonaise - if you use the cheap vinegary stuff you may as well just open a jar or tartare. I like the S&W brand but there are other good ones out there such as Paul Newmans and Hellmans.

This is the basic recipe but you need to taste for for sweetness and saltiness yourself.

Tartare Sauce
1/2 a cup whole egg mayonaise (you can of coure make your own)
1/2 teaspoon dill (Fresh or dried)
2 sweet cucumber pickles diced
1 teaspoon of capers
generous squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

 Combine all in a small bowl or ramekin. Enjoy! It does taste better if you can pop it back in the fridge for a while to let the flavours combine but you can certainly have it straight away.