Friday, March 30, 2012

Are we going on a picnic?

Well I wish I knew the answer to that question. Last night I asked my family what they wanted to do on Sunday. Shall we go on the boat? Shall we go to town? Shall we go to a National Park? Anyone got a different idea?

When we went to bed last night no one had really given me an answer. Helpful, right? So today my husband is working which makes planning impossible. (It's a very annoying aspect of his job actually that he often seems to work on sunny Saturdays).

So what do I do about the possible need for a picnic lunch tomorrow? Chicken wraps are the answer.

Today while my daughter and I were having lunch I tossed some chicken tenders in with the contents of a pack of southern fried coating mix and baked in the oven for 25 minutes. I like this coating because it doesn't use oil or anything else to coat the chicken, so it's actually low in fat but gives you that fried chicken taste. It also works really well on chicken legs.

Now we have crumbed chicken tenders ready to go. If we end up going on a picnic I'll use the above ingredients to make chicken wraps not unlike those from a famous fast food chain - good mayo, lettuce, tomato and tortillas and we're good to go.. Should we decide to do something else the chicken will be great for school and work lunches this week.

We can fill out the picnic with fruit, crackers and some dip. Simple. Inexpensive. Tasty.

What's your favourite picnic stand-by?

Pizza Night and Italian Night

As part of our no take-away pact that has been going for 2 years now we regularly replicate take-out food at home.

The most successful attempts at this include meat pies, sausage rolls, Chinese food, sushi and of course pizza!

Lots of people do home-made pizza night and we're no exception. The trick is to get a good pizza base that suits your taste. I know people who swear by pizza stones and cornmeal crusts. We do a basic dough which we throw in the oven on cheap metal trays. However we have a gas oven and I think the way it heats is quite like a pizza heats from below. Whatever we've done we've had Italian nights in the last few months with two groups of friends who make their pizzas differently to ours who found ours entirely delish!

Italian night is easy...4 pizzas (make double quantity of bases) and then spaghetti and meatballs done in the crock pot/slow-cooker, add salad and garlic bread and it's a very yummy family-friendly feast.

Here are some of our favourite toppings:
- ham and pineapple
- ham and mushroom
- proscuttio and grilled asparagus
- BBQ meat lovers (BBQ sauce base, mini meatballs or Italian sausage filling, salami, ham, cabanosi)
- supreme - ham, salami, mushrooms, onions, olives, sausage, anchovies

All of course with fresh basil and mozzarella!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Menu Planning Monday

I haven't done this in a while because I seemed to be planning for no purpose because the plans changed. This week looks a bit more normal so let's give it a try.

Monday - Pork cutlets, potato bake, ccorn, carrots and asparagus
Tuesday - Crumbed whiting and salad
Wednesday - Burgers and Onion Rings
Thursday - Chicken and Asparagus Strudel
Friday - Homemade pizza

Let's see how I go?!

Custard two-ways

Today was grandparents day at my daughter's school. It's her final one actually as she is in Year 6. My Dad dutifully attends this event every year. He takes the morning off work, rocks up in his suit, eats his hot-cross bun and heads back to the office. My parents live an hour away and it's a rather convoluted trip to the office.

Anyway I had bought some mini pastry cases with a view to making some custard tarts one day and what is one of my Dad's favourite cake-shop treats from his childhood? Yes, the custard tart so last night I made a batch of custard up for custard tarts.

Of course because mine were mini tarts and we had leftover custard so I decided to make bread and butter pudding with the remains. Not just any bread and butter pudding mind you - choc chip hot cross bun bread and butter pudding!

So we had the pudding after dinner and today the lunchbox had custard tarts for my daughter and her grandfather!

3 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste or the beans from 1/2 a vanilla pod
2 3/4 cups milk.

1. Whisk all together in a large bowl.

Custard Tarts
12 pre-made mini tart shells (I used Sara Lee)
1/2 quantity of custard
nutmeg to sprinkle on top.

1. Fill pastry cases with custard.
2. Sprinkle with nutmeg
3.Bake till set, about 20 minutes.

Choc Chip Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding
4 choc chip hot cross buns
1/2 serve of custard
1/2 cup walnuts

1. Slice hot cross buns and arrange in a casserole dish
2. Pour over custard
3. Scatter over walnuts.
4. Bake in moderate oven 30-35 minutes
5. Serve with ice-cream or whipped cream.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Poached Chicken Breasts.

I used to belong to a web community where one of the women insisted it was super ecomonical to poach chicken breasts on the weekend to use during the week in salads, sandwiches etc.

At the time I couldn't find chicken under $12-13 a kilo so it didn't seem to be ver economical to me. Recently however chicken breasts have regulary been on sale at fruit markets and butchers near me for between $6-7 and I have started doing this myself.

Usually on Sunday I poach a couple of chicken breasts.

Poaching just involves cooking the chicken in water and vinegar with some herbs. I usually use white vinegar, peppercorns and bayleaves. Simple! (Though sadly not overly attractive!)

So how do we use the chicken?

Sunday night I make chicken pasta salad for my daughter's lunchbox (or I have her do it). We usually make enough for a couple of lunches. The rest I turn into simple chicken salad - my version has celery and dill through it and we use that on sandwiches through to Wednesday. For about $4 we get the protein for 9 lunches which is pretty good value ie 3 days worth for 3 people.

Other ways we've used it:
Chicken bruchetta sandwich

Vietnamese spring rolls
Chicken and corn soup
Chicken and mushroom pasta

Anyway, it's an idea you might like to try for yourself.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The emergency stash!

Life is a crazy roller-coaster sometimes. I love that scene from the original Parenthood movie where the grandma describes life as a roller-coaster and she talks about how some people like the calm merry-go round but she likes the roller coaster

Well, I sometimes think I might prefer a nice mix of the two.

Anyway, whoever you are I think sometimes despite planning and careful thought you just can't plan ahead for everything. Lots of people like to menu plan. It saves money and it makes life nice and easy. I have come to learn though that in my life plans come unstuck more often than not and we can easily be left trying to work out what dinner should be at the last minute as a result.

My family made a no take-out pact at the start of 2011 so I really try to avoid that. As a result I need to have foods we can have on nights when it's just my daughter and I at the last minute or when my husband who wasn't coming home announces he actually will be home for dinner or he'll be home at 9pm and would really like something then.

So I have an emergency stash. Tonight for example my daughter and I are having pre-made chicken schnitzels I got at the supermarket deli, add some cooked pasta (for her) and salad and some cooked veggies (for me) and it's a quick meal. At $3 for 2 schnitzels on sale it is also a whole lot cheaper than take out and we are eating veggies and salad.

Other things currently in my emergency stash include pre-made burger patties and buns for instant burgers and minute steaks for quick steak sandwiches. We can get both those meals on the table in under 20 minutes. Other things I sometimes buy include pre-made chicken kebabs and or a hot smoked salmon fillet which can go on a salad or through pasta with some green veggies.

I prefer to take time and plan my meals but sometimes you have to be ready for organised spontaneity.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A couple of pantry favourites

There are posts all over the internet about what you should keep in your pantry or what constitutes a well-stocked pantry. Everyone is different in the way they eat and what they use.

Here are a couple of my pantry favourites Real Consomme and UHT Cream. I always have these two babies in my pantry and I will tell you why.

I use Real Consomme where a recipe calls for chicken stock whenever I don't have any homemade available. It has a less manufactured and much less salty taste than pre-made stock. If I want that flavour I will use a stock cube and save myself $2.50.

Until  a couple of years back Real Consomme was found in a tin in the soup section because consomme is basically clear chicken soup. Then the manufacturers entered their tetra pack phase. For some reason (and I would love to see the market research on this) Australians think things in tetra packs are "fresher" than things in tins and will pay more for them. This applies to regular soup as well. Go to the soup aisle and price a tin of pumpkin or tomato soup, then look at the same soup in a tetra pack, made by the same company with the same ingredients. Do a price check. It will fascinate you.

Anyway in Australia at least you now have to buy your consomme where they sell stock not where they sell soups. It tastes better than manufactured stock and tastes closer to homemade.

I use it in:
- soups
- risottos
- pies
- paella
- deglazing a pan
- sauces

Of course we would all agree real home-made is better but sometimes that's just not available

UHT Cream can be found in the same section of the supermarket as soy milk and sometimes evaporated milk. It's usually up high on the shelves. In my area one of the two major supermarket chains sells two brands of UHT cream and the other brand sells none. Weird huh?

I can't stand UHT milk to drink, but I am sure it would be fine to cook with. UHT cream is the same, it's fine for cooking. It's also half the price of a 300ml carton of fresh cream.

I use it in:
- soups
- creamy pasta sauce
- polenta
- creamy casseroles (like Chicken and Mushroom)

And I know this particular carton says it is fine for whipping but I might add it never whips well for me so I'd take that with a grain of salt.

With these two things in my cupboard I can pull together an awful lot of meals without running to the shops at the last minute. You might want to consider grabbing some for your pantry.

(Obviously I have zero affiliation with either brand/product displayed).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What makes a great sandwich?

When I first started working an office way back in the early 1990's we used to walk to a rather wonderful sandwich shop a couple of blocks from the office.

The sandwich shop made wonderful sandwiches that stood like towers and were filled with a myriad of ingredients both mundane and exotic...mind you what we considered exotic back then would be pretty commonplace now (and some things have come and gone again) but still - satay sauce, sprouts, peppered cheese, brie, Swiss cheese, pastrami, smoked salmon, alfalfa sprouts, cranberry sauce all spring to mind.

I often ordered the same sandwich eventually because we are after all creatures of habit - that must be why when I stand at the supermarket deli counter I seem to walk away time and again with ham and turkey when I could have porchetta, mortadella or brawn (OK brawn is disgusting that's why I leave the brawn).

This sandwich shop still exists by the way and they still make great sandwiches but that's not the point of this blog.

What I learnt from one of the women who worked at the shop was how to make a good sandwich and the lesson is all about technique and not at all about content.

Here is the rule - wet-dry-wet- dry-wet.

Here is an example - bread- mayo- ham-mustard-cheddar- butter-bread or bread-wet-dry-wet-dry-wet-bread.

Another - cream cheese-turkey-cranberry-lettuce-cream cheese.

Another - egg salad - lettuce- pickle

Another - avocado -bacon -tomato- lettuce - mayo (or today's lunch which would have been better with sliced tomato than cherry but you get the idea!)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Take a bag of carrots...

Last week at my local fruit shop two bags of carrots cost $1.50. That's a bargain and so of course I bought two. There are only three of us here and we've hardly all been home on the same night at the same time to even eat a decent meal.

So on this lazy Sunday I decided it was time to turn these carrots into something.

Firstly I decided to make this Banana-Carrot Cake which is a lunch box staple here.

Then I made a nice batch Carrot Soup. I love carrot soup. It's warming and hearty but somehow doesn't feel as heavy as Pumpkin Soup.

It's a very basic recipe and you can adapt it to your needs. I use cream in mine but you could use milk or soy milk or even coconut milk or if you were on a diet water and coconut milk powder. Again I use basic mixed herbs but you could use curry powder and ginger instead for a more exotic flavour.

Carrot Soup

1 onion diced
3 rashers of bacon diced
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
750g of carrots or about 3/4 bag, sliced.
1/2 cup cream.
oil to cook.

1. Heat oil in saucepan and add onion. Cook until translucent. Add bacon and cook till soft, about 2 minutes.
2. Add herbs and sliced carrots. Toss till carrots coated. Add chicken stock and simmer until carrots cooked, around 20-25 minutes.
3. Use a stick blender and process until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of cream and combine.

Serves 4.

I plan to freeze mine, hence the not so attractive plastic container.

I grated too many carrots so I have some in the fridge to add to some spaghetti sauce in the next day or so but that's the bag gone and for 75c I feel like I got got great bang for my buck.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Florentine Stuffed Mushrooms

I really love mushrooms and stuffed mushrooms are the bomb! At my local shopping mall I saw some interesting stuffed mushrooms lately and decided to do my own version.

These combine several things we love in our house; chicken, spinach, cheese and mushrooms

This isn't a recipe as much as a concept I suppose because you could use lamb mince or beef or pork mince and it would be just as yummy. I used Swiss cheese to top my husband and my mushroom but tasty cheese on my daughter's. I think this is a yummy adaptable recipe that is full of flavour and low in carbs.

Florentine Stuffed Mushrooms

I combined chicken mince and herbs and pressed into the field mushrooms - obviously I removed their stems first.

I added the stems to my version of creamed spinach - spinach, chopped tomato, chopped mushroom, nutmeg, Parmesan - but I used cream cheese instead of cream. I did that so the mix would be thicker and not runny. I popped it on top of the chicken, added some Swiss cheese and baked for about 25 minutes.

Super yummy and inexpensive dinner.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What's been happening in my kitchen?

Well I haven't posted in a while. The reasons for this are many and varied but include:
  • taking my daughter to three high school open days in a week
  • finding all the paperwork for high school applications
  • a day of freezer cooking
  • my camera deciding to play up
  • my computer hard-drive giving up the ghost
  • my husband helpfully misplacing his camera that I took back-up photos on
As with so many things in life sometimes it does feel just a tiny bit as if the universe is conspiring against one.

My freezer cooking day last week was a big effort but has made the past week's abundant crazy so much easier. So far we've eaten a gnocchi bake, a meatloaf, twice baked potato and sweet potato crumble from the day.

I think I mentioned before that I don't do all chicken dishes or all pasta dishes because that's just not what we like to eat or how we eat so I do a big mish-mash of things. I know that doesn't work for everyone but for us a freezer full of chicken won't help because we don't want to eat that every night for two weeks. Here is what I finished up with:

  • meatloaves x 2
  • sweet potato crumble x 2
  • twice baked potato x 3 serves for us
  • lamb and mushroom pie filling
  • gnocchi bake
  • zucchini slice
  • potato soup

I definitely need to do another batch of baked goods. My daughter made the ever simple lemonade scones on the weekend. These are a super easy thing for kids to make.

Carrots were on sale this week so I can see banana carrot cake and hummingbird cakes on the horizon.

Anyway, hopefully the hiccups have ended and I can get back to blogging in earnest again.

Friday, March 2, 2012

March in the kitchen

If February or my calendar are any indication then March is going to be a pretty hectic old month. I blinked and missed February. I managed to make a photograph a few meals that I just never got to post here...nuts!

So I will be adding in the next few days:
  • Triple Chocolate Brownies
  • Chicken Florentine Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Brown Rice Pilaf
Meanwhile I also want to get some freezer cooking done because otherwise I can see us going hungry or eating lots of junk in the weeks ahead. I plan to make and will post recipes for among other things:
  • Zesty Chicken Enchiladas
  • Honey mustard chicken
  • Salmon quiche
  • Sweet potato crumble
  • Twice baked potato
  • Low-carb and gluten free Moussaka
I know when people do freezer or batch cooking they often do all recipes using all the same main ingredient eg all chicken or all minced meat/ground beef, but I don't really find that is any more efficient for me and I don't want too much of the same thing in the freezer either because we like variety.
I find too that if you a quick side or vegetable dish ready that you can reheat it is a real time saver because it really doesn't take too long to cook a steak and if you can add bagged salad and a nice twice baked potato well that dinner can be done in under 20 minutes.

So I will be back!