Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Vego shepherd's pie

Hmmm. The name of this dish doesn't quite work. No sheep or shepherds are involved in its construction! Suggestions for a new name are most welcome ...

1 kg potatoes
1 cup cheese, grated

1 cup red kidney beans (tinned, or rehydrated)
2 large onions, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 green capsicum, diced
2 tbsp wholemeal flour *
1 cup vegetable stock
basil, oregano, paprika and/or parsley (to taste)
1 tbsp soy sauce *
2 tbsp tomato paste
corn kernels
baby corn spears

Boil the potatoes, and when they are soft mash with the cheese and milk. While the potatoes are cooking, combine all other ingredients in a large microwaveable container, and cook on high for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put the vegetable mixture into a large casserole dish and top with the potato mixture. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 minutes. Serves four to six, and is reheatable.

* for a gluten free version, use tamari instead of soy sauce, and either omit the flour or replace it with a gluten free thickener such as rice or potato flour.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Why use a weekly menu?

We’ve been using a menu to plan meals in our house for many years now. Just about everyone who hears about it, though, finds the idea bizarre. I wonder why? Meal planning helps our household achieve triple bottom line sustainability (to borrow a term from the environmental movement). Let me explain …

It saves money. By planning exactly what we’d like to eat each week, we can make a shopping list that includes all the required ingredients. With a well organised shopping list, you’re less likely to make impulse buys, and also less likely to need extra impromptu trips to the shops. It also saves money as no ingredients are wasted. None!

It saves resources. A few years ago, The Australia Institute produced a report on wasteful consumption which found that ‘Overall Australians threw away $2.9 billion of fresh food, $630 million of uneaten take-away food, $876 million of leftovers, $596 million of unfinished drinks and $241 million of frozen food, a total of $5.3 billion on all forms of food in 2004’ (page 6). Quite apart from the economic waste (which is appalling), what about the environmental impacts of this type of waste? The emissions created from producing and disposing of unused food, landfill loaded with discarded food and packaging, the time and energy and water wasted in growing and processing things that never get eaten. Our weekly menu is a great way to avoid waste. By being conscious of what food we have in the house, we ensure that everything gets eaten before it shrivels, or gets mouldy, or reaches its best-before date. Whenever I partially use a food item, I immediately plan how and when to use the remainder. For example, spare cream might go into a pasta dish, or be served with a dessert. Extra feta cheese or eggs might be used up in an omelette or quiche. A sudden surfeit of tomatoes might be used in a home made pasta sauce, or a batch of ratatouille or shakshuka.

It saves time and makes for a balanced and delicious diet. When I get home after work, the last thing I want to do is to have to work out what to cook, whether we have the ingredients, and how to get the missing ones. It is much quicker just to glance at the menu, take the ingredients out of the fridge, cupboard or freezer, and cook them! It also saves time if you make larger quantities and freeze extra portions. Dishes like soups, stews and curries are generally easy to cook in bulk, and simple to freeze for later consumption. By planning meals ahead of time, we can ensure that we get plenty of variety and don’t get bored with what we eat.

This next bit might sound a bit obsessive, but so be it. Every now and then, I gather up all the hand written menus I’ve made lately, and put the data into an Excel spreadsheet. This is a fun exercise because – as well as giving me an idea of what our most-eaten meals are – it reminds me of dishes I’d forgotten, and provides inspiration for new dishes I might want to invent.

Menu planning doesn’t have to be done all in one go, and doesn’t have to be rigid. We go to the supermarket twice a week, and have a farm shop cycling distance from our house, so provided I’ve planned the next three days’ meals in advance that’s usually plenty. If there won’t be much time available for cooking one night (or we haven’t had a chance to buy ingredients) there are always a few soups, stews or curries in the freezer that can easily be defrosted. I recommend using a menu. It frees up time and money to do other things. Like gardening :-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dinner @ Seven Creeks Hotel, Euroa

Andrew and I are still travelling around country Victoria. We first visited the town of Euroa about three or four years ago and have been back regularly since then. Each time we're in town we have dinner at the Seven Creeks Hotel. We're creatures of habit! This time we ate:

Grilled garlic bread

Beef and Guinness pie

Roast pork with spiced maple syrup
glaze and baked caramelised apple

and some vegetables on the side. Delicious!

On previous visits we'd stayed at cheap 'n cheerful motels but this time we splashed out and spent a night at the charming Euroa Butter Factory. It's now a boutique hotel.

Very nice

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bright by name, bright by nature

We're in Bright, Victoria! A seriously cute little town. It's on the way to the mountains so the population and busy-ness varies widely from season to season, a bit like in Jindabyne, I guess. We travel to Victoria most years to enjoy the country towns, the local produce, the wineries and the scenery, but hadn't ever stayed in Bright. So it has been lovely to explore a new place. Bright is surrounded by delightfully named wee towns like Myrtleford and Harrietville. The whole region has reinvented itself in recent years; up until about ten years ago a lot of local farms grew tobacco. Now you see more diversified crops and industries, including ...

Local wines, walnuts, olives, mustards, chocolate and pumpkin seeds

We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Suganya's Thai Restaurant:

Stayed at the seriously adorable Autumn Affair Cottages:

and have enjoyed the sights and flavours ...

Thanks, Bright!

Brekkie @ Scribbler's Cafe, Wangaratta

Wangaratta is a town in northern Victoria, not far from the NSW border. We stumbled across Scribbler's Cafe many years ago, and enjoyed the food and ambience so much that we've eaten there at least annually, ever since! I am a creature of habit and always order the smoked salmon with potato fritters. The accompaniments vary from time to time but the dish never fails to be delicious. This time the configuration was ...

Smoked salmon, potato fritters, rocket, pureed
beetroot, poached egg and Milawa mustard dressing


Andrew had:

Shakshuka (Moroccan-style stew with tomato, chorizo,
chickpeas and olives, topped with dukkah, poached
eggs, feta and coriander, and served with flat bread)

It was, as always, a fabulous feast. Exactly what we needed before hitting the road for a ten day wander around lovely Victoria ...

Scribbler's is at 66 Reid Street, Wangaratta.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A festival of French Toast

My partner Andrew is a BIG fan of French toast. We treat ourselves to Sunday brekkie at a cafe most weeks and if there's a French toast option he usually orders it. We've been to Stand By Me in Lyons four or five times now and they always have spectacular French toast specials. Today they outdid themselves with ...

Rocky Road French Toast!!

Oh. My. Goodness.

On other occasions they've had offerings such as:

French toast with poached pears, pear purée,  almond 
praline and almond cream

Going For Gold French toast (with mini pavlovas,
kiwifruit, passion fruit curd and Brazil nuts)

Key lime French toast with mango

It's a hard act to follow, though honourable mentions should also go to a few other Canberra cafes:

U&Co: French toast made with brioche, topped with candied walnuts,
caramelised banana and maple syrup, with a side of bacon

Little Oink: 'Parlez-vous francais ... toast': brioche
French toast 
with bacon and maple syrup

Chatterbox: Brioche French toast served with
banana and maple syrup

Andrew also recommends Toast Cafe in Surry Hills, Sydney ...


... where the French toast comes with grilled banana,
cinnamon ricotta, maple syrup and mixed berries

Most of these are too dessert-y for me. If you fancy trying a more savoury version of French toast ... how about Bombay toast?!

Recipe here if you're interested

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Gardening. Who knew?

We bought our first house about three months ago. Not our first dwelling, as we'd owned a flat and a townhouse in the past, but our first free-standing house, complete with lawns and shed and washing line and weeds. In the suburbs. (I guess that, technically, our previous places were in suburbs too, but this feels like a whole new level of suburban.) It's been a blast!

Very happy to have a full-sized, outdoor washing line

There's a cute wee deck out the back

James the goldfish even has his own room, dubbed 'the
aquarium'  by the guy who came to install curtains

I'm on a steep learning curve in the garden, but am thoroughly enjoying having so much space to potter in. At our old townhouse I grew a few vegetables and herbs, but there wasn't much room, warmth or light. Once we've eradicated more of the weeds here we're hoping to grow heaps of vegetables, fruits, flowers and native shrubs.

There's a pretty-ish little weedy wilderness behind the house

Ivy ... so much ivy! It has to go to make room for vegetable plants

Weeding. Urban archaeology? So far I've excavated
balls (cricket, soccer, tennis ...) and a toilet brush

New toy! I enjoyed mowing as a teenager and enjoy mowing now

My mum never approved of my interest in lawn mowing. She wanted her daughters to be 'ladylike' and mowing seemed distinctly unladylike. Enough to see me called a tomboy. (As an aside ... I wonder if the word 'tomboy' was a 1970s euphemism for 'probable future lesbian'?)

While our previous apartments felt a bit like places to camp between work days, this house feels different. It is a place to nurture and be nurtured, a place to hang out, a place to grow old.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Special Delivery: Favourite food to make and take

Annabel Crabb is a woman of many talents. I've long enjoyed her political commentary, her wry columns on everyday life, and her TV series Kitchen Cabinet. Not to mention, her outfits! I wish I knew where she found those fabulous shoes.

Anyway ... Annabel and her friend Wendy Sharpe produced a gorgeous recipe book, covering portable food, a few months ago and it seemed right down my alley. I do like a dish I can easily transport to the office for morning tea, or a friend's place for lunch or dinner. Special Delivery includes all manner of sweet and savoury dishes and after borrowing it from the library (on a short loan as there were dozens of others in the queue for it) I realised it needed to join my recipe book collection. I think it was the recipe for spaghetti lentilaise  a vego version of spaghetti bolognese  that convinced me. Can't wait to try it!

I was reluctant to buy the hard copy book though (my recipe book shelf is groaning under the weight of many, many books already) so tried something new ... I bought the Kindle version. First time I've bought an entire recipe collection as an ebook, and so far, so good. The book is fully searchable and has a comprehensive index. It'll be a new adventure, cooking from an electronic book.

Thanks Annabel and Wendy. Your recipes are delightful.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mini cheese soufflés

Too busy (or hungry) to cook a full-sized cheese soufflé? Make muffin-sized ones!

3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 cup grated cheese
freshly ground pepper

Separate egg yolks from whites and leave at room temperature. Make a cheese sauce by melting butter, mixing in the flour and cooking till it bubbles, then adding the milk and cooking till it thickens, then stirring the cheese in. Mix well and allow to cool. Beat egg yolks with pepper and fold into cheese sauce. Beat egg whites until stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the egg whites with the cheese sauce. Spoon into muffin trays and bake at 180 degrees C for 30 to 40 minutes, or until mixture is firm.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Choc chip cookies, two ways

From a very young age I used to make chocolate chip cookies using this recipe, found in my Mum's handwritten cookbook from her teenage years. They were easy to make and a real crowd-pleaser, but very sweet. Recently I've been experimenting with adding chocolate chips  and other goodies  to traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits instead. They have a different texture, less chewy and not so sweet, and you can make the dough ahead of time, pop it in the fridge or freezer, and cook at a later date. This week I made a batch of choc chip shortbread cookies for a colleague's birthday:

The shortbread mixture welcomes all sorts of other inclusions. I've made this recipe with white choc chips and macadamias, pistachios and cranberries, and white choc chips and cocoa. You could also use M&Ms or other sweets [candies]. More experimentation may be required. I wonder if green tea or peanut butter shortbread would work ...?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Precrastination (no, that's not a typo)

I'm not a procrastinator. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m the sort of person who gets chores out of the way before doing fun stuff, who completes their uni assignments weeks before others have started theirs, and who sometimes rushes into a decision before she has all the facts (not ideal, I know). I’ve long searched for a word to describe non-procrastinators such as myself. The Macquarie Thesaurus (www.macquarieonline.com.au) shows four synonyms for procrastination – avoidance, idleness, indecision and lateness – but no antonyms.

Anyway … a couple of years ago I reread Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did series of books, which were originally published between 1872 and 1890. They're kids’ books, but still enjoyable to read now I'm an adult. In the fourth book, Clover, Katy is described as having forehandedness and it seems that this is the opposite of procrastination. A handy, if archaic, term.

This week, I've found another, newly-coined, word for non-procrastination: precrastination! If you type it into Google it will initially assume you've made a mistake, but there have been several articles on the subject in, for example, Scientific American and Psychology Today over the past couple of years. They argue that this tendency has both pros and cons (of course it does!) but on balance I feel pretty comfortable doing things ahead of time rather than waiting till the last minute. It's a bit like having a personal incentive program, where you get unpleasant or difficult tasks out of the way before allowing yourself to relax. Now, I'd better go and clean the bathroom before I go out for coffee ...

Rocky road ... mmmmmm!

I've always been partial to rocky road, so yesterday had a go at making it myself. Essentially it is just a mélange of ... whatever you like ... bound together with melted chocolate. For this one, I lined a baking tin with nonstick paper, then spread a layer of dark chocolate mixed with desiccated coconut on the bottom, then studded the base with marshmallows, toasted pistachio nuts, white chocolate chunks and chopped Turkish Delight, and drizzled more melted chocolate over the top. It was pretty hard to cut, even with a warm knife, so looks a bit rustic! Tastes great though.

We're taking the rocky road to our friends' place for dinner tonight

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When corn muffins get even cornier ... or is it more corny?

Last week's Rio Olympics-themed brekkie at Stand By Me featured a fabulous cornbread! Great flavour, great texture, and actual corn kernels throughout. I've often made cornmeal muffins but it had never occurred to me to add chunks of corn. Tried it today and the resulting muffins were excellent ...

1 cob of corn (microwave it for about three minutes, then slice the kernels off with a sharp knife)

1 cup wholemeal flour
0.5 cup cornmeal (also known as polenta)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
0.75 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the egg, milk, butter and corn kernels. Spoon into greased muffin pans and bake at 180 degrees C for about 20 to 25 minutes (test with a skewer). These freeze well for weekday lunches.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pumpkin scones

An easy, delicious and quintessentially Australian recipe ... for my friend Elizabeth!

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
4 cups wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir the butter in so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then beat the eggs in. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well, adding up to half a cup of milk if required to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 20 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to take to work for lunch.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Red velvet cake

Red velvet cake is simply a purple-tinged chocolate cake. Some recipes use red food colouring, but another (healthier) option is to use fresh beetroot [Beta vulgaris, or beets].

1 bunch beetroot (anywhere between 200 g and 500 g seems OK)
2 cups wholemeal flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 cup olive oil
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Cook and purée the beetroot. (My tip: I wash, peel and chop the beetroot, then microwave it for about five to seven minutes. Make sure you put a lid on the container you use, or the microwave will end up looking like a crime scene. Cool the cooked beetroot before attempting to purée it.)

Oil and flour a 25 cm round cake tin. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powder together. In another bowl, mix the oil, eggs and puréed beetroot together. Fold all ingredients together. Bake 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a rack, and serve topped with cream cheese icing:

100 g cream cheese
50 g butter
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Beat all together. Ice when cake is cold.

This cake contains vegetables and cheese. Could we perhaps argue that
it is actually a salad? (Just kidding!)