Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Emergency Entertaining: Cous Cous Salad

We have reached barbecue season! And because we are those sort of people, Ryan asked a friend over for dinner with about half an hour's notice.

I wasn't fussed (Ryan cleaned up). I had a big pack of sausages, enough crispy things for a simple green salad, and everything I needed to make couscous salad. Ryan went to the shops for beer (and crusty bread). Lovely home made cake was brought by lovely friend. I think our entire dinner cost about $5 a head. And it was easy and happy and fun.

Potato salad would have been too slow. So here's my recipe for couscous salad.

Cous Cous Salad

Boil the kettle. Put 3/4 cup of couscous in a heat proof bowl, and start adding fun stuff. For me that was a couple of tablespoons each of sultanas and sunflower seeds, half a finely diced red onion and some minced parsley. Any sort of green onion would have done - and any sort of nut or seed (I like the crunch). Coriander would have been better than parsley, but any fresh herbs are nice. Then flavour (I used a teaspoon of vegeta stock and a good shake of harissa herbs). Mix it all together, and pour over about a cup of boiling water. Let sit. When it's cooled and the water is all absorbed, fluff with a fork.


Menuplan Monday - October 30

Oops! Not quite sure what happened to yesterday's post. But here it is anyway.

This week I'm taking inspiration from $40 a week, who is hosting November's Weekend Cookbook Challenge. I'll do my proper entry at the end of the week, but here's my menuplan for the week!

- spinach and tomato pasta (left over spinach)
- vegetarian chilli with pita chips
- home made pizza (ham and pineapple, and chicken barbecue)
- butter chicken soup (from Destitute Gourmet's Everyday smart food for the family)
- seared fish with sweet and sour glaze (also Destitute Gourmet)
- dhal and samosas (samosas from the same cookbook)

I'll try to keep track of what I spend - so far it's only been $15.
Happy Tuesday!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Freezer food: meals when you don't want to think

Life's been full of hiking and dancing and climbing lately. It's pesky trying to fit it all around work. And it's even more annoying when it cuts into my cooking time. For the nights when there simply is no time for cooking, I've been exploring other avenues.
One thing that looked really promising was the Mega Menu Mailers from savingdinner.com. I had bought the Vegetarian MegaMailer for my friend Special K (she had a new, very early, baby boy), but we never ended up cooking it. Now I dug it up and had a second look. I only have two shelves of freezer space, and the mailer makes 20 meals for 4. I decided to pick 10 - 4 serves would mean left overs for lunches.
The plan
First I had to choose my meals. Then I had to cut down the shopping list to the relevant ingredients.
Issue 1. Americans have some weird ingredients - I don't know what vegetarian sausage is, or peach preserves. And I've never seen frozen spinach.
Issue 2. Converting from imperial to metric is a major pain.
That took about an hour.
The Shop
It came to around $100, which isn't too bad for 10 dinners and 10 lunches. I did a lot of traipsing back and forth, looking for things I don't normally buy.
Issue 3. Processed soy products (like veggie patties and soy sausages) are not cheap!
Issue 4. I'm totally confused about ounces and liquid ounces, and shouldn't try to guess what those quantities could be in grams. The chop
Ryan left me on Saturday morning to prep all the ingredients. It took about 2 hours - a lot longer than I thought.
Issue 5. Chopping around 6 cups of onion is not fun.
This was probably the easiest bit. The instructions were very clear, and there was no cooking involved.
Issue 6. Having to eat all the icecream to make room in the freezer.
The result
I ended up with:
Teriyaki Broccoli Mushrooms
Crock Bean and Veggie Soup
Veggie Italian Casserole *
Dijon Rosemary Patties *
Green Chili and Cheese frittata
Roast Vegetables and Beans
Veggie lasagna *
Barbecue Confetti Pasta *
Cashew Tempeh
Baked Dill Tofu on Rice

We've tried the ones with stars so far. They were pretty good! Especially the lasagna. I'll probably tweak them a bit in the future, but they are all great meals at the end of a long day.

I don't think I'll ever go completely 'Once a Month', but this has been a great fall back. And Saving Dinner was a great starting point - even if they do have weird ingredients.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - October 22

This week's very simple - it's mostly just me at home:

Italian-style vegetarian casserole
Chicken Tikka
Beef and red wine stew
Creamy spinach pasta
Chunky salad
Sausage sizzle

Happy Monday!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mushroom Quiche: or how to find calm on a week night

Every so often, life gets crazy and we stop enjoying making dinner. We still cook to eat, but it's the fast, uninspired stuff that gets you through the week. When cooking stops being fun, and starts being a chore, I know my life could use a little more balance.
I decided to make quiche. Not the fast, low-fat, freezer pastry version. The sort that requires blind baking and butter and - well, time. I skipped the gym. I got out my new flan pan - I hadn't even christened it since Ryan bought it for me. I put on the radio instead of the TV, and I didn't even look at my computer.
Pastry Making requires my Women's Weekly Basic Cooking book. I substituted wholemeal flour, but otherwise didn't mess with the experts. I rested the dough in the freezer. I chopped leeks and mushrooms and grated cheese. I rolled and blind baked the crust. I whisked eggs and sour cream.
I poured myself a glass of wine.
I assembled the quiche, and had to add another egg and some milk to completely cover the veggies. While it was cooking, I boiled some potatoes and zapped the beans. The whole thing was ready 10 minutes before Ryan walked in the door at quarter to ten.
He asked me what I'd done with my evening.
"Nothing," I said. "Just dinner."
Mushroom Quiche
1 Cup wholemeal flour (plain)
90g butter
3 eggs (one separated)
lemon juice (as needed)
60g grated parmesan cheese
1 green onion, finely chopped
3/4 Cup finely sliced leek
1 Cup finely sliced mushroom
1/2 Cup sour cream
Sift the flour and rub in the butter. Add 1 egg yolk, and enough lemon juice to make the dough cling together when pressed (I didn't need any juice)
Knead the pastry until smooth, then wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll the pastry thin enough to cover your flan tin. Carefully lift the pastry into the tin and push into the edges. Cover with greaseproof paper, place dried beans or rice on the paper, and bake at 180 degrees for 7 minutes. Remove the beans and bake for another 7 minutes. Let the pastry cool to room temperature.
Cover the pastry base with the cheese, then arrange onion, leek and mushooms on top. Combine eggs and cream including the leftover egg white; beat until combined. Pour over the veggies. Bake until set and browned lightly (about 20 minutes).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Food and environment: things you can do

I'm writing this post as part of Blog Action Day - I love the idea of mass action for a cause, even if the cause is as broad as 'the environment'. I hope you enjoy it!

How we choose to eat has a big impact on the environment. If you find a nifty online calculator, and find your ecological footprint, food makes up a big component. Growing, processing and transporting food uses land, energy, water and often nasty chemicals. It produces landfill, water polution and carbon emmissions, and can contribute to shrinking biodiversity. Not that I'm a saint. I calculated my ecological footprint today, and depending which calculator I used, we would need between 2.2 and 5.6 earths to support the whole world living like me.
For an example of how to live within our global means, check out Linda Cockburn and family, here. I think they are awesome. But until my landlord lets me keep a goat, or installs a composting toilet, here are some greener eating habits we can all attempt:

Buy less processed food. Seriously, the less energy that goes into creating your snack, the better. And probably the better for you, too.
Buy less packaged food. I'm not sure about you, but most of what goes in our rubbish bin is the packaging for things we bought at the grocery store. We paid for our rubbish? That bites. And it cost energy, water and pollution to create.
Buy organic. Meh. This is my least favourite tip. The jury is still out on whether organic is better for you, even if it means it's been grown sustainably. Plus, if you bought it at the supermarket, it probably had more packaging, and travelled further, than the non-organic stuff sitting next to it. But still - certified organic means grown according to sustainable best practice. That counts. Just don't buy organic beef from the other side of the world to clear your concience.
Buy local. The less it travels, the less emissions. The less it changes hands, the better for your pocket. If you've got access to farmer's markets, like we do, you can get nearly organic and very local, with no packaging - an environmental bonanza! Besides, it's fun and tastes good.
Grow your own. All you need is a half a balcony, and you can grow your own tomatoes. Can it get more local? Generally, growing your own vegetable uses much less water than the market garden equivalent. In these drought-stricken times, that's a plus.
Eat less animal products. This is the biggie. If you're already a vegetarian, you are doing more than your fair share for the planet. The difference in resources used to create a kilogram of beef and a kilogram of beans is astronomical. Just try adding one meat free meal to your week. It's better for you, better for your pocket, and better for the planet.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - October 8

Ryan is cooking pizza for dinner as we speak. We shall be away from Friday, so the menu plan is very short this week:
Homemade Pizza
Barbecue Confetti Pasta (courtesy of Leanne Ely, but I'll write about that later)

Happy Monday!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Favourite Foodie Friends

This list fluctuates, of course, but here are some of the blogs I turn to for inspiration. So much yummy food, so little time!

Ali-K at Melbourne Food Tales makes me jealous of restaurants I'll never get to.
Ellie at Kitchen Wench makes yummy biscuits and yummy photos.
Frugal Cuisine always has flashy things to do with one or two fresh ingredients. Now sharing street food adventures in China.
Cookie Crumb has a garden in San Francisco and has been bragging about eating local all Northern Summer. Which is fine because we are now about to get OUR summer, so I can steal all their recipes : )
Matt at Abstract Gourmet is fanatical about coffee, and takes beautiful photos, and lives in Perth. Best yet, he went to university with me, but I used to be shy so I'm sure he has no idea who I am.
JenJen at Milk and Cookies is one of the first Australian food bloggers I've found. She makes beautiful sweet things. And has beautiful, sweet photos to match.
Finally, Neil at At My Table, shares thoughts on food and wine and family. And occasionally mushrooms.

There's the Australian Food Bloggers Ring for further local inspiration.
And there's always Food Porn Watch!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Experimental Vegetables - okra

If I'm around (and out of bed) on Sunday mornings I like to go to the farmers market. But if I can't make it, I have the fresh food wholesaler's market in the next suburb. I am spoilt for choice when it comes to fruit and vegetables, but have you noticed that it's hard to past the tried and true?
Spring has sprung, and in both markets there are heaps of new and interesting things. There are jack fruit and custard apples and jerusalem artichokes, but I keep coming back to my regulars. Recently I have been challenging myself to get a new and different veggie every week. I have bought celeriac (boy, that's one ugly food), fresh tumeric (stains fingernails) and funny sorts of lettuce. This week, I chose okra.
I couldn't take a decent photo of them, so I've included Cyndi's.
I'd like to try her recipe one day, but this time I went for something a little less obtrusive, but still southern. I made gumbo!
My version was loosely based on this one on Epicure. But I messed with it a bit so here's my version. Authenticity be hanged.
Chicken and okra gumbo
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons plain flour
1 cup fresh okra, trimmed and sliced
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 skinless chicken breast, sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Stir the vegetable oil and flour in a large saucepan over high heat. When it's bubbly and dark brown, add the okra, stock and tomatoes. After 3 minutes, add the chicken and thyme, and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked.
How easy is that?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - October 1!

Oh. It appears to be Monday again.
I'm feeling a bit blah about blogging at the moment. And cooking. I've been moody all morning, and sulked because I'm doing all the cooking and cleaning around here. I kinda forgot I like the cooking bit.
Part of the problem is walking. We are going tramping in New Zealand in December, so I have 8 weeks to get my walking fitness up, to actually enjoy it. That means a 5 mile walk, every other day. It really puts a dent in my cooking time, and blogging time. But I'm so scared of being the slowest, wheeziest person in our group. I have images of being overtaken by 90yr old grandmas with walking frames.
This weekend we did an overnight hike around the Orroral Valley. It's beautiful, sub-alpine bush, still regenerating from the 2003 bushfires. Bush-bashing up to Cotter Rocks made me realise I need more hills in my training walks. But we got there.
I am ashamed to add that Ryan was carrying 20 kg (tent, stove, food, most water), and my pack only weighed 8kg. I'm a wuss. And clearly an ungrateful wuss, because this is the same Ryan that put up with my narkiness this morning.
Anyway. The list:
A lamb roast cooked on our baby weber.
Chicken Soup
Sort-of Salad Nicoise
Veggie Burgers

Happy Monday everybody! I hope your's finds you with less blisters than I have : )