Meal Plan Week Eight 2016

Last week was so flat out, with so many rushed meals, that I got jack of it, frankly. I wanted to sit and eat dinner as a family, without that feeling that we were just a bunch of people shovelling food in our faces on the way to somewhere else.

So on Thursday night last week I decided to sit and watch The Blind Side on telly (never seen it, now I have, and btw not sure why it won an Oscar) and spend more time planning dinners that I could cook on the weekend ready for next week.

Saturday: Noodle soup with Asian flavours

Sunday: Greek chicken salad with couscous (Jamie Oliver recipe)

Monday: Dinner @ my parents’ (bless ’em)

Tuesday: Thai style chicken curry

Wednesday: Quesadillas

Thursday: Spaghetti & Meatballs

Friday: Date night – cheese platter

Our plan for a cheese platter on date night has been derailed three weeks in a row, due to unforeseen circumstances (late nights at work, late deliveries by supermarket chains etc – aka first world problems). The other night my husband was so disappointed that every time I asked him what he wanted, he stubbornly responded “cheese!!” He was like Homer Simpson denied an all-you-can-eat fish restaurant buffet.

In the end I made nachos, and we watched a DVD – but I think if he doesn’t eat some smoked cheddar this week he might actually cry.

Poor fella, he doesn’t ask for much.

 

Day Fifty-Eight, Feb 27 2016

Viet-man-ees Soup

My eldest daughter often requests an Asian-style broth soup with noodles and bok choy that I make, which she calls “Viet-man-ees soup.” Because she is so cute, I often ask her to repeat it.

“Sorry, hon, I missed that – what do you want me to make?”

You know, Mum, that soup with the beef and the noodles. Viet-man-ees soup.”

Sure thing, gorgeous girl. Tee-hee. Why, yes, I am MOTY.

This soup is a mish-mash of Asian flavours, and is not really Vietnamese. Or Viet-man-ees. I just made it up one night and the kids loved it, so I kept making it. This time, I used lemongrass, kaffir lime, ginger, and coriander for the aromatics, but in the past I have used other flavourings, including chilli and garlic chives.

The most important ingredient, as with all soups, is a good quality stock. I make my own stocks the old fashioned way, using beef or chicken bones, but for our vegetarian I made a separate soup using a Massel-brand vegetarian beef stock cube as I did not have vegetable stock on hand. I usually keep these in the cupboard because they are vegetarian and gluten-free. We have several coeliac family members, so they can be quite handy.

The other important ingredients in this soup is good quality noodles (I used an egg noodle but rice would also be good), and fresh aromatics – not from a jar.

Noodle soup with Asian flavourings

4 cups good-quality beef stock or 4 cups beef-style vegetable stock – free

3 cloves garlic, minced – 6 cents

thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, shredded – 29 cents

thumb-sized piece of fresh lemongrass, shredded – 41 cents

five kaffir lime leaves, shredded – 16 cents

tablespoon soy sauce

1 packet egg noodles – $1.91

1 cup finely sliced steak – $3.00

1/2 bunch well washed chopped fresh coriander – $1

1 bunch well-washed bok choy, leafy parts only – $2

Set aside the white parts of the bok choy for another use (I chopped mine up and used them in a pot of Beef & White Bean chilli). You can use it if you want to but because you do not pre-cook the bok choy, it can be crunchy and ruin the eating experience of the dish. Make sure to wash the bok choy and coriander well, to remove any grit, as grit will make the eating experience very unpleasant.

Place equal amounts of the bok choy and coriander into the bottom of four serving bowls, and set aside:

Asian Soup - starter

Coriander and bok choy leaves

Bring your beef stock to a simmer, and add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. Simmer for about five minutes. Add the beef and cook for another five minutes or until the beef is cooked. Add the noodles and soy sauce to the pot and cook. You may need to pour in some additional water or stock at this point and bring to the boil again.

When the beef and noodles are cooked, pour some of the boiling broth into each bowl, and add some of the noodles and beef. Top with more broth:

Asian soup with noodles

Noodle soup with Asian flavours (vegetarian version)

The hot broth will cook the delicate bok choy and coriander leaves. Add more soy sauce at the table to taste if required. I love soy sauce, so I always add it.

Total cost: $8.83

Per person (4 people): $2.20

To make a vegetarian version (pictured), use a vegetable stock and omit the beef. My youngest loved it and was very satisfied. To make it gluten-free, use rice noodles.

 

 

Meal Plan Week Seven 2016

My husband has recently changed jobs, and this has meant that instead of him being home to cook several nights a week we are scrambling at around 6:30 each night to throw dinner on the table. We have still managed to cook every night but our efforts have been less…effortful than usual, with some old faithfuls in the mix to help us feed the troops.

Saturday: Ricotta eggs in a nest with potato wedges

Sunday: Cream of vegetable soup

Monday: Spaghetti bolognese

Tuesday: Quesadillas

Wednesday Worst Day: BLTs

Thursday: Corned beef, sauerkraut & veg

Friday: Date night – cheese platter

Day Fifty-Three, Feb 22 2016

Stone Soup

Did you have one of those grandmothers that made soup? I did, as well as a mother who in the winter almost always had a pot of soup bubbling on the stove when I came home from school. When I look back through my family tree, I see a line of women at the stove, stretching back throughout history, stirring the soup pot so they can feed their families a healthy and budget-stretching meal. And despite the attempts by food manufacturers to turn soup into an edible food like substance, real soup made by real people is as far removed from soup in a powder, box, or tin as it is possible to be.

It is one of the reasons that the story of Stone Soup always resonated with me. When I was a child, I used to read that story over and over again. I loved the way the trickster made everyone in the village contribute to the meal, in the belief that they were making something magical. In fact, they were making something magical – a pot of soup that could feed everyone and still have some left to feed a hungry stranger. One of my grandmother’s favourite sayings was that to include another person at the table, she would “throw another cup of water in the pot,” and that is the essence of the story of Stone Soup – by throwing another cup of water in the pot, there is enough to share.

This is not my grandmother’s recipe for vegetable soup. Her vegetable soup is only something my mother knows how to make, and when she makes it I am instantly transported back to my grandmother’s humble kitchen, eating soup made in an aluminium pot, out of a 1960s style brown bowl, with white pepper. I still love white pepper in my soup, even though it is uncool. Just the smell of it sprinkled on a bowl of soup brings tears to my eyes – it is one of those memory burn experiences.

And although I am now a working mum, the family breadwinner, and a feminist, and about as far removed as I can be from those generations of my female ancestors stirring those soup pots for their families, I value my women’s history and the skills my grandmother taught me, and I welcome visitors to my home for a bowl of soup as readily as my grandmother did. I can always throw another cup of water into the pot.

Cream of vegetable soup

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe from this book, which was a gift from a dear friend. It has some wonderful recipes in it, particularly soup recipes.

1 tablespoon olive oil – 12 cents

2 tablespoons butter – 24 cents

3 carrots, unpeeled and washed, sliced – 30 cents

3 zucchinis, washed and sliced – 75 cents

4 large potatoes, peeled and diced – 24 cents

1/2 bunch Italian parsley, including stems, chopped – $1

3 cups chicken stock (to make it vegetarian you could use vegetable stock) – free

Heat the olive oil and butter in a stainless steel soup pot until the butter is melted. Add the carrots and the parsley and cook gently on a low heat until the carrots are soft.

carrots and parsley

Sauteing carrots and parsley

Don’t do what I did, and get distracted by MadMen on Netflix, and almost burn the carrots…but srsly, why is Dirty Don cheating on that lovely Megan? Why, Don, why? Also, I want all the dresses.

Add the diced spuds to the pan, and cook for about ten minutes:

carrots and potato.jpg

Then add the zucchinis to the pan. This is a very easy dish to make, which is of course most soups and why soup is a universal meal:

soup cooking

Stir and cook for another five minutes, then add chicken or vegetable stock. Cook for another forty minutes until all the vegetables are soft. Let cool for an hour or so and then puree using the blender of your choice (we use a NutriBullet, but a stab mixer would be much easier). Season to your taste.

This makes a thick pureed soup – if you want a thinner soup, just add some more water 🙂

This soup freezes very well for work lunches in individual servings.

Total cost: $2.65

Per serving: (serves 6) 44 cents

Big Day of Baking III – Return of the Cookie

I bake to relax. I may have mentioned that. Other people jog, or meditate, or sew. I turn butter, sugar, eggs and flour into delicious things.

Both days this weekend I baked.

On Saturday, I made pear and currant muffins:

pear & currant muffin

I baked the ole’ family fave, the cheesymite scroll:

cheesymite

And I finished it all off with some craisin, oatmeal and choc chip cookies, using this recipe:

choc chip & craisin

On Sunday afternoon, I felt a need to bake all over again. I made bread for dinner for the ricotta eggs in a nest I was planning, and decided to make these lovely barmbrack tea cakes, which are a variation of this recipe from the BBC Good Food website. My youngest daughter loves these cakes, so I make them pretty often. I change this recipe up because I don’t use the whisky (we don’t drink, and I tend only to buy booze once a year for our Christmas cakes), and I like more fruit and mixed spice in these than the other recipe uses.

Tea cakes

1.5 cups cold black tea – free (I used teabags leftover from making tea for myself)

400 grams dried fruit – I use sultanas, muscatels and currants, but you can use anything you like  – about $3.00

2 cups self-raising flour – 22 cents

1 egg – free (I had them from Mum)

1/2 cup soft brown sugar – 42 cents

1 teaspoon mixed spice – 10 cents

Soak the fruit in the tea for a couple of hours or overnight if you are organised. I wasn’t, so it was about two hours.

To the soaked fruit and tea, add the sugar, egg, spice, and flour, and mix to combine. I bake these in a greased 12-cup muffin hole tin, and bake at 180 degrees for 20 minutes or so until they are golden brown.

These are moist and delicious, and I freeze them for lunchboxes. You can ice them with a simple lemon or orange glaze if you want, but I don’t bother.

teacakes

Total cost: about $3.74

Per tea cake: 31 cents

Day Fifty-Two, Feb 21 2016

Eggs in a nest

My mother recently gave me a dozen of her chooks’ finest, and since watching V for Vendetta the other night, in which the children’s supper dish ‘Eggs in a Nest’ features several times, I have been obsessing about making it. However, I wanted to make it a bit more grown up, so I googled (as you do), and discovered this Martha Stewart recipe, which looked super easy and for which I had almost everything.

I usually keep a tub of light ricotta in the fridge for emergency vegetarian dinners. That is, for when I have forgotten that I need to plan a vego dinner for the youngest, and I need to throw something together. I had the eggs, thanks to my mother and her darling chookies, and I decided to make some bread rather than buy it (using my standard bread recipe). I am glad I did this, as it was the quality of the bread and the delicious free range eggs that really made this dish shine.

I also replaced the thyme with chopped Italian parsley, and added a shake of herb and garlic seasoning, which I think added some oomph. This was a really delicious dish that I will be making again. I served with homemade potato wedges.

baked ricotta eggs

Baked Ricotta Eggs in a Nest

Homemade Potato Wedges

Five large potatoes, peeled (about 1 kilo potatoes) – 19 cents

Drizzle of olive oil

Few shakes of herbs – I used a garlic and herb mix, but have also used oregano and paprika – 10 cents

Cut the potatoes in halves lengthways, and then into quarters and then into eighths to form wedges. Place into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with herbs.

uncooked wedges

Uncooked wedges

Bake in a hot oven for 1.5 hours until crispy:

cooked wedges

Cooked and crispy wedges

Total cost: 29 cents (but only because I got some spuds ridiculously cheap)

Per person (3 people): 9 cents

Grocery Shopping Week 7 2016

Shopping with a grumpy teenager is not fun. Just sayin’. (To quote the Twitterverse.)

A Saturday morning with a grumpy teenager is not fun in general, let alone a Saturday morning in a crowded supermarket with said grumpy teenager. I have no idea why she wanted to come along, except perhaps to torture me.

Mission accomplished, kid.

The result was an increasingly painful trip around a supermarket which, to add insult to injury, did not seem to have really any of the right thing I wanted, from the right brand of sour cream, to rolled oats, to a Soda Stream refill. I know, I know, hashtag First World Problem.

Groceries Week 7

Difficult to read grocery receipts…

My scanner is still playing silly buggers, and for some reason the receipts came out almost impossible to read.

Totals were:

Woollies: $149.13

Foodland: $55.55

Coles: $7.00

Total: $211.68

This leaves $88.32 for next week’s little shop. Which I hope to achieve sans teenager. Or at least, sans attitude…

 

Magic Muffin Mix

Muffins are a regular snack in our house because they are one of the fastest treats I can whip up, and because they are pretty much nev-R-fail. Because I have such little time, I like to make things that I know will be successful, and that I know my kids will eat. As a wise man often says to me, don’t go into something unless you already know what the outcome will be. It hasn’t steered him wrong so I should learn from him.

The Magic Muffin Mix is a classic example of knowing what the outcome will be. My grandmother picked up this recipe and taught it to me, and it is impossible to balls it up. This recipe makes 12 medium muffins, perfectly sized for a kid’s lunchbox treat.

The great thing about the Magic Muffin Mix is that you can add anything to it to make any kind of muffins you like, make ’em sweet or savoury, Texas style or mini, low sugar, wholemeal or plain. It is the most versatile recipe in my repertoire and I make them at least twice a week, even this Wonder Week when I was hobbling around the kitchen like Grampa Simpson after a bender.

The recipe is a base recipe, to which you can add whatever you like.

Base Magic Muffin Mix

Wet ingredients:

1/4 cup oil – can be rice bran, canola, sunflower or any kind you like. You could probably use coconut oil but as I am allergic I have never tested it to see how it works. Extra Virgin Olive oil does work but the flavour is strong and it is the most expensive kind. I use rice bran oil

3/4-1 cup milk – I use low fat but you can use any milk or milk substitute like soy milk. I have also used runny yoghurt to replace all or some of the milk. The amount of milk varies according to your ingredients so use the 3/4 cup and see what your consistency is like. If the mix is too stiff, add a little more. It should be a nice, soft, dough similar to a lumpy cake mix.

1 egg or egg substitute – you can replace an egg with a mashed banana, apple puree, commercial egg replacer. I just use the egg because we are not allergic but I have left it out when I have run out of eggs without any real issues.

Vanilla extract – add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, but omit if making savoury muffins

Combine the wet ingredients in a large bowl or in the basin of your stand mixer.

Dry ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar – I use regular sugar or raw sugar. If making savoury muffins, do not use.

2 cups self-raising flour – you can use 1.5 cups and replace with 1/2 cup rolled oats or wholemeal self-raising flour to increase the fibre. You can also do these gluten free by substituting a gluten free flour in the same proportions – they still turn out fine but will not keep as long.

To make plain muffins, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Do not overmix or your muffins will be tough. Your flour should be well mixed in but the mix should look lumpy – it should not be smooth like a cake and you do not beat it like a cake.

Spoon the muffin mix into either greased muffin holes or into a muffin tin lined with paper muffin cases. Because I hate washing all those little muffin tin holes, I do use paper muffin cases, but I am reconsidering this due to the waste that this generates.

muffins.jpg

Blueberry muffins, just out of the oven

Variations

This is the fun part. You can make any kind you like, but these are some of our regulars:

Blueberry: After mixing together, add a cup of frozen blueberries and gently fold through. Don’t mix too hard or you will have purple muffins

Chocolate chip: At the mixing stage, add 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Double chocolate: To the dry ingredients, sift 2/3 cup cocoa powder, and add 3/4 cup dark or white chocolate chips at the mixing stage

Cranberry carrot: To the wet ingredients add two grated carrots and a scraping of nutmeg, and then after mixing, swirl half a jar of cranberry sauce through the mix

Banana: To the wet ingredients, add a couple of mashed bananas and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Before baking, sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and sugar

Apple and sultana: to the wet ingredients, add a chopped apple, a cup of sultanas and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Before baking, sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and sugar

Lemon poppyseed: to the wet ingredients, add the rind of two lemons and 1/4 cup poppyseeds. Juice the lemons and mix with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and set aside. After baking, spoon the lemon/sugar mix over each hot muffin

Cheese and corn: omit any sugar and vanilla. To the wet ingredients, add a cup of frozen corn kernels and a cup of grated cheese

Zucchini and cheese: omit any sugar and vanilla. To the wet ingredients, add a cup of shredded zucchini, making sure to squeeze out any excess water, and a cup of grated cheese

You could also add some chopped ham or bacon to the savoury muffins. Savoury muffins are great with soup or to take to work.

The good thing about a basic muffin recipe is that you can vary it endlessly. I have made peach and vanilla muffins, plum streusel muffins, pear and banana muffins, raspberry and white chocolate muffins, tea and mixed fruit muffins, coffee muffins…

These keep a couple of days in an airtight container, but if they have fruit in them I recommend storing them in the fridge. They keep for weeks in the freezer.

 

Wonder Week

A Wonder Week is a week where lots of things happen all at once. It’s usually referring to parenting young children, but we parents of older kids can have Wonder Weeks as well. This Wonder Week culminated with me falling up a set of stairs and landing on both knees, ending up with badly bruised but thankfully not cracked or broken kneecaps.

My husband has done most of the cooking this week, so no recipes and no pics either. I am resting my sore knees and hoping I stop hobbling tomorrow.

Meal Plan Week Seven 2016

Saturday: Beef & White Bean Chilli Burrito Bowls

Sunday: Valentine’s Day Date Night

Monday: Dinner at My Parents’ (Bless ’em)

Tuesday: Tacos with chilli con carne & salad

Wednesday: Omelettes

Thursday: Vegetarian pasta

Friday: Date night – Cheese platter

 

Creating something from nothing

As you know, food waste is one of my pet hates. I hate it the way The Joker hates logic, and the way Nature abhors a vacuum. I hate it the way Tony Abbott probs feels about Malcolm Turnbull most mornings when he first wakes up, expecting to see the roof of The Lodge, and instead thinks, “Oh, right. That guy.”*

Food waste is expensive (costing Australian households $8 billion dollars in 2014, not including restaurant and industrial waste). What gets me on my soapbox more than anything though is the environmental and ethical waste. While organisations like Foodbank can recover some food that might otherwise be wasted due to an end of product run, for example, they can’t recover the food that we as householders toss in the bin due to our own disorganisation, busyness, etc.

I’m certainly guilty of this. I threw out some leftover veggie burgers last night because none of us ate them. It could be because they just were not that great (I’d estimate my veggie burger success rate at 50%, tops). None of us were enthusiastic about that particular leftover, so we didn’t get to them in time, and out they went. This bugged me because I am trying hard to avoid that behaviour.

On the weekend though I did manage to save some veggies that would have been consigned by thinking about what I could do with them that would make them delicious. I was cleaning out the fridge, and found that I had about half a kilo of slightly wrinkly zucchinis, half a punnet of equally wrinkly cherry tomatoes, two tomatoes, and a half a capsicum that was perfectly edible but not crispy enough for a salad. All of this was fine to eat but just at that stage that meant none of it was salad or Zoodle worthy. What to do with this unloved but still good bounty?

Now that we have a vegetarian in the house, I am always trying to come up with an extra meal or something else to feed this ethically-minded kiddo. I dubbed this concoction Rattytouille, because the veggies were just this side of rattiness.

The recipe tells it like it is – this recipe is how you make something from nada, and save the contents of your crisper from being tossed.

Rattytouille

1 onion, diced – 25 cents

3 cloves garlice, minced – 6 cents

3 cups diced wrinkly zucchini

1/2 punnet quartered wrinkly cherry tomatoes

2 soft tomatoes, diced

1/2 soft capsicum

1 teaspoon dried oregano – 10 cents

2 tablespoons rice bran oil – 12 cents

Shake of soy sauce

Water

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan and fry the onions and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the zucchini and capsicum, and continue to saute them until they have softened. Add the tomatoes to the pan, and cook until they have softened considerably. Pour some water in the pan, and allow the mix to cook until it resembles a vegetable stew (about 10-15 minutes). Season with oregano and soy sauce, and cook for another couple of minutes.

I am freezing this to use in a vegetarian lasagna later down the track. BTW, it is delicious.

Rattytouille

Rattytouille

 

The way I see it, the majority of this dish is free because I would have tossed them out otherwise. So, bargain!

 

*Note to people who are not Australian: you may not know that our political system has an interesting habit of deposing sitting Prime Ministers. The past four Prime Ministers were tossed out in what has been referred to variously as “bloodless coups”, “assassinations by faceless men” and other political rhetoric. Actually it is our Westminster system of politics at work and it has been very entertaining, if not very productive. The last one to go was Tony Abbott last year.