Knocking off The Great Pumpkin

Great Pumpkin

Last week, we welcomed The Great Pumpkin. Unlike Linus, we weren’t waiting for him to bring us gifts at Halloween. We planned to skin him, scoop his guts out, and eat him.

Actual Great Pumpkin

Our local Foodland had Kent pumpkins on sale for 49 cents a kilo, which is the cheapest I have seen this year, so I stopped by and grabbed one. They were larger than I had anticipated, and I bought the smallest, which was a massive 4.7 kilos for the low, low, price of $2.31.

But what to do with such a huge pumpkin? 4.7 kg is a lotta punkin soup!

The first thing I did was to cut The Great Pumpkin in half, and scoop his guts out:

scooped out pumpkin

Don’t look, Linus!

Half went straight into the oven to roast, at about 180 degrees. Don’t peel it, just chuck it in and roast it until you can poke a fork in it. If you still want the pumpkin to have the sweetness of roasting, but to have a firmer texture, then roast until the fork sticks in but meets resistance. If you want it nice and soft for a soup, the fork should slide in easily.

But before you do that, make sure you remove the seeds, and rinse them well to remove most of the pumpkin guts that clings to them. Let them drain a bit (don’t worry about it too much), and then place them on a tray lined with baking paper:

raw seeds

Raw whole pumpkin seeds on a tray

Then, while you are roasting the pumpkin, you can also roast the seeds. I drizzle a little olive oil (about a teaspoon) over them before I put them in the oven, and roast for about fifteen minutes, or until they look like this:

cooked seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Now normally when they reach this stage, I have just enough time to warn the family that they will burn themselves, and throw a shake of sea salt over them, before they vanish. This time however, I suggested we toss them with popcorn and eat them while watching The Empire Strikes Back. Because nerds. There was hearty assent, and they managed to last about an hour. Roasting pumpkin seeds is a way to turn something that would ordinarily go into the compost into a free and healthy snack, and these are a great favourite with my family.

But what to do with the rest of The Great Pumpkin? I still had half the pumpkin, or roughly 2.5 kg of this thing left to use up, and I had no room in the fridge. I peeled and cut it into chunks, leaving about an eighth of it to go into the crisper for another day. The chunks were placed into the steamer and steamed until I could mush it with a spoon, like so:

pumpkin puree

I then bagged it up into 1/2 cup lots for the freezer. I will use this for myriad recipes, including muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, and one of my all time favourite Budget Bytes recipes, Pumpkin Pie Baked Oatmeal. By freezing it into clearly labelled metric measures, I quickly know how much I will need to thaw for a given recipe.

bagged puree

Puree ready for the freezer

Finally, when the roasted pumpkin came out of the oven, I used it to make a roasted pumpkin spiced dip for a BBQ the next day, and a roast pumpkin and cumin soup. I’ll post recipes for those tomorrow.

And that, my friends, is how you knock off The Great Pumpkin. Piece by piece.

Sorry, Linus.

sad linus

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How to make a boring salad interesting

We probably have salad with eight of every ten meals. This doesn’t include the shredded salady-type foods we eat with burrito bowls and tacos, and with the ubiquitous BLTs we have on Wednesday Worst Days. The traditional hot side veg are just not something we eat that often. Although I do enjoy a hot steamed veg, I just tend not to cook them that often, probably because my kids love to help make salad, and because I forget to buy traditional vegies like green beans and brussels sprouts.

However, it is easy to get into a salad rut. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers. Rinse and repeat. My kids will pretty much eat anyting doused in olive oil and vinegar, and won’t complain about it, but I am one of those people who becomes bored very easily. This is a problem when you have kids that do not. If they play that same Adele song more than four times in the car, I am ready to toss the CD out of the window. So I need a way to keep things interesting.

I turn to cheeses, seeds, pickled vegetables, herbs, and interesting vegetables to spice things up a little.

For example, take your regular humdrum green salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers:

plain salad

Looks like the kind of salad they’d serve at Fawlty Towers

My kids would scoff this in two seconds, but inside I would be crying with boredom. If I had to eat this for more than two nights in a row, I’d be ready to throw it out of the window along with Adele’s 21 album (and if my kids don’t quit with Adele, everything else she’s ever released).

To jazz this one up a bit, I searched my pantry and fridge, and discovered I had the following:

  • some smoked cheese left over from our previous cheese platter;
  • pepitas;
  • artichokes in oil and herbs;
  • kalamata olives;
  • alfalfa sprouts.

Suddenly, my salad was like Ryan Adams’ cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989 – towhit, an album I have only heard once or twice, and therefore can still enjoy:

interesting salad

Delicious and interesting

I toasted the pepitas to the delicious swelly-poppy stage (technical term) and made a dressing from the leftover herby oil in the artichoke jar by adding some red wine vinegar. Simples. Instead of crying with boredom, I was fighting for the remainder of the salad with my children. Except for the artichokes, because of course my eldest “don’ like artichokes.” That’s fine, I ate hers.

Day Ninety-Seven, April 9 2016

Cheese Platter

Well, big whoop, I hear you say. A cheese platter – anyone can do that.

True enough. But sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that are the most pleasant. After a long day, sitting down with our kids to share a nice cheese platter on an Australian autumnal evening seems like a lovely thing to do. It was even more pleasant because I asked my eleven-year-old to make it, and I think she did a bang-up job:

Cheese platter

The art of the cheese platter is in the selection of cheeses and in the presentation. If the cheese is to be the main meal, as we often do on a Friday date night, I go for three different styles of cheese. On the platter above, we had a camembert, a vintage cheddar (ye olde Cracker Barrel), and a Margaret River white smoked cheddar.

Now in times past I have forked out up to $80 a kilo for French cheese handmade by Franciscan Nuns and washed in the tears of blessed guinea pigs, but these days I am far less picky. The main reason is that I am sharing it with my children, and while I do like to share the good life with them, frankly, they can’t really tell the difference between blessed Nun’s cheese and $4 supermarket camembert. Maybe one day, when the kids are older or have left home, I will go back to the fancy stuff. Either that, or my taste buds won’t care anymore. My guess is the latter.

I also like to include a combination of the sweet and the salty. This usually means a nice crisp apple or just ripe pear, or in the case of this platter, an apple, a pear and some red grapes, and for the salty, some olives and homemade tomato relish. To finish, we had some dark rum n’ raisin chocolate. Serve it on some boards with good quality crackers, and enjoy.

Meal Plan Week 16 2016

Ooooh, holidays! Excitement, she wrote!

Except I decided to spend my only week off until Christmas painting my kitchen and dining room. Throw in school holidays and a kids’ sleepover, and you have havoc!

Having never painted anything larger than a bookcase before, this was somewhat of a challenge, but our 1970s wood-panelled palace needed a spruce-up. May I say, it is looking fabulous, dahlings. Like real grownups live here.

However, I did not want to spend a week eating takeaway pizza or baked beans (although I will admit to a certain fondness for the latter), so I planned a menu that I thought we could still prepare while our kitchen was in a state of disrepair and drop sheets.

Saturday: Cheese platter (vegetarian)

Sunday: Homemade pizzas (vegetarian and non-vegetarian)

Monday: Baked potatoes and salad (vegetarian)

Tuesday: Eggplant and pumpkin chilli burrito bowls (vegetarian)

Wednesday Worst Day: Tofu and bok choy curry (vegetarian), chicken curry, rice

Thursday: Sweet potato and cheddar pie (vegetarian), sausage rolls (non-vegetarian), homemade wedges, salad

Friday: Vegetarian pizzas, homemade wedges, fish fillets

Day Ninety-Four, April 4 2016

Razma-tazz

Razma, or Rajma, is a red kidney bean curry from Northern India, that we first discovered in The Magicke Curry Booke, or Spices Moste Potente, a now out-of-print curry book that I have mentioned several times in the past. We personally love it, as it has a lovely aroma created by the addition of one of my favourite spice blends, garam masala, and an earthiness that only kidney beans can deliver.

The original recipe uses dried beans, but I used two cans of drained red kidney beans for this recipe. You can do either. You could also use another dark bean if you want to, such as a borlotti bean or a black bean, but truthfully I only use red kidney beans to make it because rulz is rulz. I also reduce the amount of oil used in the original recipe, because I find that the Magicke Curry Booke is a little heavy on the ghee or oil. That’s fine if you are active, and not sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours a day like the average middle-class Aussie office worker. Ahem. That’d be me, peeps.

Ingredients

2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed – $2

1 tablespoon rice bran oil – 6 cents

1 onion – 10 cents*

2.5 cm cinnamon stick – 5 cents

1 bayleaf – free**

3 cardamom pods – 2.5 cents

1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped – 20 cents

2 cloves garlic, minced – 4 cents

1 teaspoon chilli flakes – 5 cents

1 teaspoon ground coriander – 5 cents

1 teaspoon garam masala – 5 cents

1/2 can crushed tomatoes – 50 cents

salt to taste

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the whole spices and the ginger and garlic, and cook for one minute. Add the dry spices, and stir well. Add the tomatoes and salt (try half a teaspoon to start, and season at the end). Add the kidney beans and fry the mixture together for 2-3 minutes. Add about 3/4 cup water, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add more water if the sauce is too thick. Remove from heat and serve with rice or couscous.

Although couscous is not traditional with Indian curries, I love it with a bean curry or a dal, especially if I am in a hurry and can’t be bothered to cook rice.

Total cost: $3.12

Per person (serves 4): 78 cents

A word on photos

So, recently I was cleaning out my iPhoto folder, and I was a little overzealous. I cleaned out all my recent photos, including photos I had taken for the blog. Now I know my photos are mahhhvellous, and worthy of Pinterest and all, but it was kind of a bummer as there are no shots for about two weeks of cooking.

Point of the story, the blog is a little…blank for a few weeks. I know all four of you are so disappointed.

 

 

*Onions have recently gone down in price due to the fact that winter is coming. Score. Double score for being able to use “winter is coming” in a sentence legitimately.

**What’s with all these ‘free’ things lately? Well, about six weeks ago we landscaped and planted our front garden and now are reaping the rewards. Technically you could argue that these things (herbs and whatnot) are not free, because we had to pay for the plants, but I would have planted something there regardless, so they are free in my book. Being the practical kind of tightwaddy person I am, I have planted my garden almost entirely with edible plants, and am now starting to harvest herbs and some winter vegetables. Some people are horrified that I have planted vegetables in my front garden. I don’t give a rats have listened to their concerns and have tried to make the garden look as aesthetically pleasing as possible.

 

Day Ninety-Two, April 2 2016

How to make a cheat’s Eggplant Parmigiana

My eldest has been getting into Jamie Oliver (chip off the ole block, there), and watching an episode of 15 Minute Meals recently, watched him make a pork dish that she begged me to replicate. We hardly ever eat pork, as I am not a fan, but I agreed to make it, leaving me with a quandary as to what to feed the vegetarians. I decided to make Eggplant Parmigiana, but being the lazy busy type, I tried to come up with a faster method for this pretty fiddly dish.

Eggplant Parmigiana done the proper way requires many steps that I just can’t be arsed don’t have the time to do. It requires salting and crumbing the eggplant, pan frying it, making a sauce, and baking it with cheese.

What am I, Jamie Oliver?

Nope, and nope. It’s already painful enough that I have to cook two meals, let alone create a Masterchef meal.

So, I figured out a way to cheat. I did salt the eggplant, because no matter what anyone says about new varieties not needing it, it just does taste better when you do it. The texture is better and the taste is better.

I also had a jar of Kirkland Organic Salsa leftover from a CostCo shop that I needed to use up, so I chose to make a (horrors!) Mexican Eggplant Parmigiana.

It sounds terrible. According to the two that ate it, it wasn’t. So, tightwaddery FTW.

Cheat’s Eggplant Parmigiana

1 large eggplant, sliced into six thick slices – $2.50

300 grams salsa or ready made pasta sauce – $3

1 cup shredded cheese – $2

3 tablespoons rice bran oil – 18 cents

Lightly sprinkle the slices of eggplant with salt and set aside for at least an hour. Rinse well and pat dry.

In a frying pan, heat the rice bran oil. Use some of the rice bran oil to brush a square baking dish.

Fry the slices of eggplant until cooked on both sides. Set aside to drain on some paper towel.

Place two slices of eggplant side-by-side in the baking dish, and spoon some of the sauce on top. Sprinkle with cheese, and repeat with layers of eggplant, sauce and cheese. Finish with a layer of sauce and cheese. Place in a hot oven for about half an hour and serve with a salad.

Total cost: $7.68

Per person: $3.84

Not the cheapest vegetarian dish I have ever made, but probably the easiest. It actually could have served more than two people, but my two were feeling particularly greedy that night.

 

Not your Pinterest lunch box treats

Every couple of months, I find myself googling school lunch box treats for some inspiration. What I find is ideas I will never make. I’m talking about hand-decorated kitty faces in two kinds of organic bread, with accompanying flowers made out of carrots and kale, individually wrapped pitas in the shape of the state of Florida (to teach your special snowflake geography, natch), and mini wheatgrass meadows. All power to those parents who have that kind of time and inclination, but it for sure ain’t gonna be this little black duck.

I am more of the “mass production on the weekend, throw in the freezer” school of lunch box preparation. I want the kids to be able to help, and also to prepare their own lunchboxes in the morning. I also want them to eat it at school so I am not wasting my time on the weekends.

One extremely irritating issue I have at the moment is that suddenly my eldest, who was a very adventurous eater, has become very picky. “Don’ like that” has become a recurrent refrain. She “don’ like” apples, grapes, capsicum, ‘punkin,’ celery, artichokes, cheesymites, cheese and bacon rolls, pizza scrolls, bread with seeds in it, any soup except chicken noodle and beef pho, any pizza without anchovies (go figure), beans, and a bunch of other healthy and easy to make things. It’s driving me bonkers, particularly as she has a large appetite and wants to take a lot of food with her to school.

So, in an attempt to get her to accept what I was making for lunch boxes, last week I insisted that she design her own lunch box menu, and help me make it. She chose:

  • Moroccan meatballs and couscous;
  • Sausage rolls;
  • Mini pizzas.

All of these are easy to make, so she could help.

The other issue is that I have to come up with alternatives for our little vego. Happily, she has become less picky since she changed her diet, and is willing to try lots of different things. For her, I usually make:

  • Cheesymite, pizza or Mexican scrolls;
  • Mini pizzas;
  • Ricotta and spinach rolls.

She will also take fresh veggies and fruit, dried fruit, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Occasionally they will take a commercially made muesli bar (if anyone has a foolproof, nut free, coconut free recipe for muesli bars, please let me know. I have never found one that actually works).

I also keep a stock of homemade muffins of different kinds (from my standard muffin recipe) and other healthy-ish sweet treats like homemade biscuits or banana bread, and fruit and dried fruit for them to take.

Lamb and Rosemary Sausage Rolls

500 grams lamb mince – $6

4 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed – $2

2 stalks fresh rosemary, finely chopped – free

1 onion, finely diced – 25 cents

1 egg, lightly beaten – free

1 cup dried breadcrumbs – free (I make these from bread crusts, but you could use bought ones)

Sprinkle herb and garlic seasoning – 5 cents

Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the puff pastry.

Along the edge of each sheet of puff pastry, place a sausage shaped pile of meat. Roll the pastry around the meat into a sausage roll shape. Continue until you have four long sausage rolls, and then cut each roll into four smaller sausage rolls. Bake in a hot oven (180 degrees celsius) until golden and cooked through (about 25 minutes).

Total cost: $8.30

Makes 16 sausage rolls: 51 cents per roll

I never use sausage meat for sausage rolls. I was at a market recently and bought a sausage roll that was made entirely of sausage meat. It was greasy and tasted pretty terrible. I use a good quality mince, resulting in a sausage roll that tastes better and is lower in fat. I wouldn’t say they are really healthy, but they are not unhealthy. Probably the worst thing in these is the puff pastry.

These probably cost the same as a store bought party sausage roll on a per unit basis, although they are larger, and much tastier. More importantly, I know exactly what is in them.

Cool on a wire rack, and then package individually for the freezer. I pack in snaplock bags so that my daughter can grab these for herself. She returns the snaplock bags for washing out and reusing (so there is not the environmental waste of just throwing them out).

I put all lunchbox snacks in the top draw of our fridge freezer, so everyone in the house knows where to go to find their lunch snacks. Anything vegetarian is marked with a ‘V.’ Simples.

Day Eighty-Nine, March 31 2016

Zucchini and Ricotta Pasta

I made this dish up when I had some ricotta and some zucchini that I needed to use up. Simple as that. A lot of my recipes come from this ‘inspiration’ – that is, a tightwadian refusal to waste food.

I am particularly guilty of buying a lot of zucchini when they are on sale, and then using about half of them. I am not sure why I am so passionate about buying them, and so hopeless about using them. I think because I have never had much luck growing them, and they are almost my favourite vegetable, so when I see them I go into this ‘feast or famine’ mentality and buy kilos of them, only to discover that not everyone in my family has the same love for them that I do.

Anyways, this recipe was created out of a need to use them up, and feed the hungry masses in a hurry.

2 medium zucchini, sliced on the diagonal in 5mm slices – $1

1 onion, finely diced – 25 cents

2 cloves garlic, minced – 4 cents

1 tablespoon olive oil – 12 cents

1 teaspoon vegetarian chicken-style stock powder – 10 cents

2 sprigs fresh thyme – free

25 grams pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) – 25 cents

300 grams strand-style spaghetti (we used a tubular spaghetti the first time, and fresh fettuccine the second time – both great) – $1.20

4 tablespoons smooth light ricotta (about 100 grams) – 80 cents

In a deep frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onions and garlic until translucent and fragrant. Add the zucchinis and thyme, and saute gently for at least five minutes. Take care not to burn. Sprinkle with the stock powder, toss again, and then pour about a third of a cup of water into the pan. Let the zucchini cook for a couple of minutes longer and then remove the heat.

In a small frying pan on a medium-low heat, toast the pepitas. Keep an eye on them, tossing them every 30 seconds or so. When they toast, they will swell and turn a brownish-green colour. Remove from the heat and set aside.

You can skip toasting them if you are in a hurry, but they are much nicer if you take the couple of minutes and toast them. The pepitas add a little crunch and some protein to a pretty light vegetarian dish.

Toss the zucchini sauce through hot spaghetti or fettuccine, and serve into bowls. Top with a tablespoon of ricotta and sprinkle with pepitas.

zucchini and ricotta pasta

 

The sauce itself is vegetarian, and if you serve it over a gluten free pasta it will be gluten free as well.

Total cost: $3.76

Per person (serves 4): 94 cents – baaaaarrrgain dahlings.

Day Eighty-Eight, March 30 2016

Punkin Soup

It’s Autumn, and you know what that means:

pumpkin soup is coming

Actually, everything pumpkin is coming at my place. I saw pumpkin for 49 cents a kilo the other day.

There is just one problem: “Don’ like punkin’ soup.” This is the predictable comment from my eldest whenever I make it. It doesn’t matter if I make it with bacon, ham bones, spice it up with a little curry, roast the pumpkin, or not.  The response is always the same: “Don’ like punkin soup.”

Well, that’s just too bad. Because the rest of us do like punkin soup, so I continue to make it, and she eats something else on the nights we have it.

 

The soup I made on this occasion was a Curried Roast Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup, using the TA Vegetable Stock . It was very yum, especially with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Curried Roast Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup

1 kg sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks – $2

1 small jap pumpkin, halved, seeds scooped out – $2

1 onion, roughly chopped – 25 cents

1 carrot, roughly chopped – 10 cents

2 cloves garlic, sliced – 4 cents

5 cups vegetable stock – free

1 teaspoon good quality curry powder (we use Clive of India) – ten cents

1 tablespoon rice bran oil – 6 cents

Place the pumpkin and sweet potato on a tray and roast in a hot oven for about 45 minutes until they are soft. When they are ready, let them cool for a few minutes, and then scoop the flesh from the pumpkin skin, and set aside until ready to use.

Towards the time that the pumpkin and sweet potato will be ready, heat the oil in a large stock pot and then add the other vegetables and garlic. Saute them gently for about ten minutes. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring so that it does not burn.

When the sweet potato and pumpkin are ready, throw them in the pot with the vegetables and stir well. Pour over the vegetable stock, and stir. Bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat. Simmer for about an hour, until all the vegetables are tender. If you need to add more liquid, you can add water or more stock.

Mash the vegetables, and then turn the heat off. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Let the soup cool, and then puree with either a stick blender, run it through a food mill, or a food processor, until it is smooth. Reheat to serve.

Serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt or sour cream, some chives or parsley, and if you want to put the effort in, some toasted pepitas.

Total cost: $4.45

Per serve (serves 10): 44 cents

This soup freezes well. We froze it in single servings for work lunches and for dinners when I was stuck for quick meals for vegetarians (like on Wednesday Worst Days).

It’s also gluten free and low fat.

I still couldn’t convince the eldest to touch it.

Meal Plan, Week Fifteen 2016

Whoopsies. Have been a bit busy, and forgot to post meal plans over the past couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, I can’t even recall everything we made in Week Fourteen, so a few days will be missing from my 365. But I do recall a couple of recipes that were rocking, and I will post them over the next couple of days, including a Zucchini and Ricotta Pasta that all voted a winner. I will also post a special post about managing the dreaded School Lunch Box and dealing with Teenage Fusspots without letting them go forage in the woods, Hansel and Gretel stylie.

Week Fifteen Meal Plan

It’s a flat out week, made worse by business trips and parent-teacher meetings, so we are in survival mode. If we make it through the week without agreeing to disband and join other families, let alone caving to a Macca’s run, I will deem it a success.

Saturday: Corned beef, mash and broccolini; Baked potatoes and broccolini (vegetarian)

Sunday: Pork medallions, chips and salad; Eggplant parmigiana, chips and salad (vegetarian)

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

Tuesday: Razma (kidney bean curry), chicken curry, brown rice

Wednesday Worst Day: ELTs/BLTs

Thursday: Pasta Bolognese; Pumpkin and Ricotta Pasta (vegetarian)

Friday: Date night: cheese platter