Big Day of Baking IV: A New Hope

On my BDOBs, I like to bake some old faithfuls (muffins, scrolls, bread), and then at least one thing experimental. Truthfully, the BDOBs are now stretching to two days, as I bake most afternoons over the weekend. This used to be out of necessity – need to feed the kids, plan for the week ahead, etc. Now it’s as much about interest as need – if I’m bored, I bake. If I’m trying to avoid writing that essay for uni, I bake. If I’m feeling crotchety, I bake. The other day, some friends and I were musing about what we’d do if we didn’t have to work. I said that I would just bake, all day long. It wasn’t the answer I was expecting to give. 

Note to self.

Anyways, I experimented with a couple of things this weekend that were fun, as well as my old faithfuls.

Tiger bread

My kids love the Tiger Bread you can buy at the supermarket – you know the stuff with the crackly, crunchy top. I don’t mind buying it for them (I like it too), but I often wondered how it was made. I decided to look around for a recipe, and of course, the Internet comes to the rescue. I found hundreds of recipes. Most called for a scone-like bread dough, but I just used my own bread recipe that has stood me in good stead for many years, and followed the instructions for the topping, which is made from a mix of ground rice, yeast, sugar, oil, and water. The recipe for the topping can be found here. The topping makes enough for two of my bread dough recipes, so we ended up with two tiger loaves and four tiger rolls. This is very easy and made the kids think I am a genius, when in fact I am just someone who knows how to utilise the power of Google.

Tiger bread

Spinach, currant, and feta rolls

I was in our local cafe the other day, and I noticed Spinach, Fetaand Raisin Ritoli in the fridge case. They looked delish, but I figured I could make these myself and avoid paying $5.50 each for them.

I didn’t have raisins in the cupboard, but I did have currants. I invented these rolls, using my trusty bread recipe, and I think they turned out well. The fella reckons we should try replacing the currants with caramelised onion next time – I liked the currants, but we can try the onions for sure. The great thing about making things yourself is that you can experiment with almost anything you like. 

1 quantity bread or pizza dough – $1.14

4 frozen spinach pucks, thawed and moisture squeezed out – 50 cents 

200 grams Australian feta- $2

50 grams dried currants, soaked in boiling water and drained – 44 cents 

Scraping whole nutmeg

Roll the bread dough into a large rectangle.

Crumble the feta into small crumbles.

In a bowl, combine the drained spinach, feta, and currants. Spread over the bread dough.

Starting on the long edge, roll the dough into a long sausage. Slice the sausage into 12 scrolls, and place on a lined tray to prove for an hour:

Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) for about 25 minutes or until golden.

Total cost: $4.08

Per roll: 34 cents 


Meal Plan, Week 19 2016

Loving this wintry weather, mostly. When it starts to cool down like this, we start using our old 80s-style combustion wood stove, and there is nothing cosier on a cold weekend day than sitting by the fire, drinking endless cups of tea, and chatting with best friends.

Unless it’s standing in the kitchen, making soup and homemade bread, watching the kids sit by the fire and draw or write. Now that’s pretty much my perfect Sunday. Or everyday. 

Pity about the pressing need to earn money to fund that lifestyle…

Oh well.

Here’s our almost-Winter time meal plan for this week.

Saturday: Date night – Roast vegetable quiche

Sunday: Pumpkin soup (vegetarian), chicken noodle soup (non-vegetarian, obvs), cottage cheese biscuits

Monday: Spinach and ricotta pie (vegetarian)

Tuesday: Pasta Napoletana-ish (vegetarian)

Wednesday Worst Day: Haloumi Burgers (vegetarian) with bacon (non-vegetarian)

Thursday: Sloppy Joes (non-vegetarian and vegetarian)

Friday: Spaghetti bolognese (non-vegetarian), Pasta Napoletana-ish (vegetarian)

Day 127, May 9 2016

Tomato, spinach and bocconcini pasta

Summer is well and truly over in our neck of the woods (as attested by the fact I am sitting here wearing a Zealand-style, hand knitted jumper – think Bret from Flight of the Conchords – next to a roaring wood fire), but some dishes can evoke the memory of Summer days in a single mouthful. And thanks to the wonder that is hothouse farming, we don’t have to wait another 12 months for fresh tomatoes in order to do so.

This dish came to me as I surveyed the abundance of spinach in our garden and considered how to use it. As our kids will eat pretty much anything in pasta form, I threw this one together on a Monday night, and we called it a success.

This is a really quick dish. The trick is to have everything prepared beforehand, so you can cook and serve quickly. You want the bocconcini just beginning to melt as you begin to eat.


400 grams penne pasta – $1.60

1/2 cup baby spinach leaves – free

2 tablespoons fresh oregano – free

1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved – $2.00

1 small onion, diced – 10 cents

3 cloves garlic – 6 cents

12 bocconcini balls, halves – $2.40

1 tablespoon rice bran oil – 6 cents 

1/2 tablespoon olive oil – 6 cents 

1/2 teaspoon salt – 1 cent

Heat a large pot of water, and bring to boil. Cook the penne until al dente. Drain and set aside, keeping warm.

Meanwhile, heat the rice bran oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic together until soft. Add the oregano and cherry tomatoes. Cook for about three minutes, and then add the spinach. Toss the vegetables together over the Heat until the spinach has wilted. Season with the salt.

Stir the tomato and spinach mixture through the hot pasta. Tip in the bocconcini balls, drizzle with olive oil, and toss. Serve immediately.

Summer – in a pot

Total cost: $6.29

Per person (serves 4): $1.57

If you want to cut the cost of this dish, you could use cheddar or Parmesan instead of the bocconcini. But the bocconcini was really lovely in this.

Day 126, May 8 2016

Cumin and Chicken Curry

We grew up in a small country town surrounded by orange and apricot orchards. As soon as we turned 13, my brother and I cut apricots and picked oranges in the summer. These are not fun jobs, let me be clear. It is sweaty and smelly work. However, you did meet interesting people. Some were ‘interesting scary’ and some were ‘interesting fun.’ Manjjit was ‘interesting fun.’ He was part of the town’s large Sikh community, and he worked with us picking oranges one summer. His English was improving, and I like to think we helped, by teaching him all the swear words we could think of. My brother has a gift for making friends with anyone he meets from another country, rapidly learning all their swear words, and then teaching them all of ours in return. I still remember Manjjit calling out to us from across the orchard one day “It’s mouse, bloody!!”

Manjjit invited us over for dinner one night, and made a chicken curry that I still dream about. Chicken drumsticks floated in a red sauce of spices and a billion tiny cumin seeds. There were other foods served, I’m sure, but all I recall is that chicken curry. My brother swore he was passing cumin seeds for a week. I don’t recall that particular (charming) detail. I just remember that smell, and that amazing flavour (of the curry, that is). 

That was about 27 years ago. Every now and then I try to replicate that curry. This attempt came closer than my previous tries, but was still not right. It was very tasty, and when I took some to work the next day, co-workers drifted into the kitchen to see what was cooking, so obviously it was pretty good. It has a lot of cumin seeds, but probably still not enough to match the original.

We never ate it again, because Manjjit was not back working with us the following summer. So I only have my memory to rely on, unfortunately.

Cumin and chicken curry

2 small onions, finely chopped – 20 cents 

2 tablespoons rice bran oil – 12 cents 

7 chicken drumsticks (1.2 kg) – $4.20

1.5 teaspoons ginger paste – 15 cents 

2 cloves garlic, finely minced – 4 cents 

3 teaspoons cumin seeds – 30 cents 

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes – 5 cents 

2 teaspoons coriander powder – 20 cents 

1/2 teaspoon turmeric – 5 cents 

2 cups chicken stock – free

1 cup crushed tomatoes – 50 cents

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

In a large ovenproof pot, heat the oil, and begin browning the onions. Add the garlic and ginger. Add the cumin seeds, and cook until they crackle (about 30 seconds). Place the chicken in the pot, and cook, turning the chicken, for five to ten minutes, or until the chicken is browned. Sprinkle with the other spices, and turn to coat well. Pour over the tomatoes and the stock. Bring to the boil,  and then reduce the heat. 

Place in the oven, and cook for 1.5 hours, checking every half hour or so to make sure the sauce has not reduced too far. The dish is cooked when the meat has begun to fall from the bone. Remove from the oven, and add salt to taste.

Serve with hot basmati rice.

It’s not a beautiful looking dish, but it’s delicious, bloody.

Total cost: $5.81

Per serve (serves 4): $1.45

Pies Two Ways, Part II

Steak and Mushroom Pie

The other day I posted about my obsession with pies, and my day spent baking two kinds of pies. My first post was about a tasty vegetable pie. Today I finish the gripping tale of two pies, with a post about a steak and mushroom pie with most delicious results. 

Steak and Mushroom Pie

I’m skipping straight to the end at the beginning. That is the pie. It was made for one, because I was the only meat-eater eating it (the other omnivore in the house ‘don’ like pie’) so I was alone in my meat pie eating. However it was easily more than enough for two and it fed me over two days.

To make a meat pie, the first thing to do is make the filling, unless you are making pastry from scratch, in which case make a good shortcrust and set aside to rest in the fridge. I, however, was cheating, by using a frozen shortcrust. What it lacked in the true glory that is homemade shortcrust, it more than made up for in the fact that it was 19 cents a sheet on sale from Woollies. I can’t make it for that price, and won’t even try, considering that I am not really a dab hand at pastry.

The filling I made was enough for about three pies of this size, or a larger pie and a small pie. In this case, I made one small pie, and put the rest in the freezer for a fast dinner of braised steak and vegetables one night after work. I served it with mashed potato and green beans, and it was luvverly.

Steak and Mushroom Pie

4 onions, sliced – 40 cents

2 cloves garlic, minced – 4 cents

750 grams round steak, sliced into strips – $8

2 tablespoons plain flour (if making gluten free, use corn flour or gluten free plain flour) – 3 cents

1/3 cup rice bran oil – 18 cents

125 grams thickly sliced mushrooms – 99 cents

1 bay leaf – free

4 sprigs thyme – free

2 1/3 cups beef stock – free

1/2 sheet shortcrust pastry – 9 cents

1/2 sheet puff pastry – 25 cents

Toss the strips of beef in the plain flour to coat lightly. In a deep saucepan or a Dutch oven (I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven), brown the beef in batches. Remove each batch and drain on paper towel, as you brown the next batch. You will use about half of the oil to do this. 

Set aside the beef. Using the remaining oil, begin to gently brown the onions. Cook slowly for thirty minutes, on very low heat. The onions should be very soft and caramelised by the time you have reached thirty minutes. Add the garlic and return the beef to the pan. Add the mushrooms and the bay leaf, and stir well. Cook for about two minutes. Add the stock and the thyme, and stir. Bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat. Let the braise cook for about an hour, until the stock has reduced to a thick sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Braised steak and mushrooms – serve it as is, with mashed potatoes, or use it to fill a pie

To make a small pie as I did, line a rectangular dish with half a piece of shortcrust pastry, and fill with pie filling. Because I was in a hurry, I did not blind bake it, but I probably should have. Top with half a sheet of puff pastry (use a pastry cutter to cut a hole in the top to let out the steam) and bake at 190 degrees Celsius.

Before you bake it, you can glaze the top with an egg wash and poppy seeds as I did, or leave it plain.

Total cost: $9.98

Per serve:

Pie: $4.99 (serves 2)

Filling as a casserole serves 5: $1.99

Still cheaper than the fancy-schmancy pie over the road from where I work, considering I fed us for another dinner after that. But if you consider the amount of time I spent making it, I am inclined to think that their $8 pie, when they also have to factor in rent, utilities, a profit margin, and staff, might be fair enough.

Day 125, May 7 2016

Pies Two Ways

It is heading toward winter, and I am craving pastry. I want to be eating savoury things encased in a crispy base and topped with a flaky top. One of my Facebook friends posted her kids’ school pie fundraiser list the other day, and I just about leapt in the car to travel four hours to order a pork and apple fennel pie plate. I still intend to replicate it myself sometime this winter.

This week it was officially cool enough to get pie making. I don’t have one of those new-fangled pie makers all the movie stars have. Just a couple of different sized pie plates, some oven-trays, and a dream.

To make a vegetarian pie, you only need an hour and a half or so, two hours, tops. And vegetarian pies are really wonderful. But to make a meat pie worth the effort, you really need to set aside your afternoon and put in the hard yards. Otherwise, give it up and head to the nearest bakery where you can spend $4 or $5 and buy a decent meat pie with sauce. Or, if you work in a fancy-pants suburb like I do, you can pay upwards of $8 for a pie (I said work, not live – if I lived where I work I could not afford an eight buck pie, believe me. Or any pie. Or food). Eight bucks! That pie would want to do more than taste good, for eight whole dollars. I’d want to find an undiscovered Shakesperean sonnet inside the lid.

Anyways, my point is, if you are going to make a meat pie, put in the time and you will be rewarded. 

However, I will focus on the vegetarian pie for this post. 

Roasted vegetable and Cheddar Pie

100 grams pumpkin – 4 cents

200 grams sliced mushrooms — $1.60

1 medium red capsicum – 50 cents

1 medium green zucchini – 50 cents

2 red onions – 20 cents

2 sprigs fresh thyme – free

2 teaspoons olive oil – 6 cents

1 sheet short crust pastry, thawed – 19 cents

1 sheet puff pastry – thawed – 50 cents

50 grams grated tasty cheese – 45 cents

1 egg – 33 cents

1 tablespoon low fat milk — 2 cents

1 teaspoon poppy seeds – 10 cents

Heat the oven to 190 degrees. Place the red capsicum on a roasting tray, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the capsicum is wrinkled and soft. Remove from the oven and set aside.

While the capsicum is cooking, cut the pumpkin into chunks (leave skin on), and place in a tray with sliced red onion. Drizzle with the olive oil, and bake until the pumpkin is tender. Remove from oven and set aside until the pumpkin is cool to the touch.

While the other vegetables are cooling, remove the stem and seeds from the capsicum, and discard. Peel the capsicum, and slice into thin strips. 

Peel the pumpkin, and cut into bite sized chunks. Trim the zucchini into bite sized chunks. Toss all vegetables, including the raw mushrooms and zucchini, in the roasting tray with the capsicum, and strip the leaves from the thyme sprigs and add to the vegetables. Set aside.

Line a tray with baking paper, and place the shortcrust pastry on the tray. Tip about 2/3 of the vegetables onto the centre of the pastry:

Sprinkled with the grated cheese, and sprinkle lightly with salt (1/4 teaspoon or so).

In a mug, beat the egg with the tablespoon of milk. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash. Place the remaining egg wash in the fridge to use on the other pie, or if not making two pies like a pie-obsessed person, place it ina sealed container and use it for another baking project. It will keep for up to a week with no problems.

Using a fluted biscuit cutter, cut a hole in the centre of the the puff pastry. Place the puff pastry sheet on top of the vegetables and cheese mixture, and crimp the edges of the shortcrust and puff to seal them together. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired:

Bake at 190 degrees Celsius until golden brown.

Serve hot or cold (it’s great either way).

Total cost: $4.49

Serves 8 (per serve) 56 cents

I placed the remaining vegetable filling in the freezer for use in a quiche or pasta dish another evening.

I’ll post about Pie No. 2 tomorrow. 

Meal Plan, Week 18 2016

Some weeks are just crazy, is all I can say. 

Saturday: Pies two ways: Roasted Vegetable Pie (Vegetarian) and Beef and Mushroom Pie  (Non-vegetarian)

Sunday: Dal (Vegetarian) rice, and chicken curry (Non-vegetarian)

Monday: Cherry tomato, spinach and bocconcini pasta (Vegetarian)

Tuesday: Nachos (Vegetarian and Non-vegetarian)

Wednesday Worst Day: Macaroni cheese (Vegetarian)

Thursday: Steak and Mushroom Casserole, Risotto and Green Beans (Non-vegetarian)

Friday: Frugal fail – takeaway pizza, and garlic bread

Big Day of Baking III: Return of the Scone

The cooler weather is here, which means our 70s style combustion stove is getting a workout, and our Brady Bunch era house is toasty warm. It also makes for a pleasant environment in which to fire up the oven and get baking.

On this BDOB, I made my patent-pending Mexican Scrolls, cream scones (or biscuits, as the Americans call them), healthy M&M biscuits (or cookies, as the Americans call them – what the?), and strawberry muffins. Inspired by the success of the Sweet Potato and Cheddar Pie I made last week, I also decided to try my hand at pies two ways: a steak and mushroom pie for the Resolute Omnivores, and a roast pumpkin, mushroom and capsicum pie for the vegetarians. This was helped along by a bargain find of almost 2kg of frozen shortcrust pastry for the low, low price of $1.99 at my local supermarket. While homemade shortcrust is unquestionably superior, there is no way that I can make it for that price. Thus inspired, I got to work (I will post my pie recipes tomorrow).

Cream Scones

Normally, I would make scones the old-fashioned way, by rubbing unsalted butter into flour, and brining it to a dough with some milk or soda water. However I had a 300 ml tub of cream that I had to use, so I googled this recipe. It was seriously easier than any scone recipe I have ever made, and kept very well. Instead of the 1.5 cups of heavy cream the recipe called for, I just used the 300 mL tub of regular thickened cream I had, and they worked out perfectly. This is slightly less than 1.5 metric cups, but it was fine.

Total cost: $1.75

Per scone: 17 cents

Mexican Scrolls

These use my regular bread recipe, and approximately one cup of salsa. 

The bread recipe is as follows (with updated pricing to reflect changes in flour prices):

1 3/4 cups warm water14 grams dried yeast: 17 cents

1 tablespoon margarine or butter: 8 cents

1 tablespoon brown sugar: 6 cents

2 teaspoons salt: 1 cent

585 grams flour: 43 cents

2 teaspoons bread improver: 26 cents

1/2 cup rolled oats: 13 cents

Total cost: $1.14

Place ingredients in the bowl of a bread maker and set to dough setting, or alternatively, mix by hand and let prove for one hour. Knock down, and use as follows. Alternatively, you can use any good pizza dough recipe.

Roll the dough out in a rectangle shape. Spread with salsa. Sprinkle with 1 cup grated cheese.

Rol the rectangle into a large sausage, and slice into 12 rounds.

Place onto a tray, and let rise for an hour.

Sprinkle with a half a cup grated cheese, and bake for 25 minutes in a hot oven (220 degrees Celsius), or until golden.

Total cost: 4.21

Per scroll: 35 cents

Day 119, May 1 2016

Potato and Bok Choy Bhaji

This is the bok choy that never ends. Seriously – this just keeps going. Kind of like the Giant Pumpkin, except I am growing  this in my garden, and it is still there. Little green cabbage caterpillars have tried to eat it ahead of us, but to no avail: the bok choy  wins.

It always wins.

I can see why it, along with the other popular so-called ‘Asian’ greens, like tatsoi, choy sum, gai lan, mizuna, and mustard, are so widely grown in Vietnam, Thailand and other South East Asian countries. Unless you are working really hard, it is near impossible not to end up with a feed from these plants. In our case, we have ended up with many, and are still going.

I would however, plan next time to grow them from seed. This time I planted seedlings, and frankly, that was a waste of a couple of dollars. These grow so prolifically that I am sure they will grow just as quickly from seeds.

This recipe is a variation of a recipe given to me by my mother-in-law and taught to me by my sister-in-law many moons ago, when she lived with us, back when we were partying because it was actually 1999I have long since lost the handwritten recipe, and had to recall how to cook it from my memory, so apologies to them both if I have changed it too much. The original recipe also called for a large bunch of spinach, but I have replaced this with three bunches of fresh bok choy from the garden because – well, you know.


750 grams potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm chunks – 75 cents

1 onion, finely diced – 10 cents

3 bunches bok choy, well rinsed – free

Small bunch fresh coriander, well rinsed – free

1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled – 20 cents

3 cloves garlic, minced – 6 cents

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes – 5 cents

3 teaspoons turmeric – 30 cents

2 teaspoons ground coriander – 20 cents

1 teaspoon salt – 5 cents

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons rice bran oil – 12 cents

In a deep saucepan or stock pot, heat the rice bran oil and cook the onion.

Remove the white parts of the bok choy, and slice finely. Add to the cooking onion. Cook slowly on low heat until the onion is golden, taking care not to burn. 

Add the potatoes to the pot, and continue to cook on low heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly so that they do not stick or burn.

Add the ginger and garlic, and stir well. Cook for one minute.

Sprinkle with the spices and the salt, and cook for one minute.

Sprinkle with the half cup of water, and reduce the heat to as low as possible. Cook on low heat until the potatoes are tender. If the mixture looks like it is sticking, add a little more water, but do not add too much. The curry should have some sauce but should not be too wet. 

When the potatoes are almost ready, roughly chop the green leaves of the bok choy, and add to the curry. Stir well and let the curry finish cooking. Test for seasoning. The potatoes will absorb a lot of the salt, so it may not be necessary to add any more salt.

Serve sprinkled with the chopped coriander, on a bed of basmati rice.

Total cost: $1.83

Per person (serves 4 as a main): 45 cents

What I love about this dish, aside from the fact that it tastes wonderful, is that it is a family recipe, albeit from my husband’s family.  However, as I have been a part of his family for over twenty years now, I feel that I can call it such. I love that it is a recipe given to me by his mum, taught to me by his sister, and locked in my memory banks until I need it. While I know that cooking is a skill that both genders can do equally well (I need only look to my husband as an example of this: he is a trained and qualified chef, and a much better technical chef than I will ever be), the act of sharing recipes between women of the same family is a uniquely gendered act. I have recipes given to me by women in my family; by women I love; by women close to my mother that became part of our family repertoire of recipes; and by colleagues and mentors. These recipes become a treasured written and cultural history, not just of food, but of women.

Day 111, April 23 2016

Lentils were one of the most commonly eaten foods around the world for centuries; in medieval times, lentils were eaten by most of the population in the form of a thick stew called ‘pottage’, which kept the poor and peasantry going through long hours of back breaking physical labour.  Pottage is the inspiration for my favourite childhood story, Stone Soup, and while I am glad that nowadays we plebs can have access to more variety in our diet, it remains true that this dish was in fact healthier than the diet of the rich at the time. In fact, up until the Industrial Revolution, the diet of the poor was healthier than the diet of the rich, in part due to their reliance on lentils and complex carbohydrates, while the upper classes ate too many rich foods and were often sick with diseases of affluence. The same could be said of the Western diet today, with its reliance on processed carbohydrates and meat, however there has been a reversal, with the diet of the poor now less healthy than the diet of the rich. 

Some of the greatest and healthiest dishes in the world originated as the foods of the poor and working classes, including polenta, minestrone, ratatouille, and tacos. Dal is one of my personal favourites, made in our household since we were kids, and always served with rice by my mother as a comfort food. When I cook it now, I cook the same version she always cooked, which she learned from her Punjabi friend Harvinder. She taught Harvinder to read and write English, and in turn, Harvinder taught her some recipes that remain with our family now. Like all Sikh women, Harvinder was a strict vegetarian, and the recipes that she taught my mother (still handwritten in the front of the Magicke Curry Booke) are all vegan. Whenever I cook it, I still recall Harvinder’s quietly spoken presence, and the many times our family ate this dish in the kitchen at home with basmati rice and pappadams, scooping up the hot dal. 

Harvinder’s Dal

2 cups dry lentils (either green lentils or a mix of green lentils and mung lentils)

3 tablespoons rice bran oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger or a teaspoon of ginger paste

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 teaspoons turmeric

1.5 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

3 chopped green chillies

Quarter bunch fresh coriander, washed well and roughly chopped

Soak the lentils overnight in cold water. Rinse. Place the lentils into a large saucepan half filled with water, and bring to the boil. Boil until the lentils are soft (about an hour). Mash with a potato masher so the lentils are thicker. Continue cooking on low.

In a frying pan, heat the oil and cook the onions until golden. Add the ginger and garlic, and then add the turmeric, chilli and salt. Stir well and cook for a minute.

Stir the hot spices into the dal, and add the chopped green chillies. Stir well and serve hot with rice. 

Sprinkle with fresh coriander if desired.

Variation: I also added a can of drained black-eyed beans to this dal, and it worked well.