Day 140, May 22 2016

Pies pies pies

I still obsess about pastry on a daily basis. Every date night dinner over the past month has been a pie of some description. My husband, who is a laid back kind of fella, professes that he is happy, but I do expect him to protest at some stage. It will probably be when I serve a three course pie dinner, with a side of pies. But for now, he is still content to try whichever pie I serve up. Tonight it was a Chicken and Roasted Root Vegetable Pie, and I think it turned out pretty well.

Side note: I am not a fan of the white saucey-mornay type chicken pies. In fact, I am passionately opposed to meat soaking in white sauces, especially if it involves corn and peas. One whiff of a tuna mornay and I will run for the hills. So my chicken pies tend to be drier in consistency than the chicken pies you can buy from the bakery, but that is the way I like them. If you are looking for the traditional chicken and gravy pie – look elsewhere, man.

However, this pie does contain some cream. Cream is not the same as white sauce. Cream adds a lovely unctuousness to chicken dishes, while white sauce is like white meat floating in custard. Bleaaaarrrrghhh.

 Ingredients

1 small parsnip, cut into chunks – 30 cents

1/3 purple sweet potatp (approx 250 grams), peeled and chopped – 50 cents

2 medium carrots, cut into chunks – 20 cents

1 red onion, peeled and sliced – 10 cents

500 grams chicken breast, sliced – $5

3 sprigs thyme

3 slices of short cut bacon – $1

150 ml cream – 69 cents

2 teaspoons vegetable stock powder – 20 cents

2 teaspoons olive oil plus two teaspoons of olive oil – 12 cents

1 sheet shortcrust pastry, thawed and blind baked – 19 cents

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed – 50 cents

In a lined baking tray, place all vegetables including onion, and drizzle with the olive oil.

Vegetables roasting for a pie

Place in a 200 degree celcius oven, and bake for 35 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a frying pan heat another two teaspoons of olive oil and cook the bacon. Add the chicken with the thyme. Cook for five minutes until the chicken is seared on all sides. Tip the roasted vegetables into the pan.

Sprinkle with the vegetable stock powder, and toss well. Drizzle with the cream, cook briefly for a minute or so, and then remove from the heat:

chicken and bacon

See how delicious and glossy it looks? Not like meat floating in custard at all.

Tip the contents of the frying pan into your waiting blind baked pastry case. Top with the short crust pastry and seal. Cut a hole in the top and brush with beaten eggwhite or milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake in a hot oven until golden brown:

chicken pie

Serve hot with steamed veg and homemade potato wedges.

Total cost: $8.80

Per person (serves six – or two greedy piglets on date night): $1.46

 

 

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Day 137, May 19 2016

Sloppy Joes

You may have guessed, if you have read this blog more than once, that I take most of life’s lessons from The Simpsons. Words like safen, cromulant, embiggen, and unpossible are part of my lexicon. I have, as mentioned previously, purchased the exact fabric Marge has in her kitchen for my new kitchen curtains, because, ‘kitchen…corn…‘ And when it comes to dinner ideas, I very occasionally take ideas from this lady:

Lunchladydoris

Which brings me to Sloppy Joes. Until watching The Simpsons, I had never heard of a Sloppy Joe. And after watching The Simpsons, I still didn’t really know what it was. It does sound disgusting: a Sloppy Joe. Who is Joe, and why was he so sloppy? Or worse, what was so soppy about him, and why would I want to eat that?

Turns out, a Sloppy Joe is savoury or bolognese sauce, served on a hamburger bun, and topped with cheese and salad. The trick to making these is to ensure the hamburger bun is nice and crisp first, then topped with the savoury mince and cheese, then placed back into the oven to melt the cheese again. Then top with salad and a good spicy sauce, like sriracha.

Do not do as I did the first time I tried these, and serve the mince on top of a cold bun, grated cheese and salad. The kids did not like them and looked at me like Lisa at a pig’s head. There is a Sloppy Joe, and a Sloppy Joe, if you catch my drift.

You want to be making the Sloppy Joe.

Ingredients

2 cups bolognese sauce, or 2 cups vegetarian bolognese sauce* – $3

4 homemade hamburger rolls – 38 cents

6 tablespoons grated tasty cheese, divided into four equal portions – 94 cents

Shredded fresh baby spinach – about 1.5 cups – free

Spicy or tomato sauce to serve

Split the rolls and spread, open, on a lined roasting tray. Bake at 190 degrees celcius for 10 minutes, or until slightly golden and crisp.

Meanwhile, heat the bolognese sauce in the microwave on high for five minutes, or in a saucepan, stirring, until heated through.

Place one quarter of the sauce on the bottom half of each roll, and then sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place the top half of the roll on top, and place back in the oven for about 7 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the sauce is hot.

Remove from the oven and place each roll on a place. Remove the top of each roll and stuff with salad. Allow each person to drizzle with the sauce of their choosing.

These are messy to eat. Maybe that is why Joe was so sloppy.

sloppy joe

Total cost: $4.32

Per person (served 4): $1.08

 

*we used some chunky napoletana sauce for the vegetarian version, which had eggplant and zucchini in it, and she was happy with that.

 

Day 136, May 18 2016

Haloumi Burgers

Is there anything created by humankind more amazing and delicious than haloumi? Salty, and squeaky, and yet retaining its shape when cooked in a way that seems to me almost magical. I don’t know how it is achieved and I don’t want to know. I just want to eat it, enjoy it, and marvel at it.

Haloumi cheese is something that I actually prefer cold rather than hot. I love to cook it on a BBQ or in a pan, until it is crispy and golden, and then let it go cold in the fridge and put it on a sandwich. It does lose that lovely meltiness then, but it retains the salty squeak.

To feed our tribe on Wednesday Worst Day this week, I decided to forgo our ubiquitous BLTs and ELTs (that’s an egg, lettuce and tomato sarnie, FYI) and go for a more upmarket haloumi burger.

In other words, I was bored. Wednesdays may be the Worst Day in our house, but it doesn’t mean we have to be bored stiff every week.

I prepared ahead, making hamburger rolls on the weekend. I used my trusty bread recipe, and shaped into 12 nice, big, flat burger rolls. They all went into the freezer, and used four of them for dinner tonight, and saved the rest for another meal.*

The haloumi was purchased from our local fresh fruit and veg shop, which also sells great local cheese, but you can buy haloumi pretty much anywhere now (even ALDI sells it). To help calm the Resolute Omnivore, we also cooked up some shortcut bacon for the non-vegetarians.

Served on top of homemade burger buns, with fresh tomato, sliced lettuce, cucumber, mustard and mayo, the Haloumi Burger was a welcome change to our Wednesday Worst Day routine – and super easy.

 

 

*This turned out to be breakfast on Friday, when we had run out of fresh bread. Whoops.

 

 

 

 

Day 134, May 16 2016

Ricotta and Spinach Pie

Coming up with vegetarian recipes is becoming a bit challenging, but the mountain of spinach in our garden demanded that we figure something out. I adapted the many recipes I found online for ricotta and spinach pie, to create this recipe, which was delicious when served both hot , with homemade potato wedges, and cold for lunch the next day. The eldest was not home for dinner, which was lucky for her, because she ‘don’ like pie.’

Ingredients

1 sheet frozen shortcrust pastry, thawed – 19 cents

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed – 50 cents

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and chopped – free

1 onion, sliced – 10 cents

2 cloves garlic, minced – 4 cents

1 tablespoon olive oil – 12 cents

1 400 gram tub low fat ricotta – $4

2 eggs – 70 cents

Scraping whole nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Line a greased pie plate with the shortcrust pastry and blind bake the shell. Cut a hole in the top of the puff pastry sheet with a small pastry cutter, and set aside.

While the shell is blind baking, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, and sauté the onion and garlic gently for five minutes until the onion is golden. Add the spinach and cook for two minutes until it has wilted.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the spinach, onion and garlic. Stir thoroughly to combine. 

Add the ricotta and spinach mixture to the pastry shell. Cover with the puff pastry sheet. If desired, brush with milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes.


Total cost: $5.05

Per serve (serves 6): 84 cents

Ten things I’ve learned about baking – since starting this blog and before


1. Writing a recipe is harder than I thought. Aside from baking, when I cook I have typically chucked things in until it smells and tastes good. When I’m writing a recipe that someone else might cook, I have to think about quantities, cooking times, techniques. Hats off to recipe writers – it’s not as easy as I thought it would be.

2. Cocoa can seize, the same as chocolate. I did not know that until I was making brownies and did not pay attention to the cocoa and butter mix in the pot. Whoopsies. Also, double whoopsies – I should have used a double boiler and didn’t because it was ‘only’ cocoa. Chunky mess in my pot. Wailing from kids enticed by the smell of chocolate. Explanation of First World Problems.

3. Some things you have a knack for straight away, others you have to learn. And learn. Yeast dough and I are sympatico. I understand how a yeast dough works; I can tell by sight and smell whether the dough will have a good texture once baked, or whether there has been too much liquid or not enough. Yeast is my bestie. I can curl up on the couch with a yeast dough and have a cup of tea and a natter.

Pastry on the other hand, is my high school bully. We are not friends. I go to a high school reunion with shortcrust pastry, you can bet we are on opposite sides of the room, and will not be friending each other on Facebook.

And yet – I still want her to like me. So I keep trying with pastry, because one day, my hands will be cool enough, and my pie crust will be flaky and delicious.

Why yes, I have been obsessing about pastry. How can you tell?

4. Follow the recipe. You can be creative with stews, casseroles, and almost any other recipe, but with baking, you have to follow the recipe – the measurements are there for a reason. This is particularly the case with yeast dough and pastry. Quickbreads – like muffins or banana bread – are more forgiving, but fiddle with them too much and you will have a soggy banana bread or a tough muffin. And no-one wants a tough muffin. 

I use digital scales, and they are the best.

5. You can copy almost anything commercially sold in cafes or bakeries, by developing a good understanding of how flavours work together. I often look at the pastries and cakes being sold in my local cafe, usually for $6 or $7 each, and take a mental note of the flavour combinations. It’s not rocket science. Then I try and replicate them at home – and most of the time I can do it pretty easily, more cheaply, and certainly more healthily. Some things you bake at home yourself will not be as cheap, due to the cost of sourcing ingredients at lower quantities, but most of the time if they are ingredients you have on hand anyway, you will come out ahead. An example of something that will not be cheaper is a Christmas fruitcake – but I like to make it myself each year anyway because I love to make it, and then I love to eat it, each delicious slice tinged with wistfulness because I know that once it is gone, there will be no more for a whole year.

6. Even though it is ten times more efficient for me to bake by myself, I have to let the kids help.  Sometimes I want some time and space to myself, but I try to give myself over to the mess and spend time teaching them to do it. My mother and both my Grandmothers did that for me, and it was a gift – to my independence, as well as of their time.

7. Unsalted butter is imperative. I always have it in the fridge, in case of baking emergency.  There are many unexpected baking emergencies in our house.

‘Someone get that girl a chocolate chip cookie, stat!’

8. Preheat the oven. 

9. Recipes often call for different kinds of sugar: dark brown, light brown, caster, Demerara, golden caster, etc. Sometimes, sugars can replace each other: for example, you could substitute Demerara for brown sugar. However, many times the recipe is calling for a specific sugar because it has a property or a flavour that is required for that recipe. For example, many dark fruit cake recipes call for dark brown sugar as opposed to the more easily available light brown sugar (which is the cheapest). I always have regular brown sugar in my house, but I buy the dark brown sugar when baking a fruit cake – because the extra molasses in the dark brown cake adds the extra colour and depth of flavour to the fruit cake. My cake would still turn out if I used the cheaper light brown sugar, but it just would not be as rich and luscious. 

I usually keep the following sugars in my house:

 – light brown sugar

– caster sugar

– raw sugar

I find that I am able to substitute golden organic raw sugar for white sugar, because it has a finer texture than regular raw sugar. The only time I buy white granulated sugar is when making jam, because it melts and boils most quickly and assists in the setting process best. 

10. If you don’t enjoy cooking something, give up (paraphrasing that great philosopher, Homer Simpson). I hate making meringue. It’s sticky, messy, not that tasty, and basically exists only to use up egg whites. Even lemon tarts are just as nice without the meringue. Last time I made it, I ended up covered in meringue, and cranky as hell. So I made a vow never to make that stuff again.  And life continues. 

That is not contradicting my pastry obsession – I enjoy making the pastry, I am just not that good at it. Hence, I do not quit even though I have miles to go before the pastry flakes.

I can make meringue, I just want to take up another hobby by the time I am through. Underwater macrame, or Morris dancing.

Meal Plan, Week 20 2016

It’s MasterChef Australia, Season One Thousand, and my eldest daughter is obsessed once again. I don’t mind – overall it is a positive programme. The contestants and judges speak respectfully to each other, and aside from an unfortunate, short-lived, marketing ploy a couple of years ago when they decided to pit ‘girls against guys’, it has no unpleasant gender stereotypes that I have to spend time explaining to my girls (except of course that all the judges are male, but I let that slide).* They do have a very irritating habit this year of using the word ‘hero’ as a verb, as in ‘Today we are heroing mango.’ This drives me to distraction, but I still allow my girls to watch it, and we watch it with them.

The only real side-effects of this programme on our lives is that my eldest daughter wants us to cook one ‘MasterChef quality’ (her words) dish a week. Considering that her dad is a qualified chef, that in itself is not too much of a problem, but considering that we both work full-time, setting aside the time to do that is. So, into the meal plan it goes.

Saturday: Pork fillet with caramelised pear and sage, and roasted potatoes (non-vegetarian)

Sunday: Chicken pie (non-vegetarian)

Monday: Roasted chicken with hassleback root vegetables – sweedes, sweet potatoes and potatoes (non-vegetarian)

Tuesday: Chicken quesadillas (non-vegetarian), vegetarian quesadillas

Wednesday Worst Day: BLTs/ELTs

Thursday: Frittatas (vegetarian and non-vegetarian)

Friday: Pasta bolognese, vegetarian bolognese

 

*They were banned from watching until the ‘girls v guys’ bit was over. No gendered crapola allowed on my TV. This means the likes of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Farmer Wants a Wife, Beauty and the Geek have not been viewed by my teen and pre-teen girls. Enough already.

Day 133, May 15 2016

Pancakes pancakes pancakes

I last posted about pancakes on Pancake Tuesday – that day traditionally set aside for Catholics to eat all good, rich things before the fast of Lent begins. But we eat pancakes almost every week, because my kids have come to expect them every Sunday. Spolied little monkeys.

I invented this sweet ricotta topping to go with pancakes one Sunday morning because I had run out of both syrup and cream – a travesty, according to my youngest, who would happily eat whipped cream with every meal. She is a vegetarian whom I believe might consider veganism, if it wasn’t for whipped cream.*

This topping is also lovely served as a protein-rich snack, topped with blueberries or strawberries. I served it in their lunchboxes like that the next day.

Sweet Ricotta Pancake Topping

375 grams low fat ricotta – $4

1 teaspoon vanilla extract – 36 cents

zest of an orange

1 tablespoon honey – 17 cents

Combine these four ingredients in a bowl, and set aside in the fridge for about an hour for the flavours to macerate. Serve on top of hot pancakes – such as these gluten-free pancakes.

Total cost: $4.53

Per serve (serves 8): 56 cents

The gluten-free pancake mixes available in the supermarket are fine, but pretty costly for what is basically just a cup of gluten-free flour. As I usually keep gluten-free flour in the cupboard for those occasions when I am baking for friends and family that are coeliac or wheat-intolerant, it is just as easy for me to make my own. Gluten-free pancakes are as simple to make as their wheat-based brethren, but can sometimes be heavy. I came up with a recipe that addresses this by folding in a whipped eggwhite. The result was a lighter, fluffier, gluten-free pancake.

Gluten free pancakes

1 cup plain gluten-free flour (I used the Orgran brand, but there are others) – $1.49

1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder – 10 cents

1 whole egg, beaten – 35 cents

1 cup low fat milk – 25 cents

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 egg white, beaten to stiff peaks – 17 cents

In a measuring jug, add the lemon juice to the milk and set aside for twenty minutes or until the milk is soured.

In a stand mixer or a bowl, add the flour and baking powder, whole egg, and milk and lemon juice mix. Beat on medium for two minutes, or until the batter is smooth. Gently fold in the eggwhite with a metal spoon, taking care not to over mix. The batter should retain the fluffiness of the eggwhite.

Spray a hot pan with canola oil, or add a teaspoon of rice bran oil. Add a ladleful of the pancake batter, and cook on one side until bubbles appear. Flip and cook on the other side.

Repeat with remaining batter. This recipe makes four medium sized pancakes.

Total cost: $2.36

gf pancakes

 

 

*TGFWC

Day 132, May 14 2016

Roasted Vegetable Quiche

I am still obsessing about pastry. The other day I decided to try weaning myself from the pile of cheap, shop bought frozen pastry in my freezer by making my own – because who can call herself a cook if she uses frozen shortcrust? The fact is, I am not great at making pastry. My hands are too warm and small, meaning that I have a tendency to create overly tough pastry. You need cold, strong hands to create a really great pastry. Mine was serviceable, but not really much better and certainly not cheaper than the shop bought pastry.

My husband makes fantastic pastry. He is professionally trained, and when he is in the mood he can make a shards of buttery shortcrust or a fresh croissant that makes me want to fall at his feet. Except – feminist. So I just thank him and make him a cup of tea instead.

This Roasted Vegetable Quiche was thrown together from some vegetables we had in the freezer one night, when preparing a dinner for date night. One night a week we banish the kids to the cellar their bedrooms, and try to have a pleasant evening together – watching a movie, sharing a meal, and having some grown up time.

No, not that kind of grown up time.

Unless he makes some pastry.

Ingredients

1 sheet frozen short crust pastry, thawed – 19 cents

75 grams short cut bacon, diced – 74 cents

1 small onion, finely diced – 10 cents

3 sage leaves – free

1.5 cups mixed roasted vegetables – free*

4 eggs – $1.73

1/4 cup low fat milk – 6 cents

70 grams grated tasty cheese – 55 cents

Blind bake the pastry shell. Grease a pie tin (I use a metal, 20 cm diameter pie tin), and line it with the pastry. Cover it with a sheet of baking paper, and weigh it down. I keep a jar of rice especially for this purpose. You could also use dried peas or lentils, or you can buy clay ‘baking weights.’ If you use rice or lentils, be sure to keep them aside in a marked jar, and re-use them whenever you are blind baking (for me, that is every week lately).

Bake the pastry shell for ten or fifteen minutes in a moderately hot oven (190 degrees celcius). Remove from the oven, remove your weights, and set aside to cool. When you are baking any sort of pie or quiche with a wet filling, you should blind bake the shell, as it helps to prevent the pastry from becoming wet when cooking. As you can see from the photo below, in the case of this quiche, the bottom of the quiche still became a little wet – I think this is because even though I squeezed the roasted vegetables, they still retained some water from having been frozen. Next time, I will strain them for an hour or so before cooking.

While the shell is baking, heat a pan and spray it with a little cooking spray (olive or canola – I used canola). Add the bacon and fry until crispy. Set aside, and then in the fat rendered from the bacon in the pan, cook the diced onion and sage until the onion is soft. Set aside.

When the pastry is cooled, sprinkle the onion and sage mix on the bottom of the pastry shell. Squeeze the roasted vegetables out to remove any excess liquid, and then strew the on top of the onions. Sprinkle with the bacon, and then the cheese.

Whisk the eggs with the milk. Pour on top of the vegetables.

Bake in a moderately hot oven for about 40 minutes, checking at half an hour to test if the eggs are set. I prefer my eggs to be well set, but my husband prefers them just set. As I was cooking tonight, I won the argument, but when he is cooking he wins.


We served this with steamed radishes, anointed with butter and fresh parsley. We grow radishes in our garden, and while they add a sharp piquancy to a salad, they are really luscious when served hot as a cooked vegetable.

Total cost: $3.37

Per serve (serves 6): 56 cents
* Why free? Recall my concept of leveraging – the idea that when an ingredient or product has already been fully costed, and you have something leftover, that then becomes free. This is how professional kitchens cost their ingredients, according to my husband. As the roasted vegetables were leftover from a previous meal (roasted vegetable pie), they have now become free.**

**I also use this concept to measure ‘cost per wear’ for clothes and other items. For example, some things, like good boots, seem expensive (my last pair of boots cost $150) – but I wear them almost daily in winter. Amortised (annualised) cost is already at $50. However the cost per wear is far lower than that – probably already in the ‘less than $1’ category and if I keep the boots another year (which I will, because they are gorgeous Italian leather and I have just had them re-soled for only $15), the CPW Index on these boots will almost go down to zero.***

***Yes, this is seriously how I think about this stuff.