Day 258, August 22 2016

Another Crockpot Recipe: Trashy Smoky Pork and Beans

I flatter myself that if you have ever read this blog before, you would note that I do not use much in the way of pre-prepared convenience foods (think, flavour packets, condensed soups, and the like). Once exception was earlier this month, when I used some taco seasoning and taco sauce leftover from a packet of ‘stand n’ stuff‘ burrito bowls to make a crockpot Taco Filling (you can find that post and recipe here). I occasionally buy these burrito bowls as a treat because although they aren’t strictly necessary (I mostly make burrito bowls in a…wait for it…bowl), my kids get a kick out of these little funky bowls made out of tortillas. They aren’t unhealthy, deep fried, or covered in junkola. They are just nifty little bowls made out of plain tortillas.

Anyways, disturbingly, sometimes it is cheaper to buy them as a meal kit, with added ‘flavour sachets’ and other stuff, than it is to just buy the burrito bowls themselves. This leaves me with stuff I don’t usually use but don’t want to just throw out (because although I wouldn’t normally cook with this stuff, I also hate food waste). Enter this recipe: Trashy Smoky Pork and Beans, made with leftover frozen roast pork from a family dinner a few weeks ago, frozen pre-cooked black-eyed beans (my second-favourite bean), a sachet of Old El Paso Smoky Taco Seasoning (don’t know what makes it ‘smoky’, don’t want to know), chipotle-style hot sauce, and the not so secret ingredient that brings it all together and gives this recipe its ‘trashy’ moniker: coke.

I had some leftover coke zero from the weekend, and decided to use it in this dish. Coke has excellent tenderising properties and goes really well with pork. I have used coke to cook with before: I have even cooked a whole chicken in the crockpot with a can of coke poured over it and it turned out really well. It does not have to be the sugary kind; I usually buy diet coke or coke zero, as I prefer the taste (what?? yep – true).* The real addition that coke makes when cooking a dish like this is the acid (what that does to meat is what it does to yer teef – eep!) and the flavour, not the sugar.

This is super easy and quite tasty. If I were to make it again, I would replace the Taco Seasoning Mix with 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, and 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, combined with some garlic and salt, and a little cornflour. To get the smokiness I would add some extra chipotle hot sauce, but to be honest I would survive if it did not have the same ‘Smoke’ flavour that was offered by the Taco Seasoning I used and is I am sure created by Flavour Technicians in lab coats.

However as this blog is a faithful representation of our 365 days of cheap eats, I have to tell the truth: this is the dish I made, in all its trashy glory.


1.5 cups roast pork, chopped*** (free)

1.5 cups cooked black-eyed beans – $1

1 sachet Old El Paso Smokey Taco Seasoning – free

1.5 cups flat Coke Zero (about 1 375 ml can) – 50 cents

1/2 teaspoon Chipotle-style Tabasco sauce – 5 cents

1 packet Old El Paso Burrito Bowls – $2.54

In your crockpot, combine all ingredients and mix well.

Turn crockpot on low and cook for about five hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve in tacos or burrito bowls.


Burrito Bowly Goodness

Top the burrito bowls with salad, cheese, salsa and sour cream.


Total cost: $4.09

Per person (serves 4): $1.02



*We only drink soft drinks occasionally, so I am sticking by this decision**

**The research on artificial sweeteners and weight gain is for people that drink more than two artificially sweetened soft drinks per day. I’d be lucky to drink that many per month.

***See my earlier explanations about leveraging. As I had already cooked a pork roast in week 30, this was already paid for in that week, making all leftovers from this dish ‘free’ for budgeting purposes.


Day 256, August 20 2016

Comfort food and love languages

I love to read about food and feeding in stories. One of my favourite literary tropes is the ‘fed child’ trope in British and American children’s stories – the most famous of which was Charles Dickens’ Oliver of course (“Please, sir, I want some more”), and which continues to this day in popular children’s and YA books like The Hunger Games trilogy and the Harry Potter series.* These stories usually start with a child that is hungry for some reason; be it parental neglect (think, the Dursleys in Harry Potter) or hardship (think, economic and social deprivation in The Hunger Games), before the main character is relieved from their hunger by a series of fortunate or unexpected events. The stories then contain extended and very detailed passages of culinary opulence that comfort both the reader and the character, while filling the character to bursting. For Harry, it is usually classic English boarding school cooking (shepherd’s pie and treacle tart), whereas for Katniss Everdeen it is lamb stew with plums and her friend/lover Peeta’s cheese buns. Even after periods of extended hunger, as occurs in both The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter books (recall Harry’s hungry summer in The Order of The Phoenix and the deprivation of the hunt for the horcruxes in The Deathly Hallows), the characters are rewarded with sumptuous food at the end of their tribulations. An abundance of delicious food, as much as glory, riches, and the saving of loved ones, is the literary and literal reward for tribulation.

Why I love this particular trope in children’s stories so much is that I believe that is speaks to a very deep-seated need for comfort in children and in adults that food offers. The need for food is our first, most basic need, and the comfort we receive from it is the first comfort. As adults, this basic need remains, even as we learn to reward and comfort ourselves with other things. Nutritionists and dieticians would tell us that we shouldn’t reward ourselves with food, but if you ask me, that is as about as useful as telling us not be rewarded with money for our work.

Apparently there are five ‘love languages’ that people use to express love for others. If that is true, then one of the ways that I express love for people in my life is through cooking.**

I love to do things like make Peeta’s Cheese Buns or Harry’s Treacle Tart for my daughter for fun, or cook a meal for friends who are unwell or who have just had a new baby. I also like to just cook and share a meal with friends. On this night we had our bestest darling friends over for vegan baked beans made in our trusty crockie, using the linked recipe with a few minor changes (I used black-eyed beans instead of white beans, and maple syrup instead of molasses, but otherwise followed the recipe as described). I also made the ultimate in comfort food: cauliflower and broccoli cheese.

There is not really a healthy way to make this dish. You can sub out full cream milk for low fat, but when it is this cheesy and buttery, what’s the point? Just go with it and count calories the rest of the week.

cauliflower and broccoli cheese.jpg

Cauliflower and Broccoli cheese


Half a head of cauliflower – $1

1 head broccoli – $1

4 tablespoons butter – 44 cents

3 tablespoons plain flour – 4 cents

2 cups full cream or low fat milk – 50 cents

3/4 cup grated tasty cheese – 90 cents

1/4 teaspoon salt – 1 cent

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg – 2.5 cents

1/2 cup grated tasty cheese, extra – 60 cents

Cut the broccoli and cauliflower into florets, and steam lightly. Place in a lightly greased baking dish.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the plain flour, and wish, cooking the flour and butter together until it is bubbling. This is called a light or blonde roux.

Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, to prevent lumps forming.

Cook over a low heat until the sauce thickens.

Add the nutmeg (I use freshly grated but you can use ready ground), salt, and 3/4 cup grated cheese.

Pour the sauce over the broccoli and cauliflower in the baking dish.

Sprinkle with grated cheese, and bake at 180 degrees C until bubbling and golden.

Serve with any casserole or roast dish, or as we did, with vegetarian baked beans.

To make this gluten-free, replace the plain flour with a gluten free substitute, like corn flour or potato flour.

Total cost: $4.51

Cost per serve (serves 6 comfort-seekers, with seconds): 75 cents


*Now, while I enjoy the fictional trope of the ‘fed child’ in stories because I love to read the descriptions of the food and read about the character’s comfort, of course I don’t want to see real children go hungry. This is why I donate to the UNHCR every month to support refugee children in need in places like Syria or the Sudan. If you would like to do so, please go to

**Whether they want me to do this is another story 😀


Ciabatta Bread Photo Essay

Ciabatta, or Italian Slipper Bread, is a delicious, crusty Italian bread, filled with air holes. I love to bake different breads and yeast buns: I have tried my hand at homemade crumpets, bagels, cinnamon rolls, Hot Cross Buns, sourdough bread, and tortillas, to name a few. I also make at least a couple of loaves of my own bread each weekend, and we always make our own pizza dough using Jamie Oliver’s never fail recipe from the Save With Jamie cookbook. My husband also likes to help out with this activity. He is much better at tortillas than I am: his invariably turn out much softer and chewier than mine, so tortillas are his job. He also makes a mean sourdough.

When I showed him this ciabatta recipe, he was in like Flynn. It is a two-day recipe, requiring a traditional sponge to be made the night before and left to ferment slightly overnight, followed by a dough to be made the next morning using the fermented sponge. We made it together, and scoffed it together with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Stage 1: The Sponge

Following the instructions in the linked recipe, make the sponge. It will initially look like this (this was after it had already started to rise):


Ciabatta Sponge, starting to rise.

Let the sponge sit, covered, overnight. This is one of the rare times I will use cling wrap; (I prefer to use a damp cloth), but if you are doing a long fermentation in my experience a damp cloth dries out and will also dry out the sponge underneath. Place the covered bowl somewhere warm, but not hot.

TBH, I did not use bread flour as required in this recipe and in almost every bread and pasta recipe: I always use a mix of plain flour and bread improver. Bread flour is simply flour with a higher gluten level; bread improver helps to activate gluten, giving a similar result to strong baker’s flour. I find that 2 teaspoons per 500 grams of plain flour is sufficient, and is cheaper and easier than tracking down bread flour.

I have tested using both baker’s flour and plain flour/bread improver mix over about ten years of baking bread and yeast buns, and am satisfied with the results of my baking hack, but you can go either way. I have rarely had bread fail, and it always keeps well. The difference is about $2 per kilo for bread flour vs 75 cents per kilo for plain flour plus an additional teaspoon (about 5 grams) bread improver per 250 grams (at 7 cents per teaspoon = 28 cents per kilo). That makes it about half price to do it my way. Also I don’t use it for everything: for example, if I am making something that I know is going to be eaten that night (pizza, for example), I don’t bother with the bread improver.

Stage 2:

The next morning the sponge will look like this:


Stage 2: Spongey and fermented

It will have a pleasant sourish smell, not unlike beer, and will have formed bubbles and air pockets all over the top. It should smell nice, not unpleasant.

Stage 3: The Dough

Follow the recipe to make the dough. The trick with this recipe is to be aware that it is a sticky, wet dough – it is not like a firm, traditional bread dough, which is more pillowy and easy to knead. Sourdoughs are traditionally moist and wet:


Stage 3: The dough

Let it rise again for a couple of hours, until it has doubled in size.

Continue with the recipe.

You should end up with 2-3 beautiful loaves of bread that look like this beauty:


Ciabatta ready to eat

We were as proud as new parents on Christening Day. Look at its gorgeous holey face. Don’t you just love it?

Can we have another one?

So did I save any money making this bread?

A loaf of ciabatta or Pasta Dura bread from a well-known bakery chain costs about $4. This recipe yielded three loaves that are admittedly smaller than a Pasta Dura, but are more than on par for flavour and texture. The ingredients for this recipe cost about $1. Excluding time (a lot of time, I admit), this recipe is about 75% cheaper than buying a single loaf of ciabatta from a supermarket or bakery chain.

More importantly, it was fun. My husband loved making it and we enjoyed each other’s company while we did it.

Plus, we got to do the Snoopy Dance around the kitchen after we sliced the loaf and saw all those lovely holes, and ate our first slices of homemade ciabatta.

Homemade ciabatta bread: $1

Hubby doing the Snoopy Dance in his uggs: priceless

Another Big Day of Baking, part II: Rock Buns

My youngest is a big fan of Harry Potter. So much so that for her recent birthday party, we had to replicate the cake Hagrid made for Harry’s eleventh birthday:


Yer a wizard!

One thing I do try to make very differently from Hagrid is rock buns. Hagrid’s are as big as a hand and hard enough to break yer teeth. Harry and Ron usually try to feed them to Fang, or hide them under the Invisibility Cloak. I try to avoid my kids having to hide them by making them nice and light.

The rock bun is a classic English retro biscuit that my mother always used to make when we were kids. When we were growing up I wasn’t much of a fan (sorry, Mum) but I have a fondness for them now that must be a combination of 20-20 hindsight and the realisation that they are, in fact, awesome.

To make these nice and light I use the nifty pastry cutter tool that my Aunt gave me (similar to this), but you can use your hands to rub the butter in. This recipe is also very adaptable – the recipe below is for Ginger and Raisin Rock Buns, but you can swap out the Ginger and Raisins for currants, sultanas, or any dried fruit you like (chopped dried apricots or pears would be lovely). I love them with currants and some lemon or orange zest. And remember to always sprinkle them with a little bit of sugar before baking – there is something about that little crystallisation that makes them extra special. The crystallised ginger in this recipe adds a nice bit of zing.

Ginger and Raisin Rock Buns

1.5 cups self raising flour

115 grams cubed unsalted butter

75 grams caster sugar, plus a tablesppon of raw or caster sugar for sprinkling

60 grams crystallised ginger, finely chopped

60 grams raisins

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons soda or plain water

Line two biscuit trays with baking paper.

Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut or rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the ginger and raisins.

Using your hands, mix in the eggs and water lightly to form a soft dough. Don’t over mix the dough or the rock buns will be tough.

Drop spoonsful of the dough onto a lined tray, allowing room for spreading. You will have enough for 22-24 rock buns. Sprinkle each bun with a little bit of caster or raw sugar.

Bake at 180 degrees C until risen and golden, like so:


Cool on trays. These will keep for a couple of days.

It’s time for another Big Day of Baking

I have not had as much time for my usual BDOBs lately, because the latter half of the year from August to December is deadline season for me. Lately I have been throwing together a batch of muffins or cookies when I have the oven on for dinner, and tossing half of the batch in the freezer for kids’ lunchboxes. But when I have the time, I still like to spend an afternoon baking and listening to a podcast or watching an episode of The Good Wife on Netflix.*

Here are some of my latest baking attempts:

  • Jam tarts;

Tarts by a tart

  • Muffins of various kinds (blueberry, mixed berry, currant, raisin, chocolate chip);
  • Pizza pinwheels;
  • Cheesymite scrolls;
  • Bread, including delicious ciabatta bread, which I will post about separately because my goodness that was a marathon effort but worth it;
  • Ye olde rock buns.

Pizza pinwheeels

This is not really a recipe, but more of a ‘how-to’ guide to making something in a panic when you realise you do not have anything for school lunchboxes the next day, and nothing much in the freezer.

Take a couple of sheets of frozen puff pastry from the bottom of the freezer. Scrape off the freezer frost, and thaw on the bench.

Spread with tomato paste, and then dig out any pizza-related items you have. In this case I had: frozen spinach pucks, some grated cheese, pitted olives, three slices of ham, and a small leftover piece of fetta. Thaw the spinach pucks in the microwave for a minute, and squeeze out the water with your hands. Don’t skip this step or you will have a soggy mess.

Sprinkle over the puff pastry like so, along with some herbs:


Don’t panic! The kids will eat it!

Roll up like a sausage and cut into slices. Lay out on a tray:


Bake in a hot oven until golden and cooked:


You’ve saved lunchtime! You’re the great Australian hero!

These freeze well and are very tasty for something I whipped up in a mad panic. Nice with soup and nice on their own.

Next post: BDOB Part something – Rock Buns that are nothing like Hagrid’s, I swear.

*Because I am up-to-date with what the kids are watching.

Meal Plan Week 33, August 20-26 2016

The crockpot bonanza continued this week as the weather continued wet and horrible and I had more deadlines to complete. Thank goodness uni was over or I think we would have been eating cereal for a week.

Actually, since my husband is a trained chef and can cook more competently than I can, that would be unlikely (although my daughter would love it). However, since I started this blog he has taken a back seat and seems to be happy to eat and do the dishes. He does say that he can’t cope watching me in the kitchen and so stays out when I am in there – he says that it makes his brain hurt. For someone trained to follow a certain process it must be painful to watch my chaos. It would be like Spock watching the Klingons run a conference, I guess.

Saturday: Slow-cooked Boston Baked Beans (vegetarian), Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese (vegetarian), homemade rolls

Sunday: Nachos with chicken and salad

Monday: Slow-cooked pork and black-eyed bean burrito bowls

Tuesday: Panic frozen dinners!

Wednesday Worst Day: Pasta bolognese

Thursday: Vegetarian pasta bake with salad

Friday: Monthly takeaway night

Day 254, August 18 2016

The laziest beef casserole in the world

Michael Pollan wrote a wonderful book called Cooked, easily my favourite of his books, in which he writes about spending his Sunday afternoons learning to cook casseroles and other slow cooked dishes like tagines. “When chopping onions,” he writes, “just chop onions.” He is writing about focusing on the process of cooking, and taking the time to be slow in a fast food world.

I am down with this sentiment. I am down with Michael Pollan and his Birkenstock-wearing, locavore, Berkeley agenda. I love that stuff.

Except I’m a busy working mum of two. Some days, I have time to just chop onions. Some days, I have a deadline, and what I want to do is feed my kids with as little effort as possible without feeding them something with a big Golden M stamped on a box. Because even though I’m not going all Michael Pollan on the onions, I have read Michael Pollan, if you catch my drift.*

This casserole utilised my crockie, a half a kilo of steak from my freezer, and a few ‘bottoms of the jar’ I had in the fridge. As you can see, it turned out alright:


Crockpot Beef Casserole, served with Baked Potato and Steamed Broccoli

It may not have been a slow cooked tagine with locally sourced ingredients, but it tasted good, utilised some things that were hanging around my fridge waiting to be used up, and was pretty cheap for a meat-based dish. Certainly cheaper than a run to the Golden Arches.


600 grams porterhouse steak, trimmed of fat and cubed – $6

1 tablespoon gluten free corn flour – 20 cents

1/8 cup each of: raspberry jam, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce (ketchup), soy sauce, tomato relish – 62 cents**

3/4 cup stock (any kind) – free

Toss the beef in the cornflour and place in the crock pot.

Mix the sauces, relish, and jam together, and place in the crockpot. Mix well with the beef.

Pour in the stock and mix.

Turn the crockpot on low. Cook on low for 6 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the meat is tender and a sauce has formed.

Serve with mashed or baked potatoes and steamed vegetables.

Total cost: $6.82

Per person (serves 4): $1.70


*Not perfect. We still eat at the Big M on occasion.

**I have calculated the cost of 1/8 cup based on 500 ml sauces at average price $2 bottle. If you use gluten free sauces as we do, this dish is gluten free.