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Embracing the happy housewife role…

12 Feb

So what with being a new mum and now also a “stay at home housewife”, lately I’ve found that I’ve been at home more often than I used to be. Obviously I love to spend time in the kitchen, so I decided that that was how I would spend my hours as bub began to (thank goodness finally!) sleep (a little bit) during the day. Organisation is another of my loves/ hobbies, and so I decided to get organised. After re-arranging the pantry several times, re-organising the life out my “plastic containers drawer” and taking to my poor kitchen with my label making machine, I figured probably that there were more important things to do.

I wanted to start “meal planning”.

Not having ever done this before, I began googling in an effort to get ideas as to how to go about it. I was bombarded with blogs written by all these fabulously (almost) professional (seeming) housewives, who all had wonderful (OCD like) systems in place. It seemed *very* overly organised, and *like* such a “Mum” thing to do. But then realising of course, that here I am, a Mum now, blogging about meal planning…I took a deep breath, put my judgemental tail between my legs and pressed on. And I learnt a few things in my travels:

1. It can save you money. Plan your meals at the start of each week, and in doing so use the supermarket specials to save money. Initially I thought that I needed to start reading junk mail to do this, and I’m not a fan of that, BUT I found that the other alternative is to check out the online shopping webpages for the supermarkets – all the specials are there too. There are a few days on my plan where I have written “…and meat” and I guess this will be an opportunity for using the discounts to my advantage. I imagine buying in bulk would be another way to save money, but I haven’t jumped on that band wagon yet.

I found this free template from theprojectgirl.com and use it for my weekly/fortnightly shopping. It helps me see what I have in the cupboard, and what needs to be bought.

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2. The freezer is your friend. Some recipes will freeze happily (pumpkin soup for example), and you should make double – making next week/month’s plan easier OR allowing easy meals to be ready/ prepared on the nights when the “wheels fall off”, as they say. I have started freezing “everything” (more on this later, when I’ll blog  about my new found love of all things frozen…) I am sick of how much food we are wasting by allowing it to spoil and have to throw it out. Instead, I have started thinking ahead and if I don’t think it will be used soon, I freeze it. A good example is this week I opened a can of coconut cream and used half of it in a curry. Usually I would, in dead-set-denial, put it in the fridge and it would sit there for much longer than I am going to admit to you, slowly migrating towards the back of the fridge. This week instead I poured the other unused half straight away into a ziplock bag, labeled it and threw it in the freezer. I will use it when that curry comes along again on a plan soon, and it will be there waiting for me, instead of disappointedly being furry in the back of the fridge and having to open another can, only to start the gross and wasteful cycle again.

3. Prepare dinner during the day. At some point in the day when I have some spare minutes I chop everything up for dinner and put it in containers in the fridge. This means that come dinner time it is faster for whomever is cooking to get it all done. One tip here is: Use containers that go in the dishwasher, otherwise you are just creating more work with washing up. Also, group foods together that will be cooked together – onion and garlic for example.

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Since taking this photo I have acquired a divided plastic container, which allows for easier division of the foods, again making the process at dinner time more streamlined, especially if you have a wonderful husband like mine, who is now used to coming home to an open recipe book, and the meal prepped, divided and sitting in the fridge ready for HIM (quite often) to cook it. 🙂 I’m a lucky girl, I know.

4. Use cookbooks. They are sitting there, and if you are anything like me, you use them much less than you wish you did. For this first month of meal planning I have set myself the (crazy) goal of cooking out of cookbooks 4-5 nights a week. It’s a bit excessive, but it won’t always be like this. Right now I have the time, so I’m trying it out. If nothing else it is helping me with the stuff out that is of my comfort zone, like fish and balancing flavours.

5. Share ingredients. After the first two weeks, I realised I could have been more organised about my plan in regards to fresh produce. Have a look at the recipes and see if any share fresh ingredients you don’t use for any other reason. Celery is a good example here for me. We cook with it, but despite all good intentions, we will not eat it as a snack. We just won’t. So I realise now, if I buy it and can work a risotto AND minestrone soup into the same week, then it is less likely to be used up, and not go to waste.

For the first month I used a month calendar planner and sat going through cookbooks one night, just filling in each night with the meals, books and page numbers.

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I think it is a great start, and it is working for me. I’m going to stick with it for another month, and then see if I’ll shift to a weekly, or fortnightly system instead. Anyways, there are plenty more ideas and tips I’m sure. But this is what I have learnt so far (only being two weeks into the project.) Please feel free to comment with your tips too so that we can all benefit! 🙂 Happy meal planning, peeps. 🙂

Edit 14/2/14: Yeap, I’m going to switch to a 2 week system. At the end of the second week of trying this, there is too much food still in the fridge that needs to be used. So the third week I am about to re-plan, aiming to use up what we have already. I also read somewhere recently the suggestion too to clean out the pantry and plan based on all those things in there that “seem” to last forever, but actually need to be used. You know, all those basics and staples and “just in cases”. You can buy fresh ones, after you have planned, cooked and eaten these ones. I shall keep you posted on how this goes. 🙂

Frozen Bananas – icky, but oh so useful…

5 Feb

I’ve blogged about freezing bananas before. They are beyond icky and peeling them makes your thumbs go numb. So today, as I was switching between peeling frozen bananas, and running my hands under warm water to bring my thumbs back to life, I was also pondering a better system. It turns out you can freeze bananas already peeled. It works, it’s easy and they survive the freezer just fine. I tried this out the other day, in anticipation of this moment, and froze a peeled banana in a zip lock bag. Peachy keen jelly bean!  Low and behold today there was one (perfectly fine) less icky frozen banana to peel.

Having said all that, if you do continue to freeze them in their skins (I don’t know, because maybe you don’t want to use plastic because the banana already comes in a perfectly fine “freezer pouch” (it’s skin) and you are virtuous and lovely and want to save the dolphins, or something and you can bare the possibility of losing your thumbs in a frostbite like banana baking incident) then here is a tip for you too. I used to let them thaw before I peeled them; it was just gross. It was sloppy, messy and they were much harder to peel. It turns out that they peel easier straight out of the freezer and you can be quite rough with them which makes the process faster. Another idea: peeling frozen bananas works better if you peel chunks of their skin off SIDEWAYS, rather than the lengthways way you would if you were going to eat them.

So there you go; icky frozen bananas made just slightly less ickier.

Mixed Berry Muffins

31 Jan

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You know those moments when you feel like baking (or, let’s be honest, eating) something sweet, but you REALLY can’t be bothered making (and cleaning up) a mess? A one bowl wonder is the way to go.

I like these muffins because they are quick, easy and a “one bowl wonder”. They freeze well too and can be brought back to warm-and-tasty-life in a microwave without problems. So they are great to bake when you are just in the mood to do so, and then freeze for later on, say for when people are popping over and there is nothing in the house to offer them.

These muffins work great with whatever berries you have handy. I used blueberries and raspberries this time because that’s what was in the freezer. I add frozen berries to my regular shop for these moments.

This recipe is from Australian Woman’s Weekly: BAKE

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Sam (returns to) the kitchen! Hazzzah!

30 Jan

So it’s been quite a year; Some medical issues later, a few hospital visits, a house move and a new bubba born – and I’m back. I miss sharing my foodie adventures in the kitchen with you and I am looking forward to getting back into it. Over Christmas I’ve been warming back up with some old favourites. I’ve made some quite tasty handmade pasta for dinner, a few lemon meringue pies, several batches of delicious brownies,  and one VERY disastrous gingerbread house. Hopefully I’ll be uploading new adventures from my new kitchen soon – stay tuned! 🙂

Tip of the week:

If you want to make a gingerbread house that will not crush it’s little gingerbread residents, resulting in a ginger infused lawsuit, then use a recipe for a HOUSE, and not for COOKIES. (Duh, Sam!) It does seem obvious in retrospect I suppose. 🙂

How not to make a gingerbread house 101

I got all the little ginger people out safely, but the house was a write off. Pardon the tin of spaghetti. Inside the house there were five more similar cans, attempting to hold walls up. *Sigh*… the wreckage was so delicious, but just not structurally integral.

Lemon Meringue Pie

3 Nov

I found a real cracker by chance tonight. Friends came over for dinner, and on a whim I decided to make a Lemon Meringue Pie. I’ve never done it before, but they are close friends, and they were happy to be my guinea pigs. The pie, it turns out, was pretty gosh darn tasty, if I do say so myself… which I do. AND it wasn’t half bad looking either 🙂

The recipe is from Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbooks: BAKE. Give it a spin, you won’t regret it. 🙂

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End of STEP 4: “Blind baked” pastry, (a little too browned in some places).

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A TIP FOR STEP 5: When you are stirring the mixture over the stove, small glutinous lumps will appear. Don’t freak out (I did a little bit). It wants to turn into an almost glue like texture, so when this happens you know it is on it’s way to achieving its dream! It will be ok. 🙂 It comes together super fast after this, changing from a milk like consistency to glue-like, in about 2 seconds! 🙂 It was impressive to see.

Watch the magic happen on my video here.

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STEP 6: The recipe says to “spread” the meringue, but I choose to pipe it. I think it looks pretty when it browns up. Each to their own. 🙂 Also because piping takes up more of the meringue mixture, I suggest using the forth egg white (from the pastry), and a little extra caster sugar, to make up extra meringue. Besides, all good intensions aside, what do most of us do with one left over egg white, in a glass in the fridge? We ignore it, until we can justify throwing it out. Instead: beat it up with sugar, and eat it. 🙂

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We loved this pie. I will definitely be making it again soon. Next time I will be brave and leave it in the oven just a tad longer (a few minutes only) to further “crunch-ify” the browned tips on the meringue.

Seasonal Note: In Australia lemons are in season in Autumn, Winter and Spring. Just something for us all to keep in mind. 😉

HOW TO: Grow your own mint

1 Nov

This seriously huge mug, filled with water, makes for a cute addition to the kitchen this week while my mint attempts to grow its new roots.

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Growing mint in my garden is one of my secret pleasures. It likes to be drowned in water all the time, and when you brush past it, it smells so gosh darn delicious. 🙂 Here’s another little tip I picked up from my Mum. If you don’t grow mint in your garden yet, you may start to, after this super easy tip.

When you pick mint from your garden, (or the next time you buy it from the shops (*cough* farmers markets!!) 😉 ) rather than pulling individual leaves off the bushes, cut long stems and remove the bottom half of the leaves. These loose leaves can be used immediately or stored in the fridge to be used within a day or so afterwards.

20121101-210930.jpgPut the stems in water and over the next few weeks new roots will grow out sideways from the stem. (I’ll post photos below, showing the new roots as soon as this lot start to grow.)
20121101-211149.jpg All you have to do then is replant them in a pot (easy to contain and maintain), or the garden (it will spread out a lot though, it’s an explorer. Choose an area you want to fill)… and then you’ll have brand new mint. Plants are kinda awesome like that. Hooray for tasty, sustainable, edible gardens! 🙂 Keep them well watered. Mint hearts water.

Here is the recipe I use for “minted yoghurt”. Try it as a dip, with kofta and flatbread, with tabouli etc. YUM!

Edit 11/11/12: After less then two weeks in the water here are the results so far. Most haven’t yet sprouted, but a few have. I will leave them all in the water, even these, for a bit longer.

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Pepper the Fairy vs The Evil Mixing Bowl.

28 Oct

My four year old niece said that these biscuits tasted like “pepper and fairies”. 🙂 Haha. I, of course, instantly conjured up a story in my mind about a sweet little fairy named Pepper, who one day flew too close to the mixing bowl and was never seen again, but of course I resisted telling her that.

She is too young to read this… yet. 🙂

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This was my first attempt at many of the processes involved. I know I’ll look back at them soon and cringe that I put them up here, but for today I am happy with them. I can see plenty of faults to fix up, but that just makes me more keen to try it again! They tasted pretty good, and they are not so ugly that I wouldn’t share them around family and friends.

Last christmas my sister and I both, as many people do, made gingerbread houses. You can check that blog out here. It was the first time I had built a candy house. My mother in-law had bought us a “kit house” and my husband and I had fun decorating and assembling it. I’m not a naturally competitive person, but somehow the suggestion of a competition (for this coming xmas) arose between my sister and I, and I am full on excited about it.

This year I want to do it properly; make the gingerbread and icing myself, from scratch. This year I want to use my new piping skills. This year I’m in it to win it. Haha 🙂 The point is, that this christmas IT-IS-ON!… in the land of building gingerbread houses.

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SO yesterday, mostly in an effort to NOT do my actual work I desperately needed to do, I set out to do three things. ONE to use some of the 99 cookie cutters (not exaggerating)  that were given to us as an AWESOME wedding gift from friends, TWO to make my very first actual gingerbread biscuits (as practice) and THREE to teach myself how to “flood” biscuits with royal icing. I’ve been wanting to learn how to do that for a little while anyway.

Flooding is pretty easy, once you get into the flow of it. (Nice pun, Sam! Why thank you!) 😉 I just watched a few You Tube clips, and then gave it a go. Here is one to get you started.

I let my edges dry before flooding, which is ok, but a different “look” to what this video shows you. It is the same principle. I have a few cookies left over, so I’ll try the quick, “wet on wet” method next.

I’m also going to try this one next too! 🙂 Eeee! Super excited. (I know, Mum I’m a sadcase. :))

These videos are by Sweetambs.

There are a lot of recipes for gingerbread out there. I’m not saying I know anything about them, except that this recipe worked for me. This is a recipe for a WHOLE house. I’m an idiot and didn’t halve it for the cookies yesterday. There are currently A LOT of cookies in our house. Please come and visit soon.

20121028-193413.jpgAustralian Women’s Weekly Cookbooks: BAKE.

Feel free to comment and let us all know any other tips or tricks you have. 🙂 Except my sister. Don’t tell her. 😛

Tee Hee (and I had fun with the letter cookie cutters too…)

Once a moosha, always a moosha. 🙂
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Yogurt and Cucumber Dip

16 Oct

This is one of my fav dips. Awesome on its own, dipping with biscuits, bread or fresh cut veggies. Also great with lamb, kofta, cous cous etc. It is from The Australian Woman’s Weekly Cookbooks: Great Vegetarian Foods.

A tip on straining whey from yogurt:
You know that watery stuff that you get on top of natural yogurt? It needs to be strained before you can use it for dips etc.
I have strained yogurt the “proper” way before, but to be honest usually I don’t bother. I have a lot of food paraphernalia around my house, but seriously, cheese cloth… on hand… all the time? Yeah, that’s not happening.
Here is an alternative method, which works just fine.

Place a smaller strainer (just the kind you would drain pasta in, or wash small veggies or herbs) over a bowl. Make sure it can balance there on its own. Line the strainer with about 4 layers of good quality paper kitchen towel. Dump the yoghurt onto the paper. Place the whole “thing” into the fridge. The paper and bowl will draw out/catch excess whey from the yogurt, making a thicker, more delicious end product. 20121103-233713.jpgLeave it in the fridge for a few hours at least, but over night is ideal. You can loosely cover the whole thing in glad wrap, I suppose, if that’s your sort of thing.

Make this dip at least one day before you want to eat it. It gives all the ingredients time to make friends and invade one another’s personal taste space. 🙂

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HOW TO: Make fresh pasta

13 Oct

Here is a link to a video of how I make fresh pasta.

What’s in it?

  • 200 grams of plain flour (plus extra to use during process)
  • 3 free range eggs

A Tip on cooking fresh pasta:

Whether you are cooking it fresh straight after you have made it, or whether you are pulling your fresh made pasta from the freezer (it freezes excellently UNCOOKED) this tip is the same.

Add salt and a drizzle of olive oil to water and get it boiling. The olive oil stops the pasta from sticking together. The salt adds muchly important taste. Remembering that it is not a processed food with salt added at the factory to preserve it for a 100 years on a shelf.

Once the water is boiling add your pasta. As you stir and separate the pasta with a fork, watch it. The water will stop boiling for a little bit. Once it returns up to the boil, then your pasta is pretty much ready to be strained. Obviously this takes longer with the frozen pasta, but the same rule applies.

You will know if you have over cooked your fresh pasta because you will be eating a sloppy mess of unpleasantness. Try not to overcook it, it makes me sad.

It should only take a few minutes  and the correct result should be silken pasta that you bite into and think, “Oh man. Seriously? THAT is what pasta is supposed to taste like? All those years!! All those wasted years!!”

No pasta maker machine? No problem.

Never fear, roll the dough out with a rolling pin or (dare I suggest) a wine bottle. 😉 And then simply cut strips with a sharp knife. Wide strips work really well.

HOW TO: Grow your own Rosemary

9 Oct

This is a really simple tip that I learned from my Mum. When you use rosemary in your cooking only use the bottom half of the sprig. Strip the bottom “leaves” from the stem, use them as normal, but leave the top half untouched.

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Push the stem back into a pot of dirt (earth) and leave it be! It’s that simple. Nine times out of ten, it grows happily away without complaint. And woolah – you have a brand new rosemary plant! I keep a pot by the back door, especially for this use.

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Better Banana Bread than you can buy

7 Oct

One of the things I love about Banana Bread is that we, as a society, have come to a socially constructed agreement that we will all ignore the obvious fact that essentially it is cake. It is CAKE, people! 🙂 We shall ignore it, and continue to uphold the delicious assumption that Banana “Bread” is the ok-breakfast-afternoon-anytime cake, for which we SHALL NOT BE JUDGED too heavily for enjoying. 🙂 Enjoy.

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This is how I used to make banana bread:

1. Buy bananas
2. Leave them in my fruit bowl until they are no longer recognizable as bananas
3. Feel sad and/or guilty about it for a day or so, regretfully throw out the bananas, while pouting sadly at them
4. Go to the shops and buy banana bread. (It’s not as nice as your homemade woulda been, Sam, but at least it actually exists. Unlike your planned banana bread, Sam, that never happened because you are a wasteful fool, SAM!)

Funnily enough, this wasn’t working for me. I finally learned to listen to the “Mums” around me who were convinced that you could freeze blackened bananas (at step 2 or even 3 above), and they were of course right. Thanks Mums of the world! How do you guys know this stuff? 🙂

SO – this is how I NOW make banana bread, and like, *flicks hair* omg, it is so much better than store bought bread. 🙂

Banana Bread is one of my favourite “pretend healthy” things to make. One by one, I freeze the poor neglected fruit bowl rejected bananas until I have 4 ugly horrible gooey black (delicious) ‘nanas frozen and ready to go for when the cooking mood strikes.

Here is the recipe I use. It is from the October 2009 edition of Australian Good Food Magazine. I always skip the nuts (personal preference), but NOT the lemon. Trust me, the lemon MAKES this recipe. It says use four bananas, but I find three works better. Four (“normal” sized) bananas tends to make the mixture too wet, and its hard to get it to cook just right.

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Tip: There is no escaping the fact that it is really, really icky peeling thawed, frozen, blackened bananas. It’s just so gross. I try to go to my happy place while doing it. If you are grossed out too, I find it helps, if while peeling off their skin – you smile and think to yourself, “It is just a banana. Just a banana. Come on, harden up!” I don’t know why, but it helps me, anyway.

Seasonal Note: In Australia bananas are pretty much in season all year. So that’s good news for homemade, sustainable banana bread. 🙂

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