I may not be a Boy Scout, but …

Be prepared! It’s what the Boy Scouts are famous for, right?
Well, I’m adopting myself a new habit in the kitchen, thanks to a blog I read today.
I found a link on Facebook today to this fabulous blog:
http://whoneedsacape.com/2012/11/crockpot-freezer-cooking/
What a brilliant idea! As I read through the blog, I realised it wouldn’t work for me just as it was, but after a bit of mental cogitation, and some inspiration at the supermarket, I came up with a few things that I thought could possibly work in our family.
And this is the result:

Slow cooker freezer meals

Four meals, all prepared and ready to go straight into the slow cooker on busy mornings, and hopefully create a delicious meal while I’m off doing other things. The original blog post had a plan for 40 meals, all prepared within a 4 hour period, and kept in the deep freeze. The idea is to thaw a packet overnight in the fridge, pop it in the slow cooker in the morning, and come home to dinner ready and waiting at the end of the day. My plan is to play around with putting each meal into the cooker frozen (because it’s a big ask for me to decide what we’ll eat the night before!) and see what happens. I expect it will take a little longer to cook (8-10 hours on low, as opposed to 6-8 in the original recipes), but that’s OK – these meals will usually go into the cooker at about 8am, to be served around 6pm.

It’s a bit experimental at this stage, but I can live with that.

From the top, we have beef korma, sticky balsamic and vanilla glazed chicken, chicken korma, and honey mustard and sesame chicken. The kormas and the honey mustard chicken all have vegetables included – and therein lies the experiment – I probably should have blanched the vegetables before popping the bags into the freezer. But I wasn’t that organised this afternoon.

The original blog didn’t use many vegetables in the pre-packed meals, because the creator didn’t like the texture of slow cooked vegetables. I, on the other hand, can cope with it. I’m just not sure how the texture will cope with freezing the raw vegetables before cooking. But you live and learn, right? 🙂

Pro tip – write the meal name and any extra instructions on the outside of the snaplock bags (I used large size, but I think I’d get away with medium, although the large leaves room for massaging the ingredients around to coat everything evenly). If there are extra steps, like “add frozen peas half an hour before serving” or “add stock before cooking,” you might like to put those on a sticker on the bag, because I wrote mine straight onto the bag, and it rubbed off (yes, I checked it was permanent marker) while I was massaging.

So, for those interested in playing along at home, here are my “recipes,” such as they are. I like to play it fast and loose when it comes to recipes, I’m afraid. But if you’re more of a recipe person, I’d encourage you to click on the link above and check out the recipes there – there are a few I’m keen to try.

All of my recipes are based on serving my family – 2 adults, 3 children, with leftovers for lunch the next day, to save making sandwiches for school lunches.

Beef Korma: 

500g diced beef (I used rump steak, because that was the best option available when I was at the shops – but gravy beef or even beef cheek would work well)

1 sliced onion

2 cloves garlic (I just crushed them with the flat blade of my knife and threw them in)

2 carrots, chopped

1/2 orange sweet potato, chopped

1/2 bottle korma paste (about 3 tablespoons, give or take)

3 tablespoons coconut oil (see, I DID read the recipes on the other blog, LOL)

1 tin light coconut milk

And it’s as simple as putting all the ingredients in a large snaplock bag, sealing, giving it a good massage (something my kids were happy to help with – the plastic bag lessens the ick factor of touching raw meat), and into the freezer.  I intend to add frozen peas (about the same time I cook the rice to go with the meal), and I’m open to the possibility of adding a cup of beef stock to the mix before (or during, if necessary) the cooking. One of my favourite slow cooker tricks to thicken sauces is to use Orgran gluten-free gravy powder (about the only “processed” ingredient I like to use) – I’d mix that into the stock if I went ahead and added it. Just a tablespoon would do the job. Or (this just occurred to me), add a tin of legumes – lentils, chickpeas, something like that.

Sticky Balsamic Glazed Chicken

The recipe I used for inspiration used drumsticks, but for some reason, my children don’t really like drumsticks, so I used chicken breast fillets. And again, I played it loose with the recipe. This is pretty much what I did:

3 chicken breast fillets, cut into bite sized chunks, straight into the bag.

In a separate jug or bowl:

3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could use olive if preferred)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame seed (yeah, right, as if I measured those, LOL)

1 tablespoon golden syrup (the recipe used honey, but I was after a more caramelised effect)

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Combine well, and pour into bag. Massage into chicken and freeze immediately.

I’m not sure how the vanilla will go. I added it as an experiment, inspired by another dish I love to cook in my slow cooker – vanilla braised beef cheeks. It uses a vanilla bean, rather than essence, but when inspiration strikes, I run with it, in preference to going back to the shops for a single ingredient.

And to serve, I’d probably garnish it with chopped parsley and maybe spring onions. If I have any at the time.

Chicken Korma

Same as the beef, but with 3 chicken breast fillets instead of the beef. My plan is to use chicken stock (about 1 cup) and gravy powder as described above, if necessary. But I find that extra liquid is rarely needed in my slow cooker anyway. Same deal with adding frozen peas at the end, too. I LOVE frozen peas! I was going to mix up the vegies a bit, but in the end, I was on a roll and it was just easier to use the ones I already had out on the bench.

As a variation, I like to use balti paste, and pumpkin in place of sweet potato – it gives a beautiful, sweet finish to the curry, and cooks right down so even the fussiest husband children don’t know it’s there. Not that I’m a vegie smuggler – I’m all for my kids knowing exactly what goes into my cooking. But pumpkin is an occasional exception to that rule 😉 Again, I’ll probably throw in a can of chickpeas and/or lentils, as well – or half a cup of dried red lentils (rinse these well first, or you’ll get foamy residue at the top of your curry – and if you go this route, you’ll probably need the extra liquid from a cup or two of stock, too).

Honey Mustard Chicken

This dish has been a favourite of mine since my very first days at Weight Watchers, back in the 90s (when losing weight was much easier because I was much younger – and skinnier!) but over the years, I’ve played around with it a whole lot. This is another version of that (and remember, I haven’t actually tried the results of any of these meals yet, so I don’t make ANY promises as to how they will actually taste!)

1kg, give or take, chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 sliced onion

2 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces

In a separate bowl or jug:

3 tablespoons dijon mustard

similar amount honey

3 tablespoons coconut oil (you could use olive, or just omit)

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Combine, and pour into the bag, seal and freeze. I expect this one will probably need the addition of a cup (or more) of chicken stock for cooking, and intend to add frozen peas at the end also. Fresh green beans might be a good alternative, if you’re not a pea-lover. But this is one of those meals you could just as easily serve with the vegies steamed on the side, rather than included in the dish.

So there you go. Four freezer meals, ready to go, with very little effort. The hardest part of the whole job was keeping the flies out of the bags! (The kids were playing outside, and running in and out of the house, leaving every possible screen door open). Not sure how they will taste, but even if they fail, the experiment has been worthwhile – to figure out what will work and what won’t.

I’m really keen on this idea, because I have to go away for 4 weeks this year for a course, leaving hubby and the kids to fend for themselves. This might have potential to make their lives a little easier. Not to mention my own life – working longer hours, two kids’ worth of homework each afternoon, and with a few more “things” on during the week this year, I’m keen to minimise my kitchen hours wherever possible.

I’ve got a few other ideas to try as well – a mushroom and gravy casserole base with beef, maybe trying to hack my vanilla beef cheek recipe into a freezer bag, and my very favourite lamb balti curry as well. And I’d like to play around a little with pulled pork or lamb recipes, too – I’ve tried a couple of those in my slow cooker in the past, and although they are a little more work (shredding the finished product), I’d like to have a go.

Asian flavours are definitely a favourite in our house, but I’m keen to try some Mexican flavours, too – we recently introduced the kids to Zambreros, and they LOVE it, so I’m keen to play around with my own version of their incredible slow-cooked lamb and see what might happen.

So here’s to what might potentially make life a little easier and more convenient, all thanks to a blog post shared on Facebook on a Sunday afternoon.

I’d love to hear what works (or doesn’t) for you, too – cooking for me is a communal thing – it takes a village and all that.

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Christmas Dinner – keeping it simple this year. Or – The Salad That Stole the Show

6 days until we move interstate, so I haven’t really had time to go overboard on Christmas like I usually do. But I really enjoy having a special meal for Christmas. It’s a special celebration in our home – we are celebrating the birth of our Saviour, after all.
So, because I didn’t have time to roast a turkey or do my usual pre-Christmas bake, it all happened today. We got home from church and the cheat’s turkey (a rolled turkey thigh roast) went into the oven straight away. Then I went to work on the salads. They were a bit out of the ordinary this year, too. I tore a muscle in my leg last week, and couldn’t bear the idea of grocery shopping, so I did it online and forgot a few essential ingredients. So I made do. 

Potato Salad: 

5 yellow-flesh potatoes, peeled and lightly steamed – stop before they go soggy!
3 rashers of bacon (I like the double hickory smoked middle cut rashers – rindless) – I pan fried them in my Jamie Oliver skillet until they were crispy
1/2 small onion, very finely diced in my Tupperware chopper (I love that thing!) – I usually use spring onions, but forgot them
2 generous dollops of Delikatess mayo (with my food allergies, this is the only store bought mayo I can tolerate, and it’s really, really delicious – I usually use Kraft potato salad dressing, but I forgot it, too. And probably shouldn’t eat it, anyway.)
About 10 mint leaves, finely chopped.
Freshly ground salt (we use pink himalayan) and pepper
I usually add a couple of hard-boiled eggs, too, but nigelbrews wasn’t keen today. 
Put it all in a bowl, stir the mayo gently through while the potatoes are hot and voila.

But the real winner was the mango, macadamia and goat’s cheese salad. I invented it recently for a BBQ with friends, and at the time, it also contained the diced flesh of a BBQ chicken. Today, though, it was totally vegetarian

Mango, Macadamia and Goat’s Cheese Salad: 

About 2/3 packet of baby spinach and rocket salad mix
The flesh of 2 mangoes (we love Calypso – lots more flesh:seed ratio than the good old KP), diced
A good handful or two of raw macadamias – I toasted them in the bacon fat from the potato salad (I think I may have just qualified as a culinary genius – it was pure magic!)
Then came the goats cheese – I like a truffle-sprinkled goats cheese for the decadence. About half a bar (maybe 50g) broken into chunks and sprinkled over the salad. I miss cheese – goats cheese is quickly becoming a favourite – I seem to be able to tolerate it in small amounts. Sadly, the one I ordered online meant I couldn’t check the label, they substituted a different brand from what I ordered (even though I unticked the substitution box), and the label had a “contains cows milk” warning 😦 Too bad – I’ll take the tummy ache tomorrow.
And a dressing made with equal amounts of mayo and sweet chilli sauce, dolloped over the top. 

It was good at lunch. It was GREAT at dinner! 

Our Christmas table always includes prawns, and this year’s selection were tigers. I also forgot the seafood sauce, so whipped up my own with almost equal parts mayo and tomato sauce (probably a bit less sauce than mayo – maybe 60:40). If you like it spicy, you could add some cayenne pepper, too, I think. 

Then there was the ham, served with pineapple (because the kids love it, and I wanted them to eat at least one healthy food item – and because I love to drink the juice out of the can – please note – Aldi pineapple is canned in pear juice flavoured with pineapple, not pineapple juice. Golden Circle all the way next year – since there’s no Aldi in our new hometown), and the turkey, which was beautifully cooked, and some gluten free gravy (my kids would have drunk it, but I made it a little too thick). 

And here’s our Christmas feast: 
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Because I’m lazy, we had leftovers for dinner. And the dessert we were too full to eat at lunch – a simple Eton mess style pav – mini meringues, sprinkled with a beautiful floral honey (a tip I picked up from a formal dinner recently – I didn’t have any gold leaf to make it pretty, though), fresh (and frozen) berries, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for the kids, chocolate macadamia ice cream for the man, and nothing like that for dairy-allergic me. Topped off with melted jam as a sauce – I shop at a local Farmer’s Market, and used a beautiful home-made raspberry and blueberry jam, mixed with some raspberry and vanilla jam our neighbour recently gave us. Yum, yum, yum! 
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Happy Christmas 🙂 All the best for 2014. 

Something different

Tonight I tried something new. And it worked!
We had a visitor for dinner, and I am trying to use what’s in the freezer. I randomly bought a lamb shoulder a while ago, but I have never cooked it before.
So I Googled.
And found a Jamie Oliver recipe for spicy roast lamb.

I salivated. Instantly.
Then I prepared it. All my senses tingled. But that might have been to chilli on my hands when I rubbed my eyes.

So marinating overnight was a test of patience. But we passed. And this went into the oven:
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3.5 hours
later, with my house smelling amazing, this is what came out:
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And yes! It takes just as incredible as it looks.

I followed Jamie’s recipe, but wanted a vegie side dish, so I put a sweet potato (orange, chunky diced), two carrots, a tin of brown lentils, a tin of chickpeas and some oil to the baking dish, and topped it with the onions and lamb as per the recipe. It produced a wonderful, gooey, delicious, beautiful mess.
After shredding the lamb (you’ll need strong hands!), I served the meal on a platter, in layers. Baby spinach, vegetables, and lamb. It looked like this:
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And as a side, a fresh, zingy green mango salad. I thinly sliced the flesh of 2 green mangoes, about half a continental cucumber (the smallest batons I could manage with a blunt knife), half a long red chilli (finely sliced) and the leaves from 2 stems of ming (finely chopped). A crack of salt (I use rock salt) and pepper, and the juice of half a lime hand-squeezed over the top. It popped! I always thought that was a pretentious cheffy word, but it is now in my vocabulary, thanks to this amazing salad:
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Coriander might be worth adding, too.

A simple, delicious meal, definitely worth serving to guests. Great for summer as a salad or winter as comfort food. And the kids all went back for seconds. That’s a winner, right there!

Not too spicy, despite all the chilli. I think the mint helped. And the salad was perfect with the lamb.

Chicken Soup – Food for the Soul

It’s been a while. Life has been busy. I haven’t cooked much worth bragging about for a while, and if I have, I haven’t had time to brag. 
But I’ve made some pretty good birthday cakes lately, and I fully intend to blog them sometime soon. So I may as well get back into the habit, right? 

It’s Sunday. The day of couldn’t-be-bothered-cooking-spectacular meals. Nigelbrews and I both have sore throats and runny noses. He has man-flu. I have the common cold. So I decided it was time for some chicken soup. 

For those playing along at home, here’s what I used:

EVOO

2 chicken marylands (because it’s so much tastier to cook soup with meat on the bone) – I seasoned them with Himalayan rock salt to crisp up the skin

1 chicken breast fillet (skin off)

3 cloves garlic (I told you we had colds, LOL)

1 sliced brown onion

3 carrots, roughly chopped

3 sticks celery, ditto

The soggy mushrooms at the bottom of the fridge (about 6-8)

A splash of red wine (mine was alcohol-free shiraz)

A splash of soy sauce, and some sesame oil if you like (I do 😀 )

2L good quality chicken stock (I use Massel because it’s actually vegan, which means it’s dairy free, as well as being gluten free anyway). And yes, I appreciate the irony of seeking out vegan stock to cook my chicken soup, LOL. 

Some cauliflower florets.

The lone pak choy or bok choy (is it politically incorrect to say I always confuse these two?) languishing in the bottom of the crisper

2 cubes of frozen spinach 

I think that’s it. 

 

So I fried off the marylands until they were brown and the bottom of the pan was sticky with chicken juices. In with the garlic and onions, out with the chicken, in with the carrots, celery, mushrooms, sweat all that off for a while, and then a splash of wine (white would probably go better with chicken, but I was aiming for a French feel) and soy (OK, fusion). Let that reduce a wee bit, put the chicken back in, add the stock (more or less as you prefer) and bring to the boil. Add cauliflower, cook for a few minutes, and then reduce to simmer. After everything is close to cooked, add very thinly sliced chicken breast, Asian greens and spinach cubes, and turn off the heat. Put lid on, and let it cook through. I let mine sit for about half an hour because nigelbrews likes the flavours to develop. 

We’re just about to eat – I added a squeeze of lemon juice, which I think made the flavour pop a little. And I might add some sesame oil, some Himalayan salt and cracked pepper. I’ll take out the Marylands, cut them into pieces, and serve him a full piece, myself a thigh (because it’s my favourite part of the chicken) and give the extra drumstick to my favourite child. 

I think we’ll get a good 6 serves from it altogether, although the future serves won’t include as much chicken. 

Chicken soup. Good for the soul. It would be good for the waistline, too, without the skin, right? 😉 

Fusion!

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What happens when Asian meets Italian?
A taste sensation!
Husband and kids got chicken meatballs and pasta in Napoli sauce. I wanted scallops. And prawns. And low calorie.
So I bought 6 garlic prawns and 6 scallops (I removed the roe) and marinated them in a few drops of olive oil (the bottle was nearly empty), bottled chilli and a fresh clove of garlic for about an hour. These were cooked on a hot pan and set aside while I made the sauce.
I needed vegetables, so I cut a quarter of a red capsicum, same of yellow, and a small stick of celery. They went into the pan with a tablespoon of light coconut milk and enough water to wash the marinade out of the bowl, and a big handful of baby spinach leaves.
Once the spinach wilted down, I added a small amount of (gasp! storebought) Napoli sauce, and tossed the seafood through.
I served it over a single serve of Slim Noodles konjac spaghetti,  rinsed well in hot water (all the cooking these noodles need).
Quick. Easy. Delicious. Healthy. Calories yet to be calculated, but must be around 300. I hope.

A Real Pea Souper!

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Boy have we had some great fogs this winter! More than a few days where the fog is still around at dinnertime. I’d forgotten the pea-soupers of my childhood, until now.

Today wasn’t foggy, but it came over cold this afternoon, so it was a perfect night for soup. That, and I’ve been a bit careless with my eating this weekend so I needed a low calorie meal to finish off.

My friend, Emma, posted on Facebook recently about curried pea soup, which sounded delicious, so I begged her for the recipe. She graciously shared, and here’s what I did with it:

1 tsp coconut oil (olive would be fine)
1 generous tablespoon of curry paste (I used Balti because I had a jar open in the fridge)
1 small onion, thinly sliced (could easily be omitted)
1kg frozen baby peas
1/2 package (about 125g) frozen spinach
1L stock (I used Massel salt reduced chicken “style,” which is actually vegan, believe it or not)

Heat oil in soup pot over medium heat and add curry paste (or powder if preferred) and onion (if using). Cook until fragrant.
Add peas and spinach and stir well.
Add stock, and bring to the boil. Baby peas cook quickly, so keep an eye on them. The spinach I used was loose, not blocks, but it didn’t cook as quickly as the peas. The addition of a potato might thicken it some. 
Allow to cool a little, blend and enjoy. I splashed myself during the blending, hence the cooling suggestion 😉

A cheffy touch of chilli infused oil might jazz it up for presentation. Maybe a dollop of yoghurt if you’re so inclined. If you like crunch, maybe try pappadums instead of croutons. Or a handful of roasted chickpeas.

As you can see, I just had it plain. And loved it.

Delicious. Warming. Light. Healthy. Easy Sunday night fare. And only 221 calories! With 3 more serves in the freezer, because the men-folk had pancakes for dinner. Because it’s Sunday after all 😉

Thai Chicken Stir Fry

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Confession time. I haven’t been eating all that well lately. Got a bit lazy, fell into some destructive old patterns, and life got a bit out of hand for a few weeks.
I’ve realised I need some help,  so I’ve signed up for a weight loss support program that has helped a lot of my friends. The best part (for me) is that the program supports me even before it starts. So over the next few weeks I’m in pre-season mode, renewing healthy eating habits, making some mental preparations,  etc.
I’m back on a calorie controlled eating plan, and to be honest,  I struggle to come up witth exciting food that ticks all the boxes that food has to tick in my house – low calorie, gluten free, dairy free, kid-friendly, husband-friendly,  quick and easy…
I’ve been following some Instagram users who have lost heaps of weight,  and their foodie photos are a great source of ideas. So this recipe is inspired by han_loses_weight, whose real identity is a secret (well, to me anyway).

For hubby and me:
1 skinless chicken breast fillet (about 350g), very thinly sliced
2 small tablespoons Thai Gourmet Yellow Curry Paste
EVOO spray
Thinly sliced vegies – red and yellow capsicum,  1 zucchini, 1 carrot, 2 large celery sticks and broccoli

Spray a non-stick pan with olive oil.
Fry curry paste until fragrant.
Add chicken and seal well.
Add veg in cooking order. Carrots, broccoli, zucchini, celery, capsicum, and a splash of water if necessary.

Serve. Optional rice or noodles. We had rice vermicelli. Lower cal than rice.