Delicious Dinner

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Yesterday I worked from home so I had a larger window of opportunity for preparing dinner than I normally do on a weekday.  I even had time to take some step-by-step photographs.

As with many of the meals I make, there is no specific recipe, however, my inspiration came from this video which was posted on Facebook.  I did plan to make the enchiladas but had no way to satisfactorily slice the zucchini thinly enough to be able to roll it easily.  So, I made a lasagne.

This is the remainder of the last of the giant zucchini.

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I sliced the flesh as thinly as possible and discarded the seeds.  Some have been saved for next year’s crop.

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Next, I sliced one chicken breast fillet.  It was still mostly frozen which is useful because I find it easier to slice when semi-frozen.  When I need cooked chicken for a recipe, I steam it by placing the chicken on a cake rack over a large frying pan of boiling water.  I then place the domed lid over the top and it cooks quite quickly.

One onion (diced), 1/2 capsicum (diced), 3 birdseye chillies and a lime were the next things I prepared.

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Saute the onion and chopped chillies then add the capsicum and cook until softened.  Add the lime juice.  I only used half a lime as they were large and very juicy.

Add the shredded, cooked chicken and 1/2 can crushed tomatoes.

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Line the base of a small, rectangular dish with zucchini slices then add layers of chicken mixture, grated cheeses (I used parmesan and cheddar) and zucchini.  I also added the remainder of the can of tomatoes as I layered the dish.

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The topping is parmesan and cheddar cheese mixed with flaxseed meal for some added crunch and keep the dish gluten-free.  If this is not an issue you could use dry breadcrumbs with the cheese.

Bake in the oven until heated through and browned on top.  Alternatively, you could microwave for 10 minutes and then crisp the top under the griller.  This is what I did to avoid turning on the oven.

The meal made 3 generous adult serves from one chicken breast fillet and part of a giant zucchini which would otherwise have gone to waste.

Ferreting in the Freezer

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After 5 1/2 years of writing this blog, I sometimes feel like I am just going over same territory again and again.  Tonight I want to share something that came to me in a blinding flash this morning.

I had done a menu plan for the next week and almost everything was from the freezer.  I wanted to check what I had with a view to using some of it up.  The fridge in the kitchen has a sizeable freezer at the bottom which is 2 large drawers and we have a small, upright freezer (the size of a bar fridge) downstairs.

Once I had cleaned the freezer in the kitchen, I had the bright idea of collecting all of the items I need for the meals for the week and put them all together on the left-hand side of the top-drawer.

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There will be no more discovering that there is no pre-cooked rice left or that I need to make a new batch of refried beans and so on.  I am not sure why I did not think of this years ago but I guess it is better late than never.  It means that each week I will do a mini-stocktake of the freezer and locate what I need for meals in the coming week.

The home-made pizza bases are on top of the other containers and the rest of the space on the right-hand side has other meals for future meal plans.  Having them here together means that at a glance I can see what meals I have available.

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I have tried various lists and inventories of my freezer but none have been terribly successful as the state of my freezer is dynamic, a moveable feast, you could say.  I am hopeful that simply having the next things that I plan to use all in the same place will assist in keeping some order in the freezer.

Dinner – Tuna Mornay

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Here is another dinner recipe and as a bonus, my version is gluten free.

I don’t remember tuna mornay being a meal we ate when I was a child but GMan certainly ate it when he was growing up.  So, I learned how to make it.  About 4 years ago I changed to a gluten free diet so tuna mornay was off the recipe plan.

After various experiments, I have managed to make a very satisfactory white sauce, therefore I can make tuna mornay as well as bechamel sauce for lasagne and cauliflower in cheese sauce.

Now, on to the recipe.

TUNA MORNAY

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 heaped tablespoons chickpea flour
2 heaped tablespoons potato flour
2 cups milk
Ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon herb salt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 large tin tuna
1/2 tin corn kernels
3/4 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

Here are my ingredients assembled and ready to begin.

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Method

Melt the butter over a low heat, add flour and stir until it combines to a stiff paste.

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Cook for about 1 minute, making sure it does not burn.  Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly.

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The gluten free flours will not combine and thicken as nicely as regular wheat flour so my secret weapon is my hand-held stick blender.

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I use this to combine the milk and flour mixture and it quickly thickens as required.  Add seasonings and mustard to taste and then the drained tuna, drain corn kernels and peas.

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Break up any large pieces of tuna and stir the tuna and vegetables through the sauce.  Cook gently for a few minutes and finally add the grated cheese and stir through.  The mornay is ready to serve with rice and/or vegetables.

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There are many ways you can adapt this recipe.

I use powdered skim milk for cooking and make up 2 cups of milk before starting the cooking.

If you do not need it to be gluten free, simply use regular plain flour.

I choose to use a mixture of chickpea and potato flours as I find it gives the best result.  The potato flour can be a bit like glue and the chickpea flour has a nice savoury flavour which offsets this.

You can also use this mixture as the base of a pie and top it with mashed potato – like a shepherd’s pie.  Use as a filling for crepes or burritos for another variation.  You may wish to use a bit less milk in order to create a stiffer mixture for these options.

Tinned salmon, leftover shredded chicken or a selection of vegetables could also be used.

I generally prefer to have more vegetables in my meal but this will not hurt you every now and then.  It is a great last minute option as all of the ingredients come from the pantry and refrigerator.

Food as Fuel

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Sometimes I think food is over-rated.  Thanks to shows like Masterchef and others in the same vein, we have been conned into thinking that every meal needs to be a creation and cooking is a competition.

Cooking for your family is actually providing fuel for their bodies to perform the necessary tasks – nothing more, nothing less.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing I love more than creating a special meal for family and friends.  However, we need to look past the hype of cooking shows and concentrate on what is important – nutritious food to re-fuel.

Tonight I want to show you what I am making for dinner.  It is not overly fancy but I know we will enjoy a wholesome meal made with basic ingredients.

Beef Casserole with Sweet Potato Mash, Broccoli and Balsamic-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I made the casserole a couple of weeks ago in the slow-cooker and divided it into 2 containers.  One container is 2 serves.  This has been defrosting since I took it out of the freezer this morning.  The sweet potato is already cooked and mashed from Sunday evening when I made a double quantity.

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I will serve this with steamed broccoli and the cherry tomatoes.

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I made the casserole using gravy beef (3 pieces), 1 onion (diced), 400g frozen cherry tomatoes (you can use a can of crushed tomatoes) and 1/4 cup homemade Worcestershire sauce.  Place all ingredients in the slow cooker on High for about 6 hours or until the meat is tender and breaks apart easily with a fork.  Add 1 heaped tablespoon of cornflour or arrowroot blended in 1/4 cup of water to thicken the mixture.  This can been done in the last hour of cooking or transfer the casserole to a saucepan and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  If you are going to freeze the casserole you may prefer to thicken it when you are ready to use it.

The sweet potato is mashed with some butter and a sprinkle of nutmeg for extra flavour.

To roast the cherry tomatoes place about 2 teaspoons of oil and an equal amount of balsamic syrup in a small pan with the tomatoes and place in an oven at 180C for 10 minutes.  If you do not have the oven on, you can do it equally as well under the griller for about 5 – 8 minutes on ‘High’.

The sweet potato and cherry tomatoes are both from our garden.

Here is the meal served and ready to eat.

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What is on your dinner plate tonight?

Dinner – Risotto

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Tonight I want to share another dinner idea with you – risotto.

In no way could this be described as a recipe but more of a method.

Risotto is arborio rice cooked gently in a small amount of liquid.  Keep adding liquid and stirring regularly unto the desired tenderness of the rice is reached.

I use my large flat-bottomed wok to make risotto.

Quantities for 2 adults (sometime there is enough left for 1 lunch).

1/2 onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon stock powder
3/4 cup arborio rice
Water

This will make the basic mixture to which you can add whatever you like.  I used asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.

Fry the onion in a little oil.  Add the rice and toss to coat thoroughly.  Add some water and the stock powder.  Simmer and stir until the water is almost absorbed and add a little more water.  Continue to do this until the rice is cooked and almost creamy.

I also added 2 teaspoons of powdered dried tomato with the water.  Finally, I stirred through some sun-dried tomatoes and fresh asparagus cut into pieces and cooked for 1 minute in the microwave.

Serve immediately with a little grated cheese if desired.

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Pumpkin and bacon, broccolini and capsicum (peppers) or sweet potato and caramelised onion are some other winning combinations.  You can experiment with different flavours but I would advise only using 2 or at the very most 3 ingredients or otherwise the flavours become overwhelmed.  The only thing I do not use in risotto is mushrooms – they turn the mix a fairly unappealing shade of grey!

 

 

Remember KISS

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We all know the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Sometimes I read things online or hear conversations that really leave me wondering if it is time to remind ourselves of this and, dare I say it, get back to basics.

Today I read a comment on social media from someone who wanted to know if there were any good Apps for menu planning.  I do have an iPhone and have several Apps on it but certainly do not need one to plan a menu for the week.

If you can make a decision on what to eat for dinner, make sure you have the ingredients, prepare the meal and serve it to your family then you are capable of menu planning – and it does not require an App or any other gadgetry.  A pen and back of a used envelope work quite well.

Some people plan for a month, others have a 4 week rotating menu or a set dish each week such as Monday night is pasta and so on.  Some make a fixed decision about what meal on what day or the opposite view is a list of potential meals and choose what suits each day.

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There seem to be as many ways to plan a menu as there are people but here is my take on it.

I plan meals for the coming week – 6 or 7 nights – and do it each weekend before I go shopping.  I know what staple pantry items I keep and the first step is to check for anything in the refrigerator which needs to be used up.  I also make a note of the types of meat I have in the freezer and take into account what is growing in the garden.  Basing our meals on what is seasonally available is important to me and nowhere is this more evident than what is in your own garden.  Take into account any family commitments eg: sports training, late meetings, social events.  I then make a list of meals using the ‘rules’ I have set up.  These are unique to me but I am sure you will have some of your own.  They may relate to pricing, type of food, preparation time and so on.

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My ‘rules’ are that in a 7 day period there will generally be one fish, one chicken and two red meat dishes with the remainder vegetarian which will include at least 1 egg-based meal.  Also, I try to make sure I rotate the carbs in a meal and do not have rice on consecutive nights.  Our meals are gluten-free but that is really no problem for me – it is simply how we eat.  The weekday meals must be able to be made ahead and reheated or prepared quickly due to long days at work and commuting.  I generally prepare enough of at least some meals to freeze for another week.

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Then it is simply a matter of roughing out a plan on a piece of paper.  From this you can then make a shopping list and buy only what you need for the week.  This will assist in eliminating wasted food and save you money.

I think the aspect of menu planning that people find the most daunting is actually thinking of meals to add to the list.  If you are struggling with this just start by keeping a notebook and writing down meals as you think of them and the meals you eat each night until you have at least 12 meals and use that as the basis of your plan.
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There is nothing particularly clever or high tech about menu planning.  It is simply a method of taking the angst out of deciding what to eat for dinner each night.  It removes the fallback position of “let’s grab a pizza/fish and chips/hamburger” and puts you in control.

Bulk Cooking

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Since there are only 2 of us to cook for, I do not prepare huge quantities of food but it is nice to have a few meals planned and prepared.  The other factor that influences my decision is that I prefer to use the oven efficiently when it is turned on.

Yesterday I sorted out what was lurking in the freezer and decided that this week we would eat what I could make using freezer and pantry ingredients.  I should really only need to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables.

I started by making gluten-free pizza bases.  I par-cook these in the oven then freeze them for later use.

Here they are ready to freeze.  I have some old cereal packets which I use to separate the bases when they go in the freezer.

002It is simply a matter of adding the toppings and cooking in the bench-top pizza-maker.

005Next, I decided to make some gluten-free muffins which turned out to quite acceptable using a standard recipe and simply substituting gluten-free flour.  I made 2 batches – orange, walnut and sultanas in one and the other were banana, walnut and mixed spice.  The catalyst for these were the sad looking banana that I rescued from the fridge at work on Friday and some orange pulp I found in my freezer.

004At the same time I made some gluten-free wraps for lunches.

003These are cooked in a hot, dry frying pan and can be stored in the fridge for a few days.

A pack of sausages which had been left in the freezer by our house-sitters were grilled and sliced then made into a sausage casserole which made 4 serves.

005I usually cook a bulk amount of dried red kidney beans in the slowcooker and freeze them in portions ready to use.  I found a pack in the freezer as well as a pack of diced beef so I put them in the slowcooker with frozen cherry tomatoes from last season, frozen diced onion and some spices to make 4 serves of chilli beef.  That bubbled along all day while I was doing the other cooking.

So, I have the basis of 15 serves of dinners, 6 serves of lunches and 20 muffins.

Do you cook more than one meal at a time?  A big occasional cook-up, perhaps?