What’s Cookin’?

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domestic bliss

Tell me honestly, does the thought of preparing meat and three veg strike fear into your very heart?

Yes?

Then you qualify to keep reading.  If not, I’m afraid you’ll have to shoo. That’s right: shoo! We are about to discuss some secret, serious, slack homemakers business.

Are you sure you’re not a perfectly capable, cooking dinner every night type of reader?  There is a danger you will be tempted to feel smug after reading, and as the character of my readers is paramount in my mind, I’d spare you that downfall.  So this is your last chance to scat.

O.K.  Unless of woman-kind I alone have ever struggled with the life sentence (pardon!) privilege of cooking sensible meals every single everlasting day of the week, we should be left with those of you who are, for whatever reason, be that illness, lack of skill or knowledge,  or  simply the propensity for reading too long in a day, failing to cook dinner as regularly as you need to.

My initial remedy for meal preparation aversion is not cheap.  This is no time to be budget conscious, and it may well cost you similarly to the round of take-aways and resturant dinners you rely on now.  Budget conscious comes later (if it needs to), but for now the primary goal is to establish a habit of daily preparation.  To that end, I offer you the “L plates” of meal planning.

When you advance there will be many factors to consider in planning a menu: for now the prime criteria is to make it as simple as possible while you establish a routine of meal preparation.  This may take two weeks to a month, depending on your dedication and circumstances (sickness and general trauma can delay progress!)

First, decide what you can make.  I’ve put together a MEAL PLANNER Beginnings *pdf that requires minimal preparation and leaves the least possible dishes to wash afterward.  You may want to tweak it in the event you don’t eat some of the food listed, but the idea is to be simple and realistic: you are trying to establish a habit, and this needs all the ingenuity you possess to pull it off.

* The recipe for Monday night’s dinner in the menu planner can be found here: https://beyondbluestockings.wordpress.com/2007/11/11/emergency-dinners/

The tuna can also be substituted with beef or chicken: I know that sounds weird, but I promise I have tried it all three ways, and it really does work with all three, and extends your choices!

If you are part way on the road already, you may want to browse the “emergency dinners” category to the right, or google simple meals and start planning your own menu according to tastes.

Cook like a busy person.  Remember how your mother and your home ec teacher taught that every vegetable needs it’s own saucepan?  And how there was a mountain of washing up at the end?

What were they thinking??? 😯

pots and pans

Take one large saucepan, half fill with water and add chat potatoes (you know the tiny ones you don’t have to peel? Because the point is…you don’t have to peel them, and it’s easy to guess how many each person will eat.) About five minutes before they are ready, dump in some mixed frozen veggies. Yes, in the same saucepan – forget home ec.  I actually find this easier than microwaving veggies, but  if you prefer to microwave, go at it.  On another night, use frozen corn cobs instead of the potatoes, and add the other veggies at the same time.

For variety, an alternative is to buy large, washed potatoes.  Again, you are not going to peel them: just wrap in alfoil and put them in the oven about an hour before you want to eat.  Don’t worry about pre-heating the oven and coming back to put them in – all in one action, put the oven on and toss the potatoes in.  Again, serve with some frozen greens – or not.  (You don’t want to shock your system. 😉 )

This will not be the most exciting few weeks of eating you’ve ever done, but if you stick at it, it will soon become less of an insurmountable task, and you will have the momentum of routine to stir you on to greater culinary heights.

Print out your menu and place it somewhere unforgettable.  If you are a morning person, (or if a new baby is the reason you find yourself not managing dinner any more) use the morning to half fill your saucepan with water and place it on the stove ready to go, or  wrap your potatoes in foil if that’s on tonight’s menu.  You will love yourself later and reinforce your commitment to actually go through with it come evening.

Decide on a time you are going to start dinner, and barring a natural disaster, stick to that time.  Ask your mother or someone to phone and hold you accountable if you need to.  Be sure to make a shopping list reflecting your menu – failure to have ingredients to hand  is to sabotage your plan.

In my dreams..

Preparing dinner every night may not ever make your heart sing, but if you can stick with it long enough, neither will it seem the insurmountable task it presently appears while driving past the pizza shop.  You may even grow to enjoy it: it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened, and certainly you will be healthier.

Happy cookin’ folks, and stay tuned for the “P Plates” of  meal planning, coming soon. You’ll be inspired 😉   (Or, confound it,  if you’re one of those sneaky Martha Stewart types and you didn’t shoo when you were supposed to, you can marvel anew at how the other half live 😛 )

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Truly Delightful Truffles

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chocolate-truffles

Perfect  after dinner with coffee  or as a gift for someone special, these handcrafted truffles are the epitome of chocolate indulgence.

You will need:

  • 400 grams of quality dark chocolate
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 1 x 400gm tin of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 x 200gm packet of crushed nuts
  • 125 grams roasted hazelnuts for centre (optional)*
  • 300 grams extra chocolate to coat (milk or dark, depending on preference)
  1. Melt chocolate by preferred method (over steam or in the microwave)
  2. Add butter and condensed milk, mix.add-condensed-milk
  3. Allow to chill until a manageable consistency.
  4. Form into balls (a 1/2 tbls measure is a perfect size) and press nut into centre.
  5. Roll in crushed nuts. roll-in-crushed-nuts
  6. Dip in melted chocolate, place on trays lined with baking paper.**                         two-spoons-to-coat-with-chocolate
  7. Place in the refrigerator to cool.

*To roast hazelnuts, place on a tray in medium oven (180) for about 10-15mins, shaking occasionally. Roll in clean cloth to remove skins.

** If working in warm conditions, place trays in freezer before starting work

The recipe was created by my sister, a worthy gastronome, and will make approximately 70 truffles.

Enjoy!

Bigos, a Polish Stew

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Also called Hunter’s Stew, this recipe was sent to us here in Australia by our German friends during our shoebox adventures.  Mr Beyondbluestockings is one of the least adventurous of our members, so we waited until he was away on a business trip to try this one.

You need:

  • 500gms fresh white cabbage, chopped
  • 500gms of sauerkraut
  • 250gms each of pork and beef, diced (or for the Germans – goulash!)
  • 1 cup mild vegetable stock
  • 200gms assorted sausages (cooked and/or smoked)
  • 75gms bacon
  • 1-2 large onions
  • 1 sour apple
  • 2 tbls oil
  • 5 juniper berries (this is not Australian fare, so I am not sure what flavour we left out)
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 pitted prunes (we actually added about 12 – we like them)
  • 1/2 tsp honey (again, we added more than this)
  • salt
  • 75ml dry red wine (or alternatively add extra stock)

Method:

  1. Chop meat, onions and cabbage.
  2. Brown meat (including bacon) and onions.
  3. Add cabbage, stock, finely chopped sauerkraut and bring to boil.
  4. Add sausages, spices and fruit, and simmer for an hour.
  5. Before serving, add honey, salt and wine to taste.

Because I was going to be out for the day, I made mine in the slow cooker (crock pot). So it  was that after browning the meat, I pretty much tossed it all in and left if for the day.

We all enjoyed this dinner, and the second night served it over mashed potato, as it had “matured” sufficiently to frighten the young folk!  While it was very tasty, and we would happily eat this again, my only complaint is that the recipe came without a warning that I consider crucial.

Do not feed this to your baby.

My poor petal was renamed all manner of unkind things, such as “atomic bot”, “blast off bot”, etc., and her nappies were….well, it’s not polite to talk about over dinner is it?


Basic, Home Made Casserole

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Truly, it’s easy.  Packet mix casseroles have a long list of ingredients that aren’t food, and to cook from scratch really is no more effort, though the rewards are many.

This is a basic recipe, you can change the flavouring to make it as full, or mild, as you choose.  You can change the variety of meat or the vegetables, add wine before the stock,  add cream after cooking, add other herbs and spices – experiment!

Ingredients;

  • Beef – Cooking for 6, I used three budget sirloin steaks, but you can use blade, chuck, round, gravy beef – whatever you have, but the tougher the cut, the longer the cooking time.
  • Potatoes – 6 (One large to medium potato per person)
  • Onions – 2 (One per three potatoes)
  • Celery – 4
  • Carrots – 4
  • Beef stock – 1 litre (4 cups)
  • Plain flour – 2 heaped tablespoons
  • Red Lentils (handful)
  • Peas
  • Butter – approx. 70gms
  • Garlic – 2 cloves, or to taste

Method:

  1. Prepare the vegetables.  Chat potatoes can be used whole and unpeeled, which will save you some preparation time.  Cut onions into slices or wedges; the flavour transfers to the general ingredients, so a large piece of onion will not be over bearing.
  2. If you want to cut the meat up, make the pieces fairly large, or you can simply leave the steaks whole and cut them when serving.
  3. Using a heavy based pan/dish that can go on the stove top, fry the onions and garlic in the butter. Add the meat, browning over a high heat for flavour, as though making rare steaks.
  4. Add flour to pan, reduce heat, and cook for a minute or two to blend with the butter and pan juices.  This butter and flour business will make the gravy thicken.
  5. Reduce the heat and add stock, stirring as you go. Add hard vegetables and lentils. The lentils aren’t necessary: they won’t add any flavour, but they cook down and help to thicken the gravy, as well as adding an economical source of protein.
  6. Cover and cook in a slow oven (around 130c/260f) for four hours for cheaper cuts, or two hours for softer meats.
  7. Add softer vegetables such as peas, beans, zucchini, etc, about 20mins before serving.

There are a multitude of ways to customize your casserole. You can add in tomato paste, or tinned tomatoes when adding stock, try different herbs and spices, different vegetables, or leave out the potatoes and serve with rice.  Once you have mastered the basics, the options are endless!

Minestrone: the busy mother, hungry children version

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The only authentic Italian component of minestrone in my house is the cookware I make it in.  Other than my oh-so-pretty Essteele saucepans, the entire experience I describe here will be unashamedly of the busy-Australian-homeschooling-mother kind.  But it’s tasty, filling, and economical.

You need:

  • approximately 400gms of diced bacon
  • 375gm Italian soup mix, cooked
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • a handful of fresh parsley, chopped (or substitute dried, using less)
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 280gm tomato paste
  • 2 cups cabbage, chopped  (if it’s not your favourite vegetable, cut it very finely)
  • 3 cups shell pasta (uncooked)
  • lots of water
  • parmesan cheese to serve

If you have forgotten to soak the beans, toss them in a saucepan with 6 cups of water to simmer.  It will take about one and a half hours to cook to soft, in which time you can chop the veges. If you are using bacon rashers, chop those also, but ready diced bacon from the deli is a staple in my freezer – ready to cook!

Method:

  1. In your largest saucepan, saute bacon, onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and parsley for around 10mins. 
  2. Add cooked soup mix, including cooking water, to the saute ingredients.
  3. Add tomato paste, cabbage, pasta, additional ten cups of water (2.5 litres), and salt & pepper if desired.
  4. Bring to the boil, cover, simmer for approximately 20 mins, or until vegetables are soft.
  5. Serve with parmesan cheese.

This will make a large amount, enough for our family of six, for two nights.  It improves in flavour, and is wonderful to give yourself a night off if there is a busy day planned, or simply to indulge in extra read aloud time.

Fish delish!

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It’s simple and tasty. I am not a fan of fish normally, but found this recipe suited my fish resistant palate.

Ingredients:

  • 1kg – 1.5kg white fish fillets
  • salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • finely chopped shallots (spring onions)
  • 1 bay leaf, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Method:

  1. Lay fish in a greased baking dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper
  2. Combine lemon juice, zest, ginger, shallots and bay leaf, pour over fish
  3. Marinate at room temperature for one hour
  4. Top each fillet with a dot of butter and a slice of lemon
  5. Bake in preheated 180 c oven for 25mins.
  6. Spoon some of the juices over the plated fish, and serve with seasonal vegetables. Lovely!

For extra easy meal preparation, wrap potatoes, whole and scrubbed, in foil and place in oven while fish is marinating. Serve with butter or sour cream and chives.

Emergency tuna

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In a perfect world, we would be serving a beautifully presented, nutritionally superior dinner each night. But there are times when life takes us by surprise. On such occasions, it is possible to avoid takeaway by keeping a few staples in the pantry, and leave the buying of dinner as a treat to be anticipated and savoured.

Emergency Tuna

  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 large tin of tuna, drained**
  • 1 tin of mushroom (whole or sliced)*
  • 1 sachet of tomato paste (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 cup of cream*
  • garlic/salt/pepper to taste
  1. Fry the onion (and garlic if desired) in a small amount of butter or oil until soft.
  2. Add all other ingredients, heat until warmed through.
  3. Serve over rice or pasta.

Too easy!

* I normally keep long life cream in the cupboard, however, you can substitute any of the preserved ingredients for fresh, if you have them available. The beauty of this dish is that the only fresh ingredient that is strictly necessary is the onion, and that it is super quick and easy to make.

** You can also substitute the tuna with chicken or beef: coat beef in cornflour (place strips/chunks in a bag with cornflour and shake), fry with the onion then proceed as above.  Using fresh mushrooms with beef strips is actually a worthy dinner in it’s own right, without the bonus emergency factor.