Monday, April 29, 2013

Metro Entry...Paris....

The Metro entry, near Hotel de Louvre, Paris.
I love this so much, and had dreamed of viewing it for myself, all my life.
I finally did that in 2008 and snapped this gorgeous photograph to commemorate the occasion.
It's so pretty and gemlike and happy looking and this photo just makes me smile every time I see it.
I love the bright beaded details, the flowing shape, the very essential Parisian look of it.
It's one of my favourite holiday memories ever.
What's your favourite holiday memory?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Eclipse 2012....

Eclipse 2012.
Photograph taken at 6:50am, showing the eclipse in the surface of our pool.
Eerie, yet beautiful.
The wonders of the Universe are a thing to behold.
What's on your Tray of Bliss today?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How to create a Time Plan....

There are a few basic rules to creating a Time Plan for food preparation and today I'll share some of them. I hope you find these tips helpful. They certainly make a huge difference to the way we eat, shop and of course to our bank account!
First, you need to know what you're preparing, so menu planning is a good habit.
Secondly you need to know how long it takes to prepare each item.
Thirdly, you need to decide the order in which you'll prepare, so that you can manage your time effectively. 
So for example, pasta or rice may take ten minutes to cook, but that's once you've brought your water to the boil, which may take another ten.

Can you bake two things in the oven at once? Can you make twice the amount of a basic batter (cake/muffin/pancake), and do half with fruit and half with choc chips or an icing?

Quite often, the preparation of dishes is fairly swift, it's the steaming, or baking or roasting that takes all the time.

So you will be amazed at what you can prep in short blocks of time, once you get the hang of it.

Takeaway food nasties will be a thing of the past.
Here's an example:
7 day menu:
Poached chicken breast and salad
Slow cooker beef curry
Marinated salmon fillets
Sweet potato and bacon salad
Fried rice
Twice baked potatoes
Enchilada crepes
Sandwich spreads: Egg spread, Chilli orange hommus, lemon pepper salmon
Snacks: Berry muffins, choc chip banana muffins, peanut butter cookies
So now I decide the cooking methods and in which order I will manage them:
Soak: Chickpeas for hommus, red kidney beans for enchiladas
Marinate: Beef cubes, Salmon fillets
Steam, poach or boil: Eggs, Chicken Breast, rice for fried rice
Mix: Muffin batter and crepe batter, tinned salmon and seasoning
Roast or bake: Sweet Potato and bacon, Potatoes, muffins, cookies
Dice or chop: Salad ingredients, bacon
1. In theory, anything that can be done quickly and with a minimum of fuss, and the food stored in the refrigerator or freezer, should come first. This clears the bench and gives a feeling of accomplishment. So I tackle soaking and marinating first as these simply entail adding water or liquids to a bag or bowl, before refrigerating or freezing. No further action required.
2. Steaming and poaching comes next as it's just adding ingredients to water or broth and leaving to cook before cooling and storing.
3. Mixing to prepare for baking or storing if making multiple batches actually takes very little time if you have arranged ingredients on hand ahead of time.
4. Baking muffins or cookies and roasting vegetables or meat together to make best use of the oven, is smart for energy conservation.
5. Dicing and chopping can be done while roasting and baking is completed, and cleanup can be finished by the time those muffins, sweet potato and whole potatoes come out of your oven.
See, not that complicated at all, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Go on. You can do it. You'll feel like a real Home Based Warrior at the end, I promise.
...until next time...


Friday, April 5, 2013

Budgeting and Insourcing...Shopping and Meal Prep Day!

Pan fried Salmon and Stir Fried veges for lunch today...and on the table in less time than it takes to make a sandwich. I'm posting today, on how I make that happen!

Just to tantalise you further, here's my nice tidy, pre-prepped refrigerator. It's not pretty, but it sure is functional.
There's all kinds of goodies there from home made onion confit and tomato relish, to home made creamed rice, grated and sliced cheese, sliced tomato and cucumber, home baking, steamed rice and more.
I like to organise my prep time around the day I shop. This seems logical to me and my mantra is 'it doesn't get put away until I've prepped it'.

So here's what I got up to day.

I continued straight on from unpacking the groceries.

As I unpacked, I did a mini clearout of the fridge, washing up transparent containers for things like grated and sliced cheese and tinned veg as I go.

Then I did myself a little list and approximate time plan, after packing away, and decanting things like tinned corn and beetroot into containers. Anything that had to be prepped such as fruit, veg, meat or baking, was left on the bench or on the bottom shelf of the fridge for easy access. I also made sure that I had tidied the fridge and freezer as I went along, to free up space to store all the prepped food.

I try to divide my time into 30 minute blocks, so if I have to abandon things, or get interrupted, I know where I am, so I can pack away and pick up from where I left off if necessary. So I mark things 1/2/3 and so on to indicate each 30 minute block. This also gives me an idea of how long my prep will take, and is a good reminder of how much you can achieve in small blocks of time!

Here is my list:

1. or First Thirty Minutes:

Grate/slice cheese
Separate bacon, trim and store, and dice 2 rashers for Sweet Potato Salad
Marinate Topside roast and bag and freeze
Peel and dice sweet potato and roast
Prepare oven and ingredients to roast sweet potato and bacon
Boil eggs for lunch tomorrow and for egg spread
Peel potatoes for mash, cook and mash for dinner and for Indian potato cakes in a day or two

2. or Second Thirty Minutes:

Prepare Mince Mix, bag and freeze
Dice rockmelon and watermelon
Make chocolate mousse
Make salad for dinner
Slice tomato and cucumber

3/4 or Third and subsequent Thirty Minutes:

Make apple and cinnamon GF muffins
Clean up

And here's what I did:

I turned the oven on to preheat for the sweet potato and bacon and the muffins.

I got on my comfy Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals..pretty and practical, removed my rings and bracelet, and washed my hands thoroughly.

I set out a large glass of water and a cup of tea on the bench to keep me going, and took the home phone off the hook, and put my mobile phone on 'silent'. I set my 13 year old daughter up with her homework, and got her a platter of prepared fruit and vege sticks with some hommus for afternoon tea to minimise interruptions. This is important. I am training my family to understand that I am 'working' when I'm doing this. They wouldn't walk in to my workplace and interrupt me in any other circumstances, so they can't do it when I'm in the kitchen doing prep.

I got out all of my equipment including mandolin slicer, microplane grater, vegetable peeler, knives, spoons, measuring cups, sifter, kitchen scissors, baking dishes, muffin pan, muffin papers, cling wrap and baking paper, medium and large ziplock bags, storage containers, recycled shopping bags for rubbish or compost (find it easier to do this so I'm not cluttering up the kitchen rubbish bin...they then go straight in to the outside bin or on the compost pile). I only use one large mixing bowl for everything, washing it in between uses. This avoids having a horrendous washup to do at the end.

So in the first thirty minutes...

I turned on a hotplate and popped five eggs into it with water to boil them.

I peeled and diced one large sweet potato (kumera).

I opened the budget 1kg of bacon, and trimmed the rind and fat from it, layered the trimmed slices in a Tupperware freezer container, separating them with cling wrap, and diced two rashers to roast with the sweet potato. I kept the rind aside, lining the baking dish for the sweet potato with them for added flavour and topped the sweet potato (once peeled and diced) with the remaining rashers. Don't be alarmed. This adds flavour and not fat. The 'fat' drains away completely. It gives the sweet potato a lovely added depth of flavour. Waste not, want not as Mum and Nanna used to say.

I removed the eggs which were now cooked and drained them, putting them into the fridge.

I threw the diced sweet potato into the baking dish lined with the bacon rind, sprinkled it with a pinch of dried garlic granules (I love dried spices and herbs for their simple ease of use and find I go through them quickly enough for them not to lose their pungency), and a pinch of dried Thyme, topped it with the remaining bacon rind and popped it into the oven.

I peeled the 'dirty' potatoes, and diced them, putting them on to boil for mash.

I opened the 1.2 kg tray of lean mince, and dropped it into a large mixing bowl. I labelled a large ziplock bag, and opened it up ready so I could pop the mince mix straight in. To the mince in my bowl, I added two eggs, about a cup and a half of steamed rice that was already in the fridge, having been precooked yesterday, and 1/2 cup of my tomato relish cooked a couple of weeks ago. I mixed it all thoroughly with clean hands, and bagged it up. I closed the ziplock bag, after expelling the air. Then I squished it all as flat as possible, and used the edge of my hand to separate it into four squares that can be taken out individually. Kind of like 'cutting' it through the plastic bag with my hand. Then it went into the freezer to be used for meatloaf, rissoles, meatballs, or even cooked as a savoury mince.

I labelled and opened another large ziplock bag and popped the Topside roast in, smothering it with honey, soy and sesame oil. That will go in to the slow cooker on Saturday, for dinner Saturday night and sandwiches for a couple of days after. In the freezer it went.

So at this stage, I've only been working for 30 minutes and look what I've already done. It's just a matter of getting in to the swing of it and not being interrupted.

So in the next 30 minutes, I ...

Sliced and diced the rockmelon (a whole one) and watermelon (a quarter).

I checked on the sweet potato and bacon rind and gave it all a toss as the fat had now rendered down, and I wanted the sweet potato well coated, and the rind crisping.
I drained the cooked and peeled potato for mash, and mashed it, storing half for potato cakes, and setting the other half aside to reheat for dinner.

I then made the chocolate mousse as a treat for my daughter. It's one I spotted at the supermarket and is gluten, dairy and nut free. It's just an add water and mix with the hand held electric mixer for three minutes thing, and it's surprisingly nice. Not something I'd buy often, but an inexpensive treat for $4 for six serves.

I shredded some wombok and grated some carrot for a salad for dinner.

Into the third 30 minutes now...

I measured the GF flour into my sifter with some baking powder, and sifted it into washed mixing bowl, for the muffins. I added the eggs, oil, the leftovers of a blueberry GF muesli and yoghurt parfait that my daughter didn't eat this morning, some Easiyo home made yoghurt, some stewed apple that I made with Royal Gala apples from the fruit bowl ( I didn't even peel them. The peel is lovely in muffins.), and some sugar. I lined the muffin pan with papers.

I checked the sweet potato and bacon roast again, and removed it from the oven as it was looking good. I took the bacon rind out, and transferred it to a cake tin lined with baking paper, and put it back into the oven to render down further and crisp up. I sat the baking dish with the sweet potato in it, on the sink propped on an angle, to allow the fat to drain completely away from the sweet potato while I finished the muffins. While it occurred to me, I popped another cake tin into the freezer as I want to make home made ice cream tomorrow, which requires a pre chilled tin.

If you look closely at the top of this pic, you'll note the oil that has drained from the bacon, has separated from the sweet potato.

So I've been going for an hour and a half now, and the fridge and freezer are looking well stocked, and the bench significantly clearer. The mash for dinner is ready too.

I plopped the muffin mix into the papers using an ice cream scoop which is just the right amount for our muffin pans. I get 18 large muffins from the mix. Into the oven they went for 25-30 minutes.

I got out my thinner knife and my microplane grater and two containers, and grated a quarter of a one kilo block of cheese with the microplane grater, and sliced another quarter of a kilo (250gms or about 8ozs) with the knife. The rest I returned to the freezer wrapped in foil for replenishing the containers in a few days.

I made a salad for dinner, using a tin of four bean mix opened on the weekend, and mixing with a couple of tablespoons of tinned corn already decanted into a container, and some of the shredded carrot and wombok. I popped it all into a Tupperware container and shook it around with a touch of dressing. Not too much, as I don't want the salad to go soggy. I used one I had made up in a recycled bottle in the fridge that is a favourite here. Equal parts olive oil and balsamic with a good squirt of maple syrup or honey and a teaspoon of seeded mustard.

I've slowed down a bit as it's getting close to dinner time and the natives are restless, so interruptions, despite my instructions, are more! So in to the final stretch...

I drained the fat from the baking dish with the sweet potato in it, and scooped the roasted sweet potato into another flattish Tupperware container. I washed up the baking dish and put it away to make more room on the bench. I removed the now crisp bacon rind from the oven, and leaned it on an angle to allow more of the fat to drain away. Then I snipped the crisp rind (like pork crackling now) with kitchen scissors, in to the sweet potato salad and refrigerated it. This was actually a mistake as it was soggy by this morning when I served it for DD's lunchbox, but for future, when I serve it immediately, this gave a fantastic new dimension to the dish, with the crisp salty bacon rind complementing the roasted sweet potato perfectly :)

I've been washing up by hand and stacking the dishwasher as I go, so there's very little tidying to do at this stage, but I tidy up what there is, and wipe and polish the benchtops with the used teatowel, which goes immediately into the wash. I get out a fresh one to use after dinner.

The muffins were done by then, so I removed them to a storage container. I then quickly prepared a raspberry bread and butter pudding for dessert. This will go into the oven after dinner.

A quick salad is assembled from blanched beans and cherry tomatoes, with a few pine nuts thrown in for good measure.

Then I cooked a premarinated rump steak from a previous prep session for dinner, and reheated the mash, serving the salad on the side. We enjoyed the bread and butter pudding for dessert.

All up, I worked for about 2 1/4 hours, including set up, and clean up, and that includes making dinner!

As you go, you'll get better at your time plan and your prep, so keep at it!

If I can help anyone with time plans or menus or organising, let me know and I'll certainly do my best.

Happy prepping!

Budgeting & Insourcing...Use small windows of time to be prepared!

I have to be honest and say that the idea of Once a Month cooking always made me feel overwhelmed.

Just the thought of having to cook meals to last for a month made me a bit woozy. That's not to say that I didn't subscribe to the idea, because I most certainly did. I'm a great fan of being prepared for anything and pride myself on feeding my family from my own fridge and pantry rather than the local takeaway outlets.

I'm actually horrified sometimes, as two suburbs from us is a large group of takeaway stores that are almost a suburb in themselves, always packed to the rafters with cars and people from all walks of life, looking for an easy dinner alternative. I feel like running through the carpark screaming ' can have four times as many yummy meals for what you're about to spend on fat and sugar laden burgers and pizzas!!!'

Unfortunately, for some families, for a variety of reasons, takeaway makes an almost nightly appearance on the menu.

Things like cooked chicken, pre-prepared and marinated meat, frozen potato wedges, prepacked salads and so on are a good replacement for takeaway dinners if you must, but even then, you don't have to look too hard sometimes, to appreciate that there isn't that much to them that couldn't be done at home with a bit of forethought.

Every time I blink, there's some new prepacked salad, vegetable or meat dish available. From Butterflied Tandoori or Mexicana Chicken...basically the littlest chicken you've ever seen, split down the back and drowned in red spices of dubious Rainbow Salad, which ubiquitously claims 'seasonal variations will occur', which apparently licenses the manufacturer to include shredded broccoli stalks in the mix. Now I have no problem with eating broccoli stalks OR making the most of every piece of the animal, fruit or vegetable. But I do have a problem with paying $5 for a bag of grated carrot and broccoli stalk with 3 shreds of raw beet in it for colour, when I could produce the same salad at home for one fifth of the price.

I want to talk to you about maximising your food prep time, to ensure you have a constant supply of fresh, healthy food in your kitchen. That way, you can completely eliminate or at least limit, your consumption of convenience and takeaway food. I guarantee that this will save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year off your grocery and food bill, AND improve your health immeasurably.
So what I suggest as an alternative, is using small windows of time to pre-prepare meals, not just for today and tonight, but for several days and nights running. Think about it...why peel and cut up 5 potatoes, when in just a few minutes, you can peel and cut up 25. We're talking economies of scale here. If you've got the equipment to hand, and the ingredients in front of you, don't fiddle around making one meal. Prepare the base of several in just a few more minutes with very little additional effort.

This truly can be done in small windows of time. You don't necessarily have to go through the whole marathon, once-a-month style cookup if that doesn't suit you. I can achieve almost half a weeks preparation in half an hour, and so can you.

In 30 minutes you could:

Cut 5 kilos of washed potatoes into wedges and toss them into a large ziplock bag with oil and herbs, and throw them into the freezer for roasting later in the week.

Cook a large batch of steamed rice to prepare fried rice for dinner later in the week and refrigerate it. Fried rice made at home, with pre-steamed rice, beats the takeaway stuff, hands down.

Cut a one kilo block of cheese into neat slices (Did you know you get about 70-90 slices from a block and this takes no more than five minutes to do?)

Invest in a Mandolin slicer and use it to slice tomatoes and cucumbers for a salad for dinners and lunches and have some left over for microwave pickles.

Attack some apples from the fruit bowl, slicing them  for layered apple cake for dessert, a truly healthy alternative to apple pie or apple crumble or cobbler and very yummy indeed. Here's the recipe...

 Healthy Individual Layered Apple cake

Equipment required:

1 small ramekin per person
Vegetable Peeler
Apple corer
Mandolin slicer or very sharp knife (the mandolin slicer makes easy work of this)
Cookie tray


1-2 apples per person depending upon size of the apples
Cinnamon sugar (see below for instructions)
Cooking Spray

1. Make the cinnamon sugar first, by blending 1-2 cups of caster sugar with 1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon per cup of sugar. Use more or less according to your love of cinnamon. Once you've used it for this recipe, store the excess in a recycled jar or airtight container...another pre-prepared ingredient ready to go for French Toast, Pancakes, Cinnamon Sugar Toast or another Layered Apple Cake!

2. Preheat the oven to 180C.

3. Peel and core the apples, and slice into thin slices using the mandolin (please use the spiked holder! These things are darned sharp and will slice a chunk of flesh off if you are careless!).

4. Spray the ramekins liberally with cooking spray or grease lightly with butter or oil. Sprinkle the base of the ramekin with the cinnamon sugar, or a little honey or maple syrup.

5. Layer the apples in the ramekins, sprinkling a little cinnamon sugar every second or third layer. Fill to the top of the ramekins and compress well by pushing the base of another ramekin down on the top layer. Sprinkle the top layer generously with more cinnamon sugar.

6. Sit the ramekins on the cookie tray and slide them into the oven.

7. Bake until a skewer inserts easily into the centre...anything from 20-50 minutes.

8. Allow to cool.

9. To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of the ramekin, and invert onto a serving plate. Serve with a scoop of icecream or whipped cream.

Our favourite gluten free ice cream is simply a tin of condensed milk or condensed 'coffee milk' whipped with 300mls of cream, and frozen. Yum! Another inexpensive, home made treat!