Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Meals from nothing #4...Beans and Pulses...Dahl with rice and yogurt

When making a meal from nothing, it really helps to have some pantry staples on hand. I'd never be without the following:

Pulses including dried lentils, split peas and a variety of beans
Fresh herbs in the garden
Citrus trees

Both citrus and herbs, also grow beautifully in pots in a sunny spot on a balcony, so 'most' of us, can manage a few things.

With just these ingredients and some judicious preparation and planning, I think I could feed my family for weeks.

Some menu items might be refried beans, vegetarian chilli, hommus, soups, lentil lasagne or bolognaise, vegetarian tacos, moussaka with beans or lentils instead of the mince, vegetarian pies or sausage rolls, lentil burgers, red bean kievs, falafel and one of our favourites, the Dahl I prepared for lunch today.

There was some steamed rice in the fridge but not much else this morning, as it's my prepping day for the week.

A rummage in the cupboard yielded some red lentils. A quick go around in the microwave with some vege stock and other simple ingredients, and I had yummy red lentil dhal with steamed rice ready in a flash. An old and truly mouth watering favourite.

A visit to the herb garden gives me some coriander (cilantro) for garnish, and the Easiyo container holds the greek yoghurt with which to top it. If you wanted to make this vegan, you'd just replace the yoghurt with a coconut or soy yoghurt, or an earthy hommus.

Absolutely delicious, and $17.95 for the same thing, at a trendy local cafe.
Microwave Dahl

1 cup red lentils
1 tin diced tomatoes
1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon each cumin, ground coriander and ground or minced ginger
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
Bottled or fresh lime juice
Fresh coriander
Natural yoghurt, about 2 tablespoons per person
Steamed rice (Jasmine rice is particularly lovely for this dish)
Chappatis, Roti, Tortillas (home made are nice) or Lebanese bread, warmed in the microwave or in foil in the oven.

Steam the rice, using my no fail cooking method.

Put the lentils, tomatoes, herbs, chilli, and stock into a large microwave safe dish. Microwave in 5 minutes bursts on 'high', stirring after each burst, until smooth and tender. This takes about 15 minutes in my microwave.

Stir in about a tablespoon of the lime juice.

Meanwhile, chop some of the coriander, and stir it through the yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper if you wish.

Put steamed rice into individual bowls.
Top with a large scoop of dahl, a spoonful of the yoghurt, and a sprinkle of chopped coriander.
Centre on a dinner plate with the warmed bread to one side.
Serve immediately.

This is aromatic, tangy, spicy and fresh all at the same time, and tempting for any carnivore, due to it's satisfaction rating with all those flavoursome herbs and spices.
Try it and let me know whether it's worthy of being the new favourite at your house!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Meals from nothing #3...delicious toppings, treats and garnishes....

A plain meal is always 'less plain' when it's served beautifully, smells aromatic, and teases the tastebuds with something piquant or different.
I've served many a penny pinching meal to family and guests alike using this strategy.
Some of my favourites are toasted sesame seeds, maple syrup walnuts, onion confit, and a good relish.
I use the sesame seeds and maple syrup walnuts in salads, stir fries, and on roasted or steamed vegetables.
The to start...with scrambled eggs or omelettes, with savoury crepes, on rolls, on sandwiches, in burger patties, in sausage rolls and savoury pies, on a cheese platter or antipasto platter, with roast meat, with sausages and steaks, with chicken, with pulled get the idea.
Tomato relish and Corn relish are the weapons of choice when it comes to elevating a good old fashioned ham sandwich, but they're also trotted out for embellishing the Celebratory ham leg, mixed with sour cream or natural yoghurt to make a dip, with Indian style curries, and on a Ploughmans platter.
Here are the recipes:
Onion Confit

 You need 4 decent sized washed and sterilized jars for this amount.

1 kg onions (different onions give a different result. Try red, eschallots, pickling onions or brown ones)
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup sugar
 1 cup vinegar (different vinegars will also give a slightly different result in colour and flavour, so try balsamic, white, apple cider, sherry or even red or white wine or sparkling wine)
3 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, treacle, or golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Peel and slice the onions thinly.

Heat a large frypan over a medium heat and slow cook the onion until it's limp, about 5 minutes.

Add the other ingredients and mix well.

Reduce the heat to very low and simmer, stirring regularly to prevent sticking for one hour.

Cover the pan and continue to cook over a very low heat for a minimum of 45 minutes but up to several hours depending upon the depth of flavour and the consistency you're after, stirring regularly. I have simmered mine virtually all day on a very very low heat, and after 10-12 hours, they are divine.

The confit is ready when there is no liquid, and the onion has been reduced to a chunky paste.

Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate. Keeps for several months.
Corn Relish
This makes 2 large jars worth.
1 tin corn kernels, drained
1 red capsicum, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon each turmeric and ground ginger
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornflour
Add the corn, capsicum, onion, vinegar, sugar and spices to a small saucepan. Make sure there is enough liquid to cover your vegetables as this will be the sauce that binds your relish. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Mix the water and cornflour and add to the relish mixture, and stir till thickened. Check the consistency and add more water or more cornflour slurry to thin or thicken to your liking.
Spoon into sterilised jars and refrigerate. Keeps for several months.
Tomato Relish
Makes 8 large jars worth
2 large onions, chopped
2½ kg (about 6lbs) ripe tomatoes, diced (you can also use an equivalent amount of tinned or home canned tomatoes)
1/2 cup sultanas
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
2 tablespoons grated ginger
3 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons Garam Masala
3 teaspoons salt
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups Sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (extra)

 Place diced tomatoes and onions in a large saucepan.  Add all other ingredients, except for cornflour and extra vinegar. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 1-1½ hours or until starting to thicken.

 Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until very thick. Stir often to stop mixture sticking to base of pan.
Combine cornflour with extra apple cider vinegar. Add to tomato mixture and simmer, stirring for 2 minutes .Turn off heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then spoon into clean warm jars and seal. Turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes, then invert and leave to cool. When you turn them right way up, the little vacuum button should automatically pop 'in' giving a vacuum seal.
Refrigerate and use within 6 months.
Maple Syrup Walnuts
Put any quantity of shelled walnut halves into a shallow pan. Pour over a few glugs of Maple Syrup. Place over a medium heat, and stir constantly until the syrup has coated the walnuts and there is no liquid visible. Keep in an airtight jar. This makes a brilliant gift too.
Toasted Sesame Seeds
Pour a quantity of Sesame Seeds into a shallow pan, and set over a low heat. Stir constantly until they are golden and toasted. This takes no more than a minute. Store in an airtight container.
What do you think? Is this a strategy that appeals to you? What are your favourite ways of dressing up the ordinary meals in your families week?

Monday, June 8, 2020

Meals from Nothing...Hints and Tips #2...meals from tomatoes that aren't pasta...

We're having Tomatoes Provencale for dinner tonight.

So healthy, inexpensive and YUMMY!
I think our first instinct when we have a glut of tomatoes, or they're super inexpensive at the supermarket, is to make Passata (Italian tomato sauce), or a relish.
Whilst I love a good relish as much as anyone, and Passata remains a firm staple here, I do sometimes think it's a waste of an opportunity to enjoy tomatoes as something more robust.
Tomatoes Provencale is a fancy name for Stuffed Tomatoes, and hollowing out, and refilling any suitable vege, is a great way to turn a glut into gourmet.
Potatoes, Eggplant (Aubergine), Zucchini (Courgette), Sweet Potato (Kumera), and even whole cabbages, lend themselves really well to being hollowed out, the innards mixed with other delicious things, refi

For a generous serve for each person you need:

- 1 tomato, cut in half and hollowed out..larger for hungrier folk, smaller for the littlies. Retain the pulp, chopping it up for the filling.
-  1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half to expose the juicy inner edges.
-  1 slice of bread, rubbed lightly with the cut garlic clove, then cubed.
 - A jig of olive oil.
- Something to liven it up if you wish, such as sliced olives, pulses like lentils or chick peas, quinoa, risotto, small pasta, diced bacon, or chopped hard boiled egg.
-  Preheat your oven to 200C (375F).
 - Line a tray with baking paper.
 - Place the halved tomatoes on your tray. Season with a tiny bit of salt and pepper, and rub the insides with the used garlic clove halves. This imparts the lightest of garlic flavours, without it overpowering everything.
 - Mix the bread cubes, chopped tomato pulp, olive oil, and any other ingredients you would like to add.
- Pile into the tomato halves.
-  Bake until the crumbs are crisp and golden.

We love these served with noodles or gnocchi, tossed with herbs and a little extra virgin olive oil, and a piece of proscuitto or bacon, crisped in the oven with the tomatoes, and crumbled over the noodles.

But you could equally serve them as is, with a light salad garnish and not much else, for a lunch.

Another great way to use up tomatoes, is to roast them, (slice them lengthwise or halve them for larger tomatoes) sprinkling them first with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a generous grind of good salt and pepper.

This caramelises them, making them mouthwateringly sweet and salty, and they are divine folded through cooked spiral pasta, topping a risotto, garnishing cream cheese on toast or crackers, in omelettes or scrambled eggs or tofu, for delectable bruschetta, as a topping or flavour boost for pizza, meatloaf or terrine, or added to fritters or a frittata.

More ideas to come...but meanwhile, what's your favourite vegetable based meal when you have an abundance?


Friday, June 5, 2020

Insourcing....Winter is here!

Some people hate Winter. Not me!
Winter means gorgeous sunsets and stormy skies with rainbows.
Winter means the slow cooker comes out.
 It means I can bake to my hearts content and it warms the house.
It means brisk walks in scarves and gloves, and dressing up, and wearing boots.
It means quilts on the armchairs, and the fire blazing...yes even in the Sub-Tropics we have a few weeks of chilly weather and winds whipping our hair...truth!
This week I made sausage rolls, warming the house while I was at it. Always a hit. Sesame seeds are my version of 'gourmet'.

I scoured Pinterest to find the table I want Husband to build for the dining room now that the poor man is finished hanging real crystals on chandeliers. Got to keep the man busy, right?
I'm rather favouring this look, but longer. We currently have 16 family members, so that's one heckuva table for celebrations. Note, this is not our table (yet!). It's one I found on aforementioned Pinterest.

  I have 28 chairs picked up here and there for a song. Some I only paid $5 for. I'll unify them by painting them black as seen below, and I'll cover their inset cushions in Coffee Sacks...likewise collected here and there for a song...or for free sometimes!
Then my French Empire Chandeliers and sconces will go up in their permanent positions, and wheeeeeee….!!!
 My green soup is an absolute winner for lunches here. It's literally just the end of the celery that has all the leaves on it, a couple of diced potatoes, onions and whatever other limp greens are left in the crisper. A few cups of stock, some spices, whizz it all once cooked. This feeds me for lunch for the entire week AND gives me a good dose of my 5 veg.
Have you seen the price of soup???? That's got to be around $50 worth for pretty much free when you consider most folk toss the celery leaves in the bin!

Veg doesn't just go into soup here. Vege patties for burgers are a regular too. Cook 'em, mash 'em, add lentils or beans, spring onions and spices, pat 'em into egg rings and refrigerate to firm them up. Pan fry, pop on a burger bun....yum!
Vegetarian burgers from the trendy burger bar near us are $21. EACH. I made 8 burgers over the course of the week.

Burger mince isn't just for burgers by the way.
I whacked our burger mince (pork and veal) into a bowl with eggs, breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, pistachios and cranberries. I smooshed it altogether and lined a loaf dish with bacon.

I smooshed the mixture into the loaf tin on top of the bacon.

See? Then I topped that with more bacon....

I popped that into a water bath, and baked it long and slow in a moderate oven, covered with foil, for about 90 minutes.

Once cooked, I chilled it, weighted it down overnight with full cans of beans, then flipped it out and it looked like this above, uncut, and below, cut..
Yum, right?
I'm not kidding when I tell you that I saw a terrine just like this at a posh deli, for $7.50 per 100 grams. That's $75 per kilo or $35 per pound! Mine cost $16 and weighs nearly 3 kilos (6 1/2 lbs). Sounds good to me.
How was your week?
What did you Insource?

Monday, June 1, 2020

Meals from nothing...Hints and Tips # 1...

What do you do, when, like Mother Hubbard, the cupboard is bare?
First of all, can I say, that with a little forethought, and very little money, your cupboard never needs to be completely bare. At a minimum, even in my most cash strapped days, I had pasta, rice, herbs and eggs in my cupboard. Alas, Covid-19 has shown us all, that when everyone's cupboard is bare, even those things are hard to find!
Dried beans and pulses, as well as the tinned ones, tinned vegetables, tinned fruit, preserved fruits, dried fruit and vegetables, pickles, tinned fish like salmon and tuna...all the things we usually imagine will be our fallback position in tough times, also suddenly were unavailable.
Lesson learned, right?
The month of June 2020, will be all about meals from nothing. Hopefully, we can discuss how to stock our pantries well, and even pleasurably, even when things really do go pear-shaped. Because, who knows what our real 'normal' is going to look like in the future.
Please chip in with your own favourites as we go along.
Hint No. 1 - herbs and spices
I try to always have some unusual herbs and spices, and a few little 'luxury' items on hand, even in the toughest of times.
Kombucha is a new 'luxury' here, and whilst I don't brew my own (yet!), I do have an obliging friend who provides hers in exchange for fresh herbs.
The addition of exotic spices, too, can make the plainest of ingredients into something delicious.
Last night I made my quick version of Dhal Makhani...a super lush and creamy lentil and red bean soup/stew. I have a few ways of making this according to what I have around. Here's the first one.
Dhal Makhani in four sentences

Saute a pinch of fenugreek and cardamom seeds, then added a chopped onion. To that, add a tin of drained red kidney beans, and a tin of drained and rinsed lentils. Add a teaspoon of minced ginger and garlic, ground cumin and turmeric, and a half a teaspoon of chilli powder. Toss in the equivalent of about half a kilo (1 lb) of tinned tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato juice, chopped fresh tomatoes or even condensed tomato soup.

Simmer for a while, stir through a couple of spoonsful of cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese or coconut cream, and serve with gluten free naan bread and a glass of Kombucha.


Apologies to the purists who would have me hung, drawn and quartered for not making this dish in the authentic manner.
Hint no. 2 - work with what you have and be creative

We had a very thrown together meal another night, as the fridge was looking a bit empty. I'm trying to stretch my shopping days by one each week, so I will shop Tuesday for example, when normally I'd shop on Monday.

We had a smallish tin of red salmon which I buy at Aldi, and which is so inexpensive for the quality, it's ridiculous. We had some limp rocket (arugula), a quarter of a small pumpkin, and another tin of Aldi lentils...also so inexpensive, even if it's just for the convenience of having the tins on hand for this situation.
I mixed the salmon with two eggs, two slices of bread cubed minutely, the limp rocket (arugula), and some seasoning, and moulded them into patties.
I cubed the pumpkin and roasted it, then mixed it with the drained and rinsed lentils, and a smidge of juice from a Lemon and Cayenne Pepper juice I bought at Woolworths (single serve) and which was so tangy I couldn't finish it as a drink! It worked magnifico as a salad dressing though.

I found a few stray pistachios hiding up the back of the pantry, and shelled and chopped them.

Then I dusted the salmon patties in potato flour, which gives everything the most fantastic crisp coating ever, and pan fried them.

Well, the meal got the biggest thumbs up from the troops and once again shows what you can do with what appears to be very little, by maintaining your stockpile of tinned pantry staples and a few unusual flavours.
Hint no. 3 - think laterally
Thinking laterally can really help sometimes.
Many cuisines are born out of sheer necessity and availability of produce (or lack thereof), so don't be afraid to substitute.
Cream in savoury dishes, you can substitute with milk, cream cheese, coconut or other nut milk, yoghurt, powdered milk, evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk), potato flakes, cornflour or arrowroot mixed with a little water, butter or margarine, or even mashed potato to add richness.
Now that we eat gluten free, we realise that lots of bread and pasta products can be replaced with gluten free crepes, dumplings, pancakes (hotcakes) and scones (biscuits), puffed tofu (Inari), Asian rice noodles, and even very thin omelettes if it's to be used as a wrap for other things.
Vegetables can often be substituted and interchanged at will, and can also replace bread and pasta in many dishes. We have toasted slices of Sweet Potato (Kumera) to have spread with avocado for breakfast for example. And Moussaka is much like Lasagne, but with Eggplant (aubergine) used instead of pasta between the layers. I've also made lasagne using crepes, zucchini ribbons, thinly sliced pumpkin (butternut squash), and thinly sliced potato. Not to mention, spaghetti or other pasta instead of the lasagne sheets. A layer is a layer is a layer, right?
I'll continue to share more ideas this month, but please, tell me your favourites too.