Dinner – Thai Beef Salad

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I stuck to my menu plan even though it would have been easy to capitulate and opt for takeaway.

Thai beef salad was on the plan for tonight before I realised we were going to a free screening of Casablanca.  The scheduled time was 7pm for a 7.15pm start and we normally don’t arrive home until close to 7.30pm so clearly we had to make some adjustments.  I caught a train which had me arriving home about 5.30pm and GMan came in at about 6.40pm.

I sliced the beef and marinated it last night.  I used a splash of olive oil, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger and tiny red chilli (very hot) finely chopped.  Here is the mixture this afternoon before I cooked it.

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I prepared the remaining ingredients for the salad – lettuce, carrot, cucumber and cherry tomatoes.

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The carrot and cucumber were cut using a spiral cutter.

Due to the time constraints we had decided to pack our dinner as a picnic to eat when we got to the hall for the movie screening.

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I fried the meat in a tiny bit of coconut oil.  To add some extra flavour I mixed up a sauce and added that to the pan at the end.  I used a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons of crunchy peanut paste and a pinch each of ginger and chilli powder.  I stirred the sauce through the meat and cooked for a further minute.

The meat was added to the salad and we were ready to go – complete with cutlery and serviettes.

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This was really delicious and I think the improvised sauce really added a nice finish to the meat.

Dinner – Bean Tacos

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There is no real recipe for dinner tonight.  We had tacos and salad.  Sometime I fill the tacos with spicy beef mince or shredded chicken.  Tonight was a vegetarian version with refried beans.  I make these from scratch in the slow cooker using dried beans.  It is a very economical recipe and freezes exceptionally well.

I simply heated the taco shells, half filled them with the hot bean mixture and topped it with grated cheese.  You can use whatever salad you have available but this is what I had.  Lettuce, cherry tomatoes and peach/capsicum salsa and some fried mushrooms.

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The peach and capsicum salsa was a new and successful recipe tonight.  Although most people regard tomatoes as the base of salsa, it can really be almost any combination of finely chopped fruits and vegetables.  I have used avocado, tomato, corn, mango, capsicum and red onion at various times.  I usually add a squeeze of lime juice or lemon if that is all I have and a pinch of chilli powder.  While this will horrify the purists, we really enjoy it.  Tonight I chopped a small peach and a piece of capsicum then added lemon juice and chilli powder.

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The other thing I wanted to show you was my salad spinner.  I am not a great fan of single purpose gadgets but this is definitely worthwhile.  I bought it from Aldi for $6.95 after seeing my sister use one.

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Being able to dry off the lettuce quickly means that I can pack it all into a lidded container where it will keep for at least 7-10 days.  If the lettuce is wet when it is stored it will quickly begin to go slimy.  This is important when you are preparing food for just two of you as it can easily take that long to use a full lettuce.

Dinner – Tuna Patties

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For anyone following along with my menu plan for this week, here is the next instalment.

In the simplest form, tuna patties are a 425g can of tuna, drained and flaked mixed with mashed potato and lightly fried.  Beyond that it is entirely a matter of choice.

I chose to use sweet potato tonight so the very first thing I did was to peel the sweet potato, chop them roughly and cooked them in the microwave.

Meanwhile, I prepared the other ingredients.

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The tuna is flaked in the bowl and I will add some freshly ground black pepper and a cube of frozen lemon juice as well as about a tablespoon of some gourmet mustard.

You can use whatever herbs, spices or flavouring you choose.  I decided on the mustard as it was given to me and I thought it would work nicely in the patties.

Mash the cooked potato but do not add any milk or butter as it needs to be fairly dry for the patties.

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I also added 1/2 cup of grated cheese and a tablespoon of besan (chickpea) flour which helps to bind the mixture together.

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Rather than using a frying pan, I cook these patties on the sandwich maker with not additional oil and the lid down so that they brown on both sides.  The cooking is simply to heat them through and brown the outside as there no raw ingredients to be cooked as such.

We ate them with a salad lettuce, capsicum, cucumber and cherry tomatoes and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce.

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The mixture made a total of 9 patties so the others will be used for lunches.

As always, if you have any questions about the recipe please ask.

Tomorrow is bean tacos so I have taken a pack of refried beans out of the freezer tonight in readiness.

I am already starting to form ideas for the menu for next week.  I am pretty sure it will include pizza as I have these semi-dried cherry tomatoes in oil with garlic and herbs.  I dehydrated the tomatoes and packed them in oil on the weekend.  We have such an abundance of cherry tomatoes that I am always looking for new ways to use, store and preserve them.

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Dinner – Stuffed Mushrooms

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Another day, another recipe.  We are having stuffed mushrooms for dinner tonight so I took some time this afternoon to prepare them making sure I measured the ingredients and took a few photographs.

This is my recipe but please make sure you read right to the end for ideas, substitutions and variations.

I bought 3 large mushrooms for this recipe as GMan and I have 1.5 each.  The best ones are open but not too flat so that the stuffing is somewhat confined by the edges.

Here are the ingredients I chose before I started.

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Using the point of a sharp knife remove the stalks of the mushrooms.  Chop the stalks as finely as possible

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When I am making something like this, the first thing I do is to look carefully at the finished volume that I am aiming for.  Based on my best guess I used the following quantities:

Chopped mushroom stalks
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
1 heaped tablespoon of besan (chickpea) flour
1 teaspoon smoky paprika
1 teaspoon powdered onion
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered celery
1/2 teaspoon of homemade ‘tabasco’ sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the above ingredients then add 3/4 cup grated cheese, 10 cherry tomatoes (chopped) and a small piece of capsicum (finely chopped).

The consistency of the mixture should now be crumbly but hold when squashed together.

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Press the mixture into the mushrooms.

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I will cook these in the microwave for about 8 minutes then top with a little extra flaxseed meal and grated cheese and finish under the griller.  They will be served with lettuce cucumber and grated carrot on the side.

Now for the really interesting part – what you can change!  Just about everything!

If we strip this recipe right back you will discover that it consists of a container – the mushroom, in this instance, and the filling which can be split further into the bulk and the flavour.

The container – I use mushrooms because we love them and they are nutritous.  They are relatively expensive and if you are on a really tight budget I would not necessarily recommend them.  Capsicums are another option – especially if you can pick up a bagful at a reasonable price.  Although most recipes for stuffed capsicums show them upright with a ‘lid’ at the stalk end I find it easier to cut them lengthwise and serve them filled and open.  You could also use a large zucchini/marrow split lengthwise with the seeds scraped out.  It would need to be partially pre-cooked before stuffing.  Half a butternut pumpkin is another possibility.  The pumpkin or large marrow could be cut into wedges to serve rather the individual serves as with mushrooms or capsicums.

The bulk – I choose to use almond meal and flaxseed meal due to the fact that they are gluten-free, we like the flavour and texture and they provide a range of nutrients.  They can also be expensive.  Other options include quinoa, rice and soft breadcrumbs or any combination you choose that suits your family’s tastes and your budget.  If you are using rice, a short grain rice that will stick together would be a good choice.

The flavour – sky is the limit here and you can let your imagination run wild.  The main thing is to remember to keep any pieces fairly small so that the mixture will stick together.  In addition to the things I used you might like bacon (although smoky paprika is an excellent substitute), chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley or other fresh herbs.

I hope some of these ideas have inspired you to try stuffed vegetables as an addition to your menu plan.

Please let me know what you think.

 

Dinner – Sweet & Sour Meatballs

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I have listed my menu plan for the week a couple of times recently on online forums and have had an overwhelming amount of interest and numerous people asking for the recipes.

Unfortunately, many of the meals I make have been made so many times that they tend to be created without regard for a recipe.  I substitute ingredients without thinking about it so the same meal may not ever be the same on more than one occasion.

However, I have committed myself to writing the recipes down as best I can – the quantities may be a bit variable – and photographing the steps involved to give you a clear idea of what I do.  I hope this is of some help and look forward to your feedback.

While there may be a greater emphasis on cooking meals and recipes at the moment, there will still be plenty of posts on gardening, simplicity, decluttering and sewing.  I trust that there will be something for everyone.

A couple of points to remember – I am serving 2 adults, although many of the meals I make serve more than that so I either portion them up for lunches on the following days or freeze for another meals in a week or so.  Also, we eat a gluten-free diet but the meals are eminently suitable for anyone.  Anything with an * beside it will have more explanation at the end of the recipe.

Here is the first recipe which was our dinner tonight – Sweet & Sour Meatballs.

250g lean beef mince
1 tablespoon of tamari*

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Combine ingredients and form into small balls.  Fry in a pan with a little coconut oil.

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Set the cooked meatballs aside and prepare the vegetables.  I use zucchini, carrot, capsicum and pineapple.

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I used one small zucchini and carrot, about 1/4 of this large capsicum and two slices of pineapple.

Cut the vegetables fairly finely so that they need very little cooking*.

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The prepared vegetables are in the dish at the back of the photo and the container at the front is the base of the sweet and sour sauce which had been frozen from the last time I made this dish.  I tipped the sauce into a saucepan and heated it but I will explain the process for making it.

The ingredients for the sauce are:

200ml water
60ml pineapple juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato sauce (ketchup)

These are rough start up quantities but essentially you just need to add more or less to suit the tastes of your family.  It should be as the title says – sweet and sour.

Once you are happy with the flavour, thicken the sauce using cornflour or arrowroot blended in a little cold water.

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Add the pineapple pieces, vegetables to the sauce and finally the meatballs.

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This can be prepared ahead of time and then simply heated in a saucepan or microwave according to your preference.

Serve with rice*.

*NOTES:

Tamari is a (generally) wheat-free soy sauce.

When making the meatballs you can add other ingredients to bulk them out if you wish.  The cereal crumbs from the bottom of the packet are great to use them up if gluten-free is not an issue for you.

You can used tinned or fresh pineapple.  When using fresh pineapple I juice some to have on hand for making this recipe.

I usually par cook the vegetables before adding to the sauce – about 1:30 in the microwave leaves them tender but not soggy.

I use home-made tomato sauce and worcestershire sauce.  You can click on the hyperlinks for the recipes.

You can add shredded chicken instead of meatballs for a variation.

The 250g of mince made 15 meatballs which is 3 serves for us.  I used two serves tonight and the other one will be lunch for GMan on Monday.

We use brown rice but white rice or even noodles or fettucine would work with this recipe.

 

 

Flexibility is the Key

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Menu planning, like any other plan, has to have a degree of flexibility built into it otherwise you are setting yourself up for failure.

In this post I listed my menu plan for the week up until last Friday.  Everything was going well until midweek when I found that I needed to attend a funeral on Friday, therefore, I would not be home at 3pm to put the potatoes in the slow cooker.  I also knew that we had a relatively small window of time for dinner as we were going to the movies that evening.

Since the weather was hot, I decided that an antipasto platter would do nicely so this is what I put together when I arrived home.

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There is a selection of fruit, vegetables and cheeses.  Dried apricots and raisins, fresh pineapple, walnuts, olives, carrots sticks, strips of capsicum, cherry tomatoes as well as goats’ cheese and cheddar.

I also made some gluten free mini pancakes rather than opening a packet of rice crackers.

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We did not eat all of the pancakes so I had some for my lunch the next day.

The great thing about this kind of meal is that you do not need a lot of anything so it is perfect for using up little bits and pieces.

The baked potatoes is back on the menu for tomorrow night.

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.

Planning Ahead

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On Saturday or Sunday morning I generally make a menu plan of our meals for the coming week.  This based on what is in the fridge, freezer, pantry and garden and is used to create a shopping list for any additional requirements.  I try to incorporate a mix of fish, chicken, red meat and vegetarian meals.

The next couple of weeks are very unpredictable due to family issues and will mean that I am not at home some nights but potentially with very short notice.  So I used a different method today and simply made a list of 20 meals for which we have the ingredients.  We will need some additional fruit and vegetables during that time.

1  Pizza
2  Grilled salmon and vegetables
3  Tumeric chicken and rice
4  Pumpkin soup
5  Chilli con carne and rice
6  Nachos
7  Sausages and vegetables
8  Vegetable pie and salad
9  Hamburger patties and salad
10  Celery soup
11  Beef curry and rice
12  Tuna patties and vegetables
13  Shepherd’s pie and vegetables
14  Scrambled eggs with bacon and avocado
15  Chicken stir-fry and rice
16  Pizza
17  Chilli con carne and rice
18  Pumpkin soup
19  Lasagne and salad
20  Chilli chicken and corn chips

The entire plan is gluten-free.  I make my own gluten-free pizza bases and hamburger patties, buy gluten-free sausages from Aldi, buy gluten free corn chips and lasagne sheets and use gluten-free flour as required.008I intend to work roughly from the top of the list and we had home-made pizzas tonight.  This is how I make them.

Do you plan your meals?  How closely do you stick to a plan?

Foodie Friday – An Introduction

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I have thought long and hard about this post as I did not want to start something that I could not sustain.  A couple of years ago I ran a series of posts called, “Friday Favourites” which featured tried and true recipes.  Some of them were ones that I had loved for many years and these posts continue to be some of the most enduring and popular posts on this blog.

A little over 18 months ago I chose to pursue a gluten-free diet which has proved beneficial for my health.  I tried a separate blog to document my recipes but that has not been maintained.

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My plan is that each Friday will be a food-related post.  It may be a recipe for anything from a main meal to special occasion treats or about food storage, food preparation or new products.  The focus will be on affordable eating, simple recipes, menu planning and fresh, seasonal produce.  I will add links to the recipes in the ‘Recipe’ tab at the top of the blog.  This will help to find anything mentioned previously.  Please let me know if there is anything in particular that you like me to include.

Dinner

Making Ends Meet – Eat What You Have

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In response to my challenge a few days ago, Sarah posted this list:

As far as what’s on hand that’s fresh in the fridge/freezer
– stale brown bread (homemade, not sliced)
– bowl of baby spinach
– grated cheese
– one mushy pear
– some shallots
– ginger
– 2 carrots
– 1 zuchini
– 1/2 red cabbage
– 1/2 butternut pumpkin
– 1 onion (maybe)
– miso soup paste (would love to use this up)

In addition she added this link to her post about the contents of her pantry which is very well stocked.

Sarah also added that she always had access to eggs and milk.

Whenever you are trying to use what food you have on hand, it is important to look at the perishable items first.  These will go rotten or become unusable soonest so it is important to use them.

The first meal that comes to mind is Cheese Souffle.  This is a recipe that my mother would make, probably when ingredients were a bit thin on the ground but I really loved it and do make it from time to time.  Here is the recipe.

CHEESE SOUFFLE

2 eggs
1 cup soft breadcrumbs
½ cup milk
1 onion – finely chopped
1 cup grated cheese
Pepper

Soak breadcrumbs in milk.  Separate eggs.  Beat egg yolks.  Add all other ingredients.  Beat egg whites until stiff and gently fold into mixture.  Pour into greased  ovenproof dish and bake for about 40 minutes at 180 degrees.

I would shred some of the cabbage and grate a carrot.  Toss together with ‘French Dressing’ made from oil and lime juice whisked together.

Since the oven will be on to cook the souffle I would make sure a least one other item is cooked as well to get maximum value for money.

You could make Pear & Ginger muffins for snacks.  Using the gluten-free flour and other baking ingredients from the pantry make a basic muffin mix and add grated ginger and the mushy pear.  HINT:  Remove the seeds but you can roughly chop the pear up including the skin.  You could also add a few sultanas or chopped nuts for interest.

The night before you make the Cheese Souffle you could soak some lentils and then cook them ready to use.

Make a lentil and vegetable lasagne using the prepared lentils, sliced zucchini and the remaining carrot grated.  Cook the lentils, carrot and canned tomatoes with preferred herbs/spices.  Make bechamel sauce using milk, butter and flour.  Layer these with lasagne sheets and slices of zucchini and grated cheese.  Top with grated cheese and bake in the oven.  This can be refrigerated and reheated for a meal the next night.  You can also divide it into portions and freeze.

The remaining lentils could be mixed with some cooked pumpkin, finely shredded cabbage and chickpea flour to make vegie burgers.  These could be served with sweet chilli sauce on a bed of wilted spinach.

I am not familiar with miso soup paste but from my research I would make miso soup and perhaps add some udon noodles for added substance.

Tuna mornay is another meal that comes to mind.  Flour, milk, butter, grated cheese and the tin of tuna form the basis of this meal which is served with rice.  I generally add frozen peas and corn kernels to the mixture.

Since Sarah does not keep meat on hand or have a great deal of fresh fruit or vegetables at the moment there is a limit to what can be created without compromising her nutritional status.  Contrary to popular opinion, fruit and and vegetables are not outrageously expensive.  Remember, to only buy what you need and buy what is in season where possible.  Make a plan using as many ingredients that you have and only buy exactly the quantities that you need to create the meal.

Remember to use the basic ingredients in the pantry to extend the meat and vegetables.  I have done this with the lasagne and also mornay mixture.  Other options could be crepes or pies where you could stretch the filling to feed extra mouths.

Another option for the stale bread would be to slice it and make bread cases for pie or mornay filling.

Would you you have done something different with the listed ingredients?