Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Recipe: Magic apple cinnamon muffins

First off, a disclaimer, these aren't really magic apple muffins. However, if I called them "use up the leftover apple from my school child's lunchbox" muffins, they don't sound as appealing.

I like to think of that old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon when I'm making these... watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat... nothing my my sleeve. Except in this case, I have half apples that my daughter has brought home (her school sends home all uneaten lunch so we can track what gets consumed) with various reasons so far:
  • She was too busy playing to finish it
  • Biting the apple made her teeth hurt
  • She remembered she didn't like apples anymore
  • No one else was eating an apple
I smile, grit my teeth (because of course when helping me plan her lunches before grocery shopping, she told me apples were what she really wanted so we bought them) and resolve to use them up somehow because I hate waste.

I figured muffins would be a good addition to lunch boxes, and who would honestly turn down a muffin right? So, previous days half eaten apples now get grated up, mixed with pantry staples and turned into delicious lunch box friendly snacks that freeze perfectly, and seem to be a lunch box hit. Winning!

I've made these both with and without sugar, and honestly, I like them better with a tiny amount of coconut sugar added. The spices make it extra flavoursome, so I think we're onto something here - at least I haven't had any muffins coming home!

Magic apple cinnamon muffins
(makes approximately 18 mini muffins)
printable link

Ingredients
  • approximately 2 apples, skins on, grated coarsely
  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour (wholemeal or plain)
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut (shredded would also work well)
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 cup milk (I like almond, but any would suit)
  • splash of almond essence (or vanilla)
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 180C degrees. 
  2. Add everything into a mixing bowl and combine.
  3. Spoon mix into a mini muffin tray.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cooked.
  5. Let them cool slightly before popping them out of the tray and allowing them to cool.
  6. Store in an airtight container.
Notes
  • You could mix up the spices, and add some ground nutmeg and/or ginger. I've also used some pumpkin pie spice, just because I have some on hand.
  • I know vanilla essence is more traditional, but the almond essence is yummy.
  • I like using wholemeal flour because I like to squeeze in more fibre when I can. I think it would also work with plain and maybe a couple spoonfuls of wheatgerm or bran flakes instead though.
  • For a richer muffin, you could add in a tablespoon or two of coconut oil, but I honestly don't find it necessary.
  • These muffins freeze really well - I just wait for them to cool and then freeze them in a container, separated with baking paper (or reusable equivalent) so I can grab one and pop it in a lunchbox as is. I try not to use any glad wrap or plastic when making school lunches.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

2018: Reducing single use plastic

I am unashamedly frugal, sometimes to the embarrassment of Mr Fork. I take great pride in being eco conscious and reducing the impact that I personally have on the environment. Now that I have children, it's important to me that they learn to be respectful of our planet as well. Two years ago, I put up a list of ten things I do to help the environment (and you know, also save money). This year, I'm going to step it up a bit and try even harder to reduce my household waste and single use plastic items.

There are so many things that are simple to do, and don't even have to cost much, if anything at all. Here are some more of the things I already do, and some ideas that I'm working toward as well.

Say no to consumables. Who needs plastic straws, paper napkins or utensils when there are awesome glass or metal straws, fabric serviettes, and cute reusable utensils out there? I've had my glass straw for years, and I love it. I've been reading a lot about beeswax wraps and I really want to find a good source of local beeswax so I can start making my own (and you know, maybe use up some of my fabric stash while I'm at it!).

Avoid plastic shopping bags. Similar to the above, but it needs saying again. Our two major supermarkets have plans to phase out plastic bags this year, which I think is a great idea. It's easy to put cloth bags in the car boot, and I always have a small fold up bag in my handbag for incidental purchases. I've also embraced bringing along mesh bags for my produce shopping so I can avoid those thin plastic ones they offer. If I have a choice between pre-packed produce, or picking my own and using my own bags, it's a no brainer.
I got these ones as a Christmas present, and they come with their own handy little bag to stash them in when not in use. They're so simple to make though that I'm going to whip up a few more with some of the mesh material I have in my stash.
When I get my produce home, I can also prolong it's life by storing it in my fabric Swag bags (which are awesome by the way!)
I'm also lucky enough to have some bulk health food stores near me. These stores let you scoop and weigh your own produce (like nuts, flours, salts, beans etc) from bulk bins and either use the brown paper bags in store (which are compostable) or bring your own container to hold them. 

Use reusable bottles and cups. It's important to stay hydrated, but not at the cost of all the litter it generates. A friend of mine recently moved to the beach and has been telling me horrifying statistics about the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean and on the beach. There are so many bottle options out there - foldable ones for the space conscious, insulated ones to keep your water cold (or hot!), glass, and ones with super cute covers like my beloved BBBYO ones! (the 'bits' below are barley from when I brewed up barley water to soothe a chest infection)
I'm also a huge fan of reusable coffee cups - I have one at home and one at work for ultra convenience. Many of the coffee shops near where I work even offer a small discount for bringing your own cup. I've heard statistics that it can take more than 500 years for a plastic coffee cup to break down, which is horrifying.
I've noticed a huge shift in awareness when shopping, and many shoppers now bring their own reusable bags as a matter of course (could be that some shops have started charging for terrible quality plastic bags as well). Where I used to get odd looks for bringing my own coffee cup to a cafe, now I'd say from my own observations that there are more BYO cups than not. This is definitely a movement I'm happy to get behind and so pleased to see individuals and businesses taking up.

Do you bring your own bags and cups when out and about? What are your tips for reducing plastic consumption?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Recipe: Mushroom and lentil loaf

For nearly 10 years now, I have brought a version of this loaf along to our family Christmas lunch. I'm very lucky that my family makes many of the festive sides vegan-friendly, but if I want something substantial to eat, I need to bring it along. For awhile, one of my cousins was vegetarian, so I became the default supplier of the main part of the meal for the 'picky eaters'. I don't mind, and over the years, people have started to ask for portions of the loaf too - no more serving myself a slice then putting it away to save room on the table, no sirree!
I posted a couple of my practice meals online in the lead up to Christmas, and had quite a few questions so I thought I better finally type up the recipe. It started from a long ago recipe I found online, but I have since tweaked what I do so much, it wouldn't be recognisable in any way to the original.

It's delicious, scales well, is very flexible and forgiving, and best of all, can be made ahead and then just popped in the oven on the day. Winning! I often make multiple at the same time because if I'm going to do one, I might as well make a few, and who doesn't like to share food right?
The original recipe called for a specific ratio of cooked brown rice and cooked French lentils. I have since simplified that for myself by mixing equal amounts of the uncooked and rinsed grain/pulse in the rice cooker and then using the amount I need once cooked. I think it tastes equally good this way and makes my life easier too.

Mushroom and lentil loaf
printable link

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced (any will do, I tend to use button as they're so readily available)
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrot, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • 2 3/4 cup cooked brown rice/lentil mix
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegan Worcestershire sauce (Coles brand is vegan for Australia)
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard
  • fresh parsley, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (mine was made from the stale crusts of my sourdough loaves)  
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 180C degrees. Line a small loaf tin with baking paper and set aside. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine the tomato paste, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, molasses, liquid smoke, and about 1/3 of the minced garlic. Set aside.
  3. In a fry pan over medium heat, add some olive oil and 1/2 cup onions. Sauté 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl. Add a little more olive oil to the pan, and sauté celery, carrot, the remainder of the garlic, salt and pepper over low heat. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  4. In a food processor, pulse rice and lentils until they combine nicely but are not complete mush (about 10 times), then transfer to a large bowl. Again in the food processor, pulse cooked vegetables, Worcestershire sauce, remaining soy sauce, mustard, parsley, cornflour, and 1/3 of the tomato mix about 10 times, then add vegetable mixture to rice and lentils. Fold in reserved sautéed onions and mushrooms, breadcrumbs, and the 1/2 cup raw chopped onion. Check seasoning and adjust to taste.
  5. Assembly time! Press half the mixture into the loaf pan and spread with half of the tomato topping. Add the rest of the mixture into the pan and press it down (wet hands help) and coat with the remainder of the tomato topping. Cover with foil. At this point you can stop, and put it in the fridge to be cooked later. If you do this, let it come to room temperature first. 
  6. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes covered, then 15 minutes uncovered until the top is browned. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes before serving. 
Notes/Variations
  • This is one of my favourite dishes and always makes me think of Christmas. Served hot from the oven and cold as leftovers for lunch, both ways are delicious. When I can't face eating it anymore, I freeze individual slices ready to pull out for making sandwiches or quick meals when needed.
  • It's very forgiving - you can add more carrot and celery or change the ratio of rice/lentils if you prefer. Sometimes I've been lazy and just mashed with a fork instead of getting out the food processor and that works well too.
  • It's great if you happen to have gravy (everything is amazing with gravy!) but it doesn't really need it.
  • You could leave out the Worcestershire sauce if you wanted, and maybe add a bit more soy sauce instead.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Recipe: Eggplant parmigiana

I recently posted about my eggplant glut and asked my Instagram followers for some suggestions to use up the harvest. Someone said eggplant parmigiana and I thought that sounded amazing.

It worked out well, because Mr Fork was craving chicken parmigiana so it was a nicely themed meal for everyone.

It was such an easy dish to make, very flexible and uses simple staple ingredients that I generally have on hand. I grew the eggplants and the basil used in it, I made breadcrumbs from the crust of my sourdough, and I got to include a few sneaky extra vegetables in the sauce. I was so happy with how it turned out, I thought I'd share. I think this would be great for a festive meal, and I know it's going to be fabulous as leftovers for work lunches this week too. Everyone wins!

In my opinion the key to making this dish especially delicious is the tomato sauce. I made mine from a mix of tinned and fresh tomatoes that I cooked up with onion, garlic and other seasonings, let it reduce until it was thick and concentrated, and then added fresh herbs to really jazz it up. You could always use pasata and add your own seasonings as well.


Vegan Eggplant Parmigiana
printable link

Ingredients
  • 5 medium sized eggplants (or maybe 3 large ones)
  • olive oil
  • garlic, minced
  • dried oregano
  • 1 onion, diced
  • tomatoes (I used a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, and maybe another 400g fresh ones, diced)
  • fresh basil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • nutritional yeast
  • a large handful of breadcrumbs (mine was made from the stale crusts of my sourdough loaves)
Method
  1. Slice the eggplants into rounds, and salt them. Leave that to sit for 10 minutes or so while you get the sauce going.
  2. In a saucepan, add a little olive oil, the garlic and onion, and a shake or two of dried oregano. Fry that up until it gets fragrant and then add the tomato. I also added a little water to mine, but you may not need to do that - you want the sauce to be thick and not too watery. Cover and let it simmer away for 15 minutes or so.
  3. Rinse the eggplant rounds and then fry or grill them. I did them in batches in a fry pan, putting the done ones aside on a plate while I cooked the next lot.
  4. Check on the sauce and season it. It should be reduced, and the tomatoes should be broken down - I added a little salt, pepper and a bit of red wine vinegar. I also stirred in some fresh basil and some baby spinach leave that needed using up. 
  5. Time to assemble! I used a square dish, about 25 x 25 cm. I started with a thin layer of sauce, then a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, then a layer of eggplants. Keep going in that order: sauce, nutritional yeast, eggplant until everything is used up. Finish with a layer of sauce then a sprinkling of nutritional yeast.
  6.  In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with some dried oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil. I also added a bit of fresh minced garlic, but I know that's not to everyone's tastes. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the dish.
  7. I baked it for about 30 minutes in a 200C fan forced oven until it was all bubbly and golden.

Notes/Variations
  • This was so good. Served hot from the oven and cold as leftovers for lunch, both ways were delicious. I plated it topped with torn basil on my plate, and little pieces of mozzarella for the kids.
  • If you wanted, you could sub parmesan for the nutritional yeast, but I wanted a vegan version. You could also mix cheese into the breadcrumb layer as well.
  • Next time for more protein and to help absorb a bit of the moisture from the eggplants as they cook, I will add some quinoa into the sauce to help thicken it up a bit. Also, I think sliced mushrooms would be a great sauce addition. 
What will you be eating for Christmas festivities?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Urban trading

My eggplants are producing far too prolifically for me to eat and enjoy them all at the moment. Here's a picture of this week's harvest alone - eleven good sized fruits, and many more nearly ripe still weighing down the plants.
I mentioned my dilemma to a colleague and she said that her lime tree was doing the same. We just looked at each other and brought in a bag of produce to swap the next day! I enjoyed those limes as salad dressing, with gin, in soda water and numerous other ways. Limes are amazing!

Speaking of salad, I traded more eggplants to another colleague for some cucumbers and a lettuce. I generously ended up with too many cukes to use while they were good so I traded some of them plus eggplants for a pawpaw (which was delicious, and I'm hoping some of the seeds will sprout for me).

I have not yet properly learned the art of planting in appropriate amounts or staggering my planting, so soon I’ll have oodles of chillies to play with... anyone interested? 
Gosh I love my gardening friends. Who says that the bartering economy isn't alive and well?!

Do you have a group of like minded people you trade with? What's a hot commodity for you right now?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Resilience

Today, my (little) big girl has her kindy graduation. Next year she starts prep at 'big' school and will attend 5 days a week. Until now, she has attended daycare 3 days each week and spent the other two at home with me. We fill our time with extracurricular activities (swimming, acrobatics), social catch ups with friends and learning through doing regular every day activities like library visits, cooking, gardening and playing.

It will be strange to hand over the bulk of her days to someone else. I used to think having one child was hard, and then I had a second and wondered what I complained about. Now as I prepare to have days with only one child again, I wonder how I will cope. How he will cope without his big sister and constant companion. How she will cope at school without me. Have I laid a strong enough foundation for her to build on? I hope so.

I was harvesting my neglected garden recently. It's a bit sad - the basil is defiantly dry and crispy, the leafy greens are present but wispy and bug eaten and the rosemary is looking rather brown. Surprisingly though (or not) because of all the drenching rains we've had lately, my eggplants are thriving. The other herbs are lush and green, and the onions that sprouted in my pantry are pushing through green growth and developing seeds in an effort to preserve themselves and give me future onions. If I'm honest, if I cut the basil back it will come back better than ever. The greens are seeding and when planted will be so strong and healthy. The rosemary will come good with love. I guess it's the compost and chicken poo I lavished deep in those beds paying off for me.

I even have a little self seeded marigold, standing proud next to those previously mentioned onions and doing it's best to repel pests and bring in bees.
What I guess I'm getting at is, gardens, just like people, are resilient. Putting in early work and enthusiasm and love is so worth it, and even with a little distance there, the things you grow and reap are wonderful surprises.
 
She'll be fine. And so will I.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Oh... hi there!

Well would you look at that… it feels like forever since I’ve updated this blog. In fact… oh my, eight months or so (thank you domain registration reminder for giving me some incentive). I haven’t been completely absent, I’ve been reading other blogs and infrequently commenting, but I still remember when I wrote more regularly, so sorry about that readers! (Do I have any readers left?)

What’s been happening in my life of late?

Work
I’ve been working more hours and taking on more responsibilities. I mean, I’m technically still part time, so I’m accruing flex time at alarming rates, but I love my job and we are doing so many new and experimental things and I just want to be involved. I’m loving that I get to stretch mental muscles and have deeply intellectual conversations about concepts that don’t even exist properly yet because we haven’t built them. It give me nerdy chills! Of course, it also means I have less time to do other things, but I make time for the important stuff.

My 5 year old with attitude
Ellie starts Prep next year. It feels like just moments ago I held her for the first time in my arms, barely 2.5kg of weight. Now, she still looks tiny, dwarfed by her school uniforms which I bought big so she could grow into them (it’s the frugal Asian side of me). The one thing that isn’t tiny is her attitude and sass. She’s such a wonderful little person who can have conversations with me and looks after her little brother with equal amounts of love and exasperation. She’s so smart, and so confident and so full of pizazz and cheer. I know she's going to blow us all away one day.
My newly minted 3 year old
Jimmy turned three yesterday! Remember when he was born? I do! We had some drama with his daycare and I wasn't happy with them anymore, so I went through the (long, drawn out) process of moving him a few months ago and he seems to be settling in and thriving now. He is talking so much and becoming his own person. And just for the record in case I start getting mushy and thinking about wanting more children…. toilet training. Oh my word I hate it so much… and that says a lot because remember I’m the mama who did cloth nappies!

He loves to be carried and held close, so I still carry a wrap for those moments where he just needs to be up. One such moment happened at a shopping centre lately... he was just losing composure so a sloppy wrap job later and he was snoring onto the back of my neck. J weighs almost a third of what I do these days, so I cherish these little moments while I still can.
Extracurricular activities
Ellie started acrobatics this year and while I was signing her up I noticed an adult tap dance class. I’ve never tapped before but I’ve done dance of some sort most of my life so I was intrigued. I started with a bunch of other like minded adults and I love it. Admittedly, it’s a new style for me so I’m still messing up all the time, but it’s such fun! I go once a week and quite frankly… it’s an amazing stress buster and I get to kick the floor and take all my frustrations out on it while dancing my (unfit) heart out. Win!

I'm also continuing pottering in my kitchen garden, and the recent rains have done wonderful things for all the plants I must say! 

After work, and family and cooking and life in general, I find myself sitting down of a night and just wanting a quiet activity. I've been reading a lot lately, both Kindle and paper books as the mood strikes. There is something to be said for turning paper pages and smelling a book (is that weird?) but I also appreciate the sheer convenience of eReaders too.

Diet
As my kids get older, they get more definite with what they will and won’t eat. They have a few meals they always love (pasta, rice and stir fry, chicken nuggets, pancakes and sweets) but I long for them to love vegetables and be flexible with their food preferences. It seems that what was a favourite last week is off the menu the next. Maybe they are following in their daddy's carnivorous influence and not my healthy choices.

I find myself often cooking wonderful (meat free) meals that they’ll taste and then turn up their noses at even though they'd eaten them last week, so I portion it out and freeze it to try again another time. I have a freezer full of meals that only I seem to eat now… no matter how many time I present my lovingly prepared and often home grown creations. Kids! Still, it means that I have fabulous lunch options and no excuse for takeaway on nights when I just can’t be bothered! I'm all about the silver linings.

Fill me in on your news. What’s been happening in your life lately?

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