Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Meal Planning: Week 1

Despite saying in my page on spending less money that meal planning isn't really for us, I made it a resolution to be a bit more organised about dinner. But I didn't want to adopt the kind of meal plan that requires choosing recipes, buying specific ingredients, and following a plan very strictly. We need flexibility, and also Andy gets a little grouchy about buying things full price when there are on-special alternatives, so specific ingredients are rarely purchased in our place.

Our first week of meal planning didn't come about as much through planning as through indecision. Scene: Sunday morning, after breakfast, on the couch. Me: Do you want to go to the market? Andy: We probably don't need to. Me: But the only veggies we have are corn and lettuce... Andy: Well, let's have... dhal, nacho salad, burgers, gnocchi with pesto, and pumpkin risotto. Me: Wait, let me write this down.

So we had a vague plan. Then I realised I wanted fruit so we went to the market anyways, and came home with some more things: potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and beetroots (plus bananas, a bucket of mangoes and three pineapples). Add to that our eggplant bushes heavily laden with quickly-growing fruits. So I amended our meal plan.

Monday and Tuesday I was home still, not yet finished with my holidays. So I did a lot of prep stuff for the coming week - cooking beans, making chappati breads, and roasting eggplant. And then we enacted our meal plan: no set schedule, just a pretty good idea of what we could make given the ingredients on hand, and no real thinking required (for those nights after work where thinking is very undesirable). Here's how it shaped up.

Monday: Nacho salad. Chips and lettuce on the bottom, a mix of kidney beans, sweet potato, tomato, corn and rice in the middle, and a fresh mango-pineapple-cucumber salsa on top.

Tuesday: red lentil dhal with wholemeal chappatis. I didn't snap a photo of this, because it was just dhal.

Wednesday: kidney bean burgers, with grilled pineapple (under the patty), potatoes, and corn on the cob.

Thursday: gnocchi with eggplant balls and a pesto-y, tomato-y sauce.

Friday: Andy went off script, and crafted a semi-delicious curry of eggplant, tofu and jackfruit.

Since this seemed to work reasonably well for us last week, I tried again on Sunday, this time going a little more adventurous and looking for recipes that we could use. I'll give week 2 a post of its own when we've finished it, but so far meal planning seems to be going well. As long as it doesn't require buying special things, and we have the flexibility to cook what we feel like on a given night, it seems to work for us.I guess I should update the part about not meal planning soon...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pumpkin Curry

Nacho loves pumpkin. Her love has evolved into ever more invasive practices. When she was a wee little kitten, she tried her hardest to get into any cooked pumpkin we had around. As she grew, she began to recognise the smell of raw pumpkin, and jumped up to investigate whenever any was cut or cooked. More recently, she has begun eating the uncooked inside bits, leaving the seeds behind.

But, if you can believe it, she's gotten even more sneaky & cheeky still.

A week or so ago, when Andy was back at work but I wasn't yet, I did some dinner prep in the late afternoon. I peeled and chopped a pumpkin, which I would turn into a curry. As I worked, Nacho helped herself to the pumpkin guts - as she does. When my pumpkin was chopped, I put it on a plate, covered it with a tea towel to keep the hungry kitty out of it, and then went outside to water the garden. In the meantime, Andy came home, and we were outside for quite a while.

When I came in, I stepped on something squishy in the kitchen. It was a piece of half-eaten pumpkin. I looked at the bench, where my pumpkin-plate was. The tea towel had been pushed aside (with a contemptuous laugh, I imagine). And instead of the full plate I had left, there was this:

Just on the other side of the counter, the culprit was lounging without a hint of remorse.

When I questioned her about the missing pumpkin, her tail started to flick in annoyance.

She gave me her best Julie Bishop-stare, and demanded that I get the hell out of her face (unless I had some cooked pumpkin to give her, please).

I did what any self-respecting cat person would do, and (once photos were taken), did what Nacho told me.  I got on with cooking, and despite having less pumpkin than I started with, we got a pretty good curry out of the deal.

Pumpkin Curry
1 small onion, diced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small pumpkin, peeled and cubed (or less, if your cat gets into it)
2 potatoes, cubed
3 Tbsp. curry paste - we used tandoori
1 can of full fat coconut milk
1/2 c. diced tomatoes (for us, this was the leftovers of a tin)
1/2 c. snake beans, chopped (use any green veggie - we had snake beans that needed using from the garden)
1 c. cannellini beans, drained & rinsed

In a pot, saute the onion and garlic with oil until they are soft. Add the pumpkin and potatoes and stir them around for a few minutes. Add the curry paste, stir it up until everything is coated in it, and then add the coconut milk and tomatoes. Bring it up to the boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for half an hour or so, until the potatoes and the pumpkin are tender. Add the green veggie and the beans, let it cook for another few minutes. Season to taste, eat with rice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Holidays are Over

Today marks my return to work, after four weeks of blissful holiday fun. We opted not to travel during our time off, partially because we went south in November for a wedding, partially because we are trying to pay off a mortgage quite quickly, but mainly because our house is still new to us, we haven't had any significant time off since moving in, and we just wanted to hang out here.

I did only a little bit of work during my time off - work that I have wanted to do for a while, but keep putting off because the idea of starting it, amidst all my usual work, was too daunting. Thus, the holidays were a good time to get a start on turning my thesis into a book with no other work distractions, and now that I have a good start I think I will have the motivation to keep working on it.

What made up the bulk of my vacation?

I did manage to blog a lot more regularly. I won't promise to keep it up throughout the teaching semester, but I'll try. I updated and added to the pages across the top, too.

We took Tika for plenty of swims.

I read a lot of books. I went to the library maybe 6 or 7 times during my 4 weeks at home, to pick up books I had reserved.

We painted the toilet and the hallway.
This line between living room and hall is gone. I call the colour "soy chai latte".

I did some bigger cleaning projects that I don't do normally, like dusting off the blinds (a big job, since we always have our windows open) and moving furniture to vacuum under it.
My dislike of these blinds is now more than aesthetic.
We planted a few more things in the garden - a peanut butter tree, jackfruit, another papaya, some more pineapples.

We harvested many huge piles of basil and filled up the freezer with pesto.

Gnocchi with pesto, spinach and broccoli.

(Seriously, our freezer is so full right now, between pesto and mango and reduced-to-clear tofu and veggie burgers.)
Future smoothies.

I took many, many naps.
Like this, but on the couch.

We watched series one of The Killing, a Danish crime drama. It was really good - a little bit like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but less polished. I am looking forward to watching series two!

I made a pretty good dent on organising my craft room.

And used it for the first time, to sew a Go board.

I rediscovered my love of cooking and had time for more complicated recipes, like Mochi, Bacon Cheeseburgers, or steamed buns filled with Lamyong beef, cabbage and 5-spice BBQ sauce.

We made mango chutney and jam, and did a few more things that will get their own posts in the coming weeks.
Mango pancakes with mango jam.

But sadly, the holiday fun times are over. I didn't tick off everything I wanted to get done - cleaning behind the oven was never really a priority, I guess - but it was so great to have a few weeks off to play, to relax, to tinker.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mochi - without a microwave

I discovered mochi by chance in Hong Kong in 2011, and Andy and I both dug it. Not enough to, like, pine for it or anything - I wasn't having dreams about mochi. But I would have liked to have some more. Then in September and October, while perusing The New Scoop (which I reviewed here) I saw the chapter on ice cream mochi. The author said mochi was just not possible without a microwave or a mochi machine, but instead of letting it go, I took that on as a challenge. I googled, and found James & Matt's mochi post the most helpful - they mentioned cooking mochi dough on the stove top, and even though it wasn't a part of their tutorial, just knowing it was possible was enough for me. I got some glutinous rice flour, and then eventually got around to making it. It took me two tries to get it right, using two very different methods.

First Attempt

The first time I tried it out, I used the recipe for mochi dough from The New Scoop, because I had a hard copy I could keep on the kitchen bench while I worked. My only variation was to cook the mochi in a bowl over a pot of simmering water, hoping that would do the trick.

I double-boiled for 10 minutes and thought that must surely be enough - the dough was getting dry around the edges, and the consistency was different.

So I took it off the heat and did the rest of the work. I kneaded my dough, briefly. I cut it into pieces, formed balls, and filled them with a mixture of rice bubbles, tahini and toasted sesame seeds.

All the while, I thought that all the dramatic explanations of how to make mochi, with dire warnings about hot lava-esque dough that sticks to you and itself and everything, were a little over the top. Sure, the dough was hot, but it was a bit easy to work with, really!

The ease which marked my mochi experience was the first indicator that I had done it wrong. Biting into them was my second clue. Instead of sticky, chewy, gluey dumplings, these were soft and doughy. The flavour was a little bit chalky - not unpleasant, but similar to icing sugar.

Second Attempt

A week or so later, I decided to try again. This time, instead of assuming a double boiler would work without actually looking up a specific stove-top recipe, I did a more thorough search. I found this gem of a video.

Short summary: instead of cooking the dough and then forming dumplings, this recipe turns the process upside down - steam the pre-formed dumplings. Revolutionary.

So I did! The only change I made to the recipe was to use corn flour rather than wheat starch, which may have been a mistake - these mochi did not stay soft at all.

1 1/4 c. boiling water
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. corn flour
2 1/2 c. glutinous rice flour
filling of your choice

In a big bowl, dissolve sugar in boiling water. Add flours and mix them in. Knead for a minute or two, until the dough resembles play dough in texture.

Break off small pieces of dough, roll into balls, and flatten them. Place your filling in the middle and then pull the dough around the filling, sealing it in.

Place the finished dumpling on an oiled steamer pan. When the pan is full, steam the mochi over gently boiling water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the rest of your mochi.

I used two fillings: in some, peanut butter mixed with icing sugar; in others, pieces of mango. The peanut butter, of course, melted as a result of being steamed for 10 minutes. So instead of nice, round mochi dumplings, I had flattish, blobby things.

Take the mochi off the steamer tray immediately, trying not to break them. This is where I got to experience the joys of molten, sticky mochi dough. A few busted open, so I ate them right away.

Put the (unbusted) mochi straight from the steamer into a container of coconut (or sesame seeds, crushed nuts, icing sugar, etc) and shake them around to coat.

 Eat them within 12 hours. Fridging them made them firmer, but still chewy and nice - on the first day. By the second day they were hard from the fridge, and reasonable (but not great) when they came up to room temperature. By the third day, they were practically inedible. In future, I will cut the recipe down to make only what we can eat in the same day. This batch made 24, which in hindsight is only worth making to bring to a party or something.
Mango mochi looks a little bit like a soft-boiled egg.
So the form-then-steam method is the way to go for those who, like me, don't own a microwave. Or for those who don't want to knead and mould molten hot mochi dough.  It won't work at all for ice cream mochi, and isn't the best for runnier fillings like peanut butter, but I think I'll try mixing the nut butter with some crumbs of something to see if that firms it up.
Yummy chewy mochi. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Vegan Bacon Cheeseburger

Last week I was browsing one of my favourite quirky-lifestyle blogs, Offbeat Home & Life, and was stoked to see this guest post by The Sweetest Vegan about a vegan bacon cheeseburger. I pinned it and facebook shared it, partially to let the Offbeat blog admin people know the post was a good one, but also because - OMG vegan bacon cheeseburger! Sure, I make vegan burgers all the time. I make vegan cheese semi-regularly. And vegan bacon recipes are plentiful. But this recipe was straightforward, and it put all the components together. 

Filed away in the back of my mind, the recipe made its way back to the front on Monday night when I saw this post by Tara. On Tuesday, I decided I just had to make it. I am still on holidays, you see, while Andy is back at work, so I have been getting lost in complicated recipes this week. 

Not that this recipe is complicated, but it was a mammoth effort in multi-tasking (it would be less so if you used canned beans). First I put black beans and white beans on to soak while I went out to grab the few ingredients I didn't have on hand - sweet potato (though I could have probably dug some from the garden), coconut flakes, and bread rolls.

When I got home, I put the first batch of beans into the pressure cooker. Then I peeled my sweet potato (and cooked the peels in the oven for a crunchy snack for Tika), and put it in boiling water to cook.

 I mixed up the marinade for the coconut bacon and put it all in a bowl to soak up the flavours.

When the black beans were done, I put the white ones on to cook while I made the burger patties: mashing together the beans and sweet potato, but leaving out garlic powder (we can't keep it in our humidity), sriracha (we don't have), and onion (I don't love). I had about 1 cup of beans leftover, and 1/4 cup of sweet potato, so I threw them in too, and then folded through the oats. This I set aside while I got on with other things.

I put the coconut bacon in the oven to crisp up. I had it in there for nearly half an hour and it didn't crisp, so I  took it out in case the crisping happened as it cooled. It never did, but oh well.

While the coconut bacon was bakin', I put the cheese together. This is a great recipe, because it doesn't require cooking. I cut the recipe in half, because I only had half a cup of nutritional yeast, and we still have about 4 times as much cheese as we needed. 

I formed my patties and put them in the fridge to chill out, and then it was time for me to chill out myself. Less than an hour and a half in the kitchen and I had cooked two batches of beans from scratch and turned them into the vital components for a vegan bacon cheeseburger. 

The only thing left to do was cook the patties, but instead of putting them in the oven I did them on the BBQ, because we have one, and it's summer.
On the Weber with some okra and a tiny eggplant. 

And because, check out those grill marks. 

Then I put it all together. A bit of mayo on the top of the bun, and some cheese on the bottom. Then lettuce, a burger, some more cheese, some bacon. Andy added tomato sauce, but I didn't think it needed it.

This is a great recipe - aside from a few exceptions, the ingredients are easy to find in most pantries. Aside from some soy sauce, all three components are soy free - no tofu or soy milk here. They also lend themselves to being gluten free, if you used gluten free oats, or subbed in something like quinoa flakes. For vegan junk food, there isn't really too much that is actually unhealthy about any of the meal. And, holy pants it was yummy.