Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Very Best Cornbread*

*according to my friend Harris

Well, I'm a few days late in posting this, but our Anzac Day Thanksgiving was a hit! We had a lovely long afternoon with some friends and a couple of their Littles. Nelle and Sophie entertained themselves together for ages, which meant the adults could relax and enjoy some amazing homebrews by Eric on the deck. Aside from a few mishaps: occasional bumps on the head for toddler bed-jumpers and our dog giving herself a tummyache and our BBQ burning down, all was good. (We do not have good luck with BBQs!)

We set up tables outside in the mottled shade of the tree and ate till we felt like we might explode. And isn't that the measure of a successful Thanksgiving?

Our menu was a mix of traditional American Thanksgiving + vegetarian goodies + Robbie's famous roast lamb with cumin and coriander. I'll try to share as many of the recipes as I can ... beginning with the cornbread, which is hereforth known as "The Very Best Cornbread," and uses our old thrifty favourite, polenta (corn meal).

The Very Best Cornbread

Serves 10 generously
adapted from Mollie Katzen's wonderful Still Life with Menu Cookbook

2 c polenta (corn meal)
1 c unbleached white flour
1 c wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c raw sugar or honey or agave syrup
2 tsp baking soda
2 c milk + 1 tsp vinegar
(or 2 c milk that's hitting its use-by date and maybe even a little sourish)
2 eggs
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

*try to use organic ingredients - if you're new to organic, start by replacing the cheap ingredients (like polenta) and keep replacing things one by one as you need to buy new of something

1. Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F. Grease 2 baking dishes or line with baking paper. (Mine were metal and square and about 20 cm or 8 in in diameter, but I've also used round glass dishes successfully too)

2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry mix and add all the wet ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until well combined, making sure you get the egg yolks all mixed in. (Many people, Mollie Katzen included, would mix the wet stuff together first before adding it to the dry stuff, and you can if you want, but I hate washing dishes so the all-in-one-dish way is how I do it). But also try not to over-mix.

3. Pour your batter into the dishes, put them in the oven and bake for 20-30 min. When done the corn bread should be golden on top and a skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Wait a few minutes before popping the cornbread out of the dishes, to minimise breakage.

4. Serve large squares or triangles with butter and honey (apricot jam or maple syrup are yummy too).

PS You can also make these into muffins, you'll probably get around a dozen from this recipe. Just reduce the cooking time to 15-20 min and keep an eye on them. Nelle loves them.

How much did this cost me?

All of the ingredients I used were organic, and most I had purchased bulk. The polenta and the wholemeal flour cost about $0.60 each, and the white flour cost about $.45. The milk was the most expensive part at $1.30, so if you used milk you were planning to throw out or marked down milk (or even maybe whey from making ricotta) that would save you. Mine was full cost this time. The oil probably cost about $1. The eggs were $0.50 each, and the sugar, baking soda, salt and vinegar were all negligible cost. So this large lot of corn bread cost me about $5, which to be honest is about the cost of one large muffin in this country (!!)

Amanda xx

Parsley Pasta Primavera

Remember the parsley pasta I made last week, and dried, and stored in the fridge? This is what I did with the rest ...

I was feeling super lazy around dinnertime (oh dear, in a take-away frame of mind), but I knew our veg drawer was full of things that needed to be used up. So I was very very happy to remember we had this fresh-ish pasta in the fridge, ready for a simple and fast dinner. I pulled out some veg, chopped and sauteed and grated and we were eating in about 20 minutes. Or rather, Robbie and I were eating, and Nelle was running circles around the dining and living rooms ...

Here's what I did:

Parsley Pasta Primavera

Serves 4-5

The rest of the pasta recipe from the other day
(or 4 servings of dried pasta with some fresh parsley added when you serve)
1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

The veg I had in my fridge
(yours may differ ... but try to include a mix of colours)
2 spring onions
1 cob of corn
1/4 c snap peas
1/4 c green beans
2 small zucchinis
2 tomatoes
(other nice options you might have are carrots, squash, mushrooms, asparagus)

1. Chop all the veg, and cut the corn kernels off the cob.

2. Saute all the veg and the lemon zest in the olive oil for 5 min or so, until cooked but still crispy. Add the lemon juice. Turn off the heat, but leave everything in the pan.

3. Boil the pasta (remember, not too long for homemade!), drain, and add to the veg. Mix well. Add the parmesan and mix.

4. Serve up, adding salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle each serving with olive oil.

Whew, take away urges averted ... for now ...
Enjoy! Amanda xx

Up-cycling Old T-shirts into Scarves and Bracelets

I've always loved the idea of craft, but I have a hard time motivating myself to do it. Maybe it's insecurity? Because usually once I get going, it's all good ...

Well today I decided that I do too much shopping. Granted, mostly it's op-shopping (thrift stores for the non-Aussies), but I guess it adds up. So, I've vowed to do no more non-food/necessity shopping for 2 whole months. Break the addiction.

Nelle says "Mummy, stop shopping!"

Instead, I'm going to up-cycle the stuff we have around the house - make new things out of old. I'm actually really excited about the challenge, and I think it fits in well with the theme we have going on here - practical, economical, sustainable!

So, this means I'll be exploring my crafty side! (Which is good timing for us because we have Mother's Day, my sister-in-law's birthday and both Robbie's and my mother's birthdays coming up ... )

I recently found some great 'recipes' for remodeling T-shirts into cool looking accessories and this afternoon turned a sad old T-shirt of Robbie's into 2 scarves and a bracelet and some dish cloths. Ok, the latter isn't super exciting but I had some bits left over and didn't want to throw them out ...

Click on the links above to get to the great tutorials I used to make these things, but I'll also briefly describe the methods here.

Fringey Scarf

makes 1 fringey scarf
adapted from 

One old T-shirt (can be solid or patterned but needs to be a crew neck)

1. Lay the T shirt out on the floor, with the side you want to the be outside of your scarf on the inside. (Does that make sense?)

2. Draw a dot about 30 cm or 12 in under the lowest point on the neckline, in the center of the shirt.

3. Draw a dot on each side of the shirt where the sleeves meet the body, about 2.5 cm or 1 in above the bottom of the sleeve.

4. Connect the dots in a big arc. Then cut off the sleeves on the inside of the seam and cut along your arc. Save the bottom of the T-shirt for the next recipe.

5. Draw a dot on each side of the neckline seam at the top, about 2.5 cm or 1 in out towards where the sleeves used to be. Draw a dot in the center of the shirt, right where the neckline seam is. Draw a line to connect the dots in an arc and cut along it.

6. Starting from one side, cut the T-shirt into 1 cm (1/2 in) wide-ish strips, (this is important!) leaving 1 cm (1/2 in) at the top. Keep going. Then you're done!

7. Wear it long and dangly or wrap it twice for a more necklace-type look.

Me modelling the fringey scarf with jeans and a long sweater

Tubey Scarf

makes 1 tubey scarf
adapted from 

The same old T-shirt you used above

1. Cut straight across the top of the remaining section of the T-shirt, so that it's even with the bottom. That's it!

2. I am currently wearing this doubled around my neck ... so comfy ...

The tubey scarf, keeps your neck truly warm

Button Bracelet

makes at least 1 bracelet (probably more)
adapted from 

The same old T-shirt you used above

1. Cut 3 x 1 cm (1/2 in ) -wide strips that are a little bit longer than the circumference of your wrist. 

2. Pin the 3 strips together (or weigh them down under your computer like I did) and braid them all the way along.

3. Put the bracelet on your wrist and safety pin it where the two sides meet and overlap. Take the bracelet off. At the pinned point, sew the 2 ends of the braid together with a needle and thread. (Super simple) Leave some of the unbraided ends poking out if you'd like (or don't, the original didn't) and sew on a button in the middle of the unbraided ends. Almost flower-like!

Button braided bracelet

Enjoy your up-cycling!
Amanda xx

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ode to the Spatula

Ok, this post may seem a bit weird ... but the rubber spatula is sooooo important to thrifty cooking, I thought it warranted a special note. I use my spatula all the time, mostly to scrape batter out of bowls. And if you doubt how much you can scrape out with a spoon vs with a spatula, I challenge you to spend a couple dollars, get one, and try it. Think - your finger. Only much more hygenic. (of course, you can still use your finger if you don't want to share ... )

I also use my spatula to 'fold batter,' take ice cream out of the ice cream maker, take rice out of the rice cooker, get all the smoothie out of the blender, etc.

So, ode to the spatula - may it help us prevent food waste and save us lots of money.

Amanda xx

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My New Favourite (Lemon-roasted) Potatoes

Well, we didn't end up building the garden this weekend, but had a really nice barbeque with some friends on Saturday night. It rained all day but cleared up enough in the evening that it was gorgeous and fresh and cool outside. And, to top off a beautiful evening I discovered my new favourite way to make potatoes!

Fresh organic potatoes

By the way, potatoes are a super-economical organic option ... you can get them on sale for less than $2 a kilo and there is so much you can do with them. Hash browns at breakfast, potato salad for lunch, roasted/mashed/baked/or chipped for dinner (well, not all on the same day!). But the lemon-roasted potatoes I'm going to tell you about in just a minute are not to be missed. Think Greek restaurant. Yum.

But first, let's go back to the beginning of the evening -

The night began with amber ales and pistachios and honey roasted cashews and tamari roasted pumpkin seeds ...

Roasted nuts and pistachios for nibblies

I put the nuts into old tea-light holders and shot glasses - neither of which have I used in years for anything, but this was a really easy way to make a stylish snacks bar. I roasted the nuts myself - I'll add a recipe for these later as I didn't even think to write down how much of this and that I used.

And then there was meat for the carnivores and zucchini salad and pickles and of course the Greek-style lemon potatoes ...

Lemon roasted potatoes

and finally we finished with a cup of tea and some of Margie's amazing peanut butter cookies (with criss-crosses on top and everything ... sadly devoured before pictures could be taken). The evening ended at 8:30 ... but hey, we all have young kids and I'm telling you 8:30 is the new midnight ...

I want to quickly share with you the potato recipe, because it really is amazing ... and I found it in a really good vegan cookbook called Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. Now I don't usually cook vegan-ly because a) I like the basic wholefood-ness of butter and milk (ok, and the taste!) and b) because it's uncertain whether soy is good or bad for people who've had my kind of breast cancer.
(And isn't soy the food staple of vegans?) But I've found some really good recipes in this book that are well suited to anyone. This is one of them.

My New Favourite (Lemon-roasted) Potatoes

This serves 8-10 as a side dish

1 kg-ish scrubbed, peeled, and small-cubed potatoes (keep the peels!)
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves minced garlic
1/2 c lemon juice
the rind of 1 of the lemons (optional)
1/4 c roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
1 c vegetable broth
2 Tbs fresh oregano (or 2 tsp dried)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp tomato paste (or sauce works fine too)
salt and pepper to taste

1. You can use your potato peels to make a great veggie stock, with other veggie odds and ends out of your fridge. Otherwise, it's great compost.

2. Preheat the oven to 190C, 375F.

3. The lemon rind and pumpkin seeds are my addition to the original recipe, and so are optional. I just like using the rind instead of throwing it away. I use my coffee grinder to grind up the rind + seeds into a powder that I use in all kinds of recipes.

4. Mix the oil, garlic, lemon juice, rind+seed powder (if using), veggie broth, oregano, salt and tomato paste in a large roasting pan (or I used a large lasagne dish). Add the potatoes and mix them around in the liquid until they're well coated.

5. Cover the pan with foil (or if you've run out like I did, be creative! I used a baking tray as a lid). Bake the potatoes for around 30-35 min, regularly mixing them around the liquid to keep them moist.

6. Then, remove the foil or lid and roast them another 15 min or so until most of the liquid is gone and the potatoes are starting to go a little brown and crispy. Just a little.

7. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve up!

My photographic assistant

Enjoy! Amanda xx

Friday, April 23, 2010

Easy Peasy Chocolate Spread

Amazing photo by Dylan at SBM Photography 

Tomorrow's Saturday! Yay! And I've got just a few plans for the Anzac Day long weekend ... hmmm ... garden bed building tomorrow and my traditional Anzac Thanksgiving on Monday. What's that? Well I have to be true to my American roots ... but who wants to cook a real Thanksgiving in Brisbane in November? So this is my compromise, it's at least autumn here, and a public holiday. But just wait till next week ... lots of Thanksgiving recipes and pictures!

So of course we'll need some energising food to keep us going ... and what better way to start the day than with chocolate on toast. Now this particular recipe isn't the hazelnut and choc spread you can buy at the shops (and we all know what I'm talking about - check the ingredients label sometime) but my interpretation of one I saw in the natural foods shop. I looked at the ingredients as I always do, and thought - hey! I can make this! Here we go.

Easy Peasy Chocolate Spread

This will easily serve your whole family for brekkie plus you'll have leftovers. Adapt amounts as necessary. This also makes a realllllly yummy frosting for cupcakes or cakes ...

2 Tbs raw cocoa powder
2 Tbs agave syrup (you could try honey but I'm not sure how solid sugar would go ...)
2 Tbs extra virgin coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
dash of sea salt

Mix everything together. Put it in a small dish for serving and a small pot for storing in the fridge. I've kept mine in the fridge for a couple of weeks no worries. I haven't costed this out, but it's not as expensive as the $8 jar at the shops, plus I use these ingredients all the time so always have them on hand.

I'd better go, have to pick up some hardwood sleepers for our new garden! Nothing like having a bunch of timber stacked up in your courtyard to get you motivated ...
Amanda xx

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rustic Parsley Pasta with Lemon Garlic Sauce

Parsley has got to be the most-loved herb in my garden ... by the possums. We actually like parsley, too, but sadly keep having to buy it because our marsupial friends help themselves. Alas.

So, I buy organic parsley at the natural foods store. But invariably end up with a massive bunch that I can't possibly use all at once - how do I make the most of it? Here's my answer - Parsley Pasta. Wait, wait, wait!... even if you have never made your own pasta, you can do this!

Last year I made my own pasta for the very first time (thanks Ben for lending me your pasta machine!) ... and, in fact, I don't think I had ever even had fresh fresh pasta before then! (Here's where I sell you on the idea ... ) Making your own pasta is:
1. actually pretty easy
2. an incredibly yummy treat
3. a fantastic gift (recently I made fresh pasta for friends who had just had a baby)
4. a great way to sneak herbs or veggies into your Little Helper
5. the best way to really enjoy the flavour and texture of pasta.
Worth it.

If any of you out there have a pasta maker tucked away in a cupboard, pull it out and dust it off. But if you don't have one, don't worry - you'll just get a better workout while you make this recipe ... which means of course you can have extra dessert.

Rustic Parsley Pasta with Lemon Garlic Sauce

The ingredients for pasta are really simple and economical. I always make a large batch to save some for another time. So this might seem a little confusing, but I've written a double-batch pasta recipe but only a single-batch sauce.

For the pasta (serves 4 now + 4 later - we'll be saving half)
2 cups minced parsley leaves*
3 1/2 c wholemeal flour plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp salt
4 free-range eggs
1-2 Tbs water

*leaves only, and make sure they are dry if you have just washed them

For the sauce (serves 4, double this if you'll be using all the pasta)
4-5 Tbs butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
juice and zest of 1-2 lemons (depending on taste)
parmesan or pecorino to grate over top

**try to use organic ingredients when you can

The recipe
1. Mince your parsley leaves as finely as you can get them (freeze the stalks in a bag for another time). Put the parsley, flour, salt and eggs in a mixing bowl and mix with a fork (and then your hands) until it starts to look doughy.
2. Add the water 1 Tbs at a time, mixing it into the dough until it starts to form a ball. Then knead it on a well-floured cutting board or benchtop for a minute or two until the dough starts to look smooth-ish (as we did for the crackers a few weeks ago). But realistically, it's never going to be really smooth because it's wholemeal flour studded with parsley. If the dough gets too gooey, just add more flour. (I almost always have to add more flour at the rolling stage anyway). When the dough looks good, just sprinkle it with more flour and set it to the side for a bit.

***Now, if you have a food processor, you can put your minced parsley, flour, salt and eggs into the work bowl and turn it on ... pour in your water 1 Tbs at a time while the processor is running. When the dough balls up, stop adding water and keep processing until the dough is smooth-ish. Take it out and sprinkle it with flour.
NOTE: As I'm a busy mum, I've got to be practical here ... if I'm going to make fresh pasta I won't be spending too long making it look beautiful (but trust me, it will TASTE beautiful). So our noodles will be thick, uneven, and rustic-looking. Which is beautiful in its own way!
3. If you have a pasta maker, I'm going to assume you know more or less how to use it. But basically, you are going to pinch a golf-ball sized amount of dough off the large ball, flatten it slightly between your palms and then run it through your pasta maker on the thickest setting. Sprinkle this massive noodle with flour, fold it in half and run it through another time. Then run it through on the next setting down, and then the next one down from that. I only ever go to about setting 5 for my noodles, but feel free to go thinner if you want. Keep dusting with flour as you go, so the noodles don't stick.
4. If you are doing this by hand, pinch off a golf-ball sized amount of dough and roll it out on a well-floured board. Roll it as thinly as you can get it, and keep dusting with flour as you need to.

5. When you've got all your dough rolled out into lasagne-looking sheets, hang them on a drying rack or lay them out on cookie sheets to dry a little. Then they won't stick together so much when you cut and boil them.

6. This is a great time to make your sauce. Put the butter in a frying pan over med-high heat till it melts, then add the minced garlic and turn the heat down to low. Saute for about 10-15 min until the garlic is soft, but make sure it doesn't get brown or burn (so keep checking and stirring it). Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and zest and a pinch of salt.

7. Put a pot of water on to boil, with a dash of olive oil in it. Make sure it's a really big pot.

8. We'll now cut 1/2 the pasta sheets into thick noodles and the other half we'll leave overnight to dry before storing in an airtight bag in the fridge. (We'll make an amazing lasagne with those this weekend ...)

9. Take each pasta sheet, lay it on the cutting board, sprinkle it with flour and cut into thick strips. They'll be rustically uneven looking. (It may be easier if you roll the sheet up like an enchilada and slice through the roll.)

10. If your water's boiling, add the noodles to the pot and cook only for about 3-4 minutes. Try not to overcook, it really doesn't take long. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, put them into a bowl and toss with the sauce. Sprinkle with freshely grated parmesan or pecorino and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve up with a salad (ours was thinly sliced raw zucchini + olive oil + white wine vinegar + mixed roasted nuts + salt) and a glass of wine!

The Lazy Option
Is of course to finely mince the parsley, add it to the butter and garlic sauce about 2 minutes before you take it off the heat, then add the lemon juice. Boil up some wholemeal pasta, drain it, and mix through with sauce. Add parmesan, salt and pepper to taste. I didn't try it this way, so if you give it a go let me know how it turns out!

The rest of the pasta sheets
In case you missed this in the above recipe, just dry out the rest of the pasta completely (mine usually takes overnight plus much of the next day) and store them in an airtight bag in the fridge. They'll last in there a few weeks if you don't use them first!

How much did this cost me?

I used just over 500g of organic wholemeal flour, which would've cost me $2. The parsley needed to be used up anyway! 4 organic, free-range eggs were $2 ... So 10+ portions of fresh pasta cost me about $4 to make! The amount of organic butter I used in the sauce was about $0.70 (on special), the organic lemon (on special!) was about $0.30, and the organic garlic was about $0.50. I didn't use much cheese, so we'll estimate another $0.50 for that.

So for $6 (plus salad expenses), I got a great pasta dinner plus pasta leftover for a yummy lasagne in a couple of days!
Amanda xx

Friday, April 16, 2010

Toasted Muesli


Yay! It's the weekend! (Well, depending on where you are, almost ... ) Today we awoke to the sounds of the magpies warbling, and the breeze in the leaves, and the neighbours pressure-washing their driveway ... ah well, guess you can't have everything.

So let's make up for that by making our own amazing toasted muesli! Since learning I could make this myself (thanks Skye for inspiring me!) I just can't bring myself to pay $10 for this at a cafe. Even if it comes with "yogurt and seasonal fruit."

I adapted this recipe from Good Housekeeping 101 Easy Recipes Low GI.

Toasted muesli
serves about 15
and will last in the cupboard for a week or two

3 1/2 c rolled oats
1 - 1 1/2 c mixed nuts and seeds, chopped or not*
just less than 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs honey (raw is best) or maple syrup or agave syrup
3/4 - 1 c dried fruit**
optional - 1 -2 Tbs nice brown sugar 
optional - a dash of cinnamon
optional - a tsp of your homemade vanilla extract

*I've used many different combinations of almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, macadamias, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds. All have been great. Sneak a peak at the posh muesli next time you're at the supermarket for some ideas! (and smile to yourself, cuz you won't be buying it)

**Same for the dried fruit- I've used chopped dates, raisins, currants, chopped apricots, chopped figs, cranberries on different occasions. You can really be artistic with your combinations and use up what you have on-hand.

***And as always, get organic where you can.

1. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee. Make sure you have the morning paper on hand.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C, 280F. Line a tray with baking paper. 

3. Mix all the oats with the seeds/nuts in a bowl. If you're using honey, heat it for a few seconds so it liquifies a bit. If you're using one of the syrups, you don't have to do this. Pour the oil and honey (or whatever) into the oats/seeds/nuts mix and stir till it's well combined and all the oats are moist. If you like it a little sweeter (or are giving this as a present) you might like to stir in some optional brown sugar or cinnamon or vanilla at this point too.

4. Spread the oats in a thin layer on the tray and put in the oven. Relax with your cuppa and the paper. But stay nearby because you have to keep an eye on this ...  make sure the muesli doesn't burn! As the oats turn golden, keep turning them on the tray so they brown uniformly. Brekky should be ready in about 20 - 30 minutes. (I often do muesli-baking at the same time as muffins, saves on electricity)

5. When the muesli is done, take it out of the oven and let it cool a little bit. Then stir in the dried fruit and put into a large airtight storage jar (and your bowls!)

6. I usually have this with a nice organic full-fat milk, but on occasion do a bit of flash presentation and I put layers of toasted muesli with yogurt and jam in a small glass (so you can see the layers, it's really pretty). 

How much did this cost me?

I get my organic oats in bulk at 3 kgs for $14, so the oats in this recipe cost me about $1.40. Now the cost of the muesli is going to vary quite a lot depending on what kind of nuts/seeds/dried fruit you use. We'll estimate that organic add-ins cost $2-$3 total. (I usually stock up on whatever organic nut or seed type is cheap at the moment, or on sale. And 'pieces' are great because they are already chopped for you, and are usually cheaper!) The organic oil and honey ran me just over $1.50. So ...  drum roll ...  I estimate this massive amount of toasted muesli cost me less than $6 to make! Easy peasy.

PS This makes a gorgeous gift - it's a real treat!

Have a lovely Saturday,
Amanda xx

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Recycled Sweet Potato Hot Chocolate / Popsicles

Would you believe I've still got sweet potato puree left over?? I'll freeze the rest today, but since it's getting cool and crisp in the evenings I first wanted to use it to make some hot chocolate.

This is super creamy, super delicious, super good for you stuff - trust me!

If you have kids or picky eaters at home you must must must check out the cookbook I adapted this from: it's called Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food
... it's all about sneaking healthy things (which can often be leftovers) into family favorites. Love it!

And, would you check out this amazing photo? My next door neighbour Dylan is a great photographer and came over to do a chocolate-inspired photo shoot. (Sadly, we learned that day that it IS possible to have too much chocolate!)

Now, if this pic doesn't make you want to have a hot chocolate, I don't know what will ...

Photo by SBM Photography 

Recycled Sweet Potato Hot Chocolate
Recycled Sweet Potato Popsicles

1 1/4 c milk (whatever kind you have)
1/2 c sweet potato puree
2 Tbs fair-trade cocoa powder
1 Tbs agave syrup or organic raw sugar or honey
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon (if you want)

*use organic ingredients when you can

1. First, go out and buy yourself a good quality organic, fair-trade cocoa powder. Be sure it's unsweetened! Mine was also raw cocoa, which is higher in antioxidants than the processed version. You may have to go to your local natural foods store, but it's fantastic stuff and really not all that expensive relative to regular supermarket brands.

*Also, cocoa powder is much cheaper to cook with than chocolate and much less suspicious than cooking chocolate (which often seems to have weird ingredients in it). So, we'll be using it a lot!

Ok, ok, if you have some regular cocoa powder at home, go ahead and use that up!

2. Got your cocoa powder? Here we go - put everything in a blender and blend.

3. Put your blended chocolate into a saucepan and simmer, or pour it into mugs and pop it in the microwave. This recipe serves 2.

4. I served mine with some grated white chocolate on top and a side of chocolate pieces, but this may be why we over-chocolated ourselves ... so you can have it with or without.

5. If you prefer a cooler version, pour the blended chocolate into popsicle trays** and put it in the freezer. I did this with my leftover hot chocolate (after it had cooled down) and it made amazing pudding/custard-like pops.

** Popsicle trays are another must for a thrifty organic household ... leftover smoothy, yogurt, hot chocolate, juice, and so on can all be made into gorgeous popsicles. I even freeze carrot juice for Nelle, and she loves it!

So wherever you live in the world, treat yourself to a thick, steamy cup of hot chocolate, or a cool, drippy chocolate popsicle. Enjoy!
Amanda xx

Monday, April 12, 2010

Recycled Sweet Potato Scones

Last night for dinner I made a sweet potato and pear and prune mash that was really yummy (if you're interested, just boil or steam 4 cubed sweet potatoes, 1-2 cubed pears and 15 pitted prunes together, then mash with salt and butter).

It was super yummy except that I tried to sneak a dash of cinnamon in, and Robbie detected it ... he's not a fan, and I'm always trying to get away with it ...

So the rest of the mash was rejected by the Cinnamon Hater, but we had heaps of leftovers.

What to do with all my beautiful, organic sweet potato mash?

I found the perfect recipe in a vegan-ish cookbook that was actually the first cookbook I ever purchased: The American Vegetarian Cookbook from the Fit for Life Kitchen and adapted it to be not-quite-so vegan. I love butter too much!

Recycled Sweet Potato Scones

2 c whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c cold, cubed butter
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
1 c  mashed sweet potatoes or pumpkin or yams*
2 Tbs milk (if necessary)
*mine of course have the offending cinnamon in them already, feel free to add some if you want
**try to use organic ingredients when you can

1. Preheat the oven to 200C, 400F. Line a baking sheet or pizza stone with baking paper.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the butter cubes and crumble it together with your fingers till it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the oil and mix. Then add the potatoes and mix.

3. It should be a sticky dough ... if it's not, add a little bit of milk. I didn't need to, as my mash was super moist already.

4. Roll little balls of dough about 2 in (5 cm) in circumference, put them on the tray and flatten them slightly. You should get 12 or more scones this way.

5. Put them in the oven for 15-20 min. Let them cool slightly, but not too much! You want them to be nice and warm to melt the butter you'll put on them.

6. These come out (as my friend Justine would say) "stern." So, super-kid friendly as they are. But I melted butter and drizzled honey on mine and they were perfect and not-so-stern anymore. By the way, C.H. didn't mind or taste the cinnamon in the baked version!

Amanda xx

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coconut Make up Remover and Cleanser

My mother in law, Jeannie, and I have totally bonded over thrift stores/op shops/charity shops ... whatever you want to call the magical places where you get to sort through racks and shelves of other people's junk in search of treasures. And you are giving money to charity at the same time! What a concept.

Today at a charity shop in Paddington, Jeannie found a tiara headband and a flowery skirt for my lucky girl (to match the fairy wings that have already been bought ...), and I found these gorgeous little bottles. I think they'll be perfect for some of the cleansers and moisturisers I've started making.

"What?!" you say ... yes, I've started making my own beauty products. It's actually pretty easy. When I got cancer a couple years ago I had a good look at chemicals in my life, and (I'll be honest with you) beauty products are pretty bad as far as chemicals go. Look at the back of any moisturiser bottle and you'll see what I mean ... So I started buying organic cleansers and shampoos and moisturisers, but they can be a bit expensive.

Last month I finally got up the courage to try some recipes from a book on my shelf called Bodyworks: Restoring Wellbeing with Homemade Lotions, Potions and Balms. I'll never look back!

One of the most magical ingredients for cleaning your skin is Coconut Oil. I'd never bought it before this, but now I love it. It has a gorgeous light coconutty scent, it's wonderful for the skin, it tastes great, and it's meant to be good for your immunity and health. And I got a 500 mL jar of organic coconut oil (above) for $8 that will last me for ages.

Here are two of my new standards (adapted from Bodyworks: Restoring Wellbeing with Homemade Lotions, Potions and Balms) for you to try ... I recommend you give them a go for yourself then start saving jars for Mother's Day presents!

NOTE: See if you can get virgin coconut oil ... less processing is generally better.

Coconut Make Up Remover

3 Tbs coconut oil
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or apricot kernel oil
*Try to use organic ingredients when you can

Put the oils in a small pot or jar,  and mix them. Dip a cotton ball in the mixed oil and gently wipe your eye area. Rinse off with water and follow with your regular cleansing regime. This will cost you less than $1 a batch.

NOTE: It's best to make homemade beauty products in small quantities, to keep them fresh. Try to get organic ingredients when you can, you deserve it! Also try to store them out of the light (which can oxidise some oils) and use a fresh cotton ball or Qtip each time.

Coconut Honey Cleanser

5 Tbs coconut oil
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil or apricot kernel oil
2-3 tsp boiled water
2 tsp (raw if you can find it) honey
10 drops lavender essential oil*

*Always keep essential oils out of the reach of children
**Try to use organic ingredients when you can

As I learned this morning (having freshly run out of cleanser), there are two ways to make this cleanser:

1. The original way, which is much like making mayonnaise … in which you slowly drizzle a warmed water/honey mix into the warmed oils as you stir, stir, stir. Keep stirring. Drizzle slowly. It should thicken as it cools and you’ll have a beautiful creamy cleanser. (But I’ve never been good at making mayonnaise …). Add the essential oils at the end.
2.  The lazy way!
Put all the ingredients into a small bottle or pot and shake, shake, shake! This doesn’t give you a creamy cleanser, but let’s be practical here … when you want to throw this together while your two year old is pulling on your pajama leg it doesn’t really matter if it’s creamy or not. If you do this the lazy way, though, just be sure to shake your cleanser before each time you use it as the honey tends to like to remove itself from the mix.

Also, I was up for something different and added lemon essential oil instead of lavender. Zing!

This cleanser feels a little oily when you rinse it off, but I find that by the time I've dried my face with a towel it feels amazing and not oily at all. In my estimation this organic cleanser will cost you around $2.00 per batch.

I hope you enjoy giving these a try! More to come ... and I'll work on some great coconut oil food recipes too!
Amanda xx

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easy Fancy Olive Oil Crackers

Sometimes by the time Sunday rolls around I’ve got that eaten-too-much feeling. You know it? Maybe it was the French bakery visit Saturday morning…or the chocolate cake photo shoot (!) … or the red wine and creamy pasta Saturday night…

At any rate, by the time Sunday evening comes around I want something light-ish, easy, and maybe even something I could send with Robbie to work for lunch the next couple of days. 

Here’s a great recipe for artisan-type crackers that would cost you a gazillion dollars were you to buy them at the shop. I originally got the recipe from the great, great, great blog 101 Cookbooks. Since first seeing the recipe, I've played around with different flour types and toppings...  The original recipe uses semolina, which is really yummy but a little more expensive. So, your choice really.

We had this batch with a few dips (hummus, baba ganoush, pumpkin) for dinner and then slathered with peanut butter for a snack the next day! These look (and taste) great with cheese platters and antipasto too.

Easy Fancy Olive Oil Crackers

1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 c warm water
1/3 c olive oil

*You can use all white or all wheat flour or kamut or spelt… just adjust moisture of dough in step 2.
**Try to use organic ingredients when you can

  1. Mix flour and salt in a large bowl, then add water and olive oil. Mix with a fork until the dough starts sticking together, then use your hands. Once you can get the dough into a ball-like shape, take it out of the bowl and knead it on a lightly floured bench top (or cutting board).

  1. You are only going to have to knead until the dough is smooth (see the photo). It won’t take long, I promise. I’m not a big fan of kneading, so trust me when I say this is really minimal here. If it’s too sticky (as in, it adheres to your hands) then add a little bit more flour. If it’s too dry (as in, it crumbles) then add a little bit more water.
3. If you can, let your dough rest for around 30-60 min (cover it with a clean tea towel). But I’m impatient, so I’ve done this without letting it rest at all and the crackers have been fine.

4. Preheat oven to 200 C, 450 F.

5. Divide dough into 12-ish balls, then one by one roll them out as thinly as you can. If you have a pasta maker, use it on the thickest setting (mine is “7”) for really great, shall I say "meaty" crackers in no time at all. (The original recipe goes for much thinner ones but I like mine to have a certain heft to them.) Don’t worry about making them look perfect … I remember having thick, curvy crackers with dips as an appetizer at a fancy restaurant and the rustic look was great.

6. Lay your rolled out crackers on a warmed pizza stone or baking paper-lined tray, prick them a couple times with a fork (so they don’t puff) and put them in the oven for about 10 min till they’re lovely and golden.

7. Feel free to add seeds or salt or herbs or whatever to these before you put them in the oven. Experiment! I recommend smushing the toppings into the dough a bit, as I've had issues with toppings sliding off after baking. 

8. These will keep for a week or so in a sealed container.

How much did they cost?

I bought organic white ($2.95/kg) and whole wheat ($3.95/kg) flour from the bulk section of my local natural foods store—the flour used in this recipe cost less than $1.50. The organic olive oil was a bulk refill from the same shop, and the amount used here cost around $1.00. So, if you want to save money on fancy crackers (which run around $8 for a pack of 6!), try making them yourself. Believe me, you will seriously impress your family and friends!

Amanda xx

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Easter Goodie Eggs

Happy Easter Everyone!

We're planning to spend Easter Sunday at Grammy and Grandpa's house... complete with egg hunt and roast lunch and one of our friend Bill's amazing home-brews...

We've done our best these 2 1/2 years to keep Nelle from becoming a sugar addict... and Grammy has been an angel in sticking to the 'rules' (contrary to every one of her grandmotherly tendencies). This year she's even doing hand-painted boiled eggs for the egg hunt!

So in the spirit of Easter I was inspired to make a special treat for Nelle that still doesn't involve chocolate. Basically these are Goodie Balls rolled into a vaguely egg-like shape.... Have fun, you'll get your hands messy!


Happy Easter Goodie Eggs

1/2 c pitted dates*
2 dried figs*
peeled rind of 1/2 orange
1/3 c water
1/2 c shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 c oats
1/2 almonds (or whatever you have on hand; a mix of nuts and seeds is fine)

*If you don't have these, try prunes or dried apricots
**try to get organic ingredients when you can

1. Put the dried fruit, orange peel and water into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer until the fruit is mushy and has soaked up most of the water. I've used orange rind because I like the idea of using a part of the fruit that doesn't normally get used, but you can substitute orange juice for the water if you prefer.

2. Meanwhile, toast the coconut over a medium heat until it's golden. Put it into a large mixing bowl.

3. Scrape out the pan and toast the nuts over med heat until golden. Grind into a powder in your blender or coffee grinder. Add to the mixing bowl.

4. Grind the oats into a fine powder too, and add to the bowl.

5. If your fruit is ready, carefully remove the rind (it's done its job now) and blend the mushy fruit in a blender or food processor. If it gets too sticky add a Tbs of orange juice or water. Add to the mixing bowl.

6. Now it's time to get your hands dirty! Making sure you aren't going to burn yourself on hot fruit, start mushing all the ingredients together. Squeeze the moist bits in with the dry bits. (Great job for Little Helpers!) When it's done you should be able to shape the mush into balls or eggs or whatever you like. Keep them in the fridge and they'll last quite awhile (unless of course they get eaten!)

7. You could try wrapping little Goodie Eggs in foil so they look alarmingly like chocolates.... I may even save some of those pretty colored foils from any chocolates I may happen upon this year....

NOTE: There is a reason why these are often sold with the coconut or some finely chopped nuts on the outside ... they may be considered unattractive to some! So if you have trouble convincing your Little or friends to try them, just roll the ball/egg/whatever in some toasted coconut or crushed toasted nuts before serving. 

Amanda xx