Friday, July 30, 2010

Making Time

I read an article recently about the relative value people place on time versus money. It talked about a research study where they had two lemonade stands, one telling people to "spend a little time and have a lemonade" and the other telling people to "spend a little money and have a lemonade".

Which would you pick?

Well, in the study more people bought a lemonade when it was time they were thinking about. And they were willing to give more money for the same lemonade. I think I would've chosen the same ... I've always got people telling me to spend money, but what I often need is someone to tell me - hey, take some time out. Enjoy this moment.

This got me thinking ... why are we more likely to make time for TV shows than preparing family dinners? I know, it's because we're tired after a long day at work ... and the kids are bored and hungry ... and so on ...  But shouldn't food be a priority? Food that goes into every cell in our body ... that affects our moods and the way we think ... that we need to survive ... (and even Lost is debatable as necessary to survival)

So - here it is -
take. some. time. out.

Making Time

Here's my recipe for making time for food:

1. Involve the family

Personally, I like the idea of my daughter touching real fresh fruit and vegetables before they're peeled or boiled or whatever, or learning how to make spaghetti or crack eggs. Isn't real life better than watching Dora the Explorer for an hour? If she learns about food, and where it comes from, and what you do with it, won't that teach her better eating habits than if she sees food coming out of packets all the time? And won't cooking foster her senses of independence and creativity?

I know, from personal experience, that cooking takes longer when my 2 1/2 year old is helping me. But she's happy, and we're doing something together ...

2. Meditate

Making food is a great time to zone out. You know all those times you feel worried or stressed or overworked or financially drained or underappreciated or (insert your usual stress here) ? And your head is filled with negative thoughts that won't go away?

Slow down. Chop vegetables. Roll pasta. Knead dough. Think little, if at all.

This isn't time-wasting - it's good for you to clear your head of all the crap once in awhile. You'll feel better, guarantee it.

3. Be efficient

I enjoy going to the farmer's market to buy what's in season ... it's kind of a family tradition. But it's probably more efficient for me to get my box of fruit and veggies delivered direct once every two weeks (which I do), full of all the stuff that's on the go at the moment.

It's cheaper if you plan meals around what's in season, and abundant. But, if you want to make more time for good food, you might find it easier to think ahead. What are you going to do with that kilo of beets? Or the bag of apples? What can you cook ahead on Sunday that you can eat during the week, or freeze? Can you make extra portions and trade dinner nights with friends (or freeze them? or keep for lunch?)

If you think, and plan, you'll also waste less food (which is a good thing!)

A few key pieces of equipment can help with efficiency, too. Slow cookers (or crockpots) are fantastic - for such a small amount of work you get to come home from work to an amazing stew or soup or sauce ...  And pressure cookers will cook things sooooo fast. Even beans, which can take ages (!!) I got mine at the op-shop for $15, and it's already paid for itself!


So, here's to the home-cooked family dinner. And making time.
Amanda xx

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ode to Iowa Sweet Corn

Iowa. This is where I'm from, and of course I'll always have a fondness for the things I grew up with. Though I no longer eat Iowa beef, or Iowa pork, or even soy ... ok, so that leaves me with corn. 

But ahhhhhhh .... Iowa sweet corn is in a league all of its own. You don't even need butter for corn like this. Just shuck, boil for about 7 minutes, and eat. Love it. 


Amanda xx

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two-Minute Tostadas

We all have those days - those am. hungry. now. days. You know, when you're too hungry to think of anything to make? Here's a great go-to recipe for those times. Really, all you need is a few key ingredients on-hand and you're saved.

Two-Minute Tostadas

serves 2 if you're ravenous (4 if you're not)

4 (2.5 cm/ 6 in) corn tostada shells*
1 x 400g can of beans (pinto, black, kidney, refried, a mix ... whatever you've got)
1/3 c of your favourite salsa
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt (but only if your beans are unsalted ... )
1/2 - 3/4 c shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella ... whatever you've got)
4 handfuls of washed baby spinach leaves
2 tomatoes, chopped
4 dollops of organic sour cream

*Try to get organic when you can, and GMO-free corn shells.

1. Drain and rinse the beans, then heat them up in a pan or the microwave. Add the cumin and salt and mash up the beans slightly. If you're using refried beans, no need to mash.

2. Pull out your tostada shells and assemble (distribute evenly among the 4)

tostada shell ... beans ... salsa ... cheese ... baby spinach ... tomato chunks ... sour cream

3. Be sure you have some napkins at hand!

How much did this cost?

Well, I made this on my holiday in the States, so it's a little unfair to cost everything. But it's cheap and fast and the spinach really adds a hit of pick-me-up iron. So, perfect for those hunger-emergencies! I made this batch with some tomatoes picked out of a family-friend's garden - they were the star of the dish. Thanks, Sheryl!

Have a lovely week!
Amanda xx

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grandma Juletta's Banana Bread

There's something about going back to where you grew up ... no matter that I live thousands of miles and an ocean away, I'm still connected to this little town on the Mississippi River. I haven't been back in the summertime since ... well, I can't remember when. But I'm so glad we're here! 

Iowa is miles and miles of cornfields, filter coffee, and thunderstorms so strong they shake the house. Iowa has the best sweetcorn in the world. Dad picks zucchini and cucumbers and blackberries out of the garden, red-winged blackbirds warble along all the roadsides. My surviving toys from decades ago are pulled out of the attic for Nelle ... And I get to enjoy some of Mom's baking. 

For example, her banana bread. I grew up with this, got it sent to me when I went away to university, and love having it everytime I'm home. It was actually my mom's mom's recipe ... and it's really simple. I've modified it slightly, because I don't believe in vegetable shortening* and I prefer raw sugar to processed sugar.

*why not? 
1. it's heavily processed and unnatural 
2. it contains soybean oil, and after breast cancer I try to avoid hidden soy as much as possible 
3. it also contains cottonseed oil, and cotton is a crop that's typically sprayed with lots of pesticides

Anyway, butter tastes better!

Grandma Juletta's Banana Bread

makes 1 large loaf or several small loaves or 12 or so muffins
serves 8-12, depending on how generous you feel

1/2 c organic butter
2 eggs
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 over-ripe bananas, mashed (and don't try to cheat by using un-mushy ones, it's not as good)
1 1/2 c unbleached plain flour
1/2 c wholemeal flour* or you can use all unbleached plain flour if you want
1/2 c minced nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, macadamia ... or a mix of them)

*try to use organic ingredients when you can!

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (375F).

2. Mix sugar and butter until fluffy, then beat in eggs.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients, blending in gently (try not to overmix).

4. Grease your baking tin with butter and pour in the batter. Bake for about 1 hr until the top is browned but still a little squishy.

5. Take it out of the oven, let it cool a bit and then serve with butter and a cup of tea! Or spread with chocolate spread ... 

How much did this cost me?

This is a great way to use up mushy bananas! So if you have some ageing bananas you need to use, those'll be free, right? At home organic raw sugar costs me about $0.60 and eggs are $0.50 each. Organic flour should cost around $2 and organic butter will be around $2 as well. The cost of organic nuts will depend on what kind you use, but we'll say around $0.80 if you buy them bulk. So, my large loaf of organic banana bread cost me ... $6.40. Ok, not the cheapest baking we've done ... but easy and quick to put together and still less than buying 2 muffins at the bakery! Plus, if you get your kids to help out you've got some entertainment sorted out ...

Thanks Grandma!
Amanda xx

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Easy Peasy Veggie Stock

I hate wasting food. I mean, isn't it just like wasting money? I like the idea of using every little bit of something ... And the notion of making the most out of what you have really hit home to me when I travelled through Poland recently.

Now, don't get me wrong - Poland as I saw it is amazing. Krakow, Zakopane, Warsaw. Especially Warsaw. The food. The friendliness. The beer. The cobblestone streets. The affordability. The historic town centres. The spirit of the people. The fact that Warsaw was flattened in WWII and then rebuilt from rubble.

But the traditional food we ate in Poland is frugal-food.  Largely based around potatoes, sauerkraut, pickled veg, light rye bread, wild mushrooms and kefir-soured milk (and meat, too ... but as you know, not my thing). I love this kind of food because it's cheap and good for you and wholefood-based ... perfect for making the most out of what you have at hand. And that's the way we try to live.

So, in the spirit of frugal living, today I thought I'd share with you a recipe that is truly anti-waste. I hope will become an easy, yummy staple in your house, too!

Easy Peasy Veggie Stock

makes 2-3 L of stock

Veggie bits and pieces
Herbs bits and pieces
Leftover gulps of white wine
Dried bay leaves
Water, preferably filtered

*As always, try to use organic when you can! The spirit of this stock is in getting the most nutritive and economic value out of our food. Just make sure it's all washed first :)

AND, if you're worried about time - seriously, this is easier than driving to the shops to get some stock. Take a little time to do this, and you'll be glad you did.

1. Start saving tops and ends and stalks and peels from veggies and herbs that you're cooking with. Keep them in a jar in the fridge for up to a few days. Just before you're ready to make your stock, add in any veggies that look like they are nearing the end of their days ... zucchini that's starting to go woody, carrots with funny patches (cut those off), and so on ...

Of course you can use fresh, unadulterated veggies. Just wash them and chop them! But here are some great additions to your stock that you might have otherwise thrown out:

carrot peels or ends
celery tops 
onion or leek or spring onion tips or skins
mushroom stems
root vegetable parings
coriander, parsley
bean-soaking water
potato-cooking water
apple or lemon peels
the hard stalky bit* in lettuces, greens, cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower
*but sadly the leaves and flowery bits of lettuce/greens/cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower can be a bit too strong for your stock. Best to leave them out or use only in moderation. Also, don't overdo tomatoes.

you get the idea!

NOTE: I don't salt my stock but feel free to add a tsp or 2 if you want to.

2. Do you have a slow-cooker? If so, just put about 5-7 c of veggies + 3 bay leaves + 10 peppercorns + 1/4-1/3c of white wine + 2-3 L filtered water into your cooker (actual amounts will depend on how big it is ... ). Turn it on low and leave it for the day! 

3. If you don't have a slow-cooker, just put everything into a large pot. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 3-4 hrs. Longer is better, for more intense flavour.

4. Done? Ok, now you have to filter out any particles and store your stock. I usually use a French press coffee pot for the filtering, but you can use cheesecloth/muslin or coffee filters or anything handy. 

If you will be using the stock within a few days, you can filter it hot into sterilised bottles. I use old passata bottles (as pictured) and wash them in hot soapy water, then dry them in an oven set to 120C (250F). Store in the fridge and use within a few days or so.

For long-term storage, let the stock cool before you filter it into dishes to put into the freezer. If you measure it out then you'll have pre-measured portions to use whenever you need to! I usually do 2c, 1c and ice-cube tray portions ... you never know when stock will come in handy ... Frozen stock will last 3 months or so, but you'll use it before then!

How much did this cost me?

I almost always use organic veggies and herbs that I have on-hand - and usually the off-cuts I would've otherwise thrown away. So, free!

Have a lovely week!
Amanda xx

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Ain't Pumpernickel Bread

Amazing photo by Dylan of SBM Photography 

Now, lest you think this is some kind of dark and heavy rye-based bread, perfect for sauerkraut and cheese sandwiches ... I will just point out the cup of tea in the background. Any guesses? Hmmm...

It's Chocolate Bread. Would you believe it? It's like regular bread you'd have toasted with butter and jam for breakfast, except with a beautiful little hint of chocolate. Just enough to make that strawberry jam or that orange marmalade taste even better.

Love it. Chocolate for breakfast. Again.

This Ain't Pumpernickel Bread

Adapted from Tess Kiros' lovely Apples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook

Makes 1 loaf

3 1/3 c unbleached plain flour
1/3 c raw cocoa powder
1 1/4 c warm milk (body temperature - too hot and you'll kill the yeasts, too cold and they won't wake up)
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp dried yeast
3 Tbs olive oil or melted butter
a pinch of salt

*Try to use organic ingredients if you can.

1. Do you have a breadmaker? If you do, this is super easy. By the way, I got mine at a secondhand shop 6 years ago and it's still serving me well. So good. Pull it out of the cupboard, and dust it off. Put all the ingredients in it and hit 'start'.

2. If not, it'll just take a little muscle ... but not too much! Mix the yeast and sugar and warm milk in a bowl. When the yeast starts foaming, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well, until the dough starts to come together. Then turn it out on a floured benchtop or board and knead for about 5 min until it's smooth and elastic. Put the dough back into a bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place until the dough doubles in size (about 1-2 hrs).

3. Punch down the dough and put it into a greased bread pan. Cover the pan and dough with a dish towel and let rise for 30 min - 1 hr, until the dough is airy and puffy again. Preheat the oven to 170C, 350F.

4. When it's ready, put the dough in the oven and bake it for about 25 min. You'll know it's done when you tap it and it sounds hollow. Cool and eat. But not with sauerkraut.

How much did this cost me?

All the ingredients in my loaf were organic . The flour was $1.50 and the cocoa was $0.70. The milk and butter were about $0.65 each. The sugar and yeast and salt weren't much at all. So, a loaf of organic chocolate bread costs about $3.50. About the cost of a chocolate muffin, only way better for you!

Last time I made this was for a brunch with friends, and we had chocolate bread with jam and butter and yogurt/toasted muesli parfaits and muffins. We sat around the living room and drank hot coffee and caught up on life with little kiddies ...
what a great morning!

Hope you have a lovely one too,
Amanda xx

Friday, July 9, 2010

Quickie Crispy Salad

Here's a quickie salad ... full of crispness and colour and creamy mayonnaise . How can you beat that? And when you read this I should be in the world epicentre of cabbage - Eastern Europe! Can't wait ...

Quickie Crispy Salad

Serves 2-3 as a main

1 c finely sliced/chopped red cabbage
2 celery sticks, chopped as thinly as possible
2 small crisp apples (mine were pink), finely chopped
1/2 c fresh mayonnaise
handful of fresh chives, minced
1/2 c roasted cashews, slightly crushed
salt to taste

1. Mix everything together, except for the cashews - which are best sprinkled over after you've put the salad onto plates (otherwise they get soggy).

2. Eat, with some well-buttered bread.

And as this is a holiday post, I'm not going to cost it out ... but needless to say if you drag yourself out of bed on Saturday or Sunday, and head down to the farmers' markets, it won't cost you much. Well, this salad won't ... but I can't promise you won't spend heaps on other goodies! Or it may be a good way to use up some produce in your fridge ... that's what I did!

Do widzenia,
Amanda xx

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eating + Drinking in Prague (oh, and Some Walking, Too)

If you're new to Easy Peasy Organic, this post is a little bit atypical. So please don't get the wrong idea! Even though I'm still writing recipes and sharing ideas for organic living, I also wanted to share with you some of my adventures overseas. I hope you enjoy reading along!


Robbie had a conference in Prague, so Nelle and I tagged along ... and what did I think about Prague? Loved it. The day changed so much from beginning to end ... the days began quiet and ended loud. You'll see what I mean ...

We woke ourselves up with a coffee and bread or pastry or (one morning) a full breakfast. These were my favourite places, the bakeries and the cafes. Peaceful early on, with just-watered flowers and gardens and the smell of summer.

Gingerbread with cranberry sauce at the historic restaurant Obecni dum

Coffee and crossaints at the inspiring bakery Bakeshop

Cafe latte in the garden at au Gourmand, which has an amazing philosophy (see pic). My favourite cafe in Prague!

Prague's a great city for getting lost ... even if you're not navigationally challenged, it's one of those places (like Brisbane, where I live) where the city centre is bounded by a curving river. So you can't direct yourself 'toward the river' (like I'm always inclined to do, having grown up along the Mississippi). Ah well, we had good shoes and our wanderings found us some amazing toy stores and marionette shops and parks and hidden plazas and even a couple lovely organic shops.

Nelle got herself a little mouse-and-cheese toy (he loops and loops through - how cute!!)

Lunch was usually just something to tide us over till dinner ... salad or baguette or a packet of organic sauerkraut (oops, it just kind of fell onto my plate ... ). Awhile back, Robbie worked for a bit in Europe, and ever since I've known him he's talked about the baguettes here ad nauseum a lot ... it was only last year I figured out what he meant! Belgium, France - yum yum yum. Chewy and crusty and very special. Especially with brie. Did I say yum? So, we had to give them a go in Czech Republic ... and weren't disappointed. 

I loved my brie baguette at au Gourmand

In the afternoons, Nelle and I played and napped and ate beautiful produce from the markets and watched the Barefoot Contessa on cable ... and were always ready to hit the cobblestones again by the time Robbie got home. 

I love the produce in Europe ... what is it that makes it so amazing?

My baby has a well-earned sleep

Prague in the evening was busy with people - outside tables full of cheap beers and loud conversation (and one evening, crazy German world cup fans with vuvuzelas), questionable music blaring from restaurants and shops. We walked through lanes with a chocolate museum or torture museum or museum of sex machines (not kidding) or with busy shopfronts, full of knickknacks and t-shirts. 

This Iowa girl does miss the long evenings of summertime - in Brisbane we're too close to the equator for twilight beer gardens. So we enjoyed our beers and pizzas in the fading sunlight and then fell straight into bed with exhaustion.

Pizza and beer and pretzels ... ah ...

Beer and dumplings ... ah again ...

Don't worry, I'm still a vegetarian!                             
But Robbie enjoyed his traditional pork-knee dinner on our last night.
And it had a kind of meaty beauty to it.

And finally, it was time to pack up and hop on the train to Poland ... but that's a story for another day!

Amanda xx

PS. Thanks to our gorgeous friend Justine for walking, walking, walking with us everyday; and to Frank and Craig and Anders and Jonas for some lovely meals together :) 

Friday, July 2, 2010

After Work No-Work Roasted Tomato Sauce

Unless they're leaking all over the floor or walking on their own, I reckon never, ever walk past a pack of marked-down tomatoes. They're usually perfectly ripe for cooking and are just crying for love and basil and pasta ... what a shame if they ended up in a bin.

Now, if you're thinking - yeah right, but who has time to cook up a tomato sauce after work? The key, my dear, is in the roasting. We wash, we cut, we mix and then ... we get to do something else for 40 min. Play with the kids, do some yoga, fold the laundry, whatever. All because we let the oven do the work for us. How good is that?

After Work No-Work Roasted Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

1 kg (about 2 1/2 lbs) ripe tomatoes, halved
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 med red onion, diced
1 tsp dried basil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt

+4 serves of pasta

*As always, try to use organic ingredients when you can.

1. Preheat the oven to 160C.

2. Toss everything into a roasting pan and mix well.

3. Roast for about 40 min until the tomatoes are mushy under your fork. Turn off the oven and leave them to gradually cool a bit, then mash them (or you could put them in a blender)

4. Boil 4 serves of pasta according to the packet directions (or make your own ...), mix through a hearty portion of the tomato sauce and grate parmesan over top to taste.

5. Serve with a glass of vino and a crispy green salad and some good company.

* Note - real chefs would encourage you to take the skins and seeds out, but I find I don't have time for that. If your sauce comes out a little runny (because your tomatoes were very juicy), just add a Tbs of tomato paste. And just make sure you mash/blend/chop the skins well.

How much did this cost me?

All of my ingredients were organic. I got a 1kg bag of organic tomatoes for $2 - they were marked down, and the red onion was a donation from some friends who had a surplus. The olive oil cost me around $0.60 and the herbs and vinegar would've cost less than $0.40. So, a total of $3 for my quick-roasted tomato sauce.

Amanda xx