Sunday, February 27, 2011

Easy Peasy Sweet Potato Muffins

Muffins on Mondays make me really happy. 
Almost as much as an icy cold beer (in a freeze-your-fingers-cold glass) on a sweltering afternoon. 
Or a creamy affogato and a new Gourmet Traveller on a sunny Sunday morning. 
Or a tangy, fresh mango lassi after a tough Bikram class. 
Or a wedge of good, organic chocolate ... just about anytime ...

And even better? When my little start-of-the-week treat is good for me, too. When I can pack it in Nelle's lunchbox for kindy. (Ah, what a good mummy I am ... ) When I can slip one into my bag to take to work.

Oh yes, yummy and multifunctional.

Easy Peasy Sweet Potato Muffins
makes ~12

The time
10 min prep + 15-20 min baking  + 10 min cooling

The ingredients
2 free-range eggs, preferably organic
1/2 c olive oil (light or extra virgin are fine)
1 tsp vanilla
1 c rapadura sugar*
3 c grated (raw) sweet potato**
1 c ground cashews or almonds
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 c wholemeal (or wholewheat) flour

NOTE: Rosie in the comments (below) substituted gluten-free flour for wholemeal, with excellent results - feel free to do so, too, if you're GF

*Or substitute brown sugar

**My favourite part of this recipe is that it uses grated sweet potato - as in, all the nutritional benefit with zero advance planning. But saying that, I have also successfully used leftover sweet potato puree - substitute 2c of puree

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 160C, and line muffin tins with papers (or oil them)

2. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, oil and vanilla. Then add the sugar and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the sweet potato and cashews and mix again.

3. Add the baking powder, cinnamon, salt and flour and mix to combine.

NOTE: I do all my muffin mixing by hand ... that way I keep better control over the mixed-ness. You don't want to over-mix batters like this or they'll be a little flat upon baking. So just combine everything to the point that ingredients are blended nicely and you don't have flour sticking to the side of the bowl.

4. Spoon the batter into the muffin papers - so that each is about 2/3 full. Put the muffin tins into the oven for about 15-20 min, or until the tops of the muffins are golden and ever-so-slightly crispy - and when a skewer inserted into the centre of the muffin comes out clean.

5. Let the muffins cool for about 10 minutes before de-papering them and slathering them with fresh, organic butter. 

And ... have a lovely week!
Amanda xx

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Emergency Baked Beans

Nelle was destined to love beans. After all, we started calling her 'Bean' when she was only ... well, about as big as one. By the time she was born, we struggled to call her by her new, official name. She'd been Bean for so long ...

And now, she's 'Nelle' to a tee. As if she always was. As if the name was made for her.

And my Nelle skips into pre-school a couple times a week (called 'kindy' here in Australia). She still gives me a kiss before I go, no matter who's around. She still drops her puzzle pieces and bounds over - arms open wide - when I come to pick her up. 'Mummy! Mummy!'

But she's so ... big.

this is all going too quickly ...
(Hey, Time? Can you hear me? Slow. Down)

What can I say? Once she was Bean. Now they're her favourite after-school snack. And see that cute, smiling face there? I like to keep it like that ... it makes my life much easier ... and happier.

So, sometimes, when we get home from a hard day's play and there are no baked beans to be found in the cupboard ...
I have to make my own.

Emergency Baked Beans
serves 2-3

The time
5 minutes

The ingredients
1 can of plain beans (any type is ok, but I like the mixed or cannellini varieties)
1/3 c passata (tomato puree)
2 Tbs rapadura sugar (or substitute brown sugar)
1/2 tsp blackstrap molasses (or use 1 Tbs more of the rapadura sugar)
1-2 tsp sea salt (to taste)

*Use organic ingredients when you can

The process
1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan, and heat over med-high heat until bubbly. Cool slightly before serving on toast, with a scoop of leftover rice, or just on its own.

The cost
I stock up on cans of organic beans - all different varieties - when they're on sale. (You never know when you'll need beans quick). Same with passata - sometimes I'll have up to 5 jars of it in my cupboard! Buying that way, you won't pay a premium ... and it makes organic so affordable. I estimate a batch of organic baked beans costs around $2.

Disaster averted.

Now, best get playing ...
Amanda xx

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I'm Not Perfect ... Though I Try to Be

This site makes me happy-happy. I love food, I love photography, I love sharing ideas and learning from all of you. But I've been having a debate lately with a close friend about the honesty of blogging. The me that comes out here, online - is it the real me? Or is this the me that I want to be? That I want to define and record for posterity and the rest of the world?

Well, probably a bit of both.

Because every day - every. single. day. I struggle with all the things I write about here. I over-book the day, and run short on time for dinner. I rarely plan out a menu more than a few hours ahead of time. I worry that I'm not a good mum - because I'd rather take Nelle out for a coffee than build stuff out of playdoh. Sometimes she eats pasta for lunch and dinner. Two days in a row. I try to involve her in the garden and the kitchen, but sometimes I pull the bowls silently out of the cupboard so I can have the muffins in the oven before she's even noticed ... and dragged her stool over to the counter ... and got her apron on and egg down her front ...

I worry about things, too. Like cancer. *#&! cancer. I'd give anything for someone to say to me - hey, that sucked that you had cancer so young, but know what? It's never coming back, so go on - have that second glass of wine (guilt-free!). Stop imagining things growing away in the nooks and crannies of your body! Enjoy the 60+ years you've got left!

So I have to remind myself of the same things I write here. Do the best you can. Take time out and do some menial labour. You are the best mum you can be. The threat of cancer's there ... but you're going to be ok. Even if it does come back, you'll be ok.

And I remember the biggest thing I've learned in the past couple of years ...

to love (really love) ...
and live (really live) ...

and be.

Amanda xx

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Make Your Own Activated Almonds - At Home

Activated almonds. I've started seeing them everywhere in the natural foods store ... they seem to hang out with the raw, dark chocolate or all-natural granola bars. (A place I like to hang out, too ... ) Sometimes they're flavoured and in bags all on their own.

What makes activated nuts so special? Well, usually nuts are full of enzyme inhibitors that prevent them from sprouting in dry conditions. So if you soak them, you fool the nut into starting to sprout - which is good because the sprouted form has nutrients that are more easily absorbed. (Those enzyme inhibitors can make digestion more difficult for us.)

Which means more of the good stuff in the nut is used by our bodies!

And you don't have to spend a gazillion dollars to buy activated nuts - they're really easy to make yourself. I'll tell you how.

Activated Almonds
makes ~3c* (or however much you want)

The time
12-24 hrs soaking + up to 24 hrs drying

The ingredients
2 cups raw almonds* (not roasted or salted)
enough water to cover the almonds in a dish
sea salt or garlic salt or dehydrated onion powder or tamari or curry powder (optional)

*You can use other nuts, too! Try brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, hazelnuts, pistachios ...

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

The process
1. Soak the almonds in the water for 12 hrs. If you're using other hard nuts (like hazelnuts or brazil nuts) 12 hrs will also work. If you're using soft nuts, like cashews or pistachios - shorten soaking to 4-6 hrs.

NOTE: After soaking, the nuts will look nice and puffy and may even start to show signs of sprouting. (You can see this in the picture above.)

2. Rinse the nuts under running water, and if you want to add flavour - now is the time to do it. Just shake a couple of tsp of whichever flavour you want over the wet (rinsed) almonds, and stir to combine well.

NOTE: If you want, you can use and eat the activated almonds as they are, without roasting them.

3. Now, we want to 'roast' the almonds, without damaging all those nutrients we've activated. So we have to dry out the nuts on low heat - either in a dehydrator or on the lowest temperature your oven will do (mine is 60C, or 140F). This will take anywhere from 6-24 hrs, depending on the temperature you're using. The nuts will be done when they feel (and taste) dry.

You may have to sample several to figure this out ... lucky you!

4. Use your activated-dried almonds as you normally would use roasted almonds. They last really well in an airtight container. And they can be ground into almond meal, too!

The cost
I can make pesticide-free activated almonds for about $14 per kilo - quite a bit less than paying for a little packet of them!

Now I wonder if a good soak will activate me, too?
Off to find out.
Amanda xx

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sweetheart Baking Powder Biscuits

 Corny? Yep. But hey, it's Valentine's Day. And you can whip these up in no time at all ... and make your loved ones feel *extra* special!

Sweetheart Baking Powder Biscuits
makes ~8 large biscuits
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Still Life With Menu

The time
15 min prep + 12-15 min baking

The ingredients
1 1/2 c white spelt flour
1 1/2 c wholemeal spelt flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbs baking powder
6 Tbs cold butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 c milk + 1 1/2 tsp vinegar*

*or just use that milk that's hit its use-by date and is starting to sour. Perfect way to prevent wasting it!

**It's ok to use regular wheat flours if you don't have spelt on-hand. But I recommend giving it a try! Spelt's got a lovely, soft quality that makes for beautiful baking.

***As always, use organic ingredients when you can

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter, and use a food processor or blender or forks to combine the butter with the dry ingredients until it's all got the texture of bread crumbs.

3. Add the milk and mix.

4. Knead the dough on the benchtop until it holds together nicely, then roll it into a long cylinder.

5. Cut 4-cm (1.5") slices out of the dough and put them on a baking-paper lined baking sheet. At this point, the biscuits will still be round ... so use your fingers or a knife to shape them into heart shapes.

6. Bake for 12-15 min, or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, before serving them up with butter or cream and a red berry jam.

The cost
This is thrifty happiness at its best! Even using spelt flours (which are a little more expensive than wheat), this lovely breakfast will only cost you $5 or so.

And, it's been awhile - but here's a Dish of the Day! Well, actually, a tablecloth of the day ... one my mother-in-law found for me for $0.05 at the thrift shop. A nice, simple way to dress up a table.

For a special breakfast, perhaps?
Have a good one, whatever day it is!
Amanda xx

Friday, February 11, 2011

How to Make a Vegan Happy (+ Almond Filo Rolls)

Let me share with you a few tips about how to make a vegan friend happy. I don't profess to be an expert here ... but this is all really common sense ...

The tips:

1. Do not introduce her to other friends as 'The Vegan'

2. Make her dinner. And if it was hard finding something dairy- and egg- and meat-free to cook ... do not tell her that -repeatedly - before and during dinner. Pretend you eat like this all the time.

3. Be a good friend ... because in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter if your avocado-chocolate mousse didn't turn out very well.

4. And the failsafe? Make this for dessert:

They're actually incredibly easy. And so stylish.

And if you end up with extras ... they make great mid-morning after-dinner mid-afternoon snacks ... with a hot coffee to cut through the sugar ...

(it's a good thing sugar isn't animal-derived, isn't it?)

(and I actually did have them in the morning, afternoon, and evening ... oops ... )

Almond Filo Rolls
serves 4-6

The time
15 min prep + 15 min bake + 15 min cool

The ingredients
6 sheets of filo dough, thawed
1 c almonds - measured out and then ground (I used my spice grinder, but a blender would work)
1 c icing sugar, sifted + extra for serving
2 Tbs mango jam (or use another jam, agave syrup or maple syrup)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs almond oil

The process
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (325F). Remove your filo dough from the freezer to thaw (if you haven't already).

2. In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar. (I say sifted because icing sugar is known to get quite lumpy). Add the jam and vanilla and mix well. The almond mixture should just hold together when you squeeze it.

3. Combine your oils in a shallow dish. Put 2 sheets of filo off the roll and lay them flat on the benchtop. We'll use the 2 sheets together, so don't worry about separating them. (And it's ok if they tear, too) It should be a big, 2-layered rectangle. Sprinkle the surface of your filo with a little of your oil mix and then smooth the oil across with your hands.

4. Put 1/3 of your almond mixture onto the filo sheet, about 5cm (2in) from the bottom edge. (Ever made sushi? This is similar). Carefully roll up the filo over the filling and keep rolling. As you go, rub little bits of your oil mix onto the surface of the dough that gets exposed.

5. Done? Gently squeeze the roll with your hands to make it stick. Rub the oil mix onto the whole surface. If there's excess dough at the ends, then cut it off. I cut each roll into thirds - but feel free to make them larger or smaller (bite-sized might be cute?)

6. Bake the cut rolls in the oven for 15 min, or until they're crispy and just lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10-15 min before sprinkling with the extra icing sugar. Serve 1-2 rolls per person, with an espresso or a hot tea.

7. Enjoy!

The cost
I made these with leftover filo that was hanging out in my fridge after a filo-based dinner dish a few days ago. So you know what? I'm counting that as free ... because I would've thrown it out had I not made these little guys. But with the insecticide-free almonds and organic sugar and oil, this dessert still comes to only $1 per serve, mostly-organic.

And ... vegan or not, this would make a lovely end to a special Valentine's dinner ... (just saying ... )
Amanda xx

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

5-Minute Breakfast Couscous

You know what I love about couscous? It's super-fast. You boil water, pour it over the grains, and then wait (just 5 minutes or so ... ) till it's ready.

Perfect for breakfast in a hurry, right?

On those mornings when - gasp - the cereal is all gone. And there's not a slice of bread in the whole house. And you're thinking about eating a muesli bar instead of breakfast ... but you know it'll only keep you happy till mid-morning coffee ... when that giant muffin will look so good ...

And you know me, I'm not about holding back on things like muffins. But here's another option for you. Make a 5 min coucous and top it with loads of berries and milk and a dash of brown sugar. You even get purple milk out of the deal. (and who doesn't love purple milk??)

And then you can enjoy your coffee without getting the shakes. Because muesli bars are so inadequate in that regard.

5-Minute Breakfast Couscous
serves 2

The time
5 minutes prep + 5 minutes soak
(so, yes, technically 10 minutes)

The ingredients
1 c wholemeal couscous (regular couscous is ok, too)
boiling water, to cover
a handful of fresh or frozen blueberries
a handful of dried cherries
2 Tbs raspberry jam (or another kind of berry is fine)
Brown sugar, to taste
Milk, to taste*

*This recipe is easily vegan-ized by substituting your favourite non-dairy milk.

**As always, use organic ingredients when you can

The process
1. Boil water. Pour couscous into bowl. Pour boiling water over couscous. Cover with another bowl (or plate) and make lunches for the next 5 minutes.

2. Remove cover from the bowl, and use a fork to fluff up the couscous. Divide into 2 portions, and top with milk and sugar and berries (as above).

The cost
Oh, this will depend a lot on what you put in it. And I'm leaving much of that up to you. So let's just put this in terms of healthiness - this breakfast has a) nutritive value, b) antioxidant-rich berries, and c) calcium-rich milk. It's a wholegrain, so your blood sugar won't go crazy after an hour or two. And you're being a good role model for your toddler (who is slightly skeptical about couscous ... but you'll try again). So, way more benefits than costs here.

PS. No that's not real coffee Nelle is drinking ... though she likes to think it is ... (and sometimes she acts as though she's had a double-cap).

Happy breakfasting!
Amanda xx

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to Use Up Milk

Seriously, why would you pass up the chance to buy milk at less than 1/2 price? Beautiful, organic milk for less than the cost of your standard non-organic varieities?

I'll bet you're nervous about it. What if something's wrong with it? What if I buy it, and end up throwing it out anyway? 

Yes, well those are all fair thoughts. But I've got some ideas for you, so you can go right ahead stock up and make use of marked-down milk.

(You can also use these tips for any close-to-date milk you have at home. I know you hate wasting it ... )

Some grocery stores will mark down milk products as they approach their use-by dates. This means, basically, that you'll only have a few days to use it up. But that's not really a problem, if you have some handy recipes up your sleeve.

1. I love to make it into yogurt!

2. You can also put some into the freezer (for when you get home from a week's holiday).

3. Make your own ricotta, to use in lasagne or dessert or whatever you like to use ricotta for ....

4. Make recipes that use up a lot of milk! Some of my favourites are:

5. Make a natural mildew-repellant for your garden
Just add equal portions of milk + water and spray onto plants affected by mildew. (We get alot of this in humid Brisbane ... ) Repeat every few days!

6. Make a skin cleanser
Using a cottonball, gently wipe milk over your face to remove dirt and makeup. You don't even have to rinse if you don't want to.

Have any other good ideas for using up milk? Please share them in the comments section below!

PS. I get most of my marked-down organic milk here!

Amanda xx

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Garlic Naan Pizza

The only thing better than coming home from a long holiday? Having friends who bring you take-out Indian because you haven't had time to do a proper grocery shop yet. And friends who resist eating all the garlic naan breads ... so you even have 2 left over.

Naans to make into pizza the following night ... when you're home by yourself, and starting to feel the jet lag, and want something relatively instantaneous. To go with that icy cold beer. (Because it is pretty hot, and regular water just will not cut it.)

Great friends. Did I say that?

And the best thing about naans? They're the perfect thickness and texture to dip up curries and the perfect thickness and texture to use as a base for pizzas. Mmmmmm ....

Garlic Naan Pizza
serves 1 

The time
5 min prep + 5-10 min bake

The ingredients
1 naan bread - I used garlic, but you can use any variety
A handful of strong-flavoured cheese of your choice - mine happened to be manchego
A handful of herbs - I used rocket from our garden, but you can try basil/oregano/mint or a combo
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

*Try to use organic ingredients when you can ...

The process
1. Get some friends to bring you Indian take-out. Get them to bring extra naans. Resist eating all of them. Store leftovers in fridge overnight.

NOTE: All right - you can actually just buy the naans - but where's the fun in that?

2. Put a naan on a pizza tray (or baking tray), turn on the oven to 200C (400F). Grate cheese over the naan, and then put in the oven for 5-10 min until the cheese is golden and crispy-looking. Remove from oven. Top with herbs and a drizzle of olive oil. And some freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste.

3. Enjoy!
(Then crash, because your brain is still living life 15 hours away ... and your bed sounds so nice and comfy ... )

The cost
Ah, well ... this will depend on if you have friends as nice as mine! I got my herbs from the garden and my cheese on mark-down at the natural foods store ... so my little dinner came out to a whopping $0.50 or so. (Bank-breaker, this one.) But even if you buy your naans, you won't be spending much.

Which means, of course, that in the morning you can splurge on a cappuccino.
For the jet lag, of course.

Amanda xx