Healthy Salads: Cheap and Cheerful

May 12, 2011 § 17 Comments

Last week I started a Cheap&Cheerful category on Blushing Strawberries’ with these fritters, and thank you to everyone who gave me tips on making a more ‘attractive’ fritter. I’m looking forward to trying again tomorrow, once I buy corn at the farmer’s market.

Lately NB and I have been looking into the Paleo Diet and the Primal Blueprint diet. In the coming weeks I will share one or two in depth posts on the subject, but for now let’s just summarise them as eating the way a caveman would eat – if it does not run, fly or swim, or if it isn’t green, then don’t eat it. Of course that is a wild generalisation and there are many nuances to the theory, which that statement has denied. But basically it is about eliminating all carbohydrates, grains and legumes, all processed foods, most sugars and dairy (a little bit of fruit is ok).

Before NB and I make any grand statements about how ‘We soo, totally eat Paleo now’, I thought I should recap on my history of sticking to a diet:

B/S on Detoxing – “Remember that this diet is not meant to impinge on my sociability”

B/S on Vegetarianism – “I remember once when I was a teenager, maybe 13 or 14, I decided to become a vegetarian. The memory is sadly clear. At breakfast I declare myself vegetarian. Five hours later I smell my dad cooking bacon. I renounce my newfound diet.”

Or this post shortly followed by this slice of pizza.

Not that NB can claim to be high and mighty: Do you think Cheerios or Cheetos are more Paleo? 

But we are slowly trying to include meals that fall in line with this way of eating, at maybe a 60/40 or 70/30 ratio. Which brings me to last nights Cheap&Cheerful dinner – a primal blueprint salad.

Now while Paleo may seem a little extreme for beginners, the Primal Blueprint diet offers a little more leniency, and Mark’s Daily Apple is a great starting point if you are interested in more information. One of the ‘sensible vices‘ allowed under PB is cheese. Here is what Mark has to say:

“While we aren’t diehard fans of all dairy, “the power of the cheese” is right on. However, we do believe in skipping the weirdo processed stuff reminiscent of school lunches. Play it snooty and go for the good, aged stuff. Not only is aged cheese a fermented food, it contains little to no lactose. It’s also got good fat, essential nutrients, and a wallop of protein. But this will all be mere peripheral chatter once you’re actually enjoying. The satisfaction surpasses all of the above.”

Truer words were never spoken! The satisfied look on NB’s face when he bit in to a sesame-chilli goats cheese balls, and his following proclamation that this is the BEST healthy meal I have ever made,  is enough to keep this chef satisfied all summer long. Because after all, why would we want to eat healthily if it doesn’t taste delicious?

Goats cheese salad with spinach stuffed chicken breast

(serves 2)

The money-saver aspect in this dish comes from using whatever you have on hand in your crisper or your garden. By using up leftover spinach and tomatoes from the previous nights dinner, I was able to stuff the chicken and wrap them in bacon from the freezer. You might have some sundried tomatoes or mushrooms lying around, which would work a treat. Choose whatever herbs are in your pots, garden or fridge and buy the goats cheese from a deli, not the supermarket, to save money on packaging.

2 medium sized chicken breasts, halved crossways

2 tablespoon of pesto (optional)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

large handful of english spinach, washed and roughly chopped

8 cherry tomatoes, thickly sliced

4 slices bacon or prosciutto

1/2 butternut pumpkin or acorn squash, diced into 3cm cubes and tossed with olive oil, thyme and salt

2 large handfuls of baby spinach or mixed mesclun

1/2 red apple, finely sliced into fans

Herb goats cheese balls

50g goats cheese

(‘Crumbing’ mix)

1/4 cup basil leaves, finely chopped

1/4 cup Italian parsely, finely chopped

zest of one lemon

cracked pepper

Sesame Goats cheese balls

50g goats cheese

(‘Crumbing’ mix)

1/4 cup sesame seeds

2 tablespoons chilli flakes

1 tablespoon toasted fennel seeds (optional) or poppyseeds

Preheat oven to 160C, 350F and roast pumpkin on a large baking tray.

Meanwhile, to stuff chicken, make a wide insertion into each half, making sure that the knife does not puncture through the breast. Rub 1/2 tablespoon of pesto inside each cavity. Heat 1tbl oil a large based frypan over medium heat and begin to saute garlic. Add in spinach and cook until just wilted. Allow to cool before stuffing each chicken cavity with 1/4 of the tomatoes, and spinach mixture. Wrap to enclose with bacon and secure with a toothpick.

For goats cheese balls, take a tablespoon of cheese and shape into a round using the palm of your hands. Coat half the balls in the herb mix and half in the sesame mix. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Serve chicken, pumpkin and goats cheese atop baby spinach, tossed with a dressing of equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as a squeeze of lemon and a teaspoon of dijon mustard. Garnish with extra herbs and apple slices.

Attractive Fritter: Cheap and Cheerful

April 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

As with many people, NB and I are trying to cut back on spending and put something aside for a rainy day. Fortunately for NB I’ve never felt the desire to spend my Saturdays clothes shopping or my Friday evenings getting facials and acupuncture (but that could be nice!!). Instead, the money I earn generally goes straight to my local grocer. Now I don’t think that this is a bad thing at all, I’m investing in my body, health and soul after all, but perhaps I could stretch the dollar a little further every now and again (I still argue that we needed the 6 bags of vacuum-packed umeboshi…)

Last night was ‘Cheap and Cheerful’, a new once a week section that will feature at the Strawberry Patch. For less than $8 I served up chicken legs that had been baked with lemon, white wine, chicken stock, garlic, chorizo, fennel, thyme and a few dollops of pesto ($5), wilted garlic spinach (50c) and zucchini, corn and fetta fritters ($2). Simple and delicious.

Unfortunately, even though the fritters tasted terrific, they certainly weren’t photogenic like Bills.

Tell me Blushers, does anyone have a secret to making their fritters service sexy??!

Zucchini, Corn and Fetta fritters

(Serves 2 -3)

In a large bowl grate 2 large zucchini (summer squash), shuck 2 cobs corn, and crumble in a good chunk of fetta. Season with pepper and a little paprika. In a separate bowl whisk together 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup flour and 3 eggs with a pinch of salt and some fresh parsley. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir to combine. Cook fritters in a frypan over medium heat until cooked through, turning once. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining fritters.

Midweek Casserole.

March 28, 2011 § 4 Comments

We’re sitting on the cusp of changing seasons, which is messing with my wardrobe and messing with my menu plans. One day I will be dining on goats cheese salad and felafel on the outside terrace of 300 East with friends, and the next I am snuggled up in trackpants stirring pots of soup on the stove. In times like this you have to be prepared to change dinner plans, incase the morning sun belies a much cooler evening to come.

 

 

Last Thursday the temperature dropped from up in the 80s to 49 Fahrenheit, which made the poached egg and watercress salad I had been planning on suddenly seem wildly inappropriate. With a deadline looming for the magazine, dinner had to be thrown together with half a brain.

 

NB went out for lemons while I fried some chicken legs in a pan with onion, garlic, sundried tomatoes and mushrooms. I’m a fan of any meal that gives the excuse to open a bottle of pinot grigio, which I liberally splashed over the chicken with a few tablespoons of pesto and covered it on a low simmer for 10 minutes.

Served with mashed potatoes and crusty bread, this is cold night cooking at its best.

 

 

 

Chicken Pesto Pasta: Dinner in Minutes.

March 17, 2011 § 7 Comments

You may have thought that Blushing Strawberries went walkabout and found herself lost in the desert, with no internet access, photography or good food. Well, that would make a pretty fun story but truth be told I’ve just been rather lazy of late. Woops! Do you ever feel that you have a lot of time but nothing gets done? I feel it has something to do with the change of season, my mind has bounced forward to Spring while my body and actions are still waiting to leave winter. I’m perfectly content to ride this wave and snuggle up on the couch after dinner with a good book and a cup of hot milk, even if it makes me feel more like Trixie Belden or one of the Famous Five than a city-living-22-year-old! But we covered that embarrassing reality a while ago!

Fortunately, my inclination towards doing-very-little has not left NB starving and begging for scraps on the street corner. Actually, Bojangles is on our street corner so it really depends on what you consider ‘begging’! With all this free time and not a spare minute, dinner recently has had to be quick, no fuss kind of stuff. Last night I tried my hand at some Asian baby-back ribs, which were such a hit that I must reproduce them for The Patch, and it took very little effort indeed.

But when I’m really in need of a healthy quick meal I reach for the pesto jar. Sauteed mushrooms, pesto and mozzarella for breakfast. Sourdough with pesto and fresh tomato for lunch. Or salad with pesto for dinner.

I have not been able to make my own pesto since arriving in the States because all the grocery stores only sell small packets of basil, the type you would normally expect for rosemary or thyme, and (sadly) there is nothing here like Norton St Grocer. I’ve never been a huge fan of store-bought pesto, finding the taste to be too thick and salty, so I was excited when Trader Joe’s began to stock full bunches of basil last week.

 

I whipped up a small batch using this recipe and stirred the whole lot into wholemeal pasta with shredded chicken from the freezer.

Tell me Blushers, what’s your standby lazy meal??

Beer Can Chicken.

March 1, 2011 § 8 Comments

 

Rotisserie chicken is taking the flogosphere by storm with February seeing the resurgence of the ‘BBQ Chook’. The more I read here and here and here, the more guilty I felt for shunning the challenge. My hesitancy was linked to experience that it is always the simplest things in the kitchen that make the biggest disasters, like poaching an egg, frying a steak or grilling pita bread (don’t ask!)

Yet despite my guilt I still hadn’t cooked roast chicken. Enter intervention of the food Gods, who had been watching my dilly-dallying with great frustration.

The moment of truth came during the second mile of a 6 mile run that I was doing with my gal pal over at Foodie Fresh. She mentioned that she had turned Susie Homemaker and roasted her first chicken. If that wasn’t a giant sign from up above then I don’t know what is.

This is how I became pumped to roast a bird.

BUT NB was suddenly called away on a Top-Secret work mission to some distant land (where they served *ahem* cafeteria food…) and it really seemed rather gluttonous for me to roast an entire hen for myself. I mean we all know I can eat, but that would be in the league of these crazy people .

Even though my plans had been thwarted it wasn’t enough to deter me. NB had been home from his travels less than 48 hours and begged me for beef cooked with The Duck’s famous stirfry marinade (stay tuned folks), but being the hard ass I’ve had to become to get a chicken roasted, I said no. We were going to have a baked dinner.

With a borrowed recipe and a little help from Handicap 5 we were in business for beer can stuffed chicken. Yes! And wouldn’t you know it, the procrastination was the hardest part. Roasting a chicken with a beer up its tush is as simple as stuffing, sprinkling and sitting back to wait.

Tell me Blushers, what’s your procrastination recipe?

 

(I still made NB his Asian stirfry sides!)

Beer Can Chicken

Serves 4

Preheat oven to 375F (190C) Take a 4.8 pound chicken (c.2kg) and remove it’s innards before rinsing and patting dry. Rub the skin with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and any other seasoning of choice (we used a nice poultry rub based on cumin, coriander and paprika).

Open a can of beer and take a couple of large gulps. Insert the can into the chicken cavity, with the can mouth facing to the top.

Sit chicken in a roasting tray, bottoms up so the beer won’t spill (you might need to cradle it with ramekins either side).

Roast for 1hr 30 minutes or until the juices run clear from the thigh and breast. Remove from oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Nothing Says ‘I love You’ Like A Freshly Baked Dessert.

February 15, 2011 § 12 Comments

 

Dear Cupid,

For Valentine’s Day I would like a man who helps me make the salad and washes up the dishes.

With thanks,

Blushing Strawberries.

 

 

Ok, so maybe my request doesn’t sound as romantic as twelve-dozen roses or french toast in bed, but back in ’09 this was all I was looking for. And wouldn’t you know it, Cupid found me NB, who will wash AND dry, as well as chop AND saute.

So this year I thought I should put a little something ‘sweet’ back into February Fourteenth.

 

 

The weather today was the warmest we’ve had since arriving in America, 71˚F for a couple of hours, which was perfect for creating a light little treat to sit alongside good quality ice cream.

 

 

For these tarts I was able to make the most of late season corella pears, as well as a tin of peach slices that I had in the pantry …thriftiness on the day of love?? Shhh, don’t tell NB!

With a little grating of dark chocolate, a sprinkle of icing sugar and a pinch of rose petals I was able to pretend that hours were spent slaving in the kitchen instead of 15 minutes (again, discretion would be appreciated!!)

I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day and Cupid was able to answer your call

xxx

 

 

Individual Fruit Tarts

(makes 8-10)

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed

2 small corella pears*

1 tin, 200g, peach slices, drained

1 cup caster sugar

3 squares dark chocolate

4 tablespoons apricot or berry jam**

1 egg

1/3 cup icing sugar

 

 

Preheat oven to 160C, 300F.

Wash and peel pears, rubbing the outside of each with a cut lemon half.

Place caster sugar in medium saucepan with 2 cups water and simmer, stirring, until sugar dissolves.

Poach pears in sugar syrup over medium-low heat for 6 minutes or until just cooked. Remove and set aside to cool, then halve, removing core but leaving stems intact. Slice lengthways, nearly to the top, and press down lightly with palm to flatten.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse peaches.

Cut circles from the puff pastry, slightly larger than the pear half.

Score a circular border in the pastry and top centre with 1/2 tbl jam and a grating of chocolate. Place the halved pear or 3-5 slices of peach on top.

Brush outside edges of pastry with lightly beaten egg and bake tarts for 10-12 minutes, until puffed.

Remove tarts from oven and preheat grill to high. Sprinkle tarts with icing sugar and grill 1-2 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve with thick cream and ice cream.

*Any fruit of your choice would work well in these tarts. Poach apple slices, quarter strawberries or thickly slice bananas and sprinkle with brown sugar or maple syrup.

**You could also replace the chocolate and jam base for a slice of marzipan.

Pesto Hummus

February 11, 2011 § 6 Comments

 

 

I still haven’t mastered hummus, I think it’s just one of those things that you need to be taught by a Lebanese mother. However, considering my lack of Lebanese-mother-friends at the moment I thought I would just have another crack at it myself, and I’m certain that we’ve made progress since the first attempt.

Yesterday was play day with the food processor, whenever I pull it out I tend to have a good blitz in one go. After breadcrumbing, ice cream making (stay tuned for that), health ball buzzing and mashed potato whipping I looked at the chickpeas in the fridge and decided – it’s you and me kid.

 

 

My rough helpings of ingredients might guide you, but don’t quote me on them! For about 2 cups of chickpeas (soaked overnight, drained and rinsed) I added 2 big tablespoons of unhulled tahini, the juice of 1 large lemon, 2 cloves crushed garlic and maybe 1/4 cup olive oil. Then it wasn’t pureeing as much as I would like but I think this had more to do with the wattage of my food processor than the quantity of ingredients, so I just kept feeding it homemade chicken stock (which I finally have down to an art form!) until it smoothed out a bit. Then I poured in the balsamic vinegar and oil from my deli olives and buzzed along a bit more.

 

 

In the end it was still quite grainy, and this is where we need the work, but the taste was nice and not too chickpea-ish.

I served the hummus with dinner last night, as an alternative to butter for nice chewy bread, and while I don’t think anyone else tried it I made a terrific discovery! When I was clearing the table I stirred the remaining pesto into the hummus bowl and wouldn’t you know it, the taste was awesome! I had hummus on toast for breakfast and can’t walk past the fridge without dipping in with my teaspoon.

Now to just work on the texture and I may declare hummus victory (but if you know a Lebanese mother please send her my way!)

 

 

 

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