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.

Eating Wontons & Watching the Grass Grow.

May 2, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have great news! The porch is ready!

Anyone that knows me will freely admit that I have a habit of creating jobs for myself. Not only is our kitchen table covered in To-Do-Lists for immediate jobs, but also to-do-lists for longer term jobs and to-do-lists for backup jobs that I could do if I ran out of jobs. Needless to say, I don’t understand free time.

For some reason I thought that the move to America would teach me to chill out a bit more. Perhaps even sit back and smell the roses. But then I realised – we had no roses to smell. Unfortunately for NB, this was the beginning of the end for our free weekends and not until two months later was the garden deemed finished.

Alas, this is not all. As I was standing outside in the early morning light, admiring our handy work and whispering sweet nothings to our darling little seedlings, I was struck by how grubby the back porch appeared in comparison. Oh dear.  At this stage NB threw up his hands in despair and retreated to the safety of Family Guy reruns, and to be honest I can hardly blame him. Fortunately for me FoodieFresh was happy to don her painting shorts and a few weekends ago we made  5 hours of serious progress.

It was somewhere around here that the project stagnated. Admittedly the state was being ravaged by terrible storms, of which we were getting the tail end, and we were also busy with various eating engagements, but to be honest I think I had just run out of steam.

Saturday arrived and I was busy in the kitchen preparing for a little dinner soiree that night. We had some friends coming over who had lived in Sydney when we were there (they only returned to America a few months before we did) and NB and I thought it would be a good idea to relive the Thai scene that is so dominant back home. Lost as I was in marinating ribs, grating ginger and folding dumplings, that is was a couple of hours before I realised that I hadn’t heard a peep out of NB!

With a trail of shredded cabbage falling behind me, I went searching.

And wouldn’t you know it, there he was out on the porch finishing the painting. Hurrah!!

Ace of Spade’s delicious butter biscuit shortbread with strawberries and cream

That night, as I chinked my prosecco glass with our guests, I made a little promise to myself that next weekend we would relax…Do you believe me?

Sticky Asian Spare Ribs (the style that an Aussie girl can be proud to present in the South)

Serves 4.

1.5kg (3 1/4 lb), or 16 American-style  pork spare ribs

Marinade:

3/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 tbl grated ginger

1/3 cup soy sauce

3 tsp sesame oil

1/2 cup Chinese rice wine

2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch chilli flakes and a squeeze of lime.

Bring a large crockpot of water to the boil and blanch ribs, rinsing and refreshing under cold water.

Mix marinade together in a large ceramic baking dish and toss ribs to coat. Cover and allow to marinate for 4+ hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 160C/ 280F and remove ribs from fridge, allowing to return to room temperature.

Leaving the baking dish covered with foil, cook ribs for 3 hours or until meat begins to flake off bone. Remove from oven and stand, covered, for 15-20 minutes.

For thicker sauce, drain some of the sauce from the baking dish into a saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking constantly until thick.

Serve with steamed rice.

The Duck’s Winning Meatballs.

April 14, 2011 § 6 Comments

Allegory of Spring, 1871 by Henri Pierre Picou

 

Spring weather has officially arrived and I could not be happier! I love spring, mainly because I love seeing people shaking off their winter coats and spending afternoons sipping drinks in a beer garden, or long, lazy Sundays lounging in the park with the picnic basket, a couple of bottles of Proseco and a good book. It is a time of rebirth, renewal, regrowth and reconnection.

 

 

 

I have been bowled over with the beauty, and energy, that spring has brought here in Charlotte. Cherry blossoms and dogwoods were thick with blossom for most of March, and daffodils made blankets of yellow on the lawn of many homes. What I loved most was returning from our weekend in Pennsylvania and seeing that the city had exploded with a thousands shade of green. It was breathtaking and reminded me of growing up in the country, where after ten days away at the beach in September we would return and see that our garden had been coloured in with every green from bright apple to deep eucalyptus. I never experienced the same oomph during the change of seasons in Sydney, so this really was a sight for sore eyes.

NB and I have certainly felt ourselves energised and have taken on many projects to prepare our home for hosting spring parties. Weekends have been spent digging garden beds and planting seeds, trimming hedges and mowing lawns. To be honest I think NB was relieved when my lovely friend @ FoodieFresh came over to help me paint the porch on Sunday, and talk about women power! What a job! I also love that FF paints with the philosophy of a friend’s father – it is necessary to drink beers while painting as a form of time management. When you’ve had a sufficient amount to drink and can no longer climb up the ladder, it is time to call it a day!

 

Using grocery bags as dropsheets!

 

The local farmers markets have also started, and we are fortunate enough to have two at the end of our rode, a stones throw away. Warm evenings and fresh produce call for keeping meals as simple as possible. One meal that ticks all the boxes is this Spring Meatball Salad. This meal was actually made by The Duck in my last two weeks in Australia and nearly all the salad ingredients were picked straight from our garden before we set the table. I simply love the nasturtium flowers 🙂

 

The Duck’s notes.

 

In winter, these meatballs are made and cooked in a tomato sauce made rich and delicious with cream and homemade stock. In the warmer months however they are perfect for a salad, a meatball sub or skewer them and have them as part of a cocktail party with garlic aioli. From the number of taste testings we have done on the recipe, this one is the winner!

 

The Duck’s Winning Meatballs:

500g or about 1 pound beef mince

2 rashers bacon, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 red chilli (ditto!)

 

 

1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon BBQ sauce

1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs (make your own with day old bread in the food processor and freeze individual cup-portions in ziplock bags)

1 egg

Any scraps of herbs from the crisper or garden

Any spice flavour that you like: e.g Moroccan, Cajun…

 

 

Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl with your hands. Form into small meatballs using the ‘Metro Method’, i.e. toss from hand to hand like a baseball player!

Put on a glad-wrap lined tray (=no washing!) and have a 2nd tray beside it. Once meatballs are all formed, have a pile of flour and lightly roll each one on it before setting on the 2nd tray.

To cook meatballs, heat a splash of olive oil in a large based fry pan over med-high heat. Once browned on one side, turn the meatballs over and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover with foil and cook about 10 minutes until cooked through but still juicy inside (if using the meatballs for pasta, only cook 2/3 of the way through and finish cooking in sauce).

Sit meatballs aside while you toss together a salad (leaves, lebanese cucumber, cherry tomatoes, marinated artichokes, olives, red onion, cannelini beans etc). For dressing, combine some of the juice from the jar of artichokes with Greek yoghurt and garlic aioli.

 

 

(note: It is worth taking the extra time to roll the meatballs nice and small so they cook faster and stay juicy. To freeze meatballs, line a baking tray with paper and evenly layer the meatballs, repeat with another layer of paper on top if needed. When frozen you can toss the meatballs into a ziplock bag and freeze. To defrost, shake them back out on to a baking tray so they don’t get squashed, and thaw in the fridge overnight.)

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.

 

 

 

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.

Chicken Salad, It’s A Girl Thing.

February 25, 2011 § 11 Comments

Moving countries has the uncanny side-effect of reducing your social circle to one.

So the Strawberry Patch is pleased to announce that we have made girlfriends 🙂

Truth be told this could not have happened any sooner as I’m certain I was nearly arrested for loitering at the grocery checkout trying to pick up the female bag packers several times. Or even more inappropriately, staring at women in the gym in the vain hope that eye contact will plant the seed for friendship – I think that the YMCA has a ‘predator alert’ on me. Most of all, it will be good news for NB, whose ear I have talked off this past month and whom I was about to ask out for a day of nails, salads (dressing on the side) and dress shopping!!

 

 

One of my new gal-pals is a fellow blogger, who I asked out for a blind date one Saturday brunch. Fortunately Foodie Fresh decided that this wasn’t creepy and we met for eggs at The Dandelion Market…we then ran 6 miles, which is 9.6km, unless you do the conversion backwards and think you’re only running 3k – She’s super fit and stayed cool, calm and collected while I nearly died!

With a successful first date under our belt (should I start a dating site for single food-loving women??!) we planned a girls-night-in with the EBW of Thanksgiving ham-biscuit fame.

I tossed together a giant bowl of Bang Bang Chicken, one of The Duck’s clever inventions, but I used tofu and mushrooms because we were traveling the vege route that night.

You must try this one, it’s so easy, and apart from the protein everything is simply raw and julienned. Plus the nut butter is a great source of healthy fats, so we weren’t even tempted with dessert! Check out the photos.

Tell me Blushers, where is the oddest place you have ever picked up a friend?

 

Bang Bang Chicken

Serves 4.

Shred 2 large poached chicken breasts, or finely slice and stirfry 450g tofu in 1/2 tbl peanut oil. Set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook enough soba noodles to suit your fancy, err on the side of extra! Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Julienne:

  • Spanish onion
  • Lebanese cucumber
  • 1 large red capsicum
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large celery sticks
  • Handful snow peas
  • 1 long red chilli

Toss in a bowl with a handful of baby spinach leaves and a handful of beansprouts. Add chicken and noodles.

Dress:

  • 2 tbl sesame oil
  • 4 tbl natural peanut butter or almond butter
  • 4 tbl sweet chilli sauce or sricacha
  • 4 tbl Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s or Reduced Salt Soy Sauce
  • 2 tbl rice wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon or lime

Shake up everything in a jar and adjust to taste.

Toss dressing through the salad and top with sesame seeds, coriander (cilantro), cashews and extra chilli if you like it hot).

 

The Hunt For Osso Bucco

February 11, 2011 § 3 Comments

Last night’s dinner was Osso Bucco, I thought it would help stave away the freezing temperatures we’ve been having. But what seemed like a good idea turned into a treasure hunt, both time consuming and expensive. With only two butchers within reasonable traveling distance -the pricey New York Butcher Shoppe and the Halal Butcher – and an over representation of steak in the supermarket, I couldn’t for the life of me find the meat! (Apparently there is also a lamb drought, according to my fellow yogi in crime, but that’s another story…)

 

 

Finally I found my veal shanks at The Fresh Market, which would be a nice place to do all my shopping if I was rich, instead of being unemployed and living on the opposite side of the world! Do you remember in my previous Osso Bucco post, back in the days of Gluten Free eating,  when I said:

“Osso bucco is a fantastic dish because this cut of the veal shank is usually quite inexpensive, which means you can spend the savings on two (or more?!) beautiful bottles of red – one for cooking, one for drinking”

 

 

Not so here, and $60 later I came out with 5 pieces. I mean, it’s veal shank, what?!?! Anyway, they were lovely meaty cuts from the hind leg, which is why I’m showing you photos of raw meat, and honestly it’s always worth the effort if the result is a yummy, cosy meal to share with your family and friends!

 

 

 

Tell me, what’s the most expensive ingredient you have paid for??

Blush. Eat. Sigh. Dream. Snuggle.

 

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