Eat It With Your Face

Do you like food? Dina likes food. Sometimes she even tries to cook it, with mixed results. These are her gastronomical musings.
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A nutritionist came to my work the other day. I got my fifteen minutes in with her, in which she told me what I already knew: I should probably stop eating so much candy. She grabbed a box from her bag in which sat a single ball of of fruit and nuts. “Try making some of these bliss balls,” she said.

Energized and enthused, I went out on the weekend and bought a bunch of ingredients - dates, almonds, walnuts, coconut. I searched the Internet for recipes to try and decided on this one even though I didn’t have pistachios or cranberries - I figured I could sub them out for other nuts and dried fruit that I had on hand. I had images of bringing a batch of these to work instead of the cakes and cookies and chocolates that my coworkers forever bring in, and win office snacktime forever with delicious yet healthy treats for all.

I meant to make them on the weekend, but I got lazy and didn’t actually bust out the food processor until Thursday. I got out my ingredients and looked at the recipe… then realized that it called for 1/2 cup of honey. Aren’t dates sweet enough on their own? I thought. Isn’t this meant to be a healthy recipe? I decided to try pureeing just the dates and adding honey bit-by-bit until I had a decent consistency.

It should be said that my food processor is terrible. It’s about a quarter the size of a regular one. It can handle purees, but between the size and the tiny motor, it’s not the best for grinding nuts or basically anything.

With the dates alone, the food processor chopped the dates into slightly tinier pieces. I added a couple of tablespoons of honey and whizzed again. It turned into a thick date paste. Since the recipe said the mixture should be able to be stirred, I added another couple tablespoons.

When I pushed the button on the food processor, though, the blade couldn’t move at all. The food processor made some spooky whirring noises, and I could smell the motor trying to work. I tried adding a touch of water, but it did nothing.

I scraped the mess out of the food processor. It smelt strongly of honey. I looked at the ingredient list - 1 1/2 cups of oatmeal? Not bloody likely. I decided dried fruit was going to make a sickly mess, so I crushed some almonds and walnuts instead and squished it all together with my hands.

The final result? Eight ping-pong balls of honey, dates, chia seeds and nuts. Couldn’t exactly bring that to the office. So much for being the afternoon tea hero.

I shoved them in the fridge and didn’t touch them for a few days. When I finally decided to eat one, I was pleasantly surprised - I thought they’d be way too sweet, but they were just right.

Still, lessons learned…

  1. Get a food processor that doesn’t suck.
  2. Maybe add some kind of non-honey liquid.
  3. Maybe bliss balls aren’t really the healthy treat I was sold, but whatever, they do taste nice.

Trial and error, kids. Trial and error.

This weekend, I devoured something non-food-related - The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I found these books harrowing, compelling and evocative. As a writer, I’m angry I didn’t write them myself!

One of the many things I noticed about this book was the food. In a story where, for great periods of time, people don’t have enough to eat, this may seem strange - however, the food is described in such detail, from a simple hearthside meal to a decadent Capitol feast to a stealthily killed and roasted rabbit.

Food in Panem represented different things to different cultures. In the impoverished District 12, food was survival, but it was also comfort. In the Capitol, food was a sign of status. And in [spoiler removed], food was only seen as having worth in its utility - it seemed to me like they thought all meats and vegetables were interchangeable!

I don’t necessarily think that there is anything inherently wrong with any of these approaches, though. Food is important as a comfort mechanism, as well artistry. It is also important to remember that what we eat fuels our bodies, and that we can’t eat decadent food all the time (something I have remind myself of constantly). We need all of these approaches in balance!

And I would be remiss not to mention that reading those books has once again reminded me that I am extremely lucky to live in a country where I have plenty to eat, that I have never gone hungry in my life, that I even have the luxury of being able to throw away spoiled food (although I try not to let it get to that point). People are starving on our planet today. What can we do to help them?

Miso ramen and teriyaki salmon don, On Ramen, Haymarket, Sydney

Quick Bite: Oyako-don, Don Don Japanese Restaurant, Oxford Street, Sydney

Quick Bite: Miso Soup @ Don Don Japanese Restaurant, Oxford Street, Sydney

First, an apology for disappearing for so long. I recently started a new job, and unfortunately I got a bit overwhelmed! You know it’s sad when I’m too stressed out to cook, let along blog about cooking. But now I am only medium-whelmed, so a blogging I shall go.

What better way to rejoin the Internets than with this simple yet delicious recipe?

I originally found this stovetop one-pot macaroni and cheese recipe on Pinterest. It’s an interesting recipe - almost more like macaroni risotto than a traditional macaroni with cheese sauce. Rather than making a roux with butter, flour and milk, the starches from the macaroni thicken the sauce.

As I was cooking it, I found the two cups of milk they called for wasn’t enough for my macaroni. I looked over at the cooking beer I was having at the time and thought, “Why use water when I have this perfectly good beer?” So I added about a quarter cup of beer, a little bit at a time, until the macaroni were all cooked through. I also added frozen peas (thawed in the microwave like a boss), a diced tomato and a small can of tuna.

The outcome? Delicious, although I wish I’d added more cheese (and perhaps a different variety than the Coles brand tasty cheese) and a bit more salt. The malty flavor of the beer came through beautifully, though. Next time I want to try this with some Edam and perhaps a dash of parmesan.

Macaroni and Beer and Cheese

(based on this recipe from White on Rice Couple)

250g (1/2 pound, about two cups) uncooked macaroni
2 cups low-fat milk
~1/4 cup beer
1T butter
1t wholegrain mustard (the original recipe called for 1/2t mustard powder, but I had none)
1t salt, plus additional to taste
dash nutmeg
1 cup (or more!) grated cheese of your choosing
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tomato, diced
1 small (95g/~3.35 oz) can of tuna
freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Combine the macaroni, milk, butter, mustard, salt and nutmeg in a pot over medium-high heat.

2. Heat, stirring frequently, to a simmer. Turn heat to low.

3. Cook, stirring frequently, until the milk is absorbed. Add beer little by little until the macaroni is cooked.

4. Turn off heat. Add cheese and stir through. Cover for five minutes to allow the liquid to be fully absorbed.

5. Add peas, tomato and tuna. Mix together and serve topped with freshly ground pepper.

Variations: you could add whichever vegetables or meaty things sound good to you. Bacon? Green beans? Leftover roasted chicken? Go crazy! Next time I might also try adding some fresh herbs - maybe some thyme and rosemary.

Whenever I make beef casserole, the smell of it transports me into the past. I am once again eight or nine, sitting in my grandparents’ living room. My brother and I are playing Psyche-Paths in front of the woodstove while my grandmother cooks dinner and my grandfather watches whatever sporting match is on the television.

My grandfather is no longer with us and my grandmother no longer lives in that house, but I can still make a delicious beef casserole to warm me up on a cold day. (Seriously, Sydney, I thought this was meant to be spring…)

Beef Casserole with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

Casserole

250g gravy or chuck beef, trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
2 large eschalots/shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot
1/2 head of cauliflower
2 bay leaves
2 t herbes de Provence and 1 t peppercorns, in a bouquet garni*
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
optional - 1 t cornflour/cornstarch and 2T cold water

* to make bouquet garni, securely wrap herbs and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth or coffee filter. You can use a ball-type tea strainer too, but it’s a bit trickier - on most casserole pots, you don’t have anything to attach it to!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2-3 potatoes of a good mashing variety (ask your greengrocer - I used Desiree potatoes)
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 T butter
1/4 cup milk

1. Add a bit of olive oil to your pan and brown the beef on all sides, then remove to a plate.

2. Sautee the vegetables, starting with the eschalots and garlic, then adding the rest in.

3. Place the beef back into the pot and add the wine, stock, bay leaves and bouquet garni.

4. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. (If you have my stupid stove where one burner has a low setting of Freaking Hot and another has a high setting of Meh Kinda Warm, I recommend switching from the hot burner to the cool one.) Simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

5. Remove the cover and raise the heat so it continues to simmer.

6. Put the potatoes and garlic in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-20 minutes, or until the potato flesh can be easily pierced with a fork or the tip of a knife.

7. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return them to the pot (not over heat). Mash with butter and milk.

8. If the casserole is not thick enough, put the cornstarch in a small bowl. Slowly mix in water until smooth, then slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the casserole pot, stirring constantly until thickened.

9. Serve casserole over mashed potatoes.

Variations:

- Traditionally, a casserole like this would be made with celery, but the celery at the shop looked really sad and the cauliflower looked quite good! It fell apart a bit over the long cooking time, but I think it added a nice texture to the casserole. You could add it later if you want whole cauliflower bits in there.
- You could also add or substitute for other vegetables, such as mushrooms or tomatoes (canned or blanched and peeled). You can also use an onion in place of the eschalots.
- You can make the mashed potatoes dairy-free by using a vegetable spread or olive oil in place of the butter and a milk substitute or stock in place of the milk.
- You can use a different starch in place of the mashed potatoes, such as rice or quinoa.

I don’t like living my life in rigidly-defined categories. One of those rigidly-defined categories I’d like to explode: the difference between breakfast and dinner.

Enter brinner.

The term brinner was popularized on the hit TV show Scrubs. I believe the arc of that show was that Turk told Carla that if she loved him, she would make him brinner. Well, I must love my other half a lot. Then again, I also love brinner.

Last night we had pancakes for dinner, made with a recipe that I found on the Internet once and have never been able to find again. I shall reproduce it here entirely. It’s not a hard recipe to remember, luckily!


Dina’s Number 1 Pancakes
(serves 2)

Ingredients:
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon oil (I used pumpkin butter in its place)

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle.

2. Pour the rest of the ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and whisk together.

3. Drop onto a hot pan. Flip when bubbles form on the surface and the edges begin to look dry. Cook for another minute, then serve with your favorite condiments.

(This is what it looks like when you need to flip the pancakes.)

That’s it! Super easy, no? You’ll never buy pancake mix again.

Variations:

- Obviously you can replace the oil with fruit butter, as I did here. I’ve also been known to replace the oil and some of the milk with a mashed banana (when they don’t cost $10 a kilo, that is).

- You can also add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves with the dry ingredients. Experiment! Try stuff! Enjoy!

We had our pancakes last night with maple syrup, but I couldn’t resist having a couple with pumpkin butter on top. Mmm, pumpkin pie pancakes.


Hi, my name is Dina, and I’ve been a Pinterest addict for… oh, I don’t know, a while now.

Pinterest is a link-sharing site in which users “pin” images (with attached links) on to different “boards”, or groups of images/links. This can be used for many things - home decor decisions, showcasing designs you like, showing off interesting pictures you’ve found… but by and large, the main use of Pinterest seems to be for stay-at-home mothers sharing links to recipes, craft projects and homeschooling ideas and for other women to plan their weddings. (Which has made me feel compelled to be a one-woman force to weird Pinterest. You all should join me.)

The main reason I joined Pinterest was to create a repository of interesting recipes to try, and it has succeeded in that arena. The other day, my cousin Bri posted a link to a recipe for pumpkin butter. Immediately, my mind went to the many bags of pureed pumpkin sitting in my freezer. I looked over the ingredient list, and lo, I had all the ingredients except for the lemon. Score!

Yesterday afternoon, after an ill-fated but fun day trip to the mountains, we stopped off at the market to buy a lemon. Then I made the questionable decision to cook pumpkin butter standing on a rolled ankle. (I’m feeling it today, let’s just say.)

One thing the recipe doesn’t warn you about is the fact that when your pumpkin gets boiling, it turns into molten pumpkin gloop that will try to fly out of the pot and hit you in the face, which is not exactly a nice sensation. It is also not great for keeping your stovetop clean. However, you’re supposed to cook fruit butters uncovered to allow the water to evaporate off. I tried a method that I had read on another recipe for apple butter - I rested the lid on two wooden skewers. This allowed the steam to escape but kept the splatters (mostly) contained.

Once the pumpkin butter was cooked down, I cooled it off in a cold water bath (I put it in a smaller metal bowl that I floated in a larger Pyrex bowl full of cold water). Once it was lukewarm, I spooned it into a clean spaghetti sauce jar (don’t judge!) and put it in the fridge. (Do note that pumpkin butter needs to be refrigerated - you can’t can it to keep it on the shelf because of the risk of botulism, which is bad.)

After I had put the pumpkin butter in its jar and put it in the fridge, I realized I had forgotten to even add the lemon juice. D’oh! It still tastes wonderful without it, though. Kind of like pumpkin pie without the pie and with the added zing of the apple juice. I think next time I’d make it with dark treacle or molasses - really get that flavor in there!

What can you do with pumpkin butter? Well, it tastes *just fine* eaten off the spoon. ;) You can mix it into yogurt, cottage cheese or ice cream or spread it on bread or toast. You can also use it to replace some of the oil in baking recipes (like The Cook’s Thesaurus suggests with apple butter).

Or eat it off the spoon. I won’t stop you.

When the weather is dreary as it’s been in Sydney lately, I always feel like something warm and hearty. Comfort food. Growing up, my momma would always make us delicious soupy things in winter like chicken and dumplings and split pea soup with ham. Tonight, I decided to make the latter.

I used bacon bones to provide flavor and a bit of meat. I love that I live in a universe where these are a thing! If you can’t find bacon bones, a ham hock will do nicely, as will any other smoked, meaty pork bone. Of course, if you’re veg*n or don’t eat pork, you can leave it out - you might need to add a bit of salt and/or more herbs to compensate for the lost flavor, and definitely use stock for at least some of the liquid instead of water.

This recipe is extremely rough. It can change drastically. The only necessities are split peas and water - everything else is up to your discretion!

Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

500g (about 1 lb) split peas - green or yellow, take your pick
3 bacon bones or 1 meaty ham hock
2 stalks celery, chopped (including leaves)
2-3 carrots, diced (depending on size)
1 large potato, cubed
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
Olive oil
2 bay leaves
3t herbes de provence (or other herbs and spices as desired)
9-10 cups of a combination of chicken or vegetable stock, white wine and water (I used approx. 4 cups chicken stock, 1 cup white wine and 4 cups water, plus more water as needed)

  1. Wash your peas and pick over, checking for stones. If you’re a perfectionist like *ahem* some of us, don’t spend forever removing any stray hulls or discolored peas - we’re mostly looking for rocks here, people.
  2. Heat some olive oil. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is slightly transparent.
  3. Add the vegetables. Stir to coat in oil and saute until the celery leaves start to wilt.
  4. Add the peas and liquid.
  5. Add the bacon bones or ham hock, being sure that they are submerged in the liquid.
  6. Pic taken before I realized I hadn’t added enough liquid!

  7. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally and adding liquid (get it hot first - I use the kettle) until the peas are soft.
  8. Remove the bones from the soup. If you like a smoother soup, you can blend some of it now - I like mine chunky, so I don’t bother. Get as much meat off of the bones as you can and add it back to the pot.
  9. Turn off the heat and serve!

I recommend eating this with a nice crusty bread. Or on its own. That works, too.

Note on the wine: If you’re like me and can never finish a bottle of wine but like to cook with it, I recommend buying the tiny little airplane-sized bottles of wine to cook with. You may get a funny look at the check-out, but it’s better than wasting booze.

Aww, chibi wine!