You’ve been known tell people that’s Nutella on your English muffin. It’s always brownie batter.
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?
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
250g (1/2 pound, about two cups) uncooked macaroni
2 cups low-fat milk
~1/4 cup beer
1t wholegrain mustard (the original recipe called for 1/2t mustard powder, but I had none)
1t salt, plus additional to taste
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
250g gravy or chuck beef, trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
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.
- 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.
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
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.
- 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
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
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)
Pic taken before I realized I hadn’t added enough liquid!
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!
When I was learning to cook from my mother, she told me to chop things as I went along. I could chop the garlic while the oil was heating, for example, or beat the eggs for a frittata while the filling was heating.
Now, I’m sure this method works great for my mother, who is an excellent cook who is quick to prepare her ingredients. When I cook this way, on the other hand, it leads to burnt food and a stressed-out Dina.
In the last couple of years, I’ve discovered that when making sure everything is prepared ahead of time - mise en place, as they call it in the culinary world - my cooking experience is much happier and safer for everyone involved. With few exceptions, I always make sure everything is ready before I start cooking now.
Plus, it can be really pretty sometimes!
One of my favorite spring vegetables is garlic shoots. I never saw them when I was living in the US, but they crop up here in Australia from time to time. I think they’re the same thing as garlic scapes, but I’m not sure. The Internet tells me that in the US, sometimes you can find garlic scapes at the farmer’s market, so once spring comes to the Northern hemisphere, keep an eye out there!
Garlic shoots are long and green. They have a mild garlic flavor and a hint of sweetness. You can use them raw in salads, or cook them into stir fry or pasta sauce. They can even be used to make a variety of pesto.
Last night I picked up some garlic shoots at Harris Farm Markets. Some things to note when picking out garlic shoots: first, make sure the tips of the shoots are not overly brown and second, make sure they are smooth and firm and not wrinkly and floppy.
(I should have taken a pic before I chopped them all up… whups!)
Here’s what I made for dinner last night. If you can find garlic shoots, you can make it too!
Pasta with Garlic Shoots and Sausages
1 bunch garlic shoots, chopped into 2cm (~1in) pieces
4 medium-sized mushrooms, sliced (I used small flat mushrooms)
1 can of diced tomatoes*
2 sausages (pick your favorite kind - I used roasted garlic and wild mushroom. FANCY!)
Herbs and spices, to taste (I used some mystery mixed spice I found on my counter. I should really label those bottles.)
250g (dry) pasta, cooked
Parmesan cheese (optional)
* This was how I intended to do it, but I didn’t have any canned tomatoes. I used some leftover chopped tomatoes we had in the fridge and a touch of premade pasta sauce. If you want to go with all fresh tomatoes for this, it would probably work quite well.
1. Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic shoots and saute briefly to release the flavors into the oil.
2. Add the mushrooms and the sausage saute until the sausage is browned.
3. Add the tomatoes. Cover and turn down to a simmer for about ten minutes or until your pasta cooks, stirring occasionally. (And don’t forget to stir. That’s how burning happens.)
4. Turn off the heat and mix in the pasta. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
- You can make this vegan by omitting the sausage and the cheese. You could use veggie sausage, but I’d probably just replace the protein with your favorite legume or pulse.
- You can add any vegetables you want to this. I’d stick with the tomatoes, personally, but even that’s up to your choice! You could add carrot, zucchini, spinach, or any other quick-cooking, non-starchy vegetable your heart desires.
(Note to the locavores: the garlic shoots I get usually come via China. For this reason, I tend to buy them only occasionally. I’d recommend keeping an eye on the farmer’s market for them, if you feel strongly about only eating locally! And if you know any garlic farmers, ask if they have any - they might not package them if they don’t sell well.)
I’m not a particularly proficient baker. I can make a delicious meal, but the bread to go with it or a pie for dessert? Forget it. My pie crusts are tough as shoe leather, my cakes taste floury, my brownies never quite cook right in the middle (clearly I need one of those “all edges” pans), my muffins sometimes more closely resemble hockey pucks… there’s a reason I stick to cooking dinner and buying my sweets.
It wasn’t always this way - I remember baking a lot as a teen. I wasn’t the best baker ever, but I wasn’t terrible, either. Maybe I just have a crappy oven, or maybe I lost some confidence somewhere along the way.
There are some things I do bake well, like this pumpkin bread/muffin recipe from The Fresh Loaf. I’m sure half the reason it’s so damn good is the chocolate chips, but it’s also the cinnamon and the pumpkin, I think. They come out so moist and wonderful, it’s worth having to puree your own pumpkin for!
I recently started a new position at work. I quickly noticed that they have a culture of bringing in delicious things to share. So I made some pumpkin bread and brought half a loaf to work with me! While many of my coworkers were wary (due to the reputation pumpkin has over here as a vegetable, not a sweet food), they were quickly won over by the deliciousness. Score!
I always need people to like me. One of my biggest anxieties when starting a new job or meeting a new group of people is “What if they don’t liiiiiike me?” My poor other half has had to hear me whining about it for weeks on end before I started this job. Trying to make people like me with baked goods is a new strategy, but one that seems to be working well for me thus far! (Let’s just hope I haven’t started a precedent. I’ve already had someone request pumpkin pie and… well, I can make the custard pretty well, but let’s not discuss the pie crust issue.)
This is one of my quick and easy dinners made from leftovers. I make it quite frequently. It involves one of my favorite foods: eggs.
I love eggs. Love, love, love them. I like them fried with a runny yolk, scrambled, poached, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, preserved, shirred… I have yet to meet an egg I don’t like.
A frittata is an open-faced omelet. Instead of filling a base of cooked eggs and folding it over, you cook the filling into the eggs, kind of like a quiche without a crust. You cook the egg until it’s set on the bottom, top with cheese (as little or as much as you’d like - those who are dairy-averse could easily leave it off, but I think it adds a nice flavor) and set the top under a grill/broiler.
Now on to the filling. The best frittatas include what my brother calls a “starchy matrix.” (My brother loves frittatas. In fact, the title of the recipe is inspired by him, although he usually uses a different word.) This means something like pasta, rice or potatoes (my brother says he once made one with cubes of stale bread, which I think sounds delightful). I’m a traditionalist - I usually make mine with leftover pasta and top with parmesan or mozzarella. Sometimes I’m known to make Mexican frittatas, too, with leftover Mexican rice, veggies, beans and cheddar cheese on top. I’ll bet you could even make a Chinese-inspired frittata with leftover fried noodles and perhaps a bit of soy sauce in the eggs. Just be sure to add herbs and spices to your eggs that match your filling!
So here’s your step-by-step. Hope you enjoy!
Frack Yeah Frittata!
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced (depending on taste)
Leftover pasta or other filling - enough to fill your pan
3-4 eggs (depending on how much filling you have. If you have a really small pan, you could probably even do fewer eggs.)
Appropriate herbs and spices
A handful of grated cheese (optional, kind of)
(Note - you’ll need to use an oven-safe skillet or frying pan.)
1. Lightly saute the garlic in a generous amount of olive oil (to prevent sticking).
2. Add your leftovers and toss in the olive oil. If they’re coming out of the fridge, get them nice and warm. Evenly distribute the filling in the pan.
3. Crack your eggs into a bowl and beat them with the appropriate herbs and spices.
4. Pour the eggs into the pan, trying to distribute it evenly around the filling. You might need to pick up the pan and tilt it to get the eggs to fill all the cracks.
5. Cook over medium heat until the bottom of the eggs set.
6. Turn on your grill/broiler.
7. Sprinkle your cheese (if desired) evenly on the top of the egg mixture.
8. When the grill/broiler is hot, slide the pan underneath it as closely as you can. Cook it thusly for about 5 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbly and the top of the eggs is set.
9. You can try to slide this from the pan onto a plate if you want to be all fancy, but I just serve it out of the pan these days. Use a spatula to loosen the bottom first.
Now go forth and make frittata!
(Note - I’ve heard tell of people making vegan frittatas with tofu or something like that. I know little of these things, but I’d love to hear your experiences if you’ve tried making a vegan frittata!)