Tag Archives: Cook

A harvest of health

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Just think of all the beautiful sunshine that was poured into these natural delights!

My resolution to eat a salad as a main meal every day for 30 consecutive days has been going splendidly. I feel so blessed by the bountiful ‘harvest’ I’m able to buy!

Of course, I’m in a city in the twenty-second century, so unfortunately my fresh produce doesn’t come to me with bits of soil still clinging to it… One day I hope to have a little patch of land where I can experiment with growing a few of my own fresh goodies, but for now I buy the freshest and the best selections I can for my money and convenience, and it’s a blessing.

This is one way I measure wealth: when my fridge is full not just of food, but of good food that hasn’t been fiddled with too much between God’s hand and my plate 🙂

There are so many diets and eating plans out there, some of which totally take over people’s lives. That’s not for me. I’m just content to make small changes for the better wherever I can.

If the label says ‘organic’ and I can afford it, I’ll buy it. And on the other end of the spectrum, if the best-before date is in a year’s time, I don’t really want to be putting that stuff in my body!

I know most of my readers will be heading for their northern-hemisphere winter now, so salads may not seem very appealing. But may I encourage you to balance out your cold-weather comfort foods with fresh produce whenever you get a chance.

You’ll reap a harvest of health 🙂

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Rat-themed cupcakes

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It’s a rainy grey day in my corner of the world today – and as you know, this weather always draws me into the kitchen to make sweet treats (boy it’s a good thing I don’t live in the UK or I’d become a real roly poly!). I baked ratty cupcakes today, and tried out a new marshmallow frosting technique for fun.

Rat-themed cupcakes

Rat-themed cupcakes

The cupcake recipe is the same one I used for my husband’s ninja-themed party. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried a rat or mouse theme with baking, but it’s the first time I’ve used cute mini Marie biscuits for ears 🙂 The eyes are noses are just silver and red dragees. I would have loved to have added whiskers too; maybe next time…

The marshmallow icing was sticky messy fun 😀 It’s a quick alternative to normal icing with confectioner’s sugar – if you happen to have marshmallows on hand, of course.

Making marshmallow frosting

Making marshmallow frosting

It’s as simple as taking the cupcakes out of the oven about two minutes before they’re done baking. Place a marshmallow on top of each warm cupcake and pop them all back in the oven.

Marshmallow frosted cupcakes

Marshmallow frosted cupcakes

Hardly a minute later, as you see the marshmallows sliding and melting, take them out again and smooth the sticky sweets over the surface of the cupcakes. Then pop them back in one last time for a minute longer so they melt completely. Take them out again, decorate and cool as usual.

Cute rat cupcakes

Cute rat cupcakes

The marshmallow icing is very sticky to work with but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s not too sweet if you only use one ‘mallow per cupcake.

So, did I share my ratty cupcakes with my ratties?

What do you think? 😉

Five years of marriage

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Hello all, sorry I’ve been so quiet lately… there’s been a stack of stuff going on, much of which I’ve been longing to blog about, but there just never seems to be enough time. ANYway, I’m sure life’s exactly the same for you too 🙂

Anni 1

The other day Ninja and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. As clichéd as it may seem, I can hardly believe how quickly the time has passed since my wedding day 😯

We celebrated the occasion with a fancy romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended to us by a friend. (Another goal worked on: Goal #70, visit 5 new restaurants. This was the third so far.) What a gorgeous dining experience! The restaurant is Café del Sol in Olivedale, Johannesburg, and here’s what we enjoyed for our three courses of the meal…

Anni 2

My starter

To start the evening I ordered the Italian Primavera Rolls – rice pastry rolls filled with real imported Parma Ham, rocket and smoked mozzarella, then deep fried & served with a creamy white wine sauce. They were oh! just incredible! :mrgreen:

Ninja's starter

Ninja’s starter

Ninja chose the tasty Avocado al-Ritz, which involved pan-fried queen prawns dressed in homemade basil pesto mayonnaise, served with avocado, rosa tomatoes and a zesty Parmesan and rocket salad. (I must apologise that some of the pics aren’t that clear; it’s a bit tight trying to focus with a 50mm prime lens on a crop-sensor camera when I’m stuck at the table and can’t ‘zoom with my feet’! And I didn’t spend too much time taking pics because we were so eager to start eating.)

My main dish

My main dish

I was tempted by just about everything on the menu, but since our friend had specifically suggested we try the risottos, I obeyed. I ordered the Porcini Mushroom Risotto, which is a warm creamy mix of earthy Porcini mushrooms, green peas and a drizzle of truffle oil. I was not disappointed at all, but I’d forgotten how filling a risotto can be! Next time I would definitely ask for a half portion.

My man's main meal

My man’s main meal

Now, I ain’t no steak-chompin’ cowgirl, but whoah! Ninja’s main course was fantastic! He didn’t take long to choose the Lamb Rack (which Café del Sol rightfully claims is one of their bestsellers) – 400g of French trimmed lamb rack served on Porcini mushroom and pea risotto with a deep & delicious red wine jus. That meat just melted in our mouths (Ninja was benevolent enough to let me taste a bite).

And then came the best part…

My dreamy dessert

My dreamy dessert

…the sweet treats! To round off the delicious evening, I picked the Amaretto Semi Freddo: creamy and cool, this homemade delight is drowned in the Italian liqueur Amaretto & garnished with crunchy Amaretti Biscotti. Say it with me: ‘Ahhhhh…!’ It was so good that when I took my first bite I had to hold up a hand to stop Ninja in the middle of his sentence, just so I could close my eyes and enjoy the exotic flavours. Yeah, I literally did that. Poor man 😉

Ninja's 'dessert'

Ninja’s ‘dessert’

You’d be right if you thought that looked like a starter. It’s the Haloumi Stack that my funny hubby ordered for ‘dessert’. (You see? I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that Ninja doesn’t do dessert. He wouldn’t know a sweet tooth if it bit him in broad daylight!) Still, what mattered was that he was just as happy with his meal’s ending as I was with mine…

Ninja & Zest ~ 5 years

Ninja + Zest ~ married 5 years!

…and that we’re both even happier together now than we were when we started this journey five years ago 🙂

Strawberry and marshmallow dessert

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For our Spring Day feast I made us a really quick, easy, inexpensive and tasty dessert. It only uses three ingredients and satisfied every palate, rounding off our feast with a treat that’s both fruity and sweet. I don’t really have a proper name for it though, so let’s just call it a strawberry and marshmallow dessert.

Strawberry and marshmallow dessert

Strawberry and marshmallow dessert

You could start making this dessert the day before your dinner party. I did, by preparing some jelly (I think you guys call it Jell-O overseas?) in four dessert glasses. I only had the raspberry flavour in my cupboard at the time, but you could always experiment with different options. And I’m sure this would work with other fruit too, such as bananas or peaches.

Jelly base for dessert

Jelly base for dessert

This jelly base set overnight in the fridge, so all I had to do today was to slice up some fresh strawberries and prepare the marshmallow sauce.

Fresh strawberries form the next layer of the dessert

Fresh strawberries form the next layer of the dessert

The hot marshmallow sauce was a random idea I’d had. I wasn’t sure it would even work, but luckily it did 🙂

In a double boiler (a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water) I melted together about two cups of mini pink and white marshmallows. I guessed they’d become quite sticky, so I first greased the bowl with vegetable oil. As they started melting I stirred in a little milk, which thinned and smoothed the sauce beautifully.

Melting marshmallows

Melting marshmallows

The last step was then simply to spoon the warm, sweet, sticky sauce over the strawberries, and serve them up.

I was concerned the marshmallow sauce would be too sweet (you know how sickly sweet they get when you cook them over a fire?), but when the sauce mixed with the tart, unsweetened strawberries, the balance was perfect.

Quick, easy, cheap, creamy, sweet and almost healthy – it’s everything you want in a dessert! 😉

Spring Day feast

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Happy Spring Day to those in the southern hemisphere! Sorry my northern friends, I don’t mean to rub it in that your warm weather is slowly seeping southwards 😉

But winter isn’t over for us yet – it was absolutely freezing icy cold this morning. When we went to church we joined huddles of hunched-over people wrapped in thick coats and jerseys. Even the heartiest singing didn’t warm us up today!

Thankfully, though, Jozi is usually sunny even when it’s cold, so as I write here this afternoon I have warm bright sunshine flooding my desk… and cheerfully highlighting all the dust I haven’t got around to cleaning… Meh.

Anyway, enough of that. What I’m really here to write about is the delightful Spring Day feast I made for Ninja and my parents today. My folks were originally coming over to meet their new ‘grandrats’, but since that’s been delayed we just turned it into a celebration of the first day of spring.

Spring Day 2013

Spring Day 2013

For the decor I chose mismatched and cheerful colours, using what I had around the house instead of spending extra on new fancy stuff. For example, I had these bright orange paper cups in the cupboard, so I just prettied them up with spring-themed flower stickers.

For Marzipan

For Marzipan

I used my multicoloured bamboo placemats and colourful serviettes left over from my first special dinner. Ninja had also bought these cool 3D/holographic bookmarks for each of us, so we gave my mom the horsey one and my dad the eagly one (oops, couldn’t resist inventing a word there).

For Daz

For Daz

I also snipped a few sprigs off a jasmine bush to use as our centrepiece. I so enjoy the scent of those flowers: it always tells me my favourite season has arrived at last.

Jasmine

Jasmine

And now for the best part: the food 😀 I made us a three-course meal as follows:

Spring Day menu

Spring Day menu

In case you can’t see the text on the pic, our starters were those mini pizza mushrooms that I first made for this dinner and then again for this dinner. I also recently hosted my in-laws for lunch and made it for them too. In fact, I could quite easily make that starter for every fancy dinner for as long as I live, and never tire of it. Those ‘shrooms are just so darn delicious!!!

The main course was ham and spring onion clafoutis with roasted cherry tomatoes and avocado with basil pesto mayo. This is where I had the most fun, since I love experimenting with new dishes and flavours. (I’m determined not to lose that interest even though I no longer have as much spare time for experimenting as I had before…).

I’d never made a clafoutis (say: ‘klafootee’) before, but I based my recipe on this one and simply substituted ham and spring onions for the basil and tomatoes. I also used four small ramekins rather than one big dish. It’s such a simple and easy recipe, and my family enjoyed it (though we all added some extra salt, without which it would have tasted far too mild and milky).

Tomatoes ready for the oven

Tomatoes ready for the oven

The roasted cherry tomatoes are an idea shared with me by my best friend. She first made it for me with pasta and wilted spinach (oh, how well we ate that day!), but the tomatoes work perfectly on their own too. Simply wash them, pop them in an ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil and season with whatever herbs and spices you like (I used origanum, pepper, chives and salt). Then bake them for 30 minutes at 180 °C – which was ideal in this case because that’s the same as for the clafoutis, so I baked them together.

Savoury clafoutis with roasted tomatoes and avo with basil pesto mayo

Savoury clafoutis with roasted tomatoes and avo with basil pesto mayo

As you can see from the pic above, the poor clafoutis had no patience with me fussing with the photography… it started to deflate almost as soon as I took it from the oven 😛 Still delicious though.

The basil pesto mayo was also a hit (with everyone except my plain-eating husband, hehe). Since I enjoy basil but can’t eat the garlic they usually put in commercial pestos, I decided to make my own pesto. As a replacement for the pine nuts used in standard pestos, I added a few spoons of ground almonds. Hmmm. Didn’t do much for me. Then I simply mixed up low-fat mayo and milk, and stirred tiny shreds of fresh basil into the mix. Yum! A perfect complement to the plain avocado, with none of the disadvantages (for me at least) of using garlic.

And the dessert of fresh strawberries and hot marshmallow sauce? That’ll be my next post 🙂

My favourite meal of the day

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Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Breakfast is definitely my favourite meal of the day :mrgreen:

Nothing gets me up and out of bed like the anticipation of a good breakfast. While Ninja is one of those people who dislike eating too early in the day, I’m ready to nom as soon as I’ve opened my eyes.

Recently I’ve changed over from cold cereal as my standard start to the day, to a warm bowl of cooked rolled oats with a variety of toppings. Warm, healthy, tasty and filling… the ideal first meal of the day.

I loathed oats when I was a kid, but that’s probably because I only encountered them at church camps and other strange places, where they were cooked until they were grey and flavoured with salt as well as sugar. Gag. The oats I make for breakfast these days are gourmet in comparison!

The bowl pictured above shows one of the best combinations I’ve come up with so far. The oats are cooked in coconut milk and water, with a dash of vanilla essence. Then I top them with dried cranberries, blueberries, raisins and goji berries, drizzle on some honey and sprinkle cinnamon and a few flax seeds on top. YUM!

And when summer hits South African shores, I think I’ll stick to my warm winter cereal but top it with more fresh fruits instead 🙂

Do you enjoy oats for breakfast? What toppings have you tried before?

Oriental pie with chutney, avo and banana

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I’m probably doing this all wrong, posting a hearty winter dinner recipe when most of you are enjoying a long-awaited summer. But deliciousness must be shared, no matter the season! You could always bookmark it for wintertime in your hemisphere 😉

Oriental pie with chutney, avo and banana

Oriental pie with chutney, avo and banana

Oriental pie filling

1 onion, chopped (or 2 T dried chives)

1 T oil

1 t curry powder, heaped

½ t ground ginger, heaped

1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)

±350 g mince

1 bay leaf

3 ripe tomatoes, chopped

¼ C vinegar

30 ml brown sugar

Salt and pepper

Method

1. Fry onions/chives in oil.

2. Add curry, ginger, garlic and mince. Fry until mince browns.

3.  Add rest of ingredients. Cook on medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated.

4.  Place in a casserole dish. Prepare the topping.

Oriental pie is delicious served on a bed of brown rice

Oriental pie is delicious served on a bed of brown rice


Oriental pie topping

1½ C flour

1 t baking powder

½ t salt

1 t curry powder, heaped

40 g butter

1 onion, grated (or 1 T dried chives)

1 garlic clove, chopped (optional)

1 egg, beaten

½ C water

Ingredients for the topping

Ingredients for the topping

Method

1. Sift dry ingredients together.

2. Rub in butter.

3. Add onion/chives and garlic.

4. Mix egg with water and add to mixture.

5. Mix well. Spoon over oriental pie filling.

6.  Bake at 180 °C for 30 min.

A warm and spicy winter dinner

A warm and spicy winter dinner

Notes

  • I’m not sure of the origins of this recipe; I suspect it was a Cape Malay dish, but my version comes from my mom.
  • As you can see, I’ve used dried chives because Ninja and I are allergic to onion and garlic.
  • You could make this dish as mild or as spicy as you like by varying the flavours to taste.
  • I always enjoy curried dishes with avocado, banana and fruit chutney on the side. We use the South African classic, Mrs Ball’s Peach Chutney – loved by South Africans and imported by expats everywhere!
Oriental pie

Oriental pie

Sugar-free gluten-free coconut crumpets

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This 21-day sugar detox has been a surprising experience so far. Until I began this detox, I had no idea such a thing as coconut flour even existed!

Crumpets/pancakes made with coconut flour

Crumpets/pancakes made with coconut flour

Of course once I discovered it, I immediately wanted to try making my favourite food with coconut flour :mrgreen: As you know by now, my favourite food is crepes (called pancakes here in South Africa), with crumpets (called pancakes overseas) following a close second.

The various recipes I browsed through seemed to suggest that crepes would be a bit tricky (though not impossible) to get right with coconut flour, so I decided to try out a recipe for crumpets/pancakes instead. I came across this recipe, which seemed simple and used ingredients I had on hand.

I adapted it a little because I can’t have honey or other sweeteners while I’m on the 21DSD detox, so this is what I used:

Ingredients

4 whole eggs

1/4 C coconut flour (finely sifted to remove all clumps)

1/4 C plain full-cream yoghurt

1 t vanilla essence

1 t mixed spice

Butter/oil/coconut oil for frying

Coconut flour pancakes

Ingredients

Most of the info I read about coconut flour referred to how quickly it absorbs liquids. Since I didn’t want these crumpets to soak up too much butter, I only used a little butter and fried the pancakes in a non-stick pan. It was perfectly easy:

Method

1. Mix all ingredients to make a batter.

2. Fry spoonfuls in a little oil/butter on a medium to high heat.

Fry crumpets in coconut oil, vegetable oil or butter

Fry crumpets in coconut oil, vegetable oil or butter

3. Carefully flip over when the bottom has cooked and bubbles start to form around the top edges.

4. Once golden brown and cooked through, remove from pan and drain (if needed).

Make sure both sides are golden brown

Make sure both sides are golden brown

5. Serve with your toppings of choice.

Coconut flour pancakes with green apple and pecan nuts

Coconut flour pancakes with green apple and pecan nuts

These turned out pleasantly delicious, but I did miss the sweetness I’m used to. To pep up these healthy crumpets, I enjoyed them with my daily allowance of one green apple, as well as some pecan nuts and desiccated coconut.

Not a bad way to make it through another sugarless day 😉

Crunchy oat and cereal bars

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Remember how my first attempt at making cereal bars turned out? Well, if at first you don’t succeed… right? 🙂

I was determined to figure out a good recipe for homemade bars that ticked the following boxes:

  • They had to be egg-free, because I need them to keep well (unfridged) for a whole week
  • They had to be easy to vary, because I just don’t do monotony :mrgreen:
  • They had to dry into a hard, crunchy form – and stay that way
  • They had to be as healthy as possible
  • And of course, they had to taste great

Cereal bars

Here’s the first recipe I came up with after trying to balance the wet and dry ingredients so the bars wouldn’t fall apart:

Ingredients

2 C cereal (I used Kellogg’s rice-and-wheat cereal flakes that I crushed a little)

1 C puffed brown rice

1 C desiccated coconut

1/4 C syrup

1/4 C peanut butter

1/4 C honey

1 t vanilla essence

40 g butter

Method

1. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Step 1

2. Melt together the syrup, peanut butter, honey, butter and vanilla essence.

Step 2

3. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well.

4. Press the mixture into a lined baking tray.

Step 4

Step 4

5. Bake at 190 °C for 15–20 minutes, until golden and toasty.

6. Carefully cut into slices as soon as they’re out the oven, then leave to cool completely.

Step 6

Step 6

Note: Don’t be like me, thinking you can squeeze in a game (or three) of Plants vs Zombies while these bake! Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Mine were a teensy bit too toasted, though still edible.

Crunchy cereal bars

Crunchy cereal bars

Verdict

  • These weren’t bad for a thumb-sucked recipe, but they were a bit too peanut buttery for my liking.
  • They held together very well and stayed crunchy all week (I wrapped them individually in clingwrap and stored them in an airtight biscuit tin).
  • This recipe would really benefit from using rice paper to line the baking tray. I had a tough time getting the bars off the baking paper and vice versa.
  • The wet ingredient mix was just a tiny bit short, so at the last moment of mixing I had to add a further blob of melted butter so that all the wet and dry ingredients would form a proper mixture.

Healthy lunchbox snacks

After we’d eaten up that first batch, I made the recipe again for the next week, but with the following tweaks:

Ingredients

1 C puffed brown rice

1 C cereal

1 C rolled oats

3/4 C desiccated coconut

1/4 C filled with pumpkin seeds, flax seeds (linseeds) and sesame seeds

1/4 C syrup

1/8 C honey

1/8 C peanut butter

1 t vanilla essence

50 g butter

1 small carob chunk

Method

The method is the same as above, except that I melted a carob chunk with the rest of the wet ingredients.

Verdict

These refinements to the recipe made it even better. I preferred the bars with less peanut butter, and the carob added a pleasant chocolatey flavour. The bars were slightly soft though, so I’m thinking of reducing the butter to 40 g next time so that the bars aren’t too moist. They lasted well for a whole week, although by Friday they were starting to feel a bit soft.

I’ll keep tweaking an experimenting until I find the perfect concoction! 🙂

Ratty noodles

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Well, I’ve survived the first few days of being back in the office. Seeing my old colleagues again has been fun, but getting out of bed early has not! Being a housewife sure made me lazy appreciate sleeping in 😉

Anyway, between catching up with housework and preparing for another early day tomorrow, I don’t have too much time to blog this evening. So I thought I’d let the ratties star in this short-and-sweet post…

Ratties L-O-V-E pasta! Gnawing on dry pasta helps them file down their long, ever-growing teeth. And cooked pasta is one of their favourite treats.

Here’s Coffee getting excited about cooked macaroni:

Coffee, want a noodle?

Coffee, want a noodle?

Got one!

And here are two funny pics of the girls hoarding dry noodles :mrgreen:

Coffee never does anything by halves: three noodles at once!

Funny little Flea holds her noodle like a cigar