Steak Night

29 Jan

I really am not much of a meat eater but we still love our steak nights. Granted, we only have them a few times a year (come to think of it, we should have it more often) but we enjoy them immensely.

Our steak dinner usually consists of steak, of course, grilled on my cast iron grill pan, mashed starchy vegetable of some description, steamed greens of some description and my favourite mushroom and sour cream sauce.

Steaming the veggies

I start with peeling and chopping mash vegetables – usually a combination of any of the following: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, parsnips or swede. I would add them to boiling water and place the steamer and lid on to.

Trying to get the timing right, I would place  the veggies that I’m serving with the steak on before the potatoes etc. are cooked. They are usually crunchy (rather than leafy) green but of course these can be anything including: green beans, snow peas, broccoli, broccolini, carrots, cauliflowers, peas, zucchini, squash, corn on the cob, asparagus, cabbage – just to, you know, name a few.

Mashed veggies

Unfortunately, I have discovered, the only way to make a truly delicious mash is to think of the absolute maximum mount of butter you feel you should add to the mash and then double it! Hopeless. But then, just don’t eat lots of it. It’s not too hard.

So once the mash veggies are cooked through, I would keep a bit of the cooking water and add to the mash. Season with salt and pepper. I also like to add a sprinkle of ground nutmeg if pumpkin or carrot is involved in the mash. And then a good dollop of any of the following: milk, butter, cream, sour cream or creme fraiche. Again, whatever you have on hand. I usually just stick to butter though – why mess with the classic? Not margarine though. Dear god, no. If you have margarine, get rid of it immediately.

Grilling Steak

I usually halve a piece of porterhouse steak (in fact usually budget porterhouse), rub it with a little bit of olive. I would heat up the cast iron grill until it smokes and place the meat pieces on. A minute later I would turn the meat 90 degrees to get the char grill effect. And turn it over another minute or so later. I usually aim for a medium rare but I usually just feel around the meat until it ‘feels right.’ There’s not much point buying a really beautiful cut of meat if you don’t know how to cook it and different cut requires different TLC. So I just stick to what I know. Frankly, since I’m not a meat person, the highlight for me is actually the…

Mushroom and Sour Cream Sauce

I know that so far I have been quite flexible with meat cuts and vegetable options but this is it though. I have tried a few sauces but this is my favourite.

Fry up some sliced button mushrooms and onion in a little of oil in a non-stick pan until browned. Add a few pinches of vegetable stock powder and a small amount of Maggi seasoning sauce to taste. Add a few spoonfuls of sour cream. Loosen with a little bit of water.

Happy steak night!

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Meal Planning. And Why I Don’t Do It.

25 Jan

(Omelet with chorizo, capsicum and spring onion)

I’m told that when you are trying to stick to a budget, it’s best to meal plan. Meal planning seems to involve the following concepts:

  1. Think of what you want to make over a period of a week or so (some people do it by the month)
  2. Buy/stock up on those ingredients
  3. Stick to the plan

I have slight problems with the meal plans because it doesn’t leave a lot of room for flexibility. What happens if you just can’t get the ingredients at its best quality and price? What happens if you are invited out for the night and didn’t make the meal planned? What happens if you’re too tired to make those meals? What happens if you just don’t feel like making what you’ve planned anymore?

Of course, these things require a lot of discipline. I am really not a discipline, organised person and I’d bet many of us struggle, too. I find that when I meal plan, I end up wasting more food.

A case of sour grapes perhaps, I am willing to concede. Instead these are what I do to make up for meal planning:

Buy whatever is fresh and cheap

When confronted with arrays of produce, I choose the freshest looking ones at the best price. This signifies availability. While our agricultural practice and transportation now allows us to eat outside of season to a certain extent and sometimes it’s perfectly fine to blur those seasonal lines a little, I find that learning what fresh looks and tastes like goes a really long way. Hold a fruit or a vegetable in your hand. What does that feel like? What does it smell like? What should an apple smell like? I find that these questions help to determine how fresh some foods are. Get to know the price of your vegetables. Is $9 a kilo for red capsicum cheap? How much should a kilo of carrot cost you?

Have an idea of what’s in season and buy that

But generally, it is quite obvious due to first rule. Any fruits and vegetables that got transported from China and the US is a lot less likely to be fresh. Apples are not all-year-around fruits. If you are eating an apple in late summer, be aware that it could be almost a year old or came across the world from the US.

Be flexible with making your meal, load up the veggies

What do you mean you don’t put potato into your Bolognese sauce? Have no potatoes and want mash? How about mashed carrots and pumpkin? If you have cucumber, carrot, tomato and spinach, what can you make with that? What about adding cauliflower to your mac and cheese? Can you make Greek salad without feta? Okay, so the answer to the last question is probably not but still you can make some really great salads from Things That Are Lying Around ™.

Make Things From Scratch

Try to anyway. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I know. I have a 6 week old baby. Why buy supermarket made schnitzel when all it takes is some breadcrumb, egg, herbs and meat? (okay so I get schnitzel cut from the butcher, meat is meat) If you already have ingredients lying around the house, just use them. Tweak, substitute and just generally try to make things from scratch.

Use your leftovers

Again, be creative. There are heaps of ways to stretch leftovers into the next meal. You don’t necessarily need to make bubble and squeak every time you have leftover mash. Try fish cakes instead. Use leftover roasts in fried rice and stir fries. The possibilities are endless.

Update: I started this post pre-baby and now with floods in Queensland and Victoria, we will start to see our produce being affected and the prices will go higher. Just bear in mind that, buying lots of expensive-ish vegetables will still be cheaper than buying processed foods and meats or take away. Seriously, if you’re seeing $2 rise per kilo of something, it will only translate to a few cents. Unless it’s watermelon. That, I can eat a couple of kilos in one sitting…

Recipe: Random Omelet

I trust everyone knows how to make omelet. So I will give a list of things you can throw into an omelet last minute. This omelet, by the way, is not strictly breakfast. When you’re tired and stuck for dinner idea, this is wonderful and filling. So see if you can make yourself a nice, filling omelet before you reach for the takeaway menu.

goat’s cheese, red capsicum strips, fresh parsley, onion, tomato, ham, tasty cheese, spring onions, cooked sausage, chorizo, fresh oregano, fresh tarragon, any fresh herbs really, corn, feta, bacon, zucchini, cooked potato, leftover roast veggies, BBQ chicken.

And the list goes on…

Why Boil a Whole Litre of Water?

28 Nov

When all you’re doing is making yourself a cup of tea?

That’s all I gotta say.

Random Savoury Muffins: Bacon, Feta and Capsicum

23 Nov

bacon, feta and red capsicum muffin

Muffins appeal to my hodge-podge nature. They are dead easy to make. They freeze well. Everything you put in them is great. You can make them sweet or savoury. You can throw in whatever is in the fridge at the time. If you’re stuck for lunch, serve them with a nice salad and it feels like a great cafe meal.

Basic Savoury Muffin Batter

(Makes 6 muffins or 12 mini muffins – this recipe uses standard Australian measurements.)

  1. 220 g. self-raising flour
  2. 3/4 cup milk or buttermilk
  3. 1 egg
  4. 3/4 cup vegetable oil (not strong-flavoured like extra virgin olive)
  5. 1o0 g. of ‘random ingredients’
  6. pinches of salt and pepper, to taste

Random Savoury Ingredients

You’ll need about 100g. of them in total

  1. Bacon, feta, red capsicum (finely diced)
  2. Goat’s cheese, asparagus (I’m lucky, my brother-in-law works for a cheese maker. I score a lot of free/cheap, good ‘gourmet’ cheese)
  3. Caramelised onion and fresh thyme (very slowly fry the onions with a bit of oil for about 10 minutes)
  4. Smoked salmon, ricotta and chives
  5. Semi-dried tomatoes and tasty cheese
  6. Leftover roast veggies (potatoes, carrot, whatever)
  7. Whatever is in your fridge!

mixing muffin batter

Preheat oven to 180’c. Whisk together the wet ingredients (milk/buttermilk, egg and oil) together until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix together just until combined. Do not overmix as this will toughen the muffins. Bake in non-stick muffin tins for about 20-30 minutes.

I am stocking them up in the freezer for when the baby comes!

The Goals: With What I Have

23 Nov

So here we are, a month later. I realise that this blog had sat untouched. Which I guess in a way, it reflects the WWWH ethos. I had no time! But as I mentioned, this blog is about trying to be better, and hopefully succeeding, so it includes finding some time. I am going to write down the goals here.

  1. Minimise food waste – recipe doesn’t call for that capsicum that really needs using? Throw it in anyway.
  2. Grow more stuff – this year I have planted some lettuce, new perennial herbs and kept some old ones. All in pots.
  3. Write down all the ideas – I am amazed at how my head works some times. It’s constantly on the go (yes even in the sleep-deprived state, such as now. I really ought to be napping and not writing a blog post) so I need to write down all the ideas I sacrificed my sleep time thinking and then try to execute them.
  4. Cook more real food – This is the simplest way to live better. Just cook yourself plain, simple, nutritious food. Make food that makes you happy. Make food with good, fresh ingredients and they will taste better. Sometimes I will need help (I’m not making my own fish sauce, hell no) but I will try to cut down compound ingredients as much as possible.

Seriously? That’s all I have so far.

Welcome to my new little blog: With What We Have

11 Oct

With What We Have will be a generically categorised as a food blog. But I hope it to be more than that. I hope, like my other blogs, it will be a journal of discoveries and memories. For me as the blogger and for you as the reader.

I want this blog to be about eating well and appreciating real food. But I don’t want it to be about food miles or sustainability or where my meat comes from or what is natural or what isn’t or sugar-free or gluten-free or food additives.

I want it to be simpler than that.

I want it to be about cooking by someone in my shoes. Or your shoes. I believe that while we are all different, we are also the same. I want it to be made with what I have.

I am the girl who works 40 hours a week every week day. I am the girl who spends additional 2 hours everyday travelling to and from work and I consider myself time poor. I earn average professional wage. I live in a rental unit in a Melbourne suburb with my husband. I shop at the local supermarket mostly and I buy store brands. Sometimes I get lucky and get to visit a farmers’ market. And I am expecting our first child in two months.

I am going to take a year off work to be a full-time mother. Financially unemployed.

Cooking isn’t my passion. But eating is. And so is living well and be happy and having a good life.

And I want to do that without needing more. I want to be kind to the environment. I want to support our farmers, food makers, restaurateur and artisan bakers. I don’t want to support big chain supermarket, big food companies who lie about powdered milk in the third world country, caged eggs and factory farmed animals.

But sometimes most of the times, I can’t help that. But I will try. And this blog will be about how I try.

But I have to try without breaking the budget. I need to try to do it realistically. I need to do it with the time, budget and responsibility constraints that I have. That you will have. That most of us have.

I want to do it with what I already have. I believe that you don’t have to make drastic changes to your life to become better and eat real food. You can become healthier by doing things only slightly differently. You don’t need to sign petitions or become a vegan. Or boycott supermarket chains. Or ditch your car.

Well, you can. But if only you feel you should and can handle the ramifications of those changes.

So I will try to be better, live better, eat better. With what I have.