I don't think Garfield would mind this.

Hello, my dears.

Last night I went to a friend’s birthday do and so didn’t cook. I believe The Boy had something from the fridge to eat – but he can’t remember what. Sigh.

Today we went to visit some peeps in another town and I made some Hidden Treasure Muffins to take with us. They seem to be on high rotation lately.

As a result, I need to add condensed milk and muffin cases to my list for next week.

When we got home, I was close to death from this virus that seems to have me in its clutches, so I really didn’t feel like preparing anything.

However, we had the leftover meat sauce from Wednesday night in the fridge and the ricotta that I didn’t use at the pasta-making class, so I combined the two.

Meat sauce in dish

Meat sauce in dish.

I layered the meat sauce with the ricotta and some pasta sheets into a lasagne-type arrangement.

Plain ricotta.

Plain ricotta.

Then I baked it for 40 minutes or so, before scattering breadcrumbs and shredded parmesan over the top.

Crunchy topping

Crunchy topping.

It was baked for a further 10 minutes and then served.  I can’t say I was impressed with it – the ricotta really didn’t hit the mark as a bechamel sauce substitute – but it was adequate.

I don't think Garfield would mind this.

I don’t think Garfield would mind this.

Our tummies were full of something wholesome and I get to go to bed happy. There are now two serves of this in the freezer as well for future unplanned-for meals.

Tomorrow I hope to publish a post on cornbread cobbler, which is a great way of stretching out a stew or chilli or even of rehashing it; as I just did with this meat sauce.

Don’t hold me to it though, my throat is on fire right now….

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I made a yummy.

Before I forget, yesterday I left out the $11 BBQ Chicken I had bought a few days before. It has been picked clean with the meat frozen in portions, and the carcass used in stock.

The amount I have left in my food budget is therefore $11.52. So I can still get eggs if I need them…

Anyway, today I managed to not get killed in a sudden hailstorm. This made me very happy.

I was even happier when I got home and then got warm.

The decision was made to make an apple crumble using some of the Apple and Quince pie filling I made a few months ago.

Apple and Quince Crumble

Apple and Quince Crumble.

Then I decided that I would use those beautiful pork sausages you saw me freeze a few weeks back. I had started making a hot pot with them, and had just added some fennel seeds, when I remembered that fennel bulb from the vegetable shopping.

So, I made a WONDERFUL cassoulet-like dish with pork sausages, fresh fennel and cannellini beans.

I made a yummy.

I made a yummy.

My goodness it was good. And I served it on a bed of mashed, slow-cooked sweet potato. Because I could.

I’ve documented all the steps, so I shall be able to post a recipe for you soon-ish.

It made enough for four, so we got a meal’s worth of leftovers from it – for this I am grateful.

I didn’t make biscuits. That can wait until tomorrow.

That’s it for tonight, Lovelies. Speak tomorrow.

 

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Chilli con Carne (Budget Bounty style)

Dinner is served.

First off, let me get one thing clear: Chilli con Carne means Chilli with meat.

There is no such thing as Vegetarian Chilli con Carne.

There. I feel better now.

This is a dish I have adapted from one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes out of his book, Happy Days with the Naked Chef. I pretty much follow his recipe but get rid of a lot of fiddling around.

I’m sure he’d approve.

I also tend to cook it in a slow cooker, but I’m guessing that this surprises precisely no-one.

My step-father is a fiend for chilli. When I lived in Canberra, and knew he was driving up from Melbourne to see me, I would get this dish to the long simmer stage the night before and pop it in the fridge overnight. I’d put it in the slow cooker on low just before I went to work in the morning and it would be gorgeous by the time I got home to find him waiting for me.

Nowadays, I find it perfect for cold to just-bordering-on-utterly-miserable days. Put it on early and leave it to do its thing until you’re ready to eat. In the meantime, your home smells gorgeous.

Leftovers are not to be scoffed at.

Leftovers are not to be scoffed at.

You can cook this on the stove top, in the oven or in the slow cooker (3 litre size for this recipe). Whatever works for you.

It makes a whole heap, so you can feed a crowd, make a ton of leftovers to eat during the week for a singleton or individual frozen meals for future famines of inspiration.

Start with a chopping board, a knife and some vegies. If you intend to cook this on the stove or in the oven, you’ll want a Dutch oven style pot with a tight-fitting lid. Get your slow cooker set up if that’s what you’d prefer to use. In this case I also put the cooker on low and empty the tins of tomatoes into it – just to get it warmed up and going.

Get your slow cooker on-line.

Get your slow cooker on-line.

Now, dice up an onion, a stick of celery and a carrot as finely as you like (or are able).

Start by sauteeing the trinity.

Start by sauteeing the trinity.

Heat your pan over a medium heat with a little olive oil. (Use a frying pan for this stage if you intend to slow cook.)

Add your chopped vegetables and a teaspoon of crushed garlic. I don’t mind if this comes from a jar. Cook gently until the onion softens and becomes translucent.

Now add your minced beef. You’ll want about half a kilo or a pound of meat to serve four. Continue to fry, stirring gently to brown the meat almost all the way through. I like to push the vegetables aside at first, but do what works for you.

Once it is browned sufficiently, you can add a mix of ground cumin, chilli powder and fresh chilli OR you can use whatever commercial chilli blend you prefer. Make it as hot or as mild as you wish, but add the spices at this stage to fully release the aromatic oils that they contain.

Add your meat and spices.

Add your meat and spices.

Mix it all together as thoroughly as you can, just to get those flavours a little more melded.

Looking good.

Looking good.

If you are using the slow cooker, then transfer your mixture into it now. Add the contents of 2 x 400 g tins of diced tomatoes and a small jar of sun-ripened tomato pesto.

I get the latter from Aldi. It only costs $2 and is quite affordable for the punch of flavour it gives. You may wish to drain off some of the oil from the top of the jar, but this isn’t necessary. It’s a matter of taste.

Sun-ripened tomato pesto.

Sun-ripened tomato pesto.

Mix together well, add a half glass of water and a stick of cinnamon (yes, really) and season to taste. (Leave out the water if slow cooking.)

Stick of cinnamon.

Stick of cinnamon.

Bring the mixture to the boil and place a piece of greaseproof paper between the pot and the lid. Turn the heat down to simmer on the stove for 1-1½ hours. Alternatively, transfer to the oven for the same amount of time.

Add the tinned kidneys beans about 30 minutes before serving to allow them to warm through.

I forgot to strain the oil off the pesto - can you tell?

I forgot to strain the oil off the pesto – can you tell?

Serve with crusty bread, on plain steamed rice, on boiled pasta as a meat sauce, on mashed potatoes, over corn chips, topped with a cornbread cobbler (recipe coming soon) or in tacos or burritos. Have your way with it.  Goodness, you could even top it with mashed spud and call it Shepherd’s Pie if you want.

It’s a really versatile dish.  Enjoy.

Chilli con Carne (stove and oven)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

2 medium onions, diced

1 stick celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

olive oil

2 level tsps chilli powder

1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

500 g minced beef (err toward the leaner cuts)

I x 190 g jar sundried tomato pesto, excess oil drained from top and discarded.

2 x 400 g tins diced tomatoes

2 x 400 g tins kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 stick cinnamon

Method

Preheat oven to 150°C/ 300° F, if using.

In a metal pan or casserole with a tight-fitting lid, heat olive oil gently.

Add diced vegetables and garlic until onions are softened and translucent.

Add the minced beef and sauté gently until browned through. Add the spices or substitute any low-salt tex-mex style blend you prefer.

Add the contents of the jar of pesto and the two tins of diced tomatoes with a small glass of water. Stir well and add cinnamon stick.

Bring to a boil, cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and the lid and reduce heat to a simmer.

Cook for 1½ hours on the stove top or transfer to the oven for 1½ hours.

At the 1 hour point, add the kidneys beans and stir thoroughly to warm through.

Variation:

Slow cooker:

Prepare a 3 – 4 litre (quart) slow cooker.

Follow directions as above to the using a medium sized frying pan.

Transfer contents of pan to slow-cooker and add the contents of the jar of pesto and the two tins of diced tomatoes.

Stir well and add cinnamon stick.

Bring to a boil on High, then reduce heat to LOW.

Cook for 3-6 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

30 minutes before serving, add the kidney beans to heat through.

If the mixture is too wet, sauce may be thickened using cornflour, or soaked up using a cobbler topping.

Hungry yet?

Hungry yet?

Low-Fuss Macaroni and Cheese (Slow Cooker)

I think I mentioned some time ago that I lived in Texas for a bit and that, when I was there, I cooked mostly with a little 1.5 litre (1 Quart) slow cooker.

Many wonderful things emerged from that device (and were eaten with gusto), but one that I still continue to make is Mac and Cheese.

Now, during my residency of San Antonio, I discovered that Americans have a plethora of magazines devoted to slow cookers and slow cooking – it was quite startling just how many there were when I’ve yet to see one such thing here in Oz. No doubt we will soon catch up given that Diabetes specific magazines are appearing here now too and they had oodles of those.

Remember the Alamo.

Remember the Alamo.

Anyway, I bought one or two and was off. It was in one of them that I discovered that Macaroni and Cheese could be prepared all-in-one-pot and cooked slow. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my copies of the magazines back with me (excess luggage dontchaknow) so I can’t attribute this with an original source. However, I have fiddled with it and made it often enough now that I can honestly say that I don’t think it actually resembles the original all that closely.

The original held something called Velveeta – which didn’t agree with me at all, and several cheeses containing the word “Jack” in their names. This is another American phenomenon that has yet to reach our supermarkets (along with the orange food colouring in cheeses!)

So, here is my low fuss version of Mac and Cheese à la Slow Cooker. The recipe I will give you to print at the bottom of the post will contain specific instructions for making it in a 5 litre slow cooker and will make enough to serve a very hungry family. Probably with leftovers.

The photographs, however, will be of my current (Australian-wired) 1.5 litre slow cooker being used to make a smaller amount. The process is the same, as are the results, but the two of us do NOT need several weeks worth of leftovers!

Also, what you see will not have been measured precisely. I tend to do this using the patent-pending Sharon’s Handfuls method of measuring, other wise known as a handful of this and a handful of that.

Let us begin.

To the bottom of your crock add your uncooked pasta. This may be elbows, it may be spirals or it may even be tiny tubes – think macaroni rather than spaghetti and you’ll be fine.

Place your uncooked macaroni in the crock

Place your uncooked macaroni in the crock

Next, add your cheese. This may be one type of cheese or a mix of several. This is a dish that lends itself well to using up the odds and ends of cheeses that may be lurking in the corners of your refrigerator. In the past I have used mixes including cheddar, fetta, parmesan, edam, gouda, brie, camembert, mozzarella and once I included a smidgen of a blue cheese. (Which doesn’t mean that I used all of these at once!)

I would limit your choice of cheese to one strong-tasting one among other milder flavours or you may find yourself with something that smells too confusing to eat.

You have been warned.

Plain old cheddar works fine, so don’t panic if that’s all you’ve got. The recipe calls for grated and cubed, I had pre-shredded cheeses in my fridge so that’s what I used – along with a good twist or two of black pepper and a sprinkling of paprika.

Add your cheese and seasonings

Add your cheese and seasonings.

Now, cover your mixture with milk. This may be cow’s milk, goat’s milk, soy milk, almond milk – get my drift? Pasta cooks in liquid and it doesn’t much care what that liquid is. In my baby slow cooker I tend to use a tin of evaporated milk and then add enough of whatever milk is in the refrigerator to cover the pasta.

That’s the important bit. You want your pasta to be completely submerged.

Cover with milk.

Cover with milk.

Now cover it and cook it on low for 2 to 3 hours. It doesn’t take that long in a tiny slow cooker, so keep an eye on it.

After 30 mins or so, you’ll notice your cheeses melting.

Melting cheeses...

Melting cheeses…

This is good and eminently desirable. Keep up the good work. If you feel the need to stir, then do so. This dish is quite forgiving and will let you remove the lid once or twice without slowing things down immensely.

When your pasta is cooked to your liking, serve it up.

All done.

I, however, like to fiddle. I also am very much of the meal-in-a-bowl school of catering. So I always add stuff to my mac and cheese.

This is not mandatory.

If you have them, frozen peas can add a change of texture as well as a burst of both flavour and colour – as can frozen corn. The heat of the dish will thaw them so there is no need to cook separately first. Use whatever vegetables you have to hand.

Asparagus has just come into season here, so I cut two stalks up and stirred them through my pot. Asparagus is best cooked lightly and here it steamed in the heat of the pasta.

asparagus

A stalk or two of asparagus adds a touch of colour and a burst of flavour.

I also had two lonely continental frankfurters sitting in my fridge and – as they, too, just need reheating and not cooking – sliced them up and popped them in.

Some sliced frankfurters

Some sliced frankfurters

I prefer to use fewer of these more expensive frankfurters, instead of more of a cheaper hot dog, as I like the taste and texture better. The flavour is head and shoulders above that of a hot dog and the filling doesn’t have that ‘mushy’ texture you often get in hot dogs. It’s one of those cases where it is absolutely worth spending more to buy less – but you’ll be so much more satisfied with the finished dish.

Feel free to use whatever you have to hand to add flavour and nutrition to your dish. For a vegetarian option, try adding half a tin of drained chickpeas.

Anyway, mixed through and plated up, our meal looked like this, and it was glorious. Given that it was put together at the last minute on what had turned into a very cold and gloomy day, it was ‘perfick’.

Slow cooker mac and cheese with extra added flavour and colour.

Slow cooker mac and cheese with extra added flavour and colour.

This is very filling. Trust me. Serving sizes do not need to be large.

Should there be any left in your slow cooker after plating your meals, then remove it immediately into a storage container for refrigeration. Then fill your crock with hot water and a squirt of dishwashing liquid before you sit down to eat. The slight delay will save you a world of frustration.

If you let the macaroni cool in the pot, it will set solid as melted cheese tends to do. This makes it a little more difficult to divide into … lunch containers for work the next day, just say…

Also, cheese can be difficult to clean off pots. By soaking it you will be getting a head start on the washing up and making the process a lot easier when you get to it.

Low Fuss Macaroni and Cheese (Slow Cooker)

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

2 cups (250 g) uncooked elbow macaroni

250 g light cheddar cheese, cubed

250 g tasty cheddar cheese, grated

500ml milk

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

In a 5 litre slow cooker, combine macaroni, cheeses and seasoning.

Cover with the milk.

Put the lid on the pot and cook on LOW for 2 to 3 hours, stirring after 20 minutes.

 

 

Apple Crumble

Scatter your apples with craisins for one variation

It’s cold here.

Technically, we’ve just hit the first day of Spring. It’s still cold though. And wet. And grey. And generally miserable.

A wet footpath

Gray Day

Weather like this demands something along the line of comfort food, and this pretty much ticks that box – along with the boxes for affordability, ease of preparation, wholesome ingredients and the ability to double as breakfast should it ever be necessary.

Let us pray that it is necessary…and often.

While I am all for foods that are prepared from scratch, I don’t think that this is one that has to be – in the strictest sense of the term. Because, sure, you could buy some apples and peel and cook them and then go on and make the crumble topping and bake it – and more power to you if you do.

However, I like to do one of these pretty much every week during the bleaker autumn/winter days and even don’t have the dedication to this that would require the peeling of so many apples. I don’t peel things unless it is absolutely necessary. Ever.

So, I use tinned pie apples. They’re readily available, rarely cost much more than the unpeeled ingredients and when the contents of the can are listed as ‘100% sliced apples’ then there is very little to complain about.

Pie Apple tin label saying it contains 100% apples

100% apples

Open a can, empty contents into baking dish, top with crumble, cook, serve.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl

Fab.

However – and there had to be one of those, donchaknow – this is not a low sugar ingredient. Neither is it a low GI one. This dish will affect your blood glucose levels and possibly in ways you had never even considered. Go easy on the serving sizes; make it in a long, shallow dish so that the ratio of oat-filled topping to apple sub-strata is higher. Your insulin levels will be steadier and your children (and significant others) will be less likely to have that sugar high we all dread.

Serve it hot or cold with ice-cream or Greek yoghurt, try it with custard, eat it on its own….

Apple Crumble

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

1 x 800g tin Pie Apples

1 cup flour

125 g butter

½ cup rolled oats

½ cup coconut

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Method:

Heat oven to 180°C/ 375°F.

Place apples in a shallow glass baking dish.

Put all your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Melt butter in the microwave. Add to dry ingredients and mix through until well combined and crumbly.

Scatter over the top of the fruit and bake in the oven for 50 minutes.

 

Scatter your apples with craisins for one variation

Scatter your apples with craisins for one variation

Variations:

Try adding slivered almonds or chunks of Macadamia nuts to the crumble topping.

Try also, scattering dried fruit like sultanas or craisins among the apple, diced dried apricot can be an absolute hit used like this.

For a sweeter variation, add some dark choc chips/milk choc chips/caramel choc chips to the apple mixture or just scatter them over the top of it before adding the crumble mix.

I wouldn’t advise putting them in the crumble itself to avoid scorching them in the oven.

You can, of course just add chunks of whatever chocolate you prefer, it doesn’t have to be in chip form!

Eat slowly, with a small spoon for maximum savourousity*.

(*Actual word that I just made up.)