Our “Eat the Freezer” Week

Over the last weeks months year, our freezer has become a receptacle for quite the manner of things. A bit of this, and a bit of that, hidden within the icy depths.  And while the additions are always placed there with good intention, generally when we have leftovers or something that is about to shortly expire, I don’t tend to keep an eye on what we have placed inside. Meaning a lot inevitably gets thrown out in a year’s time.

But not this time. For I was determined to use up what we could from the freezer before adding anything new. I did have to throw some items away (apparently I am an expired puff pastry hoarder from way back??), but I was pleased to be able to pull together a weekly meal plan recently that used up some of the bigger items just nicely.

Day 1 – Leftover Calzone

We made batch of spinach and feta calzone a month or so ago, and I forgot to halve the recipe.

So I froze the (cooked) leftover pastries, and after 30 minutes or so in the oven they reheated beautifully. Topped with some passata and grated mozzarella – and baked for an extra few minutes, then served with a side salad.

Day 2 – Teriyaki Chicken Bowls

Not only did this dinner use up some leftover chicken thighs I had in the freezer, it also used up a little portion of ramen noodles that I had in the pantry.

And while I know that ramen noodles are traditionally used in soups, I went with a noodle / salad bowl instead.

Chicken, grilled with a little teriyaki marinade, served with  the pre-cooked ramen noodles, carrot, grilled zucchini, greens, coriander and sesame seeds.

Day two….done!

Day 3 – Potato and Leek Soup

Yes, this nondescript tuppaware container held a quick and easy soup dinner for one when my husband was out for the evening.

Just reheat and eat. Served with a toasted English muffin (also from the freezer!!), one half topped with cheese and tomato, the other topped with ham and avocado.

Day 4 – Veal with Marsala Sauce

I was so pleased to find a use for these veal schnitzels that I were tucked away in the freezer.

Last time we crumbed them, but this time I went with something even simpler. Just defrosted and pan-fried, and topped with a marsala sauce (made simply with a good splash of marsala and cream, seasoned). Served alongside potato mash and steamed beans / zucchini.

Day 5 – Savoury Mince with roasted sweet potatoes

I found some portions of savoury mince hiding at the back of the freezer too, that were the perfect base for dinner on day 5. For the kids I used the mince in tacos, which were a big hit, as always.

While for the adults I added some extra spinach to the mince and used it as a topping for a roasted sweet potato. Drizzled with chilli sauce and served with a side salad.

Easy dinners all round!

Day 6 – Beef Massaman Curry

Since discovering that you could freeze roast meats, and that they reheat quite wonderfully, I’ve never looked back. It’s not unusual for us to have portions of roast beef or lamb in the freezer, or even some pulled pork after I’ve made a batch. Tonight’s inspiration came courtesy of one such portion – a portion of frozen roast beef.

I  defrosted the beef overnight, then reheated it gently in a frypan, before adding some store bought massaman curry sauce, zucchini and beans. Simmered until cooked through and the meat was back to its tender self. Served with brown rice, spinach and fresh coriander – and you’d never have guessed that the beef had been in the freezer only the day before!!.   

Day 7 – Chorizo Pizzas

We love these pizza bases, but they come in a packet of 4 (and we don’t always get around to finishing them all). They do, however, freeze wonderfully – and offer a quick and easy dinner at a later time. So day 7 saw us cooking up a couple pizzas – with the added bonus that we could also use  some chorizo that was tucked away in the freezer also.

 These pizzas ended up being a great way to finish off leftover veggies we had in the fridge too – zucchini, spinach, tomatoes and pineapple. All topped and ready to bake!

Day 8 – Souvlaki Bowls

I couldn’t resist adding an extra freezer-inspired meal to our meal plan, when I discovered half a packet of Lebanese bread in the freezer.

 On the menu? Souvlaki bowls! Filled with grilled lamb (that I had marinated in lemon, garlic and oregano), pearl couscous and roasted vegetable salad and greens.  Topped with some natural yoghurt and hummus and, of course, the Lebanese bread – which was perfect for dipping!

And so – our “Eat the Freezer” week came to a close – with our freezer looking  emptier (but happier!) after our efforts. While I’m determined to keep a better eye on things so we don’t get quite the stockpile in the future, I suspect there is also a very real likelihood that I will be doing a Part 2 to this series in 6 months’ time….

What about you? Do you have a favourite ‘freezer’ meal?

Tuna and Edamame Cakes

Well we’ve officially packed up our shorts and t-shirts, and returned scarves, beanies and gloves to pride of place at the front door.

Yes, my friends, Summer has departed and we have jumped head first into frosty mornings and icy windshields. And while cooler months = lots of slow cooked meals making their way to our dinner table, I’ve  got a backlog of recipes and photos from the warmer part of the year that I figure I should cover first.

Such as these salmon and edamame cakes – that I came across in a Taste magazine edition quite some time ago, but quickly added to our weekly meal plan (albeit substituting tuna for salmon).

Because, well, edamame!!  Basically one of my all-time favourite snacks. The girls had a great time podding the beans from their shells on this occasion, although we did lose some to snacks along the way (oh and some stray beans to the floor, too).

The beans that did survive were quickly turned into tasty little “cakes” – with the addition of tinned tuna, panko breadcrumbs,  soy sauce, mayonnaise, green shallots, garlic and ginger. Processed until just combined – shaped into cakes, then coated in some more panko breadcrumbs.

I opted to oven-bake the cakes rather than pan-fry. Partly because I wanted to be able to put them in the oven and go on with some other tasks during the evening without having to stand over the stove, and partly because I didn’t feel like washing up a crumb-crusted frypan afterwards. And while the cakes may not have had the complete crunch that you get from a pan-fried version, a little spray of olive oil before cooking meant they still turned a nice golden colour.

Served with brown rice, greens and some sliced cucumber and extra edamame (picked in a little rice wine vinegar), with extras leftover for the kids’ lunches the following day.  A lovely little mid-week meal indeed.

Tuna and Edamame Cakes (makes 8 cakes) – adapted from here

  • 450g frozen edamame, steamed then podded
  • 420g tinned tuna in springwater
  • 1 1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs mayonnaise (kewpie preferably)
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 egg, whisked lightly
  • Steamed rice, salad, extra mayonnaise and wasabi to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Process 3/4 of the shelled edamame, along with tuna, 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, green onions, ginger, garlic and soy sauce – until just combined. Shape into 8 cakes.
  3. Dip each cake into the whisked egg, then coat in the remaining breadcrumbs. Place on the lined tray.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Spray the cakes lightly with olive oil, and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until golden brown (turning once halfway through).
  5. Serve cakes with steamed rice and salad, and a dollop of mayonnaise and wasabi.

Spiced pork, pineapple and bean salad bowl

I think I need to start a salad bowl series. For with the warmer weather lingering on, salad bowls continue to make a regular appearance at dinner time.

The basis is generally the same – a protein, some sort of carbohydrate or other filler and, of course, lots of salad.

On this occasion, a spice-rubbed pork was the star of the show. A protein that I turn to quite often not only because it is quick to cook but its also nice and lean.

Beans added some filler, grilled pineapple gave the whole bowl a certain ‘zing’ and the rest of the bowl was filled with lots of salad and other goodies.

Another tasty addition to what’s fast becoming my salad bowl addiction!

Spiced pork, pineapple and bean salad bowl (serves 2)

  • 250g pork fillet
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 6 pineapple slices
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 small can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1tsp lime juice

To serve: coriander, avocado (diced), mesculin and shredded coleslaw (I bought a plain pre-cut bag, and added my own dressing of a little natural yoghurt and dijon mustard).

  1. Preheat oven to 200C and line a baking tray with paper.
  2. Combine oil and spices in a shallow bowl, then add pork – turning to coat. Allow to marinate for an hour or so if you have time.
  3. Place the pork fillet on teh tray and bake for 20 minutes or so or until cooked through. . Remove from oven. Transfer to a heatproof plate and cover with foil. Set aside for 5 minutes to rest.
  4. Meanwhile, sprinkle the pineapple slices with the brown sugar and grill until golden.
  5. To make the bean salad: combine the beans, tomato, onion, garlic and lime juice and coriander. Season to taste.
  6. Divide greens, coleslaw, bean salad, pineapple and avocado among serving bowls. Top with sliced pork and coriander.

A Very Peppa 2nd Birthday Party

And just like that our snuggly little Jo-Jo went from this…

Then to this…

And now to this!

Yes Little J turned TWO on the weekend and we are left wondering just where the time went (a sentiment that we find ourselves repeating over and over again these days…)

While last year we had a big backyard party to celebrate J’s first birthday, this year was, intentionally, a lot more low key. We are going to alternate ‘big’ parties each year for the girls, and this year it was J’s turn to have a modest party with family only.

But that didn’t mean we couldn’t make it a special day. No sir. It was still filled with pressies, balloons, family, food and all things Peppa Pig.  Not to mention morning games, a scooter race and, of course, lots of birthday cuddles!

And come dinner time, there was no shortage of food. We laid out lots of party favourites – including homemade sausage rolls, homemade chicken nuggets and mini pizzas – plus a spinach & ricotta fritatta and grilled eggplant salad for the grown-ups.

As for the birthday cake – well that was an easy decision. For my Peppa-pig-obsessed girl would want nothing else.

(Vanilla cake, decorated with chocolate biscuits and green icing piped to look like grass. Not forgetting the chocolate ganache ‘muddy puddle’ and a few figurines and flowers to top it all off!!)

The party girl seemed to be a big fan – even if she wasn’t quite sure how to blow out her candles. She did, however, love being sung to – and has requested we sing “Happy Birthday” to her on a daily basis since!

“Two” really has proven, again, to be such a fun age.  Little J is full of personality, and more words are coming every day. She is beyond independent, which both endears me and drives me wild (usually depending on how much of a rush we are in). And even when her tantrums are loud and insistent, it is generally not too long  before she breaks out in a big dimply smile that is simply contagious.

Current loves: yoghurt, milk, her evening routine, Peppa Pig, dogs, gymnastics, bananas and her big sister (and / or anything her big sister is doing, eating, playing with…)

Current dislikes: being told no, veggies as a general rule (!!!), not being able to do things herself.

A very happy birthday to our beautiful, bright, bubbly Little J indeed.

Buffalo Chicken Salad with Healthy Ranch Dressing

There have been a lot of salads for dinner in the MCP kitchen of late, but the warmer weather brings with it my general craving for salads. Something cool and crunchy, with an added protein, and a nice homemade dressing – yes nice healthy end to the day when I don’t feel like turning the oven on.

This recipe for a Buffalo Chicken Salad that I came across here caught my attention. A spicy chicken, served on a bed of lettuce, carrots, celery and crunchy gala apples.But instead of going with a store-bought ranch dressing, I decided to make my own – with a couple healthy tweaks.

Greek yoghurt in place of mayonnaise, spiced up with garlic powder, mustard powder and a bunch of fresh herbs. And after playing around with the ingredients for a while, I soon had a blend that I will be sure to make again.

Tangy from the yoghurt, and packed with flavour owing to the fresh herbs, this is one versatile dressing! I think you could quite easily use it as a dip too – just add a little less water…

Healthy Ranch Dressing

  • 1 cup natural yogurt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • a handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley, chopped dill and basil)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 tbs water*
  1. Combine all ingredients with 1 tbs water. Add more water if you would like a thinner dressing (or keep it thicker if you are using it as a dip).
  2. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Cauliflower and Sausage Fried Rice

Fried rice is one of those dishes that I love, but just don’t order all that often. Instead, I tend to opt for white rice when we are out at an Asian restaurant (or, even better, brown rice if it is available).

Recently, though, we rediscovered the magic that is a good fried rice, particularly when we worked out just how much the kids love it. However I remain mindful of the fact that it can be a little calorific and not something we should order all the time.

That was, until I came across a cauliflower version I could make at home.

Yes – instead of white rice – the base is cauliflower – processed until it resembles grains and stir-fried with a number of yummy additions. On this occasion it was eggs, sausages (we used a flavoured pork variety), coriander and variety of vegetables – corn, shallots, capsicum and onions.  Brought together with a little oil, ginger, garlic and soy sauce.

And after a quick flash fry in the wok – we had ourselves quite the tasty fried rice. Served with a small bowl of chilli sauce for the adults, yet keeping the main dish chilli-free for the kids.

The kids even went back for seconds, so I’m definitely keeping this dish in rotation. It makes for a great meal by itself, and would definitely work as side dish too!

Cauliflower and Sausage Fried Rice (serves 4) – Adapted from Taste magazine

  • 1 large cauliflower, broken into florets and processed until it resembles rice
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 4 sausages (we used pork), cooked and then sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 corn cobs, kernels removed
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 1tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 3 green shallots, sliced
  • Handful chopped coriander
  • Chilli sauce to serve
  1. Heat oil in a wok. Pour in the whisked egg, and swirl until it covers the base. Cook for a few minutes, then remove once cooked through and slice.
  2. Heat a little more oil in the wok and add the vegetables, garlic, ginger and soy. Stir-fry for 4 or so minutes, until the vegetables are starting to soften.
  3. Add the cooked sausages and cauliflower, and cook for a few minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and the sausage slices are heated through.
  4. Add the sliced egg, soy sauce and coriander, and stir. Cook until everything is well combined and heated through.
  5. Spoon into bowls, and serve with chilli sauce (if using).

Wholemeal pasta with broccoli, chilli and kale pesto

Growing up – my exposure to pasta was primarily in the form of spaghetti bolognaise. It was the age of convenience, and with two parents working long hours, the sauce generally came from a jar. Or a can.

But over the years, my exposure to pasta has grown. I recall with fondness the sundried tomato and mushroom fusili that I would order with regularity from a favourite little Italian restaurant. And the spicy arrabiata penne that we would often make at home. Washed down with a glass or two of red wine, of course.

And while pasta doesn’t tend to feature on our weekly menu that often any more (not because we don’t enjoy it, but generally because it can be quite heavy if we are eating later at night) I do get a particular craving for it from time to time. And a recipe for a wholemeal pasta with broccoli, chilli and kale pesto in a recent taste magazine edition, well it sounded just lovely.

The pesto was made with steamed broccoli, kale, chilli, garlic, lemon rind and juice – along with a little olive oil. The end result was a little chunkier than your usual pesto – but I loved how many nutrients were packed within.

As for the pasta dish itself, I still used wholemeal spirals but made a few changes to the original recipe (which you can find here). I opted to roast my own tomatoes, drizzled in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, rather than using a store-bought variety.  I also skipped the goats cheese, and sprinkled some feta over the top instead (it’s what I had on hand).

The result?

A bowl of pasta that was packed with flavour. I loved the sweetness of the tomatoes, against the spiciness of the pesto – and not to mention the kick of the lemon juice. A simple pasta, yes, but one that had me raiding the pan for seconds when I devoured the first bowl.

Delish!

Spiced fish with quinoa salsa salad

If I was to name one ingredient that I’m a little hesitant to cook, at least with any regularity, it would have to be fish. It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating fish, because I certainly do, I think it just takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s the choosing the right type, then storing it the right way, then working out the best cooking method – yes I find it a tad overwhelming.

Silly really.

For dishes like this spiced fish with quinoa salsa salad are are actually pretty simple to throw together. Particularly when I send the husband to the fishmonger (ie. tasking him with choosing a good variety) and then get him to cook it on the BBQ!  My main role was mixing together the spices to coat the fish, then throwing together the rest of the meal – the salsa salad.

For the fish – we used ling fillets. Sprayed lightly with oil, then coated with a spice mixture of garlic salt, paprika, cayenne and a little lime rind. Onto the BBQ for around 4 minutes each side, until cooked through.

As for the salad, well that came together in the kitchen. Starting with corn kernels – removed from the cob and pan-fried until charred slightly- combined with tomatoes, lettuce, sliced sugar snap peas and cooked quinoa. Finished with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of coriander.

Yes, friends, this is one fish dish that I must make again!

Spiced fish with quinoa salsa salad (serves 2)

  • 2 fish fillets (we used ling – but you could use any firm white fish)
  • olive oil spray
  • Juice and rind of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • corn kernels from 2 cobs, charred slightly
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 125g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g sugar snap peas, sliced
  • lettuce leaves
  • coriander leaves to serve
  1. Lightly spray the fish fillets  with olive oil.
  2. Combine the lime rind and spices in a small bowl. Coat the fish on both sides with the spice mixture.
  3. Preheat a BBQ hot plate – then cook the fish for 3 to 4 minutes each side, or until cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the corn, quinoa, tomatoes, sugar snap peas and lettuce in a bowl. Divide the salad between 2 serving plates.
  5. Top the salad with the cooked fish. Drizzle over lime juice and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

What about you? Are you a fan of cooking fish at home?

2016 – A Year in Review

I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting 2016 – and bidding it a quick and eager farewell. For us, though, 2016 was a good year. Sure, there were some less than stellar moments dotted throughout (but that’s generally the case isn’t it?) but for the most part, we finally managed to strike an ok work / life balance. We also made it through the year with good health and in good spirits, such that we enter 2017 with a sense of anticipation for what the new year might bring.

But before I turn to our hopes and aims for the year to come, it seems only fair to recap the year that was. 

January 

Summer holidays continued in full swing. We celebrated a late Christmas linner, devoured a 8-course Australia Day ‘tasting menu‘, and spent time playing tourist in our home town.

February

Josie turned ONE(!), Charlotte started Pre-School(!) and we took a week-long cruise around New Caledonia (see here, here, here and here).

March

Charlotte turned FOUR, we celebrated Easter and took lots of family hikes.

April

We took more family hikes, cheered on the Brumbies, went camping and got all dressed up for a costume party!

May

We celebrated Mother’s Day, took more hikes,  and had lots of little adventures – both indoors and out.

June

With the Canberra Winter having arrived, we had lots of fun indoors. We also took a girl’s road trip down to Melbourne to catch up with family and visit the zoo!

July

We had dance classes, visitors in town and lots of good food.

August

We celebrated Book Week, took a quick trip to Melbourne and then a family holiday to Fiji!

September

We celebrated Father’s Day – Italian Style, painted, created a fairy garden and flew a kite.

October

We took another trip to Melbourne, the girls dressed up for Halloween and the husband and I went on a “Bloody Long Walk” for charity.

November

We baked, we went to the Circus, we visited the Show and we celebrated our dear friends’ wedding in Thredbo (where we played in snow!).  

December

We ate, we drank, we partied.  We took a quick trip to Melbourne to celebrate my nephew’s 1st birthday. Then we had lots of family arrive into town, and celebrated Christmas accordingly.

And so our 2016 came to a close. Filled to the brim with new memories, time spent with family and a seemingly better balance between work and play (well better than in previous years, that’s for sure!!).

Here’s to an even bigger and better 2017!

Chilli lime pulled pork quinoa bowl

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Whenever I make a batch of pulled pork (and thanks to my slow cooker it happens quite often), I always make sure to portion some out to freeze. It was a tip I picked up from Jamie Oliver, I think, who confirmed that it could be frozen then defrosted down the track to make for a speedy dinner.

And recently, I did just that.

I found a portion of pulled pork in the freezer which I reheated slowly in a frypan, adding a good dash of chilli sauce and a squeeze of fresh lime at the last moment to really make the flavours sing!

Then, what to serve it with?

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On this occasion I went with cooked quinoa, lettuce, cucumber, and a little tomato / onion / coriander salad. Not to mention the rest of a roasted corn and chorizo salad that we had leftover from the night before, along with a dollop of natural yoghurt and harissa hummus.

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At the last minute I came across some tortillas in the freezer too, which came back to life in no time at all with a short burst in the microwave.

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And so this chilli lime pulled pork quinoa bowl came to life. A combination of fresh, frozen and leftover ingredients – packed to the brim with flavour.

Another dinner bowl that I will no doubt attempt to recreate at some point in the future!