Grilled eggplant and lentil salad

I’m going through a bit of a phase.

An eggplant phase.

Yes not the normal sort of phase you might find yourself going through, but its a recent craving that I’ve been more than happy to satisfy.

I suspect it has something do with eggplant’s heartiness. It feels like it adds a bit of bulk to dishes – particularly when you are using it in place of meat, for example.

Take this salad, for instance. So simple to prepare, but quite easily a stand-alone meal (although it would almost certainly work as a tasty side dish too).

I thinly sliced the eggplant, and grilled the slices for 5 minutes or so until soft and golden. Then it was simply a matter of combining the eggplant slices with baby spinach, lentils, capsicum, cucumber and feta – and finishing the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

I’d give you a recipe – but there really is no more to it. Just lots of simple, fresh flavours – that come together to make a tasty meal.  Not to mention colourful!

Spicy Chicken Tacos with Avocado Dressing

I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I tell you that our evening routine is a little “unpredictable” at the moment. Nothing too dramatic, just a bit more on the relaxed side as we settle into life as a family of 5. Miss Maggie tends to want to nurse, pretty much non-stop, from around 5pm – which coincides with the other girls’ dinner and bath time, and the time I’d usually be spending working on dinner for the ‘grownups’ too.

But we all need to eat, and I am trying to avoid takeout where I can, so I’m pleased to report meal planning is still in full force. Actually, if anything, meal planning is probably a tad stricter than ever at the moment as ducking to the supermarket with three kids in tow is not all that appealing. I’m doing the bulk of our grocery shopping online, and loving being able to sit down and order groceries from the comfort of the couch after the bigger kids have gone to bed. Not to mention having a weeks worth of fresh ingredients literally delivered to my kitchen at a time that suits us!

The meals themselves, however, have generally been quick and easy to prepare. Leftovers are then tucked away for a quick lunch the following day, or frozen for future dinners when cooking one-handed is inevitable.

One of our favourite meals, lately, has been tacos. The kids prefer the crunchy shelled tacos, generally filled with some sort of savoury mince and vegetables. While I tend to go with soft tortillas, filled with whatever we have on hand.

On this occasion, I found inspiration in a Healthy Food Guide magazine – in the form of spicy chicken tacos. The added bonus being that they came together in no time at all.

Chicken – spiced and grilled in the sandwich press – piled high onto wholemeal tortillas and topped with pre-cut coleslaw. Actually the only real effort, if you could even call it ‘effort’, was blending up the avocado/ yoghurt dressing to serve alongside.

Definitely a winner all round!

Spicy chicken tacos with avocado dressing (serves 4)

  • 500g chicken tenderloins
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3 tbs lime juice
  • Bag of pre-cut coleslaw
  • 1 avocado, mashed
  • 1/2 cup natural yoghurt
  • Warmed wholemeal tortillas, to serve
  1. Combine the spices, oil and 2 tbs of the lime juice. Add the chicken and toss to coat well.
  2. Pre-heat chargrill pan or frypan over a medium heat. Grill chicken until cooked through. Place on a plate, cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the avocado, yoghurt and remaining lime juice in a small bowl, and stir until smooth. Season.
  4. Fill the warmed tortillas with the chicken, coleslaw and avocado dressing.

 

And then there were 5….

It is with great pleasure, that I introduce you to our newest family member – little Margaret Edith. Maggie, for short.

Born by elective C-section mid last week, weighing  a respectable 3.59kg, and completing our family just perfectly.

Maggie and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in hospital after her birth, living in a rather wonderful ‘newborn’ bubble. We were cared for very well by the doctors and midwives at John James Hospital, and were sure to make the most of our one-on-one time before we headed home.

And as I’m not all that great at sitting still, I must say that the enforced ‘downtime’ was good, and most likely just what I needed. Good for succumbing to naps (when I’d normally be looking around for a household chore to complete instead), good for saying yes to cups of tea and freshly made muffins when they were offered by the morning tea lady, and good for taking long, hot showers when Maggie was in a slumber of her own. And newborns sure do love to sleep….well during the day, at least.

So, although I was desperate to get home after Maggie was born, the time in hospital was undoubtedly perfect for the healing process. Both physically,  and also emotionally, as various pregnancy hormones began to leave my body and new ones took their place.

The hospital time was also wonderful for the bonding process. Maggie and I  spent many moments just snuggling and talking (well I talked, she ‘responded’ with those adorable little newborn gurgles and squeaks). Not to mention soaking up that heavenly newborn smell.

And, once again, I am in awe at just how amazing the human body is.  I can’t quite believe that we made this perfect little human, and that she was inside me only a week ago. Now here she is, earthside – with a whole wonderful world of opportunity and adventure laid in front of her.

Yes, I did say those pregnancy hormones were in full swing…

I recently mentioned that my pregnancy felt like it went for a long time. And while I still stand by that, having Maggie here with us makes it feel as though the pregnancy also went by in no time at all. It’s that age old adage of ‘we feel like you have always been here’ – which I know sounds rather corny, but looking down at her peaceful sleeping face, feels really true.

This being my 3rd C-section, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from a recovery perspective. Not unlike my earlier procedures, getting up and moving as soon as I could (which on this occasion was the morning after the afternoon procedure) worked wonders in helping with my pain levels. In fact, by the time I left hospital I was not taking any pain medication at all.

This time had a few differences, however, that I had not anticipated. I reacted to the anaesthetic during the procedure, and spent most of the first half trying not to vomit or faint (or both) when the nausea kicked in and my heart rate dropped making me dizzy and wanting to go to sleep. The anaesthetist managed to stabilise things just as Maggie was delivered, though, so I was able to get a cuddle not long after.

The other difference was that I opted for a spinal morphine (instead of a PCA drip) to control post-operative pain. And while it did the job from a pain management perspective beautifully, my body was itchy for almost 24 hours.  And I don’t mean  itchy, but unbearably ‘oh my god I am going to go insane and scratch my entire body off’ itchy for the better part of a day. IV ‘anti-itch’ medication barely took the edge off, and it was only the passage of time that eventually saw this annoying symptom subside. Me + spinal morphine = never, ever again.

But on the plus side, a change in hospital policy meant that unlike after my earlier C-sections, both my husband and Maggie could come to recovery with me. I could also have skin on skin contact with her, and give her her first feed, before we headed back to the ward. THIS was the best change in hospital policy that one could ask for! I also got to see my placenta this time around (I’m sure that is not for everyone…) and talk about fascinating!

And as for her bigger sisters?? Well they have been wonderful!

I thought it might take some time for Josie, in particular,  to get used to having another little person in the house, but she seems to have adapted in no time at all. She asks to see Maggie as soon as she wakes up in the morning, and has been full of cuddles and heat strokes for her little sister.

Charlotte has also taken everything in her stride – and loves to cuddle Maggie whenever she gets the chance. She is definitely my little helper at the moment!

And just like that – so begins our new life as a family of FIVE. Feeling ever so blessed as we do!

An “Under the Sea” 5th Birthday Party

This year it was Miss C’s turn to have a “big” birthday party, and she’s been planning it for months. Many months.  First it was going to be a Pirate Party, then a PJ Masks Party, but a little while ago she settled on an “Under the Sea” theme – and we ran with that.

Actually, it ended up being a lot of fun to put together. But then again, kids parties normally are!

Since Christmas we’ve been collecting lots of blue and ocean-themed decorations, mainly from the cheap party shops and e-bay. And with the help of Pinterest, a sea-filled party table came together in no time at all!

The food

The table was laden will lots of sea-themed party food – which despite appearances – were quite easy to throw together.

We had starfish sandwiches (some filled with jam, some with nutella and some with sprinkles) and mermaid munch (honey joys).  There were also blue jelly cups (jazzed up with mandarin boats and umbrellas), clam cookies (chocolate chip cookies filled with buttercream) and seaweed sticks (grapes threaded onto skewers). Most of these I made on the morning of the party so that they would be nice and fresh. I also made a big batch of sausage rolls in advance, which I was able to freeze then reheat during the party.

Oh and my favourite party treat? These adorable ‘crab-wiches’ – mini croissants filled with ham and cheese – made into ‘crabs’ with the help of googly eyes glued to toothpicks.

The Cake

I found inspiration on Pinterest for this grand blue cake, and was a tad nervous about trying the ‘petal’ icing for the first time. I loved how vibrant the buttercream turned out, and though the weather was warm, I managed to pipe something akin to what I had in mind without the buttercream getting too soft.

I “cheated” and bought Dory and Nemo toys as toppers, and then finished the cake with some starfish I made using candy melts and star moulds.

A little rustic, but I think it tied in with the overall theme.

Party Favours

I found some cheap buckets on e-bay and they turned out to be the perfect party favours.

Filled with lollies and some other little treats, and I’m hoping our guests can put the buckets to good use next time they are at the beach!

Entertainment

When I realised that we would have 25+ kids attending, I knew I would need some help in keeping them all entertained. I planned a big pass-the-parcel game, but also hired a party host (a Pirate!) to help with the other entertainment. There were games, a magic show, balloon making and even some face painting – certainly much more than I would have been capable of. And all the kids seemed engaged – so I’m calling it a win!

And so another year, and another big birthday celebration,  came to pass. And, as always, along with the sugar high, I’m left wondering just where the last few years have gone???

Happy 5th Birthday to our beautiful Miss C!  Always full of imagination, a lover of adventures and quite the sensitive soul.

My Capital Plate

I started this little blog of mine, some 8 years ago. We were living in our ‘original’ house (ie. before it was knocked down and re-built) and kids were still quite some years away. I liked to cook, yes, but not with the passion I now hold.

Canberra,  was a place I resided. But not necessarily a place I called home.

But here I still am, after all those years.  Now in our not-so-new house, two beautiful children to call our own and home-cooked meals making their way onto our dinner table most evenings.

And Canberra is most certainly the town I call home.

So for a while now, I’ve felt that I’ve outgrown my little “Bake Bike Blog” slice of the online world. I tend to walk or run instead of biking, and find myself cooking more than baking.

Insert: Blog Overhaul!

I’d planned to do a full re-do in the New Year, but once the momentum started…well here I am. Still cooking in the Capital and still with a lot on my plate, but with a new online outlet for all things food and frolics!

I hope you’ll bear with me as I smooth out the inevitable glitches that a big change like this can bring, but I can’t wait to start the New Year with a bang!

Welcome to….

My Capital Plate!

Stay tuned….

Caramel chocolate celebration cake

img_1354It’s been a while since I put my ‘cake creation cap’ on. But when I was tasked with supplying dessert at a recent family dinner, well I figured it was well and truly time to dust off the ol’ cap and get to work.  Particularly when it was to be a birthday and “bon voyage” cake all in one.

img_1351I’ve seen lots of layer “drip” cakes doing the rounds, and decided to give one a try. I think my ganache was a little runny (resulting in rather drippy drips that were far from their picturesque pinterest cousins), but the flavour was still there. And I even went so far as to try my hand at Italian meringue buttercream in place of the usually sickly sweet American buttercream – and boy I’m glad that I did. For it worked just beautifully at mellowing out the otherwise rich caramel mudcake hidden inside – and meant that we reserved our sugar overload for the other goodies piled high on the cake – twix bars, jersey caramels, chocolate stars, malteasers and butterscotch popcorn.

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Yes, I think this was very appropriately dubbed a celebration cake – for it had a little of everything!        img_1358Caramel chocolate celebration cake

For the caramel mud cakes:

  • 400g butter, cubed
  • 400g white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • 2 tbs golden syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups plain flour, sifted
  • 2 cups self raising flour, sifted
  1. Preheat oven to 160C. Grease and line 2 x 22cm cake tins.
  2. Place the butter, sugar, water, golden syrup and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over low heat, stirring, until the butter and chocolate melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Place the cooled chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add the sifted flours and stir until combined.
  5. Divide the mixture between the two prepared pans, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the caramel Italian meringue buttercream:

  • 1 sugar + 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 egg whites
  • 500g butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (or more to taste)
  1. Place the water and 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and stir to combine. Heat over a low to medium heat. Clip on a candy thermometer.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add a pinch of cream of tartar if you like. Start the mixer on medium-low to begin frothing the whites
  3. When the sugar begins to boil, increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high. When the whites are at soft peaks, gradually add the 1/4 cup of reserved sugar. Continue beating until they become stiff peaks, then change to the beater attachment.
  4. When the sugar reaches 120C, turn off the heat. With the mixer running on a low speed, slowly pour the hot sugar in a fine stream down the side of the bowl with the egg whites
  5. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture has almost cooled (this takes a good 5–10 mins).
  6. When the meringue has cooled, start adding the butter, a tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running on medium.
  7. When all the butter has been added, increase the mixer to high to beat until the buttercream forms and is smooth. Change to the whisk attachment, add the caramel sauce, and whisk for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
For the chocolate ganache:
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
  1. Heat the double cream in a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it begins to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir in the dark chocolate. Continue to stir until the mixture is thick and smooth, without any remaining lumps of chocolate. Place in the fridge until the desired “drip” consistency is reached.

To decorate

  • Prepared buttercream icing and ganache
  • Leftover caramel sauce
  • malteasers
  • butterscotch or caramel popcorn
  • chocolate stars
  • jersey caramels, halved
  • twix bars, halved

To assemble:

  1. Trim the tops off the cakes, so that they are even.
  2. Put a small dot of the buttercream on your serving plate, then place one of the cakes on top. Spread with a good amount of the buttercream, a little caramel sauce, then place the other cake on top.
  3. Using a palette knife, cover the cakes completely in the buttercream, starting with a crumb layer then a smooth outer layer. Place in the fridge for one hour to chill.
  4. Remove the cake from the fridge and pour the ganache over. You can do this using a disposable piping bag , or by gently spooning the ganache onto the centre of the cake and encouraging drips to fall down the sides.
  5. Top the cake with the various edible decorations, and place back in the fridge.
  6. Remove the cake from the fridge about half an hour before serving.

Roasted vegetable crustless quiche

This recent meal got me wondering…

“What is the difference between a frittata and a crust-less quiche?”

I guess it has something to do with the fact that a frittata is generally started off in a frypan then finished in the oven, while this ‘quiche’ was simply poured into a baking dish and cooked in the oven? Yes that might just be it….

But in any event, we had ourselves a winner of a weeknight meal when we turned to a favourite ingredient.

The humble egg!

Humble, yes, but so very versatile. Be it scrambled or poached for a quick breakfast, an omelette for a speedy lunch or perhaps a couple boiled eggs thrown atop a salad… yes our house is rarely without a carton of eggs.

On this occasion I roasted a selection of vegetables – zucchini, capsicum and sweet potato.

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Placed in a greased baking dish, and covered with some eggs, milk, fresh herbs and goats cheese. Baked for 40 minutes or so, or until set in the middle.

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We kept things simple, and served slices of the ‘quiche’ with a green salad and some sourdough – finished with a good dollop of chilli jam.  It made for a delicious dinner, and also an easy lunch to take to work the next day.

img_1060 Roasted vegetable crustless quiche (serves 4 to 6)

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced
  • 1 red capsicum, diced
  • 1 yellow capsicum, diced
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, oregano, basil…)
  • 100g goats cheese, crumbled
  • chilli jam, salad leaves and sourdough to serve
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Place vegetables onto tray, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
  2. Lightly grease a baking dish, and spread the roasted vegetables in the bottom.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs and milk together. Stir through the fresh herbs.
  4. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, and scatter the goats cheese over the top.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until set in the middle and golden. Allow to cool slightly, then cut into slices to serve.
  6. Top with a dollop of chilli jam, and serve alongside the salad and sourdough.

Chilli Beef and Eggplant Lettuce Cups

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Eggplant is a vegetable that  I don’t eat nearly enough. I seem to overlook it when I’m at the greengrocer, which is unfortunate as I always enjoy it when it makes an appearance in a recipe that I’ve come across.

Once such recipe was for these chilli beef and eggplant lettuce cups that I discovered in a recent Healthy Food Guide edition (you can also find the recipe online here).

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I loved how the eggplant effectively ‘bulked’ out the meat component of the dish, while adding lots of flavour and texture.

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And while I normally tend to roast eggplant, this turned out to be a nice alternative cooking method. I was a tad sceptical at first that the eggplant would be cooked, but after 10 minutes or so in the pan it had softened beautifully.

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The chilli beef and eggplant filling was served in crunchy lettuce cups – resulting in a nice new take on an old favourite – san choy bau (another favourite of mine!). The added bonus being that aside from chopping the vegetables (and their modest cooking time), the whole meal came together quickly and easily – which is always perfect for a mid-week meal.

What about you? Are you a fan of eggplant?

Herbed Yoghurt Potato Salad

img_0521As the warmer weather approaches, so does our tendency to put “BBQs” on the menu for dinner. Mr BBB is usually in charge of the meat, while I take care of the sides – the ‘regulars’ being a green salad or oven baked potatoes.

But recently I went for another potato option…potato salad!

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An Aussie favourite – that is usually loaded with mayonnaise and bacon. But on this occasion, I created a ‘lighter’ version. Still packed with flavour, yes, however in place of mayonnaise I went with natural yoghurt – and left out the bacon all together. Instead, the salad was given a flavour kick with lots of fresh herbs and another one of my favourite – dill pickles!

It didn’t take too long to prepare, and was far from difficult. With the added bonus  that I could make it in the morning and let the flavours develop throughout the day.

img_0517A nice take on an old classic indeed!

Herbed Yoghurt Potato Salad

  • 1.5kg potatoes (desiree or something similar) I left the skins on, but you could peel them if you prefer.
  • 3/4 cup natural yoghurt
  • 2 tbs whole egg mayonnaise
  • 1 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 100g dill pickles, chopped
  • 3 green shallots, sliced thinly
  • Handful chopped herbs (I used dill and mint, but parsley would work nicely too)
  1. Boil the potatoes until tender, then set aside to cool slightly. Dice.
  2. Combine the yoghurt, mayonnaise, vinegar and mustard, and season to taste.
  3. Add the dressing to the potatoes (while they are still slightly warm), along with the remaining ingredients. Stir gently until combined.
  4. Cover and place in the fridge until required.

Turkey Avocado Cobb Salad (and how I cook perfectly boiled eggs)

img_0468It’s no secret that I am a fan of loaded salad bowls for dinner. Not only do they generally hit the ‘health’ target – they are a great way to use up leftover ingredients in the fridge (particularly at the end of the week when I find myself with lots of bits and pieces in the crisper drawer).

And so this Turkey and Avocado Cobb Salad came to be!

img_0460Lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, capsicum, avocado and tasty cheese. With some chopped turkey breast, a little bacon and a boiled egg for protein. A long ingredient list, yes, but so very easy to throw together at the end of a long work day. With the only things requiring any real attention are the boiled eggs and bacon!

As for a dressing – well this was pretty simple too. A little mayonnaise, jazzed up with some lime juice and chilli sauce.

img_0467And just like that – dinner was served.   I’d give you a recipe – but there really is no need. Just go with what you have, and enjoy!

Although I can share my method for boiling eggs with you – as I think I’ve now mastered it…

Place the eggs in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, turn off the heat and leave your eggs in the water for 4 minutes (covered). After 4 minutes, place the eggs in a bowl of iced water and leave for 5 minutes or so. Peel and enjoy!