• Three takeaway foods you can make at home

    I had a pretty heavy post planned for today, but have decided to put it off for now. Enjoy the sweetness and light…

    It’s easy to succumb to fast food when you’re busy, stressed and pressed for time. But seriously. Here are three takeaway foods you can just as easily make at home; it’ll taste better – and be better for you.


    You’ll need:

    • Flour
      Olive oil
      Tomato paste/puree/sauce – or BBQ sauce – or whatever you prefer
      Toppings of choice (suggestions: mushrooms/tomatoes/pineapple/capsicum/salami/ham/cheese

    I think everyone makes their dough slightly differently. A friend uses self-raising flour and milk in hers (???!!!). But you can’t go wrong with a basic dough of flour, yeast, salt, water and olive oil. Don’t forget the oil! It gives it a nice smooth texture and will make it easier to knead and roll out.

    Start with the dough, and once you’ve got your bases ready, smear them with tomato paste. Arrange your cut-up toppings over the top, and sprinkle with cheese. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 20 minutes or until cooked – when bases crisp up and toppings are bubbling.

    Tip: shake things up by mixing a couple different kinds of cheeses, or new vegetable combinations – I’m a big fan of eggplant on pizza.



    You’ll need:

    • Burger patties (or if you’ve got minced meat on hand, mix with an egg and a little flour and make your own)
      Burger buns
      Sauce of choice (tomato, BBQ, aioli, mayonnaise…)
      Vegetables of choice (lettuce, tomato, beetroot…)

    There are really only two steps. Cook patty, then assemble.

    To make it a little more interesting, try adding a fried egg, hash brown, bacon strips, or some caramelised onions.


    You’ll need:

    • Corn chips
      Canned tomatoes
      Beans (red kidney, black, or a mix of types)
      Minced meat

    Brown the mince. Add in the tomatoes and beans, bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens. I like to add a few squirts of pure ketchup into the mix, and sometimes a dash of paprika, cayenne or chili powder.

    Take it to the next level with toppings: sour cream, cheese, spring onions, fresh herbs. You win.

    What fast foods do you recreate at home?

  • Boyfriend in the kitchen: Lamb rack and raw salad

    lamb rack and raw salad

    The best days of all are the days when you come home to freshly made dinner. All you have to do is sit, chew and swallow. Life’s good.

    You’ve probably noticed a bit of a pattern here. The trend is that of meat + veggies – a classic formula.

    Here, there’s lamb rack cooked to crispiness, with a fresh salad of capsicum (bell pepper for Americans), red onion, feta, coriander and courgettes.

    The courgettes were boiled, and the rest of the veggies rested in some vinegar in lieu of cooking. Mixing through the cooked courgettes = steam for further cooking and an interesting mix of temperatures.

  • Adventures in the kitchen: Mozzarella making

    Had I been born a couple centuries ago, my prospects as a mere woman would be considerably dimmer than they are today. T is indisputably the better cook.  And as this piece (originally published at Good) demonstrates, I can’t even make cheese when a Mad Millie kit puts everything I need right in front of me.

    Cheese and I have always gotten along well. It’s a genetic thing. Thinking back, I can recall memories of my mother standing in the kitchen in the evenings, slicing off slivers from her trusty Colby block, enjoying a solitary snack.

    Over the years I’ve progressed from sliced cheese to block cheese to soft cheeses, and now, the full gamut of Nosh’s displays. But as with other dairy products, the price of the good stuff (and even the mediocre stuff) makes it a luxury rather than a staple. So I was amped to try my hand at making my own.

    The first attempt started off well on the back foot. After unpacking the entire Mad Millie cheesemaking kit, I had to make an emergency trip to the supermarket to pick up some disposable gloves. Armed with two kinds (the clear food preparation type and a hardier all purpose variety), it was game on.

    I’d seen a demonstration of ricotta making first-hand, from start to finish, and while it looked easy as pie (and is therefore probably the place to start as a beginner) it’s actually not a cheese I’m a big fan of. No – straight on to mozzarella it was – how hard could it be with step-by-step guidance?

    making mozzarella

    They say cooking is an art, and baking a science. The boy and I both tend to fly by the seat of our pants, but it’s important to observe the times and temperatures laid out in the instructions, so I kept the booklet close at hand (too close, perhaps; it’s permanently wrinkled from rogue spills). Also, its important that you choose your kitchen utensils properly and most important the knives. I suggest you to read this article on cutco knife reviews to make sure you choose them properly.

    All started off well. The mixture began to coagulate into satisfyingly solid curds:

    making mozzarella 2

    Once formed, we wrapped them up neatly to drain…

    cheesemaking 3

    and then revealed these.

    cheesemaking 5

    So far, so good.

    Now the tricky part – the rewetting and working of the curd into balls. The general idea is that you place some curds into a slotted spoon, lower the spoon into the hot water, then pull them back out and form the mozzarella balls with your hand. The curds at this point should be lush and pliable; I’d seen this part at the demonstration. However, these specimens were neither stretchy nor particularly soft. It seemed as if they’d lost too much moisture along the way and couldn’t get their mojo back, no matter how long they spent plunged back into the pot.

    cheesemaking 6

    The end result? An odd texture I’d describe as something like a firm feta – not what we were going for, but at least it was vaguely cheesy and definitely edible.

    cheesemaking 7

    It made for a good toast topping, anyway, along with a bit of bite courtesy of a red onion.

    mozzarella making 8homemade cheese 9

    I should probably have prefaced this by noting that I am almost always spectacularly unsuccessful at Pioneer Woman-type pursuits. I’ve never successfully made bread from scratch at home, and I’ve never, ever had dough double in size (despite the countless times I’ve tried baking my own cinnamon rolls). I’ve failed at yoghurt, too. (I have managed to cobble together both hummus and mayonnaise from scratch, but not to the point of cracking a decent flavouring of either.) So it’s not entirely surprising that my grand ambitions in this instance also fell short.

    After a couple more tries at mozzarella, again with the same result (and a separate iffy attempt at mascarpone – our improvised double boiler couldn’t hit the required temperature heights) I’ve decided I may just have to go back to basics and start with ricotta.

  • Friday Five: The home cooking edition

    In my quest to become less of a culinary nohoper, I have learned a few things along the way.

    I will never buy tortillas or burritos again!

    I live by this Jamie Oliver flatbreads recipe. All it takes is a little elbow grease and a bit of time (and a bit of mess on the kitchen counter) but these only cost a few cents. Beats paying up to $7 for a pack at the supermarket


    The key to making Indian food at home…

    Well, I don’t know, because I haven’t cracked it yet. But cream is definitely an essential ingredient. It helps a lot.

    I am becoming a generic snob

    I buy home brand dairy, bread, and pasta. But the amount of products that I insist on buying name brand is far longer: Ketchup, cereal, biscuits, pasta sauce, juice, fizzy drinks, ice cream (everything else I choose based on the best deal).

    Food processors are worth the money

    Ours has been amazing for making everything from mayonnaise (although I’ve mastered the technique for getting the right consistency, I’m yet to crack the perfect flavouring. Any tips?) to tabbouleh and cheesecake toppings.


    But I do wonder if we still need…

    A stand blender, you know, with double whisks that you place your bowl under.stand blender

    Got any cooking tricks to share?

    (I’m still a bit of a kitchen fail, in case you were wondering, but I’m probably now closer to ‘competent’ on the scale than ‘can’t boil an egg’.)

  • Go-to dinners

    The pantry served guests and the family.

    Image via Wikipedia

    You might recall that sometime ago I wrote a post on my favourite frugal lunches.

    It only made sense that I follow up with a list of my go-to dinners, inspired mainly after we spent a good half hour wandering around the supermarket in Wellington on our last night wondering what to cook. Who knew I’d be so lost without my pantry staples?

    Here are some of my favourites. I tend to make it up as I go along, obviously, sometimes using recipes as a starting point. I’m especially fond of one-pot or one-pan style meals.

    Soy/ginger noodle soup: Noodles, veggies/meat of your choice, stock (could be chicken or vegetarian), some grated ginger, and soy sauce. Easy! (Slow cooker version here; I just do it on the stove.)
    Laksa / Thai curry: Curry paste, coconut milk, veggies/meat of your choice. Prawns if feeling extravagant. If Thai, eat with rice or noodles. (Laksa authenticity bonus: Boiled egg, tofu/fish balls, two kinds of noodles – vermicelli and egg).
    Lemon chicken: I like this recipe.
    Sweet and sour (insert meat of choice): Vinegar+ketchup+sugar+soy = flavour explosion.
    Chili: You probably have your own favourite chili recipe. Whee! Crockpots make chili 25x better.
    Nachos: Either vegetarian or meat versions. (We tend to stay away from tortillas/burritos as much as possible as they’re insanely expensive. I may try making my own one day.)
    Pastas: Either white or red. Sometimes you just need a hearty spag bol and an early night.
    Stirfries: I really only have two versions: a sweet chili, or a soy/teriyaki. Some onion, garlic, and maybe ginger, with whatever vegetables and meat we have on hand. A bit of rice wine vinegar in with the soy, and cornflour if it’s too runny. Rice is cheaper, but noodles make it a little more special, IMO.
    Shepherd’s pie: The ultimate comfort food! Mashed potatoes atop savoury mince. And it’s easy to mix in veggies.
    Classic meat and two veg: So. Many. Variations! Whether it’s sausages, steak or a roast, or whether the vegetables are steamed, boiled, roasted, mashed, or in a salad. If T is left to his own devices, we also get some kind of improvised but wholly delicious gravy to mop up, usually with mushrooms and onions.
    BBQ pulled pork: Easiest thing in the world with a crockpot. Here’s a starting point.
    Beef stroganoff: I have not made this in forever! Tomatoes and sour cream, plus tender beef strips…here’s some inspiration.

    Finally, we’re both big fans of Indian but I have yet to make my own curry that is superior to sauce from a jar.

    But baby, we’ve come a long way. Less than two years ago I couldn’t cook anything to save my life and I hadn’t even made my first batch of cookies. Our shopping trolley consisted largely of:

    • frozen dinners and pies, for work lunches
    • for dinners, pastas, sausages, readymade jarred sauces, chips, wedges and frozen mashed potato, as we were too lazy and timepoor to make our own (it’s actually incredibly tasty, not the dried stuff, but the freezer stuff)

    What are some of your staple dinner recipes? Share away in the comments.

  • Kitchen confessions

    Guys, I don’t think I’ve ever fully revealed the extent of my culinary ineptitude. I have been reduced to tears upon losing the battle to a jar of pasta sauce, or spilling half a bag of rice grains all over the floor. I have been known to come home, stare into the pantry, and then sit back and wait – absolutely paralysed – for BF to get home because I don’t know what I’m going to make.

    To be fair, the reverse has also happened once or twice. But that’s a pretty rare occasion.

    If it wasn’t for him (and Food TV) I would probably live off stir fries…of the bottled sauce kind…and pasta. Growing up, I didn’t eat a lot of flavourful food. Most of the food Mum made was fairly plain. She rotated a few dishes, which in hindsight didn’t have a whole lot of taste, but which I ate anyway. Beans. Cauliflower. Mince.

    I think it was Eddie Van Halen who once said that at some point, you look at your guitar, and you stop seeing frets. Instead of the fretboard, what your eyes perceive are notes, scales, chords – music.

    Eddie Van Halen Shredding His Guitar @ "E...
    Image by Anirudh Koul via Flickr

    I’m never going to get to that level. I’ll be happy to play the songs I love. I’d even settle for one day being able to play while standing up.

    I think it’s the same with cooking. Some people have an innate sense of texture, flavour and spice. BF has this in spades. If I mess something up, he’s always able to swoop in, shake some magic dust over it and redeem the whole dish.

    I’ll settle for one day, being able to look in the fridge and in the cupboards, and whip up something quick and tasty off the top of my head.

    The highlight of my cooking this week (fortnight? Month? Quarter?) was chicken with lemon/garlic/yoghurt dip, accompanied by rice risotto – from a box, slightly burnt – and sliced up leftover roast beef. It may sound simple, but I agonised over that yoghurt sauce. I maxed out my knife skills chopping the garlic as fine as possible. And as for the addition of beef – pure genius, once I opened the microwave and remembered its existence, that is.

    You may notice a conspicuous absence of real vegetables from that meal. Never fear. I will conquer the greens. That’s going to be my next challenge.

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  • The bean conundrum

    So this is kind of an awkward post to write. I’ve been eating more beans and chickpeas, and especially trying to incorporate them into my lunches. The idea is to fill me up and keep me going, with healthy and frugal foods.

    Which is all very well and good. Except I have quite a sensitive stomach (I used to think I had a mild case of IBS, but eating better, more home cooking, getting more sleep and reducing stress seems to have sorted me out) and my body is reacting pretty strongly to the beans. In short: they’re making me super gassy, which is uncomfortable and awkward at work.

    Vegetarians, how do you do it?!


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  • Help me eat better!

    Somehow, I’ve gotten to be 21 and never really learned to cook. Since leaving home, my diet has totally changed – I make easy stuff like pasta, Mexican, stirfry and steak. Mum used to make a lot of Chinese (with the odd hint of Malaysian), the kind I never learned to make and is at odds with my philosophy when it comes to dinners: I want it fast and I want it now. Hence, my veggie intake has also suffered. She also used to make two or three separate dishes a meal (veges being usually separate from meat), where I go for one-pot meals.

    And T is absolutely no help in this area! He really isn’t too concerned about getting 5+ a day; but his is a family where it’s okay to feed the little kids chips (and maybe sausages) for dinner. (Not that my parents did much better. My brother literally never ate a single vegetable during his formative years, and still only eats a very very select few today. You know, I can’t even remember what he DID used to eat, except that there always had to be a separate meal made for him.)

    But scurvy is not a good look for anyone. Summer meant salad season, and this year I discovered the wonders that yoghurt and sour cream can do to vegetables. I’ve never been a fan of lettuce, but I’ve come to realise there are so many ways to do salads. (Although I love potato salad with a passion, I don’t really count potatoes as veggies. But I’m willling to be convinced otherwise :D)

    I may start buying real veggies for stir fries and curries, because frozen packs invariably contain ingredients I don’t like (Broccoli, I’m looking at ya). I might even look up some spinach recipes, which my iron levels will no doubt thank me for.

    Sadly, now it’s getting colder and vegetables are going to get expensive. What are some winter veggies? Share your favourite recipes…I want them all!


  • Yes. I’m spoiled

    I just realised something: I haven’t made dinner for as long as I can remember. How lucky am I?

    T gets home before me everyday (including, obviously on days he doesn’t work). And for weeks now, he’s had dinner ready or in the works by the time I get home. All I have to do is eat it and then clean up the kitchen. It’s a far cry from two years ago when I would be in class all day, get home at 9 and find that I had to make food because he hadn’t bothered to – or worse, was out with his friends. Not that I’m saying that he shouldn’t have a life, or anything, but couldn’t he have hung out with them on the days that I didn’t work late instead?!

    Honestly, I also get kind of a strange kick out of having a boyfriend who kicks my ass at cooking. Is that weird?

  • Pantry staples

    Believe it or not, it wasn’t until I’d been living away from home a couple of years that I started to stock my kitchen cupboards with things like flour, rice and stock. I pretty much lived off pasta and strirfrys and as for baking? Nuh uh. The one time I ever tried to make a cake, I managed to produce this beautiful tri-coloured marble cake – rock hard on the outside and rubbery on the inside. It was in no way edible, even by the lowest standards. I was SO disappointed; I’d spent over an hour mixing ingredients and painstakingly layering the colours. Sigh.

    Now, at least, I can manage super basic cakes/muffins/biscuits. And we now have staples on hand which means if we haven’t planned out a specific meal, chances are we’ll still be able to whip up something for dinner. Not like the good old days…

    On any given week, you’ll pretty much find in our cupboards:
    – pasta
    – beef and chicken stock
    – flour
    – sugar
    – tomatoes
    – corn
    – eggs
    – onions
    – soy sauce
    – chili powder
    – curry powder
    …and potatoes. It may be the poor man’s food, but I can’t get enough of them! Fries, chips, roasted, mashed, boiled, hash browns…I love them in all their varieties.

    We’re also working on expanding our spice collection (currently stands at less than 10, due to the fact each jar costs almost $5. We picked a buy-one-get-one-free voucher from one of those instore demonstrators last week though, which was neat).

    Am I missing anything? Should I be buying other things that I just never realised I can’t live without?