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I recently read an article about quick, healthy staple dishes you can cook up in your kitchen and use in a variety of ways – flexifoods, they called them. For me, chilli con carne is a veritable gymnast in the kitchen in terms of its flexibility.

Chilli con carne has to be one of the most versatile dishes you can cook up in your kitchen. You can serve it over rice, spoon it over hot jacket potatoes, add it to a tortilla with some avocado, salad and natural yoghurt, serve it over corn chips with accompaniments for nachos, the list goes on…

Chlli con carne literally means “chilli with meat” but in our house I bulk it out with some carrot and zucchini to up the vegetable quota, along with the kidney beans and tomatoes. This means I can make a 250g serve of mince stretch to at least two dinners (because it also freezes well).

You don’t need to buy one of those packet mixes to make a chilli con carne – it is so easy to whip up at home with just a few simple spices. My ingredients vary from time to time, but this version I made the other night from the Women’s Weekly Chilli and Curry Cookbook was the tastiest I’ve made in a while.

CHILLI KINDA CARNE

  • 250g beef mince
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 carrot and 1 zucchini, grated
  • One 400g tin diced tomatoes
  • One beef stock cube
  • One tsp each cayenne pepper, oregano, ground coriander and ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground chilli (we had 1 teaspoon but not all are as brave as us!)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • One 400g can kidney beans (or 1 ½ cup beans you’ve prepared yourself)
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • A splash of red wine vinegar

Fry the onions and garlic in a large pan with some olive oil until soft and starting to brown. Add grated carrot and zucchini and cook until soft and starting to turn a golden colour (basically until the zucchini loses its “greenness”).
Add the mince, and fry until browned, breaking up with a fork as you go. Add your spices, mixing in to combine and stir until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, stock cube and a little water (I half filled the tomato can with water, sloshed it around and added that) stir to combine and let it simmer for ten minutes or more (the longer it simmers, the better the flavour.) Add the sugar, kidney beans and red wine vinegar and let it heat through, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve however you please. If you’re worried about the heat of the chilli, natural yoghurt or light sour cream are the best accompaniments.

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here in Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Wednesday, December 10, 2008.

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Three of my favourite foodie things are Moroccan flavours, cranberries and making my own pizza, so this Moroccan lamb and cranberry pizza ticks a lot of boxes for me! It’s much better than any takeaway pizza you’ll ever get – the combination of sweet lamb, musky cinnamon, tangy cranberries and salty fetta is divine!
I must admit I’ve deviated away from the original recipe I found for this at taste.com.au. Firstly, I can’t stand parsley (I know, I’m weird, but it tastes soapy to me!) so I leave it off and it doesn’t make much of a difference. Secondly, I tend to use some of my own home made pizza dough as the base.

Here’s my version. It makes enough for four, or two greedy hungry people:

MOROCCAN LAMB AND CRANBERRY PIZZAS

1 quantity of home-made pizza dough, or use 2 store-bought plain pizza bases
1 onion, chopped
350g lamb mince
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (add another 1/2 teaspoon Moroccan spice mix if you have some)
1/4 cup dried cranberries soaked in a little boiling water for 15 minutes
3/4 cup hummus
2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted in a hot pan beforehand)
2/3 cup fetta, crumbled

Heat the oven to 230°C. Roll out your pizza dough into two rectangles and place on two lined trays. Heat some olive oil over a low heat in a frypan and gently cook the onion, stirring, for 12 minutes until it starts to caremalise. Add lamb and cook for another four minutes until browned. Stir in the spices and drained cranberries. Smear your pizza dough with the hummus and then sprinkle on the mince mixture, then add the pine nuts and fetta. Put it in the oven and cook for 12 minutes, until the edges of the dough are browned. Serve drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil (skip the oil if you’re trying to be healthy) and squeeze over some lemons.

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here in Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Saturday, October 25, 2008 under the title Gourmet Pizza at Home #2.

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A HUGE jar of marmalade. See how the peel is swirled throughout? That’s how it’s meant to look 😛

When I was growing up, our pantry always used to be filled with multiple jars of jam made by my mother. In our backyard we had a mulberry tree, a peach tree and an orange tree and when the trees were heavy with fruit, it would be picked off and Mum would turn the surplus into big batches of jam and marmalade. She seemed to do most of her jam making on hot, sticky summer nights; standing by the stove with a book while she constantly stirred the latest concoction boiling away in her special “jam pan”. A tray of piping hot sterilised jars would sit alongside her, waiting to be filled and labelled with something like “Mulberry January 1990”.

Now I’m continuing on in the jam making tradition and am slowly learning how to make my own preserves. And I have to say, there’s something about making jam that satisfies that hunter-gatherer instinct in you; you’re turning surplus into provisions to store away for times ahead. Dare I say it makes me feel very accomplished to make my own jams. Seeing the fruits of my labour stacked up on the pantry shelves inspires a great sense of satisfaction.

I’ve only begun my own jam making since I got married and I must say it’s been an interesting learning curve. My first jam making attempt was plum jam, which turned into plum toffee because I cooked it too long. I got it right the second time though, which inspired me to try out apricot jam, which is so much better than anything you will ever buy in a supermarket. Homemade apricot jam is divine.

I was inspired to try making marmalade after picking up some Seville oranges at the farmers market. Originally I bought these bitterly fragrant oranges to try out some of Nigella Lawson’s yummy recipes with the fruit, but I had so many I also decided to try the marmalade as well using a recipe from an excellent book my mum gave me, the Australian Women’s Weekly Book of Preserves.

Marmalade making is a lengthy process, or at least the Seville marmalade is. You begin by finely slicing up 1kg of unpeeled Seville oranges, reserving the seeds, and then you put all the fruit into a bowl with 2 litres of water and let it sit overnight in the fridge. At the same time you put the seeds, which are packed with jam-setting pectin, into a bowl, pour over some water to cover them and let them set overnight. This whole process left me and the kitchen bench sticky with orange juice!

The next day you pull out a BIG pan (mine is a 7L Dutch oven), put your fruit mixture in and let it boil for 45 minutes until the rind is soft. The smell of the oranges bubbling away pervaded the house and it really reminded me of my mum’s efforts!

It then gets even messier as you measure out your fruit mixture into a bowl to work out how much sugar you’re going to add. I had 6 1/2 cups of orange mix, so I added 6 1/2 cups of sugar along with the jellied liquid from the seeds. Back it all went into the pan.

You then stir all the sugar in until it’s dissolved, bring the marmalade to the boil and let it boil for 20 minutes until it jells. To test for the jelling you put some plates in the freezer, pull them out when cold and blob a little bit of marmalade on. Let it cool, and then push your finger with it. If it wrinkles, it’s ready.

While I was making the marmalade I had some old clean jars sitting in the oven to sterilize them, and after letting the marmalade sit in the pan for 10 minutes (it helps to suspend the peel) I filled up my jars.

It makes a hell of a lot – the recipe said it would make 12 cups, I think I had a little less but I still managed to fill up about six big jars!

It’s probably the wrong time to say this, but I actually really don’t like marmalade. This one in particular was incredibly bitter, so I dare say I’ll be giving away a lot of it!

Marmalade making is living proof the journey is often better than the destination, at least for me anyway.

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here on Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Saturday, October 25, 2008

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Back in late September I did an experiment for a week eating only local food produced within a 160km radius (100 miles) of my current home. My week of local noshing was inspired by a campaign on ABC Local Radio and I must say, it was a fascinating experience.

I’ve been wanting to blog about my local eating experience for weeks but being the busy little bee that I am I haven’t had half a chance to post anything here. But you can read about my experiences here. If I do say so myself, it’s a good read. A woman at work told me her teenage sons liked the sound of my locavore experiment so much they asked their mum if they could do it at home themselves. That was a proud moment 🙂

I hope it inspires you to go out and try something locally grown on your doorstep, or at least to visit a farmers market. Until then here’s some of the dishes I ate as a locavore to inspire you.

Breakfast of scrambled local eggs, with chives and spring onions from my garden and some incredible bacon reared locally and smoked by a local butcher. A breakfast of champions!

More local eggs, this time turned into an omlette with local cheese, and rocket and spring onions from my veggie garden.

Local broccoli, carrots, pumpkin and potatoes partnered with some beautiful leatherjacket from a nearby fishing port. Lemon from a friend’s garden was the finishing touch squeezed over the fish. We also had some pan-fried flathead tails one night.

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here on Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Saturday, October 14, 2008

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In moments of extreme disorganisation and laziness, this frugal foodie must admit to ordering pizza for dinner. Yes, I know, ordering takeaway is not the way to eat cheaply (or healthily for that matter) but there’s some nights when only a supreme pizza will do (usually Friday nights when I’m really tired and I’ve forgotten to defrost the meat!).

My husband and I order two pizzas (always a veggie supreme, then some sort of meat pizza) and about 15 minutes and $20 later, dinner is over, bellies are full and we’re happy. Then off to the gym I skip the next day to try and work it all off 🙂

But really, making my own pizza is my preferred option for indulging my pizza cravings, and not that much harder than picking up the phone to place an order. Plus I get to indulge my foodie side and make pizzas you definitely won’t find at your local Dominoes. I haven’t worked out the costings for my home made pizzas but I’d say they’re quite a bit cheaper to make, and much healthier for you too.

The dough recipe I use comes from an old edition of Super Food Ideas and is a great basis for any homemade pizza. People seem to think recipes containing yeast are hard to make but really, I can’t think of anything simpler than placing a little bit of yeast, sugar and warm water in a bowl and letting it froth up. Then you add your frothy yeast mix to your flour, give it all a good knead together (I use my beloved Kitchenaid, but arms make it an excellent workout) and it’s ready for toppings. This recipe makes for a thin, crispy base on your pizza, the way Italians (in my unfounded dreams) enjoy it. Plus it freezes really well, meaning you can keep some on standby.

The pizza pictured at the beginning of this post is a pumpkin and basil pizza, and I just love how fresh and simple the flavours of this pizza are. Add a salad and it’s the perfect meal, for dinner or lunch. And I don’t have to work out so hard at the gym after this pizza dinner 🙂

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH  Adapted from a recipe in Super Food Ideas magazine 

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 8g sachet dried yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Place water, yeast and sugar in a bowl and stir to combine. Cover with some Glad Wrap and leave in a warm, sunny spot (or just near a heater if it’s night time and it’s winter!) for five minutes until bubbles appear on the surface. In a large bowl sift in the flour, then add yeast mixture and the oil. Mix to form a soft dough. Then here comes the fun bit: the kneading. You can either knead it in a kitchen mixer with a dough hook or you can take it out and knead it with your hands on a floured surface for eight minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. You’ll know it’s elastic when you press the top of the dough, and it bounces back. Cut the dough in half.
This dough makes enough to serve four people. We normally use one half and freeze the other for future use.

PUMPKIN AND BASIL PIZZA

This is another recipe adapted from Super Food Ideas magazine. This pizza serves four using all the dough from the recipe above.

  • 1kg butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into little cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or olive oil spray
  • 175g ricotta cheese (you can use low fat if you’re health conscious)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, cashews or pine nuts (if using walnuts/cashews roughly chop them)
  • 1/2 cup small basil leaves
  • Pizza dough (see above)

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C and line a baking with paper. Put your pumpkin cubes on the tray and either drizzle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil or spray with olive oil spray if you’re watching the weight. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 20mins until just tender. While the pumpkin is roasting roll out your pizza dough to line two flat lightly greased baking trays (roughly 22cm x 34cm. Think big cookie sheet size). Once the pumpkin is ready, top the dough with the pumpkin and crumbled ricotta. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden and crisp. Once the pizza is out of the oven sprinkle with walnuts and basil and drizzle with about 2 teaspoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Bask in the glow of compliments on your yummy pizza 🙂

*Note: You can use feta in place of the ricotta, but just don’t season it so much. And I haven’t tried this yet but I imagine it would be amazing with blue cheese and pecans 🙂

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here on Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Saturday, October 14, 2008 under the title Gourmet Pizza at Home #1

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If you want to eat cheaply and healthily, you need to learn to love your legumes. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning quite happily for a few years now and luckily, my other half will eat them too!

Nutritionists encourage us all to introduce more lentils and legumes to our diet but most Australians ignore that advice, possibly because legumes have long been maligned as the flatulence-inducing food of weird hippy types (I don’t believe this stereotype though!)

It’s a shame because legumes are a nutritional powerhouse. They’re low in fat, high in fibre, folate, potassium, iron, magnesium and protein, have a low glycemic index and have no cholesterol. Eating legumes can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and can also help with weight control – what more could you want from a food? Yes, there are those unfortunate associations with flatulence but you can minimise the problem by not using the water they’re stored or soaked in for your cooking. And the more you eat, the more your body gets used to them. Promise.

I like to buy my beans in bulk and cook them in the slow cooker, but they’re just as easy to buy in tins, just not as cheap. Pulses make a great basis for curries and casseroles, taste great in salads, and can be mashed and shaped into patties for burgers. And they make the basis of many great dips – mmm hummus!

This recipe for curried coconut chickpeas comes from a slow cooker book by New Zealand author Alison Holst. This is one of my favourite stand by dinners that seems to appear on the menu regularly. I assemble it in the slow cooker bowl the night before, whack it in the fridge and pull it out in the morning to let it simmer away all day. I come home from work and dinner is waiting for me. It does have a little bit of coconut cream in it, which is not all that good for the hips, but I think the healthy chickpeas, tomatoes and yummy spices cancel it out somewhat.

This is my “tampered with” version of Alison’s dish:

SLOW COOKED COCONUT CHICKPEAS

  • Spray oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2cm grated ginger or about 1 teaspoon from a jar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 cups drained, cooked chickpeas or one 400g can
  • One 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • fresh coriander or basil leaves, to serve

METHOD
Spray some oil into a non stick fry pan and fry up the onions, garlic, ginger and curry powder. When the onion is cooked and transparent, add to the slow cooker bowl. Add your chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, coconut cream, salt and sugar and stir it all in to mix. If you’re preparing this the night before, put the slow cooker bowl into the fridge. Then when you’re ready to cook, put the bowl into the slow cooker, turn it to LOW and let it cook for at least six hours, it can cook up to ten hours. The mixture is fairly thin, which is how I like it, but you can thicken it up with cornflour mixed to a paste with cold water (about a teaspoon cornflour with a tablespoon or more of water). Serve with rice and veggies with the coriander or basil sprinkled over the top.

*Note: You could also substitute the weight of chickpeas with some pumpkin or sweet potato. For those without slow cookers it works fairly well if you cook the onion mix, add the other ingredients and let it simmer for an hour or so.

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here on Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Saturday, October 1, 2008

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I have a love/hate relationship with cafes. On one hand, I love to eat at good cafes to enjoy that friendly, bustling ambiance that only cafes seem to have; I also like to people watch and perve on the surroundings. I also really like to eat cafe food but ah, here’s the rub: at too many cafes I’ve looked at the menu and thought “I could make that at home, and better”.
Yes, I know the point of eating at a cafe is to relax and enjoy the fact you’re not cooking, and I probably sound quite arrogant saying “I could cook this better”. Sadly, it’s often been true. But the upside is that cafe eating (and sometimes just reading a menu) often inspires me to try to recreate some luscious description at home.
Take the dish pictured above, for example. It’s on the all-day breakfast menu at one of my favourite local cafes, Wild Honey, in my current home town. I’ve eaten it for lunch once or twice with that “you should try this at home” thought echoing in my head. So one day I did, adding my own personal touches, and it made for a delicious breakfast for a Saturday morning, washed down with some freshly squeezed orange juice. And I didn’t even have to get out of my pyjamas…
The original dish at my cafe features foccacia bread, toasted and smeared with soft fetta, then topped with grilled mushrooms and lots of rocket. It left me about $8 out of pocket.
My version is a little different. I sliced up five mushrooms and tossed them into a pan with a tiny knob of olive oil spread, half a garlic clove minced up and some fresh thyme from the garden. You then just keep stirring the mushies around the pan until brown and the garlicky , herby butter has melted. I then toasted a piece of sourdough rye bread and smeared it with some soft Danish fetta (it needs to be the soft stuff so you can spread it over) Top with mushrooms, then top with fetta and breakfast is ready.
Now, doing the sums for my breakfast…
Bread – from a loaf of organic Hope Farm bread – about 20c for the slice
Fetta – from the supermarket deli – I bought about 100g for 89c and used half, so about 45c
Mushrooms – from the greengrocer – about 80c for almost 100g
Butter – don’t think my serve even ranks in the cent mark!
Thyme – from the garden, so technically free.
Garlic – very small bit, so maybe 10c worth?
Rocket – same as the thyme
TOTAL COST – $1.55
Wow! Pretty crazy huh? It would probably cost more if you don’t grow your own thyme and rocket like I do,  but it’s still startling to see the difference between home cooked and cafe when you put it into dollar figures like that. Must admit since I made it at home I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy it again…
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice treat to go out to a cafe for an indulgent breakfast or lunch every now and again. But it’s equally nice to know you can create the cafe experience at home too for when times are tough and the budget is tight.

Note: I am currently moving content from a previous food blog I wrote, The Frugal Foodie, over to my current blog here on Jane B. This is one of the posts featured on that blog.

First blogged: Saturday, October 1, 2008 under the title Cafe Food at Home: Garlic Mushrooms on Toast with Rocket and Feta.

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