Tropicana rolls

OK, this one’s more for the kids. That’s not to say that they’re not delicious – they are – but I prefer a less dense, carby lunch option most of the time. At over 300 calories per roll, they’re not the most calorie-efficient option in my repertoire. However, the kids and their friends gobble them up, and they’re such a cheap and easy fun alternative to fast food or boring old sandwiches. I make them every now and then during term for the kids to take to school, and more often again during the holidays to throw in a bag with some fruit and snacks for days out, or afternoons at baseball (go the Blue Sox!). They freeze really well, too, so it’s super handy to make a double batch and stash a few for whenever you need them. Oh! And you can definitely fry up some diced bacon instead of the pepperoni with no decrease in deliciousness, but the pepperoni is much easier and my kids prefer the little spicy kick that it provides.

With an almost-teenaged-boy-who-is-growing-like-a-weed in the house, I make them pretty big to try and keep his stomach quiet for more than a few minutes, and find that they’re not too big for the also-won’t-stop-growing 9 year old daughter. You can stretch these out to yield 12 rolls, but we make 8 with no complaints from anyone, ever.

Ingredients

4 cups self raising flour

1 cup grated cheese

180g pepperoni, diced

1/3 cup diced pineapple, drained

500ml butter milk (or whole milk with 2tbs lemon juice, left to sit for about 5 minutes to curdle, which is how I normally do it), plus just a little more for brushing.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, cheese, pepperoni and pineapple. Stir to combine.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add milk. Stir until dough comes together in a craggy ball.
  4. With damp hands (because the dough is STICKY), shape dough into 8 balls and place on prepared trays.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden on top, and hollow-sounding when tapped.

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Baked Polenta Chips (Scagliozzi)

Ah, polenta. It’s not something I really grew up eating, and because I was unfamiliar with it, it took a fair bit of time to work out exactly how to cook it. I remember trying to cook it for my son when he was a baby, and was left confused by the resulting gluggy weirdness and how the hell I was supposed to cut it into fingers.

Clearly, I was still learning, and managed to find some really vagueless recipes that offered little guidance to the still-learning-how-to-cook new mother desperate to raise a good eater (I did manage to succeed in that, despite my complete ignorance of cooking cornmeal). Thankfully, over the past 12 years, I’ve learned how to find and evaluate good recipes, and combine them into something that works for me.

Which brings me to my spin on baked polenta chips. I’m thrilled to report that my son DOES in fact love them (sorry for the delay, dude!)… as did my daughter and husband. I did too. I know that traditionally, scagliozzi is fried, but on top of preferring a lower calorie side dish, I’ve never really been a big fan of deep fried food (except for really good chips). However, when baked, these are a cheesy, tasty treat that the whole family will gobble up. Prepared this way, 1/5 of the recipe is only 250 calories, and considering how filling it is, that’s pretty good! Some lean meat and steamed veggies, and you’ve got yourself and amazing meal.

Do keep in mind that you need to make the polenta the night before (or up to two days ahead), but even though it’s a 2 part recipe, neither part takes very much time or effort.

ingredients

250g instant polenta

1 litre chicken stock

1tbs butter

Spray oil (or 1.5 tbs olive oil, but the spray oil makes it easier)

Salt and pepper to taste

4tbs grated parmesan

Method

The night before

  1. Line a large, shallow baking dish with baking paper and spray lightly, or brush with half a tablespoon of the oil.
  2. Bring stock to the boil in a medium sized saucepan. In a very slow stream, and whisking vigorously all the while, pour the polenta into the stock.
  3. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, or until the polenta easily moves from the side of the pan when stirring.
  4. Remove from heat and stir the butter in until completely melted.
  5. Pour into prepared dish and spread until about 1cm thick. Allow to cool, then refrigerate (uncovered) overnight or up to two days.

45 minutes before serving

  1. Preheat oven to 210C. Remove dish from fridge and cut polenta into fingers. Allow the dish to come to room temperature for about 10 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle polenta with salt, pepper and parmesan, then spray/drizzle with oil.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden. You may wish to check after 20 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.

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Apple, Spinach and Chorizo Frittata

Ahhh, frittatas. So easy, so delicious, so good at making a meal out of the most basic ingredients.

This particular frittata, for example, is so stupidly easy, yet the flavour is almost undeservingly wonderful. Such marvelous results for such little effort or need for cooking expertise. I mean, isn’t that the best kind of cooking? All the results for little effort? In my busy, lazy world it is.

This frittata is so versatile, too. You can make it the night before, which is perfect for Thursday nights when the daughter and I both have netball training, the son has baseball, and the husband has a killer commute. It’s a meal in itself, but light enough for those nights when you don’t want a full dinner. And, best of all, while doesn’t last long in my house as everyone loves it, if I can keep it away from snacky, sneaky hands, it lasts two or three days for a great work lunch. A larger serving (1/4) is only 360 calories, and a smaller serving (1/6) is 240. Add some veggies or a salad, and you’re absolutely good to go – and it’s more filling than just the larger serve.

Ingredients

2tsp olive oil

180g chorizo sausage, sliced into coins

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 red apple, thinly sliced

100g baby spinach

9 eggs

60g milk

Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Heat oil in an ovenproof frying pan over medium heat. Cook chorizo for five minutes, or until golden. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes, until softened. Transfer both to a bowl, but keep oil in the pan.
  3. Place apple slices in pan and cook for 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden and starting to soften. Remove to a separate plate or bowl.
  4. Add spinach and stir briefly until just wilted. Return onion and 3/4 of the chorizo to the pan, and distribute evenly in the pan.
  5. In a clean bowl, whisk eggs and milk until combined. Pour into pan, over the spinach mixture.
  6. Arrange remaining chorizo and apple slices over the egg. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking occasionally, until eggs just start to set. Transfer to oven, and bake for 12-15 minutes until egg is golden and cooked though.

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Pork and Mushroom Udon Soup

Silly me, I called out a dangerous sentence in my household this morning. I should have known better, or stopped myself when I felt it coming on, but nonetheless, “I’m doing a shopping list, what do we want for dinner?” fell out of my mouth. Such a question will result in one of two responses: a shrug of the shoulders and non-committal grunt of “I don’t know”, or a very excited, specific request.

Today, I got the latter. The 12 year old Japanophile piped upped almost instantly, “Ramen!” and of course, he didn’t mean the cheap, quick 2 minute noodle style (thankfully, because I really don’t care for those). I tried to point out that even in Japan, people don’t make ramen at home, they go to a noodle house. He saw right through that, and I found myself at the huge Asian supermarket not too far from my house.

As grumpy as I sound, I am of course, quite pleased with the outcome. I cook a lot of soup, even a lot of Asian style soups, but I think this might have been the best yet. I got a little inspiration from Nigella Lawson, a little from the Japan cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, and a little from years of eating ramen and never coming across one I didn’t love. I won’t claim pure authenticity, but I will claim deliciousness. And healthfulness – it’s pretty wholesome at only 450 calories a serve.

Ingredients

20g dried, sliced shiitake mushrooms

5 cups dashi or chicken stock

2tsp minced ginger

2tsp white miso paste

2 radishes, thinly sliced

1tbs soy sauce

2tsp olive oil

300g pork loin, thinly sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper

4 eggs

400g udon noodles

2 bok choy, shredded, or 100g baby spinach

8 slices narutomaki

scallions, sliced thinly, to serve

1 small chilli, sliced thinly, to serve.

Methods

  1. Place mushrooms, stock, miso and ginger in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. In the last 3 minutes, add radishes and soy sauce. Meanwhile, continue with the following steps.
  2. Saute the pork in the oil over high heat until just cooked through, Set aside.
  3. Boil eggs for 6.5-9 minutes, until set to your preference. We like a 6.5 minute egg, where it’s hard around the outside of the yolk and still slightly soft toward the middle. When done, remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the water, and run under cold water, peel and set aside.
  4. Place udon in the water from the eggs and cook for 4 minutes, or to package instructions. Drain and rinse.
  5. To assemble, place noodles in bowls. Add spinach/bok choy and pork, then ladle in soup. Top with narotmaki, scallions and chilli.
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Cherry Tomato and Zucchini Rice Bake

I wish I knew where – if anywhere – I’d seen this recipe, but I have no idea. I vaguely remember making something similar years and years ago with tuna, and feeling like the tuna ruined it, but I can’t even remember if anything other than rice was common to this dish. All I know is that I’ve been wanting a rice side dish that wasn’t fried rice all week, and kind of just threw it together and hoped for the best.

It worked. The husband ate the leftovers (AKA tomorrow’s lunch) as seconds, much to my horror. It was tasty yet simple (absolute perfect for a Wednesday night where I have a night of lesson planning ahead of me) but I fear that if I don’t write it down, I’ll forget what I did and then never make it again. And that would be tragic.

To add to the happiness surrounding this side dish, it was far fewer calories than I’d anticipated – just 235 per serve, making it an awesome dinner with some lean meat and more veggies – we added grilled pork loin and broccoli, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This calorie count is for a yield of 5 serves; For almost exactly 300 calories, you can have it serve 4, but with the meat and veg, one fifth was perfect. And would have been a perfect amount and calorie count for lunch, too. Not that I’m bitter or anything…

Ingredients

1 cup (200g) raw basmati rice

2 cups chicken stock

1 tsp olive oil

1 brown onion, finely diced

1 medium zucchini, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1tsp minced ginger

200g cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or quartered, if they’re a bit larger)

1/4 cup grated parmesan

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper, to serve

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. In an oven proof skillet, add rice and stock and bring to the boil on stove. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until just tender. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Turn off the burner, place a tea towel over the skillet and firmly cover with a lid. Rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in another pan, heat oil over medium low heat. Add onions and cook for five minutes, until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook for a minute or so. Add zucchini and tomatoes, and cook until softened but not coloured. Set aside until rice is ready.
  4. Stir vegetables through the rice. Mix in the parmesan and egg
    until fully incorporated, and smooth down with a spoon or spatula.
  5. Season well and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until golden and firm.

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Pumpkin and Fruit Protein Cookies

It’s always great looking for fresh, new snacks that get me happy to be cooking and ready for the week ahead. Bliss balls, veggie muffins, any little thing I can munch on mid-morning to get me through the work day, that not just satisfies my hunger, but also my desire for yummy, interesting food. I’m a creature of habit, but don’t like eating the same thing over and over again.

Which brings me to these cookies whose deliciousness belies the nutritional punch that they pack in every bite. Crunchy, sweet, seedy, oaty, and just salty, they’re a fantastic work snack for only 90 calories apiece (for a yield of 30 cookies). Granted, they’re not very large, but one of these and a piece of fruit or veg, and you’ll be good to go for ages. You could also make them 1.5 times larger and cook them a few minutes longer, because 135 calories for a substantial snack is nothing too terrible, either. I just like them little and cute, I guess! I used Kodiak power cake mix, and highly recommend it for both flavour and added protein, but wholemeal flour works well, too.

Ingredients

225g raw pumpkin, chopped roughly

1tbs butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup sultanas

1/3 cup pepitas

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats

2 cup Kodiak Power Cake mix or wholemeal flour

Method

  1. Steam pumpkin for 10 minutes, until very tender. Drain, and mash with butter until very smooth. Allow to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 180C and line baking trays with non stick baking paper.
  3. Add sugar, butter, egg and vanilla to pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.
  4. Stir in pepitas and sultanas.
  5. Combine Kodiak with rolled oats and fold into mixture to combine.
  6. Allow to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
  7. Roll mixture into 30 balls and bake for 12 minutes or until firm.

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Sweet Chilli Dumpling Stir Fry

Why did I never think to do this?! Why did I inhabit this planet for 33 years without this?!

I LOVE stir fry, we eat some version of it weekly. I LOVE dumplings. My whole family would subsist on nothing but pot stickers, xiao long bao and wontons, given half the chance. Combining the two was so obvious. So perfect. So… not something I’d ever considered until I came across a recipe from taste.com.au. I’ve made it a couple of times, and never the same way twice: different dumplings, different veggies, different ratios. The sauce is amazing, and that always stays the same, but the beauty of stir fry is that you use what you have. So this recipe is a guideline, a serving suggestion at best. But a truly delicious suggestion that I urge everyone to make their own. I’ve made these with various flavours, shapes and styles of dumplings with success, but find pot stickers are the hardiest, and therefore, best to toss around. But substitute away… it’s all good. One day I’ll be super smug and use homemade dumplings (I went to a funky class months ago, and so far have done nothing with that experience), but I’m absolutely not above throwing in some good quality frozen pieces.

This meal serves 4, and is about 350 calories per serve. Of course, that’s hard to gauge when you change everything each time, but if you stick to the spirit of the recipe, it’s a safe bet.

Ingredients

1.5 tbs peanut oil

400g dumplings of your choice – I’m partial to prawn or pork

100ml water

1 onion, thinly sliced

200g mushrooms, sliced

1 small handful of baby capsicum, sliced (or 1 regular pepper)

4 heirloom carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 small head broccoli or 3 bunches broccolini, cut florets and stalks thinly sliced

100g beans or snow peas, trimmed

400g can baby corn, drained

3 cloves garlic, minced

1tsp minced ginger

1/4 cup oyster sauce

2tbs sweet chilli sauce

1/4 cup Shaoxing wine

Large handful baby spinach

Method

  1. You’ll want everything ready to go before you start. Chop all vegetables and place in one large bowl. Combine oyster sauce, sweet chilli sauce and Shaoxing wine in a jug and set aside.
  2. In a large frypan with a lid, heat 1tbs oil over medium heat. Add dumplings and cook one side without turning or stirring. Carefully pour water into pan (it will sizzle like mad… I often turn the heat down to low because it freaks me out a little), cover with lid and steam for 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate with slotted spoon and keep warm (this is a quick method – throwing a clean teatowel over it should do the trick).
  3. Heat remaining oil in a hot wok (you can use a frypan, in fact I have most of the times I’ve cooked this, but since getting one recently, I cannot recommend a wok highly enough!) and add all the vegetables, ginger and garlic. Stir constantly for about 5 minutes, until veggies are tender but not mushy.
  4. Pour the sauce over the veggies and give a good stir.
  5. Add the spinach and dumplings and turn gently until the dumplings are coated with sauce and the spinach is wilted.

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Sweet Chilli Chicken and Corn Soup with Pumpkin Scones

Oh, look! Another soup! It’s cooling down here now, and I’m swapping my salads for soups as my seasonal staples. I’ve been making this soup for years, and it’s an absolute winner. I mean, chicken and corn soup isn’t anything overly special, but the sweet chilli sauce – such a simple addition to such a simple dish – makes such a difference to the versions I ate growing up. Adding a pumpkin lemonade scone for dipping makes this a delightfully delicious light meal that will leave you feeling like you’ve partaken in something special. Yet, it’s a cinch to make, and so very budget friendly. A serve of each sits right at 400 calories, making it the perfect winter warmer.

Sweet Chilli Chicken and Corn Soup

Serves 4 at 300 calories per serve

Ingredients

1.25 litres chicken stock

2 garlic cloves, minced

1tsp minced ginger

1 onion, finely diced

420g can creamed corn

200g sweetcorn kernels

300g chicken thigh fillets, skin removed

2tsp soy sauce

1tbs sweet chilli sauce

2 eggs whites, beaten

Salt and pepper, to serve

Method

  1. Bring stock to the boil. Add garlic, ginger, corn, onions and chicken to the stock, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until chicken is mostly cooked through.
  2. Remove chicken from the stock, and using two forks, shred meat. Return to stock and resume simmering (uncovered) for five minutes or until cooked through.
  3. Stir through the soy and sweet chilli sauces. In a thin stream, slowly pour in the egg whites, whisking the soup to incorporate evenly. Cook for another minute, then serve with a generous crack of black pepper and salt to taste

Pumpkin Scones

makes 16 at 100 calories each (they freeze really well)

Ingredients

300g pumpkin (weight without skin and seeds)

2 1/2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon maldon salt flakes

1/2 cup lemonade (Schweppes works well as it’s not too sweet)

1/2 cup thickened cream

1tbs milk

Method

  1. Steam pumpkin until very tender, drain and cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 220C and prepare a tray with non-stick baking paper (I give it a little spray with oil anyway, because I have trust issues).
  3. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.
  4. Combine cream and lemonade. Pour into flour, and using a flat blade knife, mix to combine. Don’t overmix, but do ensure the flour is incorporated. The dough will be rather wet and sticky.
  5. Using a tablespoon or, better yet, a soup spoon, dollop spoonfuls of mixture on the prepared trays, shaping them into neat rounds with only a few millimetres of space between them.
  6. Brush with milk and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on the tray. Serve with soup as they are, or spread with just a little butter or (as I tend to do) cottage cheese.

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Spiced Cauliflower Soup

Like so many others – if social media is anything to go by – I’m somewhat struggling to eat well during this time of social isolation and lack of routine. This week was particularly hard for a multitude of reasons, but while those reasons are understandable (a crash of emotions, a huge change to my routine, or what passes for one these days, into one that is significantly more stressful, and one which I find even more challenging than it’s predecessor… my husband’s birthday… finally being allowed out to see people… the list goes on), they’re irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, I feel so much better both mentally and physically when I eat well and exercise. The dog helps me with the latter, but I have to take responsibility for the former. Of course, that’s not about restricting food, it’s just about upping the plants and being mindful of what I’m eating and how it’s affecting me. This week I’ve felt slumpy and grumpy, and at least some of that feeling like crap is related to the fact that I’ve been eating like crap. There’s a chicken/egg element to it, too, but it’s a cycle that isn’t too hard to break once you identify it.

Which brings me to this soup. Not an atonement (because I didn’t do anything wrong – food isn’t a moral compass), not a punishment (food is a blessing, NEVER a punishment!!), just a step back into what makes my tastebuds, mind and body feel good: simple, delicious, nutritious food. A kickstart out of the doldrums and back into mindfulness to all aspects of my life. Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, it is a bowlful of flavour and comfort that tastes divine, fills you up, makes your house smell like heaven, and brings some sensory interest to a very strange yet boring world. All for 10 minutes of easy prep, 20 minutes of simmering away, and a handful of really simple, nourishing ingredients that you probably have stashed already (you can definitely use frozen cauliflower for this). At 211 calories a bowl, it’s also a very low calorie option, perfect if (again, like me) you’re leaning on bread for a little emotional support right now. I can attest that an English Muffin with just a smear of cottage cheese is a perfect companion to this soup.

Serves 4, rather generously

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 baby chat potatoes (about 200g), washed and diced

2 teaspoons minced ginger

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (more to taste)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 small cauliflower

400g tinned tomatoes

3 cups vegetable stock

Salt and pepper, to taste (I ditched the salt and went to town with the pepper)

Yoghurt (coconut if you’re keeping it vegan) to serve

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add cumin and fenugreek seeds, and wait a few seconds for them to pop.
  2. Immediately add onion and potato, and stir to coat with seeds. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to low and add cauliflower and spices. Cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes, ensuring the vegetables are evenly coated.
  4. Stir in stock and tomatoes, season, and bring to the boil. Reduce back to low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is very tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Use a stick blender to blitz to desired consistency. I like to blend about half way to smooth – I like some texture, so ensure that tiny bits of florets and at least a few small cubes of potato are left intact.
  6. Ladle into bowls and season. Top with yoghurt, if using, and serve.

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Stuffed Sweet Potatoes and Leftover Bubble & Squeak

I love a good two for one deal, and in this case, it’s a delicious deal that I’ll be keeping on rotation. Fluffy baked sweet potatoes with the flesh scooped out and put aside for tomorrow morning, topped with a concoction of tomatoes, beans, and smoked ham, baked to perfection under a sprinkle of cheese – yes please! And the next day, taking the scooped flesh, mixing it with the leftover bean mixture, frying it to gnarly goodness and topping it with a runny egg is the best way to start any day – especially during the blah-ness of Covid-19 quarantine.

I have served this with almond-crusted beef schnitzel for a more decadent dinner, but it seriously is delicious and filling enough to work as a meal on its own. As a stuffed potato, this recipe is 327 calories. The bubble and squeak with 2 runny eggs clocks in at 340 calories. Very reasonable for a superb breakfast!

Serves 4, with enough to make a B&S to serve 2-3 (calories counted at 3 serves)

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes (about 600g total)

1tbs + 1tsp olive oil

1 red onion, diced

1 carrot, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

400g diced tomatoes (tinned or fresh)

1tbs barbecue sauce (a smoky one is great here!)

2tsp dijon mustard

chilli powder, to taste

400g can 3 bean mix, drained

100g ham, chopped

1/4 cup grated cheese

fried eggs, to serve with bubble and squeak

Method – stuffed potatoes

  1. Preheat oven to 230.
  2. Wash and halve sweet potatoes lengthways, prick with a fork and rub with one tablespoon of olive oil. Place on baking tray, cover with foil, and bake for 45 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a pan over low heat. Add onions and carrots and sweat for 8 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for one minute.
  4. Stir tomatoes, mustard, sauce and chilli into onion mixture and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water if drying out too much, although this rarely happens over a low heat.
  5. Stir in beans and ham, and cook for 10 minutes, allowing mixture to thicken.
  6. Remove cooked potatoes from oven (do not turn oven off), and allow to cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh into a bowl (cool and refrigerate for later), leaving a 1cm thick layer of flesh in the skin.
  7. Fill potato shells with tomato mixture (reserve and refrigerate the leftovers).
  8. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted and turned golden.

Method – Bubble and squeak

  1. Bring potatoes and tomato mixture leftovers out of fridge and rest to remove the chill. Combine into one mixture
  2. Heat 1tsp olive oil in a frypan. Upturn mixture into pan and flatten into a giant patty. Cook for 5 minutes, and flip. Don’t stress if it breaks… this isn’t a pretty dish anyway! Cook underside for 5 minutes, until slightly charred, gnarly bits form.
  3. Meanwhile, fry eggs to your liking.
  4. Using a spatula, cut the bubble and squeak into 2 or 3 serves, and slide onto warmed plates. Top with fried eggs, season liberally with salt and pepper and serve.

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