Curried Lentil and Tomato Stew

I’m still feeling the effects of Maypril (with all the family birthdays plus Easter in this period, hubby and I long ago decided to combine the period from the end of March to beginning of May into one big, expensive conglomerate of cake), and am also in the middle of school holidays, which means my routine has been shot to absolute bits. As a bit of a creature of habit, I’m really yearning to get back to my “New Normal” – that is, the routine that I know allows me to eat a balanced and delicious diet (with room carved our for treats of course!) at regular times, stay active, and control my nutritional intake, while maintaining my weight. While this month has not been a disaster in the sense that I didn’t magically regain 53 (or any) kilos like I felt I surely would, I still haven’t been eating well, and I can feel “old Michelle” issues coming – I’m not sleeping well, I feel bloated, and I’m starting to run out of steam. I know I say that it’s all about Calories In Calories Out, but at this stage of the long-term game, it’s really not. Not every calorie is made equally, and you can’t eat 500 calories worth of chocolate and expect to feel the same as when you eat 500 calories of high quality protein, veggies and wholegrains. Trust me, I know this from experience!

Except for my husband’s birthday next week, I’m all out of Maypril madness so I’m back on track, and so, so happy about it! This is how I know this is a true, permanent lifestyle change for me – fun is fun, but it’s only fun for a very short while. Then I’m itching to go back to New Normal, and don’t feel the slightest bit deprived. New Normal is liberating, and it’s something I jealously guard. I refuse to give it all up for a lifetime of bloat and regret. But then, I also refuse to give up cake, so it’s all a big, mindful balancing act.

Throughout the past four weeks, it’s been lunches that have been the most difficult thing for me to plan. So to mark getting back to New Normal, I meal prepped lunch for the next couple of days. With how much rich, fatty food I’ve devoured lately, a light vegetarian option was absolutely needed, and this stew, adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Ina Garten, who probably adapted it from another recipe that mine doesn’t even faintly resemble (like culinary Chinese Whispers!), fit the bill perfectly. It’s simple to make, low calorie (175 calories), packs a punch, freezes well, costs almost nothing to make, and chances are that you won’t even have to go to the shop, as it’s a meal of staples (you absolutely can use tinned tomatoes, in fact SK’s recipe calls for them. I only used fresh because I have too many and they’re starting to turn). This recipe serves 4, but you can adjust the ratios to make more or less. Four is great though, as it’s the whole can of lentils, so no waste.

Ingredients

3 second spray olive oil

1 brown onion, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tsp minced garlic

6 small tomatoes, finely diced

Small pinch sea salt flakes

1 cup drained tinned lentils

2 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock works well, too)

1 heaped tsp curry powder

1 tsp dried basil

Pepper, to serve.

Method

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan, sweat onion and carrots over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add ginger and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, salt and lentils, mixing to combine. Cook for 3 minutes until tomatoes soften.
  3. Add stock, curry and basil, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat back to low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and stewed.
  4. Serve with cracked pepper.

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Cabbage and Barley Soup

I overdid it this Easter. Like, really overdid it. So much so that I woke up this beautiful Easter Monday feeling terribly ill and with a pain in my belly that my husband was convinced was my appendix getting ready to burst. It wasn’t. It was just my body in revolt from the shocking way I’ve “nourished” it over the past couple of days. I’d entered the long weekend knowing that my usual rules were going out the window, and had every intention of getting back to my usual routine today. It’s always destined to be a Monday, right? However, my body thought it would help me be damned sure that I did in fact get back into it, by making me sick to my stomach at the mere thought of food.

After a few hours of feeling like total crap, I slowly, slowly started feeling better. By late afternoon, I was actually starting to feel hungry.  I was craving vegetables and simplicity. But I also wanted a new-to-me dinner that was interesting, while not putting any stress on my somewhat ginger stomach. Nothing fatty, or rich, and in no way related to chocolate or cake.

Once again, I was relieved that I have an arsenal of recipes stored in My Fitness Pal, with the calories already calculated, links to the recipe, and my own adaptations noted. It REALLY makes life easier, especially when you don’t really have a clear idea of what you want. Scrolling through, I saw the link to Smitten Kitchen’s Cabbage and Farro Soup, and knew that I’d found what I’d be cooking tonight. I did make some changes – I added ginger, used red cabbage instead of green to give it a beautiful rich purple colour (Deb bemoans how beige her soup is, but using red cabbage yields quite a dramatic looking soup), swapped out the farro for the pearl barley I already had in my cupboard, and eliminated some of the oil, because you really don’t need quarter of a cup here. All in all, the results were fantastic, and I’m looking forward to leftovers tomorrow, when the barley has drunk the soup and it transforms into a whole new cabbage dish. I also used a whole – albeit tiny – cabbage, and discarded the core, as a matter of preference. That left me with more cabbage than the original recipe calls for, so I increased the ingredients by 150% , meaning it serves 6, rather than 4. Which is a blessing, because, like I said, leftovers. My take on the recipe yields servings of 222 calories each, and that includes the parmesan with which the soup is served.

Ingredients

1 x 3 second spray olive oil

1 brown onion, thinly sliced

3 tsp  minced garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

1 small red cabbage, core removed, thinly sliced

1.5tbs red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup raw pearl barley

6 cups chicken stock

1tbs lemon juice

4tbs grated parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan/stockpot over medium-low heat. Sweat onions for 5 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Add garlic and ginger, and stir to combine.
  2. Add the cabbage over the top of the onion mixture and Cover pot with a lid. Steam the vegetables for 5 minutes, until cabbage starts to wilt. Stir to combine.
  3. Replace lid and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cabbage will be very tender, and sweet to taste.
  4. Stir in vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Be very generous with the pepper, as it complements the dish so well. Add barley and stir to combine.
  5. Pour in the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for up to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
  7. Serve in bowls. Top with parmesan cheese and another good crack of black pepper.

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Crème Pâtissière

If watching shows like Masterchef has taught me anything, it’s that a) you can’t cook without a lame sob story, and b) crème pâtissière is technical and difficult.

Both of these assertions are bull. I knew the former was a load of tripe cooked up by desperate television producers, but for some reason, fell hook, line and sinker for the latter. I’ve always just avoided it, made desserts that don’t call for it. I really don’t cook decadent desserts all that regularly, and there are a slew of other options, so I’ve been able to keep my fear of the Crème pât my little secret for years.

This week, my son turned 11, and the little foodie wanted creme brûlée donuts as his birthday cake. Unwilling to disappoint my first born, and after finding a recipe from Sugar Hero that looked better than the rest, I set out to make his donuts.

The first batch – so good!

I’m still perfecting them, to be honest. The test batch were perfection. They were moist and fluffy, stuffed with silky, delicious creme patissiere, coated in a vanilla glaze, and set alight for a crunchy lid that cracked so satisfyingly, I almost yearned for a cigarette. I dutifully set one aside for my loving husband, and took the rest to my dad’s, where we shared them with some very grateful neighbourhood kids. When I got home, the dog had eaten the husband’s. Hubby was less than amused, but Mac seemed very pleased with his ill-gotten treat.

The second batch failed, epically. Burned on the outside, and raw in the middle. Like, so raw, it looked like I’d already filled them with the custard. Of course, this failed batch was the one that actually counted because I made them on his birthday, which happened to fall on a public holiday, so my emergency back up options were extremely limited. Thankfully, Krispy Kreme was open, and the boy was hardly disappointed in being taken there to go nuts. He was thrilled with this contingency, but I was still so, so disappointed. I think I know what I did wrong, and will try again. But, honestly, I’ll probably keep playing around with donut recipes, while keeping the Sugar Hero one handy, because it really was very good.

What I won’t be looking for, however, is another Crème pâtissière recipe. Sugar Hero NAILED it. It was thick, silky, sweet but not tooth-achingly so, vanilla-y and the right level of eggy. It can also be made ahead of time, which is what I had done with the second batch of donuts. I now had a serving of the custard, and no donuts to squirt them into. As it was Easter weekend, and I had another party to attend the next day, I whipped up a Birthday Custard Sponge from Nigella Lawson, and sandwiched it with the Crème pât. It. Was. Heaven.

This particular recipes yields a fair amount of crème pâtissière, but I truly don’t see that being a problem – it’s very versatile. And delicious by itself. If you find you have any left over from whatever you use it for, a spoon is all you’ll need to rectify that little problem. I’m also looking forward to making a traditional crème brûlée with it.

I’m not even bothering to look up the calories for this one. It’s too variable – how much of it you eat really depends on what you do with it. Chances are, though, if you’re having a crème pât kind of dessert, you don’t really want to know, anyway.

Ingredients

4 yolks

1 whole egg

3 tbsp cornstarch

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 cups milk

pinch salt

2 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp butter

Method

  1. In a bowl, whisk together the yolks, egg, cornstarch, and 1/4 cup of the sugar, until thick.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the milk, remaining sugar, and salt. Heat the milk over a medium burner until it just starts to boil. Check consistently – if it burns or scalds, you’ll need to start again.
  3. Whisk the egg mixture, slowly drizzling a little hot milk into the bowl as you do. Continue to whisk and drizzle until you’ve added about half of the milk. Keeping the saucepan off the heat, pour the eggs into the milk mixture while whisking continuously.
  4. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Use a rubber spatula to periodically scrape the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t scorch . Cook until the pastry cream thickens and starts a very gently bubbling, then cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla bean paste or extract, and butter.
  5. Pour the cream through a wire mesh strainer into a bowl. Use a spatula to help work it through, straining out any clumps of egg that have developed. Press a layer of cling wrap directly on top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin, and let it cool to room temperature. Once at room temperature, refrigerate it until it’s cold, at least 2 hours. This will last 2 days in the fridge.

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Winter Vegetable Soup with Parmesan and Spinach Dumplings

It’s finally cooling down, which means I can pull out my beloved red cast iron pot and whip out the comfort food recipes to help warm me up. Seriously, people joked that I would feel the cold after losing all the weight. They weren’t wrong. Last winter was miserable – I was ALWAYS cold and found it difficult to warm up. I’m hoping this winter, I will be more acclimated and less uncomfortable, despite being slightly smaller again.

It has to be said, that during the Winter months, I sometimes miss some of the heavier stews and casseroles that are suprisingly high in calories despite feeling like a wholesome bowl of goodness. Of course, rather than throwing in the towel and giving in to temptation, I’ve turned to searching for lighter, but equally comforting – recipes to fill the void. Some of them have been sad failures – watery, lame slop with little flavour and no texture. Some – like this awesome “stoup” (soup so thick that it’s almost a stew) adapted once again from Taste – bring joy to my cold self. It’s only 423 calories, and fills the cravings for veggies, bread, cheese and potatoes, making it the perfect winter staple. And unlike many winter warmers, it doesn’t take hours and hours… it’s done in less than an hour. Just to add one more tick to the boxes, this soup is also vegetarian if you use the correct parmesan.

Serves 6

Ingredients

dumplings

large handful baby spinach, shredded

1 1/2 cups flour

2tbs butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

2/3 cup milk

 

Soup

2-3 second spray oil

1 brown onion, diced

1tsp minced garlic

1tsp minced ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp paprika

1 tsp dried sage

2 carrots, diced

1 bulb fennel, diced

1 medium potato, diced

2 parsnips, diced

400g tinned tomatoes

4 cups vegetable stock

500g pumpkin, diced

 

Method

1. Combine spinach flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. In a jug, combine the rest of the dumpling ingredients and pour into the well. Mix gently until well combined. Roll into 15 balls and place on a clean, dry plate.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and sweat onions over medium heat until translucent. Add nutmeg and paprika, stirring for 30 seconds until fragrant.

3. Tip in all vegetables except for the pumpkin and stir to coat with the spices. Add tomatoes and stock, using the stock to clean out the tomato tin. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes, until starting to soften. Stir every few minutes to prevent veggies from catching. Add pumpkin, and cook, covered, for a further 5 minutes, still stirring periodically.

4. Gently place the dumplings atop of the soup and lower the heat to medium-low. Cover again, and cook for 20 minutes, until the dumplings are cooked through. Serve garnished with fennel fronds.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Creamy bacony healthy boscaiola

I know I promised I wouldn’t be all about pretending lower fat/carb/what have you is the real deal, and instead celebrate food for what it is, rather than demonising food groups. And that still stands, even with recipes like this, which substitute traditional pasta for gluten free pulse pasta (that it’s GF wasn’t a consideration in choosing the ingredient, just a note that it IS gluten free, but I’m sure the recipe itself isn’t). Furthermore, from day one of my fitness journey, I’ve been adamant that I wouldn’t cut out any foods – no food would be forbidden, although I knew some meals would be on a much lower rotation.

Of course, common sense dictates that creamy, bacony pastas have been severely limited. I haven’t had a boscaiola in what seems like forever, which is especially sad, as it was once my signature dish! However, this “nots-caiola” means that I can have my pasta and eat it, too! At 385 calories for a smallish serve (small but still adequate – it got me through a 1.5 hour roller derby training session with no problems), it’s not exactly low calorie, but by using a pulse pasta made of lentils, borlotti beans, peas and chickpeas instead of the usual wheat pasta, swapping the cream for the lighter Philadelphia cream for cooking and loading it with veggies, what was once a heavy and indulgent meal is now a nutritious and reasonable occasional weeknight dinner that the whole family loves. It doesn’t taste exactly like my old boscaiola, but it is in no way subpar or inferior. It’s just more nutritious and far less caloric. Win, win, win!

Serves 5

 

Ingredients

250g dry San Remo pulse pasta

½ cup peas

2tsp olive oil

2 tsp minced garlic

125g shortcut bacon, diced

2 tsp minced garlic

250g mushrooms

1 brown onion, thinly sliced

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into fifths

½ cup chicken stock

1tbs cornflour

2tsp Worcestershire sauce

¾ tub Philadelphia lighter cream for cooking

Black pepper and grated parmesan cheese, to serve.

 

Method

  1. Heat oil in large frypan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook for 4 minutes, or until golden and starting to get a little crispy.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta to packet instructions – that is, boil for 6-8 minutes. In the final minute of cooking, add peas. Rinse, drain and keep warm.
  3. Stir in mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for a further few minutes, until tender.
  4. In a bowl or jug, combine cornflour and stock, whisking until smooth. Add cream and Worcestershire sauce, and stir to combine.
  5. Stir drained pasta into bacon and mushroom mixture. Add cream mixture and stir to combine well. Adjust heat to low and cook for 3 minutes, until sauce thickens and clings to the pasta.
  6. Serve with ground black pepper and parmesan cheese.

 

 

 

 

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