IDGAF Rice

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We’ve all had those days, haven’t we, where you just don’t give a f&*k anymore. About anything, least of all dinner. Stuff it. Popcorn and icecream is totally a balanced meal, yeah? Corn’s a vegetable AND a grain, ice cream’s a dairy, and if there happens to be boysenberries rippled through it, there’s your fruit! Done. Surely it works that way?!

I’ve touched on the fact that this year hasn’t been my best – I had a car accident that we were (thankfully) able to walk away from, but my anxiety disorder shot through the roof, and it took a good two or three months to calm myself down and be a functional human again. I’m glad to say that through this really stressful time – made worse by the fact that poor mental health can be so invisible… I look like I have my wits about me, and I really didn’t have too much to be anxious about, but that fact just made the anxiety worse because it compounded the guilt of daily panic attacks – I didn’t emotionally eat too badly, didn’t gain any weight, and managed to get nutritious food on the table for my family most nights (although I phoned it in waaaaay more than normal). I credit this very low bar of success to already having a strong arsenal of healthy recipes at the ready at all times, and I really wanted to give credit due to this particular recipe, which got me through a particularly rough day. I cooked and ate this, cried in the shower for 15 minutes, then fell asleep for 15 hours. I was DONE. But my kids didn’t have Weetbix for dinner, and I clung to that win like you would not believe.

Even if you’re not having the day from hell, this speedy rice is a wonderful take on fast food. It’s pretty nutritious, clocks in at 351 calories per serve, and is so flavourful for such a throw-on meal. The perfect antidote to a lazy mood, a warm hug on a bad day, or a decent meal when things get busy, this bowl is here for you when you don’t – or can’t – have any more effs to give.

Serves 4

Ingredients

450g microwaveable rice

2 x 3 second spray of olive oil

150g sliced mushrooms

1 brown onion, sliced

1tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small florets

Handful of baby spinach

4 eggs

for the dressing

1tbs white miso paste

2tbs mirin

1tbs kecap manis

1tsp minced ginger

Method

  1. Microwave rice according to packet instructions. Set aside to cool slightly to avoid it going mushy.
  2. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together and set aside.
  3. Place broccoli in a microwave-safe container and cover with water. Microwave for 2 minutes. Drain.
  4. Heat one spray of oil in a medium sized fry pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and onions and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute until aromatic.
  6. Transfer broccoli to onion mixture and stir to combine. Add soy sauce and allow to cook on medium-low heat.
  7. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil over a clean frypan over high heat. When oil is hot, reduce to medium hear and crack eggs into pan. Lower heat to lowest setting and cook until the whites have set but the yolks are still runny.
  8. Add rice to vegetable mixture, and stir well to combine. Stir in spinach and dressing and transfer to four bowls. Top with an egg and season to serve.

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Dal Makhani

Weeknights are such a balancing act – I won’t bore you with the laundry list of things that need to be done (including the actual laundry), but like every one else, there’s always something that needs to be done, or somewhere we need to be. Between myself, two active kids, an active dog, and a husband who works long hours with a long commute, you can usually find me from the hours of 4-8pm Monday-Friday in some degree of hectic rush. Now, I’m not complaining, not really. I’m grateful to have a job I love, even if it doesn’t always “finish at 3” (ugh). I’m grateful that my kids are active and social, and have found sports and activities that they love, and that hubby and I are in a position to let them explore those interests. I’m grateful to have a puppy I adore, and that we can both exercise together – I don’t know who enjoys his walkies more, McCartney or me. Actually… probably Mac; I don’t recall peeing in excitement over the prospect. And I’m incredibly grateful to be married to a wonderful man who works hard and makes a lot of sacrifices for the wellbeing of our family.

But, man, dinner time can be a challenge. I’ve taken to cooking dinner the night before the more hectic nights, and so I’m constantly on the look out for meals that keep really well, are nutritious and delicious, and are quick/easy to make in the first place, because often, these make ahead meals are the second dinner I’ve cooked that night, after a busy day of work/kid wrangling. Once again, I find myself very grateful that my kids aren’t fussy eaters… I’d go mad if the options were limited even further!

This dal recipe ticks almost all my boxes – it’s healthy, cheap, easy, and it doesn’t just keep well… it’s better the next day! It’s not exactly quick, but that’s only because it simmers away for an hour – it does it’s own thing on a low heat, and needs very little attention (the bare minimum of stove safety ought to cover it), so it’s definitely easy. It’s probably not the most authentic dal – the recipe from which I adapted it is, but I changed it to be quicker and more straight forward, because that’s what I need it to be. So please forgive the tinned beans and commercial chapatis… the aim of the game is to be nourished and warmed quickly and without delay – fiddling around making my own bread isn’t possible on dal day! But what it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in rich taste. I was surprised at the nutritional breakdown: despite two different types of butter and some cream, it only clocks in at 335 calories per serve, which leaves just enough room for you to justify the chapati, because at least in my view, carbs are life.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tbs ghee

2 tbs butter

1 brown onion, diced

1/2 cup passata

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsp minced ginger

400g can lentils, rinsed and drained

400g can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp ground chilli (I used cayenne)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 pinch Maldon salt flakes

1.5 cups water

1/4 cup Philadelphia light cream for cooking

1tbs butter, extra

Method

  1. Melt ghee and 2tbs butter in a large heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes until golden brown.
  2. Add ginger and garlic, and stir for 1 minute, until fragrant.
  3. Mix in the passata and stir until it is fully combined.
  4. Stir in the lentils and kidney beans – it’s okay if some of them are mashed into the sauce.
  5. Add spices, stir well.
  6. Pour in 1/2 cup of water, and stir. Reduce heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) for 45 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes or so to prevent sticking. Add the remaining water in increments throughout the simmering time – I added a quarter cup every time I stirred.
  7. After the dal has simmered for 45 minutes, stir in sugar, cream and another tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine, and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Serve immediately with rice and chapati (neither are counted in the calorie calculation – I skip the rice altogether) or allow to cool, then refrigerate and let the flavours do their thing.

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Butter Bean and Spinach Smash

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I never thought I’d be the kind of person to own a book called “The Detox Bible”. I don’t believe in detox diets – namely because I feel our bodies are perfectly capable of doing all the detoxification that they need, and don’t need magical juices or powders to help them along. I also don’t believe in “bad” foods that must be avoided at all costs, unless of course, you have an allergy. Nevertheless, when a local bookshop was having a sale on cookbooks and slashing prices by 75%, I’m willing to be more open to things.

I have to say, this book pleasantly surprised me. It’s wheat, refined sugar and dairy free (all of which I happily ignore when it suits me), but really, it’s pretty well balanced. It’s more often a case that these recipes are naturally free of these devil ingredients, than a case of the authors moving heaven and earth to swap these perfectly fine ingredients with ridiculous substitutions. I appreciate such common sense approaches, even if I don’t subscribe to the core philosophy.

Anyway, I digress. This dip is why I bought the book. It’s the first page I opened to when I was flicking through it at the store, and I was immediately sold. I love beans. Like, LOVE beans. My family aren’t quite as enthusiastic, so while I use them regularly, I rarely make them the star of the dish… Until now. Combined with an array of crudités, this dip makes an extremely healthy, delicious, filling and cheap work lunch that will make you feel like some kind of nutritionally superior god/dess for only 240 calories (it’s 170 by itself). Did I mention it’s delicious?! Because, seriously, even I was taken aback with just how GOOD this is. Off a spoon, with crackers, as a bed for your egg – it just works with everything, and my new addiction.

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 handfuls of baby spinach (about 25g)

400g butter beans, drained and rinsed (butter beans are lima beans – I had no idea!)

1tsp olive oil

1tbs lime juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup chopped raw vegetables to serve

Method

  1. Place all ingredients except the crudités into a blender and pulse into a chunky consistency (you can make it completely smooth if you prefer. I like it chunky – the butter beans are creamy enough to provide a lovely texture). If it won’t break down, add a teaspoon of water to help it along.
  2. That’s it. It couldn’t be easier.

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Baked Sweet Potato with Burghul Chilli

Every now and then I think about vegetarianism. I think I’d be good at it. There are SO many good vegetarian dishes that highlight amazing ingredients rather than try to compensate for the lack of meat, and I appreciate that greatly. However, at the end of the day, I enjoy eating meat (although I don’t need to eat it every day) and don’t believe in completely cutting out entire food groups from my diet ( I have no issue at all if you do, I just don’t want to, for various reasons). In saying that, I don’t miss meat at all when I have a great veg meal, and I find myself having more of them lately. I seem to find myself creating delicious vegetarian lunches to take to work, because then my hubby and kids aren’t being forced into anything, I don’t need to worry about balancing nutrients for anyone except myself (which I already do anyway), and I’m cutting down on unnecessary meat, without making any massive changes. I guess I’m coming across a totally uncommitted, fake, wannabe vegetarian, and I’m absolutely okay with that. I’m not any those things, really, least of all a vegetarian; I just love vegetables and experimenting with both cooking and eating, and this seems to be my thing du jour. I think I’ve struck a good balance. I hope so. I can’t say there have been any negative effects since reducing the extraneous meat consumption, and I’m still getting adequate levels of quality protein. Win win!

This vegetarian chili, adapted from The Women’s Weekly’s Eat Well With Wholefoods, is the perfect example of a completely whole meal in and of itself, that is delicious, filling, and complex in flavours and textures. It makes the perfect at-work lunch or light dinner, and at only 304 calories a serve, nobody would blame you if you popped a drained can of tuna in there to bulk it up a bit and/or satisfy the carnivores in your pack. Honestly, though, it doesn’t really need it – it’s filling and hearty just as it is. Conversely, if instead of being a fake vegetarian, you wanted to go the other way and make it vegan, all you need to do is omit the yoghurt. Talk about a crowd pleaser!

Serves 2

Ingredients

Spray oil, or 3 tsp of olive oil

300g sweet potato, cut into large cubes

1 brown onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 clove garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp paprika

1 can diced tomatoes

50g burghul

salt and pepper to taste

4 tbs natural yoghurt (I use Danone yopro – high protein, no sugar, thick and creamy)

Dried parsley to serve.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C. Arrange sweet potato on baking tray and spray/drizzle with 2 tsp of the oil. Roast for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to low and cook onion and carrot for 10 minutes.
  3. Add all the spices, and stir until combined and aromatic, about 1 minute.
  4. Pour in tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Add burghul and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Season and remove from heat.
  5. Tumble sweet potatoes on to two plates. Spoon the chilli over the vegetables, and top with yoghurt and parsley to serve.

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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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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

Spicy Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll never make it as a vegetarian, and certainly would fail miserably as a vegan. I’d give myself until my second meal until I slipped up on something minor (like the time I put sprinkles on vegan cupcakes for a vegan family member – luckily, I caught myself just in time to decorate the second half with berries), and just give up altogether.

In saying that, I’m playing around with vegetarian lunches a lot – not for any real ethical or health benefits (although I do recognise that there are both, and the hipster hiding inside me tempts to say that’s the case!), but because there are so many delicious options. I still don’t see myself giving up animal products for more than a few hours, but I’m REALLY digging meat free meals more and more these days.

I’ve had Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella since it came out. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who does this, but when I get a new cookbook, I read it cover to cover, then attack it with post-it notes to indicate what recipes I want to cook, and ideas on how to make them my own. Yes, I’m a little crazy, and it’s hereditary, because even at 7 years old, my daughter does the same thing. How Nigella’s recipe for warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds wasn’t instantly post-it-ed is a mystery, but the page flicked over while I was looking for her chilli recipe for later in the week, and I haven’t been able to think of anything else since.

As always, I’ve made the recipe a little more calorie-conscious, and to suit my taste preferences. I also skipped some olive oil, because 3 tablespoons was it was just too much – I like extra virgin olive oil as much as the next foodie, but I have my limits, both for taste and caloric intake. I also switched the parsley that Nigella recommends for my beloved baby spinach, and used sambal oelek instead of harissa. The results were phenomenal, and I’m so looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Serves 2-3, at 312 calories for a third.

Ingredients

1 small head of cauliflower

1tbs olive oil

1/2 tsp allspice

1tsp cumin seeds

400g can chickpeas, drained

2 tomatoes, chopped

1tbs sambal oelek

60g baby spinach

75g pomegranate arils

Method

  1. preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Cut cauliflower into medium sized florets.
  3. Combine oil and spices in a large bowl. Add cauliflower and mix to coat. Tip onto a baking tray and keep bowl aside, uncleaned. Bake cauliflower for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add the chickpeas and tomatoes to the oily bowl, and mix to coat. Add sambal oelek and stir to combine well.
  5. When cauliflower is ready, remove tray from oven, and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Return to oven for another 15 minutes.
  6. Lay the roasted vegetables over a bed of baby spinach. Scatter pomegranate seeds over the top and serve.

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