Experimentation: banana, date and maple syrup loaf

As you may have surmised, I’m being tempted by the ‘sweet poison’ movement. Not totally swayed, but intrigued. Personally, I think that everything in moderation is good. But having said that, I am a total sweet tooth and so, in an attempt not to replicate that in my children and also as an attempt to not develop diabetes, I have been taking active steps to cut down on my processed sugar consumption.

At first, I thought the whole no sugar movement was unfathomable. Nothing sweet ever again? No way. But then I flicked through Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar’ cookbook at my friend’s place and realised that it’s not about eliminating everything sweet from your life, but rather about replacing the high fructose, processed sugars with stuff that… um… is not (processed, that is).

So with that in mind, I share with you my latest creation. Someone else may have designed this recipe elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it. I say this because I recently read an outraged food blogger talking about how their recipes had been ‘stolen’ (posted without credit) by other bloggers. (You’ll notice that I tend to attribute my inspiration and sources, must be the academic coming out). My friend Resa was telling me the other day about a ‘life loaf’, which is basically a type of seedy, fruity, nutty bread filled with lots of good stuff and no bad stuff. I really like the idea of it but, when I looked in my cupboard, realised that I wasn’t in a position to attempt it. However, we did have a big box of medjool dates and some very ripe bananas, so I went from there. Apologies in advance but I can’t post pictures right now, but things should be good shortly…

Banana, date and maple loaf

You will need:

1 overflowing cup of dates, chopped coarsely

1 cup water

90 g butter, margarine or (probably but I haven’t tried it) coconut oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted (as usual, I used gluten-free flour)

2 ripe bananas, mashed

1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Line a loaf tin (I never bother with greasing it, cos I love that baking paper stuff)

2. In a medium saucepan, put dates and water. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring regularly, until they go thick and jam-like. I like to leave it at about the thickness of thick yoghurt (not too runny, but not toooo thick).

3. Stir in the butter. The dates are nice and hot, so it should melt pretty quickly. Stir it well. Let it cool for a little while.

4. Working quickly, add the maple syrup. Then add the eggs and beat them in. If you go too slowly, they’ll start to cook. Not such a big bad deal but if you can make sure that they are spread through the date mix before that happens.

5. Stir in the flour and mashed bananas. The mix should be pretty thick by now, but not so the spoon will stand up in the mix. If it does, add about 1/4 cup of milk, or enough to make the mix like a fairly stiff cake batter. When I post my photos, you should get a sense of how you want it to look.

6. Pour it into the prepared tin and place in oven. Bake for about 60-70 minutes or until it’s lovely and brown. Please note that if you stick a skewer in to test the cake, it won’t come out perfectly clean; this is a pretty dense cake.

7. Eat it! It’s especially nice when it’s hot but if you cut it into fairly small pieces, it’s delicious when cold too.

As an aside, I thought my kids would turn their noses up at this – but they, and our neighbour’s kids, couldn’t get enough of it. I guess it was sweet enough!

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When your world’s a-crazed, try spaghetti bolognese

Things have been a bit silent here at Imprecision Kitchen as we have been in Spain! Italy! England! which has been great fun but not so productive in the kitchen. While we were away however, I got some really great ideas about things to try – and which I will share here in the next few weeks. But first, I thought I would go back to basics here and share with you my first ‘returning home’ recipe – spaghetti bolognese. Everyone has their own comfort food, and this is one of my boys’ favourites, especially after three weeks of trying new things. We have this sauce with spaghetti, spirals, gnocchi, ravioli, baked potatoes… it’s pretty versatile. It’s also perfect to adapt to meet your own tastes!

Rel’s spaghetti bolognese

You will need:

500 g minced beef (although it also works pretty well with other meats, or a combination)

1 small onion, diced finely

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 stick celery, chopped finely

1/2 (or 1 small) zucchini, chopped finely or grated

1 carrot, chopped finely or grated

a few mushrooms (optional), chopped

1x 440g can tomato soup (you can instead choose to use crushed tomatoes, but I find that this makes it a bit richer – mum style!)

1 x 700g jar of tomato passata

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp mixed dried herbs

water

olive oil

1. In a pan with a little olive oil, add garlic, onion and celery. Cook over medium heat until brown. Add the mince and stir until brown.

2. Add all other ingredients; if it looks a bit dry, add some water. Let it simmer together for 30 minutes or more (the longer the better).

3. Serve over pasta, rice, potato or whatever.

Pretty simple, hey? Enjoy!

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New babies, tricky toddlers, and hungry adults: Yummy scrummy muesli cookies…

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my parents in the ‘country’. I say ‘country’ and not country because they aren’t really anywhere really rural, but rather they live in a small town on the beach – but it’s hours (and hours… and hours, if you ask my kids) of driving away. Because it’s so far away, we only get down there a few times a year (it is hard to deal with seven hours of ‘how many minutes til we are at Nan’s?’ ‘I’m bored/tired/my legs are sore’ or general ‘waaaaaahhhhh’. This means that when we are there, I try to catch up with lots of people – even though I moved out of home over 20 years ago (gulp!), I still have friends in my home town; my siblings also all live nearby. This last visit, I was lucky to meet a brand new baby; he was actually 2 or 3 weeks old, but had been born a few weeks early, so it was near enough to brand new in my estimation. Of course, the Bubaloo doesn’t like me even touching other babies, so I just got to admire from afar, but the new one was delicious anyway. My youngest sister, TK, got a group of our friends with little ones together for a play (toddlers and preschoolers) and chitty chat (mums and dads) over morning tea.

One of the things with brand new babies is that they don’t sleep much – or at least, they don’t sleep much when they are meant to (like in the night) but then sleep lots when you want them awake. So mummies and daddies end up pretty tired, and therefore a pick-me-up is in order. If you’re breastfeeding, like TK, the new mum and I, the challenge is finding something that’s going to do the trick and give you a little energy boost, without being terribly bad for you or the baby. While coke or coffee might help with the energy spurt for mum, the same energy boost isn’t great for baby. I’m not sure about other breastfeeding mums but I have found that, when I’m nursing, I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, even more than at other times. As sugar isn’t really that great for you, I try to find other ways to satisfy the sugar craving without having a ton of the white stuff. That’s where these cookies come in.

This recipe is a true adaptation of one in a Woman’s Weekly cookbook. Many things have been substituted – I’ve included the original ingredients in parentheses in case you prefer that – as I was trying to ensure that it was low sugar, nut free, and that they would use everyday ingredients that I could find in my mum’s pantry. Since we got home, I’ve made them about once a week; they never last very long. As soon as my partner sees them, his eyes light up and he chomps down about six of them without drawing breath. I hope you find them as good as he does!

Yum Scrum Muesli Cookies

You will need:

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup gluten-free plain flour (you can use any sort of flour you have)

1/3 cup caster sugar (the original recipe uses 1 cup)

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup sultanas or mixed dried fruit (or dried cranberries)

2/3 cup shredded coconut (I used this in place of most of the sugar)

1/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup pepitas / pumpkin seeds (or slivered almonds)

125g butter

2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or golden syrup)

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 150C. Line oven trays with baking paper.

2. Combine oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, coconut and pepitas in a large bowl.

3. Melt butter with maple syrup over low heat. In a small cup, combine bicarb soda and boiling water, then add to the butter mix. It will go a little bubbly. Next stir this into the dry ingredients (it should still be warm).

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4. Roll tablespoons of mixture into balls (don’t be too fussy about making them perfect), place on trays about 5 cm apart and flatten slightly with your fingers.

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5. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool on trays before you eat them – if you try to eat them while they are warm, they’ll just fall apart in your hands (trust me on this!)

Then let Mr Kookaburra watch you all gobble them up 😉Image

A short meal for a long day: bul go gi (Korean BBQ beef)

Today was the first day of non-daylight savings time here in Melbourne. I always find it the longest day of the year: sure, some people get an extra hour of sleep (not me, as my kids were up at 5 rather than their usual 6 am-ish) but by the time 7 pm rolls around, you’re ready to hit the hay. Or maybe that’s just me…

Regardless, on a day that seems interminably long, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend hours cooking a meal that no one’s really going to want much of because – you guessed it – they’re too tired! This is where today’s little gem of a recipe comes in. But of course, there’s a history to it…

Back when I was an undergrad, I lived on campus in a self-catering college. In second year, a Korean exchange student, Kim, moved in. As we both studied sociology, we became pretty good friends. Anyway, the absolute best thing about self-catering colleges are the massive kitchens where you learn oh-so-much about food, particularly food from other places! To this day, I can’t see roti without being transported back to Canberra… But I digress: Kim and I (with a bunch of friends) often shared dinners, cooking together and learning recipes. We’ve since lost touch, but I wonder if she makes spaghetti bolognese back in Seoul, the same way I make her beef dish.

In teaching me how to make bul go gi, Kim emphasised that this is a recipe of tastes: the exact proportions of ingredients vary depending on what you like. She also used scotch fillet steak, but I have used oyster blade, rump steak, chicken fillets and tofu in its place, all with great success. Usually, it’s rump steak for reasons of economy.

In order to boost the vegetable component, I serve it with salad or add in yummy green vegetables, sliced finely. Broccoli, asparagus and zucchini tend not to take anything away from the taste but add lots of nutrients.

A parental note: For my kids, I serve this with soba noodles instead of rice and cut all of the vegies up very small. Before serving, I give it a good stir through and they generally attack it with gusto…

Bul go gi (Korean BBQ beef)

Serves 2 hungry adults or a family of 4

You will need:
500g rump steak (or other protein, see my note above), sliced into thin strips
2-3 spring onions, sliced, including right up to the end of the green bit
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 button mushrooms, sliced
Other green vegetables, sliced finely (optional – these weren’t in Kim’s original recipe): no more than 3/4 cup worth
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra
3 tbsp – 1/3 c tamari or soy sauce (start lightly and add more if you want)
Pepper, to taste

1. Place all ingredients into a plastic container or bowl. Mix together. It’s easy if you use a container with a lid because you just put the lid on, shake and, hey presto, it’s mixed!
2. If you have time, let the flavours mix for half hour or so. I never do this and it still tastes delicious.
3. Heat a wok or frypan over high heat. Add the extra olive oil. When it’s hot, add the meat mix in small batches and stir until its browned. Tip that batch out and repeat the process til it’s all cooked.
4. Serve with rice or noodles!

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Midweek dinner: Chinese chicken omelette

We’re coming out of a bout of gastro at our place (is it distasteful to mention that when I’m writing about food? If so, apologies); well, the bubaloo had it and the rest of us fasted in unrealised anticipation. At the same time, the heat wave is continuing, with no end forecast for over a week. When these factors come together on a busy Wednesday evening, finding something for dinner can be challenging. So I turned to an old favourite, Chinese chicken omelette with some wilted vegies on the side. It’s lovely with chicken but that can be replaced by prawns, mushrooms or whatever you feel like.

But first, a bit of reminiscence… When I was doing my phd, there was nothing I liked more than, after a long day in the library or on my computer, hitting the cheap little Asian restaurants in the city. This usually meant Vietnamese pho or today’s recipe. I could walk in, order, and it would be ready within 3 minutes. What more could a tired gal want?

When I finished my studies and had kids, going into the city for quick cheap meals seemed like too much effort; I moved universities and suburbs. So I learned how to make it myself; the pho is still a memory but the omelette gets whipped up from time to time. If you don’t like the idea of this, but like eggs, be adventurous and give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised!

Chinese chicken omelette

Serves 2-3

You will need:
6 small or 4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1.5 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
Sprinkle of pepper
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (left over BBQ chicken is ideal)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp coriander, chopped
Olive oil
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp sesame oil

1 cup rice and 1.5 cups water: use together to cook rice using the absorption method (or use a rice cooker!).

1. Beat eggs until combined. Add pepper, soy sauce, most of the spring onions and most of the coriander, leaving a little for garnish. Using a fork, beat together well.
2. Place olive oil in frypan and heat. When it’s hot, pour in egg mix. As the edges become cooked, use a fork to draw the cooked edges toward the middle of the pan and swirl the uncooked egg mix to cover the base if the pan.
3. Sprinkle shredded chicken over the top. Repeat the process to draw the uncooked egg towards the middle until the egg is mostly cooked. When it reaches this point, use an egg flip to fold the omelette in half.
4. Use the egg flip to cut the omelette into parts (one per person), then put it on rice on a plate.
5. In a small bowl, combine sesame oil and oyster sauce. Spoon this over the omelette and garnish with extra coriander. The sauce is really great, so don’t omit it!

wilted vegies
In a heated frypan, add a small amount of olive oil. Add whatever vegetables you like: I used mushroom, rocket, crushed garlic, broccoli and coriander. Stir to cook. If it needs more moisture, add a few tbsp water. When vegies are nearly cooked, stir in 1 tbsp soy sauce and some pepper. Cook for 2 mins then serve.

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Saturday n breakfast! Quick crepes

There are certain foods that can be had at any time of the day- morning, noon, or night. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes savoury. Sometimes it depends on where you are (I’m big on the influence of context). After years of loving Nasi Lemak (rice, curry, and condiments) for lunch or dinner at our local curry place, I was awed by the fact you can have it for breakfast, yes breakfast!, in Malaysia. Too good. I went curry-crazy that trip 😉

But I digress… An even more special category of foods includes those that can be eaten any time of day, regardless of context, and can be savoury or sweet. Pancakes, crepes and pikelets fall into this category – and are so simple to make. Here I share my basic pancake batter with you. Want crepes? Add more milk. Want pikelets? More flour. Fritters? Add grated or finely cut vegetables (eg zucchini, corn), cheese (feta is nice), herbs… Whatever you fancy. Flip em out of the pan onto a plate and eat them before they cool!

An out and about suggestion: once you’ve poured your batter into the pan (small disks), sprinkle over some sultanas. When the bubbles appear, flip the pancake til it’s cooked, then take the lot down to the playground for morning tea!

Basic Pancakes
You will need:
1 cup self-raising flour or 1 c plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
1 cup milk (vary depending on what you are hoping to make: pancakes, crepes or pikelets)

1. Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well.
2. Tip into a jug.
3. Over low-medium heat, heat a frypan. Add a small tsp butter or a spray of oil. Non stick pans don’t really need anything.
4. Pour in the desired amount of batter then lift the pan by the handle, moving the batter around until you have the ideal shape.
5. When bubbles appear on the batter surface and break, it’s time to flip your pancake.
6. Give the second side enough cooking time to brown, then lift into plate. Repeat til the batter has gone.

Sweet topping ideas: lemon and sugar, jam, Nutella, golden or maple syrup, strawberries, any combination of these

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Sunday riches: feasting at Nigina Express

At the moment, I’m preparing a workshop to run with our PhD students on writing. I enjoy writing; that’s part of the reason why I decided to blog about my (culinary) life. Blogging is also a good way to work my writing out – kind of like a writing gym; each sentence is a set, each paragraph a circuit. But I think that writing isn’t just writing: there’s an art and a craft to it. Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn says that this is an important distinction: “Art is subjective, its beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder … but craft is objective. There is a right way and a wrong way to craft” (http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2011/09/05/art-craft-writing/). She further indicates that the craft is functional, while art is about beauty.

If we turn to the kitchen, these same notions apply. Some people cook in a way that is functional; for them, cooking is craft. I fall firmly into this camp; for me, cooking is a type of alchemy, bringing together different elements to make something functional. For other people, cooking is both craft and art. I don’t think cooking cannot incorporate craft, because it’s always functional: at the end of the day, you want it to be something that someone can eat and enjoy. But for this latter group of people, cooking is also art; it’s about creating something beautiful, pleasing to the senses (particularly sight, smell, and taste).

My friend, Regina, is one of these arty cooking people. She prepares beautiful menus, regardless of whether she is making things that are complicated or simple. Given her love for Nigella (Lawson), it’s unsurprising that her is known as ‘Nigina Express’ 😉

Yesterday afternoon, we were lucky enough to head over to Nigina Express for a bit of alfresco feasting (sounds much better than ‘scoffing myself in my friend’s backyard’!). While H paddled in the pool and the Bubaloo grooved to ‘Gangnam Style’ (and can now do the dance, thanks to lovely 10 year old D), I photographed the three family friendly courses: Pigs in Blankets, Chicken with Greek herb sauce, and flourless chocolate cake. The first two are courtesy of Nigella Lawson, and the third is out of Regina’s recipe book!

Pigs in blankets with mustard dipping sauce (they’re also good with tomato sauce)

You will need:

2 sheets defrosted puff pastry

1 egg

16 frankfurters

1. Preheat the oven to 220C. Roll out the sheets of puff pastry to make it a bit thinner, to make one long side. Cut the rectangle into 1/4s, then cut each rectangle in half lengthwise, to give 8 small pastry strips.

2. Beat the egg in a small bowl and paint each pastry section with the egg wash. Sit a frankfurter horizontally on the side of one pastry strip and roll it up until it just seals. Do this with all frankfurters/pastry.

3. Cut each rolled frankfurter into 4 small pieces, squeezing the pastry around the sausage as you go. Place on a lined baking tray. Repeat with the other sheet of pastry.

4. Paint the franks in the egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Mustard dipping sauce: In a bowl, mix together 100g wholegrain mustard, 100g Dijon mustard and 2 tbsp sour cream.

YUM Yum yum…

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Chicken with Greek herb sauce

You will need:

12 chicken thighs

juice of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the chicken thighs (skin side up if they have skin on) in a roasting tin, then pour over the lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes.

Greek herb sauce: 500ml plain Greek yoghurt, 4 large/6 small spring onions, 1 green chilli (deseeded), 1 clove peeled garlic (crushed), 1/2 cucumber (finely diced), 3 tablespoons each of chopped fresh coriander, mint and/or dill, salt and pepper. Put all ingredients together in a bowl and mix to combine. Season to taste.

Serve with baked potatoes

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Flourless chocolate cake

This cake has the most gooey yummy centre; we can’t get enough! Ingredients are in italics.

1. Melt together 250g chocolate and 250g unsalted butter. Cool and set aside.

2. Whisk 6 egg whites until stiff. Set aside.

3. Whisk 6 egg yolks with 3/4 cup castor sugar, 1/4 cup light brown sugar, then add the chocolate mixture. Fold in 1/2 cup almond meal, 3 tbsp flour and 1 tbsp egg white mixture. Fold in remaining egg white mixture.

4. Bake in a 23cm cake pan at 190C for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is cooked but still has a slight wobble.

At Nigina Express, this cake is served with persian fairy floss – H’s favourite! Try and stop after 1 piece!

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