Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bircher muesli my way

I'm not a breakfast eater, but I have learned that if I skip breakfast I start to crave all the wrong things throughout the rest of the day. I usually start my day with fresh veggie and fruit juice but at about 10h00 I start to feel a bit peckish. 

On Sunday I made a batch of bircher muesli which I have kept in the fridge till now. I have eaten it as a mid morning snack (Adam has had it for breakfast) and it has helped keep my blood sugar balanced. When lunch time comes, I'm not ravenous, so I naturally moderated my portion size and choose healthier options. 

And it tastes delicious! 

Bircher Muesli
Makes about 5 cups and lasts for 2 – 3 days in the fridge

2 cups of oats or cereal of choice
2 - 3 cups of fruit juice (I like to use apple or berry juice)
½ cup of coconut milk or yogurt
1 pinch of salt
1 cup of chopped nuts of choice
½ cup of omega mix seeds
1 tsp of vanilla essence or equivalent vanilla extract

1 cup of fresh (or frozen) berries of choice
1 cup of grated apple or pear

In a sealable container combine all ingredients except the fruit and allow to soak for a few hours or overnight. Add extra apple juice or water if you feel the mixture is getting too dry at any point.

Stir for a bit to build up a creamy texture, then add the grated fruit and berries and combine lightly.

Can keep for a few days in the fridge if stored in an airtight container.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My simple truth for today.

My lunch today - lightly steamed broccoli and cauliflower tossed in
olive oil and salt, scattered with toasted seeds and crumbled feta

I have been feeling quite philosophical for the last few weeks. This year has been different for me. Not different in that anything is specifically different, but the way I have been experiencing or reacting to the same things has changed. This feeling culminated a few weeks ago in me deciding to do a detox and kind of home retreat. This entailed me cutting out alcohol, cigarettes (yes, I am a social smoker), meat and harmful speech (harder than you think…). Along with this attempting to meditate twice a day, exercise regularly and loads of yoga.

It seems like a lot to take on all at once, but my feeling was that they all kind of fit together and one of these in isolation would be harder than all at once. I am three weeks in and I think I was right. It has been way easier (with a few exceptions) than I anticipated. I am feeling so so good but with all good things (and knowing that they must come to an end) I have been spending time thinking of how to take some of this into my life in the long term.

My life so far has been very easy going, fun and filled with delicious frivolity. I’ve been quite the hedonist. But the things I enjoyed so much before are losing their sheen and appeal, which is why I said earlier that I feel like the way I am experiencing and reacting to things has changed. So I am in unchartered territory. I need to redefine my life style. This is both scary and exciting.

After much self reflection and quiet time with this sense. The main theme which has immerged is simplicity. The feeling that I want to keep my life simple. In wanting to keep my life simple I need to strip away the unnecessary. But that presupposes knowing what is really necessary in my life. This then stretches into having to know who ‘I’ really am in order to know what I really need and what I would be better off without.

As much as this may sound really deep and like a rabbit hole of questions which can’t be answered it has actually been way easier to come up with my answers since I have been on my detox and home retreat. The answers have not been all that profound either, just good solid old fashioned wisdom. The difference being that I feel like I am ready to really hear and act on the wisdom for a change.

At the risk of being really vague, I am going to let this journey unfold rather than give it too many distinct labels right now. For this blog it means that my cooking (or simplification thereof) is all part of this keeping it simple motto which I am hoping to expand throughout my life. The scary personal hurdle I am having the most trouble overcoming is the feeling that simple may be (or be perceived as) boring. But I am going to test it out all the same.

So boring or not, here goes!   

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For all the nervous cooks out there!

Most of the people I train are extremely anxious about learning to cook and I totally understand why. If you have not grown up cooking or have a natural aptitude for it, there are so many things which can go wrong. The people who write recipes (and those who read them) take a lot for granted and much can be lost in translation.

For starters, the words teaspoon, tablespoon and cup when used in a recipe do not refer to your tea cup or coffee spoon, they mean 5ml, 15ml and 250ml respectively. The volume of our domestic cups and spoons vary hugely. So many people I teach do not know this! I highly recommend having a set of standard cup and spoon measures in your kitchen. 

An accurate kitchen scale is also a blessing to have and easy to test. Oven temperatures also fluctuate dramatically from what the reading on the dial says. If your oven doesn't yield the result which most recipes call for, getting an oven thermometer to check the actual internal temperature of your oven could explain the reason why. The root of all your flops may simply be your equipment and not you at all! 

Be aware of the country of origin of your recipe. Other parts of the world use different words or brand names for ingredients commonly found in South African. If there is an ingredient in a recipe you are not familiar with, do a google search. If it is something not easily found in SA then do a google search asking for substitutes for that product. For instance the words cilantro, dhania, malli and coriander are all words for the same herb. Coriander also comes in three main forms, fresh coriander leaves, seeds and ground seeds and they should not be confused. Galangal is often used in Asian cooking but can easily be replaced with fresh ginger (again not to be confused with dried ground ginger which tastes totally different). 

Very few people question a recipe. Recipes can have mistakes in them, no matter if they are in the cook book of a world famous Chef, in a glossy magazine and most certainly in blogs which don't have the luxury of a team of people to cross check everything. If something seems odd or unusual, question it. It may be right but it is quite possible that it may simply be a mistake. I have seen recipes calling for a tablespoon of salt in a chocolate mouse and one with no sugar (or any other form of sweetening) in a cake recipe. It happens, learn to look out for them. 

I have had countless flops and dishes which just didn't taste good. With each one I have tried to figure out what the cause of the problem is and learned from it. Tested and retested until I get it right. I guess that's true of most things in life!   

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lunch for a lazy rainy day

Today it's raining in Cape Town. My husband just left for a 10 day business trip to Russia this morning. I worked flat out on my feet for 13 hours yesterday. I'm working a full day on Saturday. I think it's okay not to feel like doing much this afternoon. I also thinks it's okay that I'm a bit over food today. I do however not think it's okay to eat junk.

I have made a big pot of sausage and veggie soup from left overs in the pantry and fridge but all in all it tasted great and left me feeling nourished and satisfied with very little fuss. A good vegetable stock base with garlic, ginger and lemon juice added and some dried lentils cooked in the broth. Grated carrot, butternut and sweet corn. A can of chopped tomatoes and four sausages (mine were veggie sausages as I keep then in the freezer for Adam). I added fresh thyme at the end and served it with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Not glam but so good.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pad Thai Salad

I was really hungry so it was bit slapped together but one could really go to town to make this salad look sensational.

Last week I trained a housekeeper for a family that prefer to eat an organic raw vegan diet as far as is practical. It's way easier than you might imagine, it just requires a small shift in perception and suddenly a whole world of possibilities open up. I have been doing quite a lot of reading and exploring and it really has inspired me. 

I dug out a recipe in an old Fresh living magazine (Jan/Feb 2011) which I had been wanting to try for ages. I love pad thai noodles and I love non leaf based salads, so this was the perfect dish for me to experiment with for my new client and also get to enjoy the end product myself.  I followed the recipe closely and the end product was delicious. The dressing is fantastic and I love the crunchy nutty texture. Such a winner even if you're not a raw vegan! 

Raw pad thai
Serves 4 side salad or 2 main courses

1 cup of butternut, peeled into ribbons with a potato peeler (see the picture for details)
1 cup of cabbage (red or green), finely shredded
4 baby marrows, peeled into ribbons with a potato peeler
2 large carrots, peeled into ribbons with a potato peeler
1 tsp of salt
1/2 a cup of raw cashews (or giant peanuts and almonds like I did) 

1/2 cup of coconut cream (or milk)
2 Tbsp of peanut butter (or nut butter of choice) 
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 tsp of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 Tbsp of tamari or soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon

a handful of coriander leaves for serving

Toss the veggies with the salt and set aside while making the sauce. Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce until smooth. 

Arrange the veggies on a platter and drizzle with the dressing. Or toss them all together in a large bowl and serve into individual portions. Garnish liberally with coriander before serving. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spontaneous supper with a Monk!

On Friday my husband called me to let me know that his Buddhist teacher, Geshe Phende, and two of our friends were going to pop in for a quick bite before going off to some early evening teachings. Luckily I had been showing my housekeeper how to make that roasted aubergine and sun-dried tomato pesto I blogged about last week, so all I needed to do was cook up some pasta and throw together a salad. The salad was a variation on my old faithful Asian style slaw salad

Everyone was extremely complimentary of the meal and the Geshe said that he thought I should present a TV cooking show as I spoke so convincingly about my food. Coming from a world renowned teacher I thought that was high praise indeed! 

I have (naturally) adapted the recipe to suit my needs and tastes. The yield is pretty high, so you may want to halve it the first time, to see if you really like it. I have been overjoyed to have a large jar of the left over pesto in the fridge. I have spread it on crackers, thinned it down with coconut milk and combined it with lentils for a great lentil stew and am sure the rest will be polished off in no time. It would also freeze well. 

Roasted aubergine, almond and sundried tomato pesto

500g aubergine
Salt for scattering over the aubergines
100g raw almonds
200g of sundried tomatoes, rehydrated with hot water
80ml olive oil
80ml water (more if needed)
½ cup sultanas or raisins
½ Tbsp sumac
50g goats cheese or feta (optional)
1 good handful of fresh herbs (mint, basil & parsley would be ideal), roughly chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 230°C and place the rack in the middle of the oven.

Slice the aubergine into slices. Layer the slices in a colander, sprinkling salt between the layers. Allow the aubergines to sweat and release their moisture for about an hour. Remove from the colander, wash thoroughly and pat dry on a clean tea towel.

Brush a large baking tray with olive oil. Arrange the slices of eggplant on the trays and brush with more olive oil. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until soft and golden.

In a small mixing bowl blend all the ingredients except the herbs to a coarse paste with a stick blender. Add extra water or olive oil if you want a thinner consistency. Stir in the herbs and season to taste with pepper. You shouldn’t need extra salt.

This pesto can be served either on pasta, as a spread on bread or on a baked potato. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Beetroot, pistachio and goats cheese salad

I find it pointless to teach lessons with recipes for salads (unless it's a classic like a Caesar or a Caprese) I prefer to give guidelines and suggestions. For dressings I will give recipes but for the salad itself it needs to be a mood and what is seasonally available thing. 

I usually look for three elements in my salads. The veggies, the protein and the dressing. I say veggies, as a salad does not always have to have leaves in it. Choosing any number of crispy veggies as the basis of a salad is perfectly acceptable. Then I like to add other veggies with different colours and textures. 

Then the protein - this can be meat, cheese, pulsar, nuts or seeds or a combination of them. 

The dressing can be creamy, vinegary, citrusy - but in my opinion, should never be oily! 

I have listed my latest favorite simple dressing and also a list of salad ingredients which I like to use in salads. 

For the dressing – makes about 150ml
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp of fresh ginger chopped
4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp of Dijon mustard
2 tsp of honey
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp of water
1 Tbsp of chopped herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, chervil, tarragon etc)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine dressing ingredients and chill until ready for use.

For the salad
salad leaves or micro greens of choice and/or
cucumber, shaved into ribbons or diced and/or
carrot, shaved into ribbons or grated and/or
fresh beetroot or butternut  raw grated or roasted  and/or
green asparagus spears, blanched and/or
mushrooms, sliced raw or pan fried and/or
mini or normal corn, quartered lengthways and/or
mini or normal tomatoes, quartered and/or
mange tout or snow peas, sliced and/or
broccoli or cauliflower, raw, blanched or roasted and/or
red or normal cabbage, finely sliced and blanched and/or
some fruits, like figs, peaches, paw paw, pears and apple, chopped and/or
avo, peeled and cut into slices and/or
edamame beans, blanched and/or
spring onions, sliced and/or
red onion, thinly sliced in half moons and/or

fresh peas and/or
sprouts and/or
olives, de-pipped and/or
capers or caper berries, and/or
sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and/or
dried beans or lentils, rehydrated and/or
seeds, lightly roasted with spices and a drop of oil and/or
nuts, chopped and/or
crispy bacon bits and/or
tuna, fresh or tinned and/or
salmon, hot smoked and/or
grilled chicken and/or
beef fillet strips, pan fried and/or

Assemble salad ingredients on a platter or a bowl and drizzle with dressing just before serving. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Roasted Eggplant & Almond Pesto with Sundried Tomatoes and Sumac

Ever since I saw this recipe on the blog veggie num.num I have been dying to make it but just somehow not getting around to it. This Friday however I did, but... I made it as a gift for a friend. I knew she would love it, so I blitzed up a half portion, popped it in a bottle and took it with to her party. There was a little left over so I spread it on toast and topped it with danish feta and rocket. The problem is that now neither Adam nor I can get it out of our mind. It was frickin delish! My friend had it on pasta over the weekend and is also singing its praises.

I am going to have to make another batch this week, so that I can also experience it on pasta. I imagine it would be fabulous on pizza too...

I used the recipe more as a guideline but I didn't make note of the exact quantities I used. For the original recipe click here!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fussy kids sausage casserole

Today I experimented with a recipe for fussy kids. A client of mine has two kids who aren't big veggie eaters and we are trying various recipes with somewhat disguised veggies in  them. She mentioned trying a sausage casserole and this is what I tried today. I have added the veggies to a white sauce in a pureed form, so as to disguise them in a texture and taste they already like. I used chicken sausage as this is my favorite at the moment. 

My housekeeper and I just had it for lunch and she agrees that her fussy four year old would love it. So fingers crossed. Any feedback from the Moms who read my blog would be much appreciated. 

Chicken sausage casserole
Makes enough for about 4 kids

1 cup of cooked rice (try brown basmati and add a small amount of lentils to the rice while cooking)
3 Tbsp of white flour
3 Tbsp of butter
350ml of milk (more if needed)
½ a chicken stock cube (or 2 tsp of stock powder)
½ a cup worth off pureed very lightly steamed – try using yellow, orange and white veggies (a little tomato is fine too) just to keep the colour easily disguisable.
4 chicken sausages, microwaved and chopped into small pieces
¼ - ½ a cup of grated cheese of choice (optional)

Pre heat your oven to 230˚C and place the rack in the middle.

Get your rice (and lentils) cooking and your veggies steaming.

Heat the oil and flour in a small pan or pot. Allow it to fry for a minute while stirring the paste with a whisk. Remove it from the heat and add the milk. Stir this with your whisk until the paste and milk have combined, then return this to the heat and stir it with your whisk slowly while waiting for the sauce to thicken. If it starts thickening very fast, remove it from the heat and continue stirring it until the thickening has settled down. It will reach a point where the thickness stabilises. Add more milk if it gets too thick. Add the chicken stock and whisk it into the sauce.

Layer the rice (and lentils if using) at the bottom of a small casserole dish. Then combine half the white sauce with the pureed veggies and spoon that over the rice. Add a little water to the veggies if they are too thick. Scatter the chicken sausage pieces over this, then spoon the white sauce over everything and lastly scatter with cheese. Bake in the oven until bubbling and golden brown, about 10 minutes.  

Try to serve this with the some raw veggies of your child’s choosing too. If your child is seriously fussy about veggies, start with less veg puree and add more and more as they get used to the taste.