Salmon with Spicy Tomato Rice

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Spur of the moment invention dinner…

As part of my green journey, I have been slowly reducing the number of production steps between me and the raw materials. Last week, I used the last can of tomatoes from the pantry and resolved henceforth to only use fresh tomatoes where previously I would have used the canned variety.

Obviously this means a little more planning ahead due to the shelf life of fresh tomatoes v their tinny competition. So the tomatoes I bought last we were starting to scream for attention and tonight was the night. I wanted to do something a bit different and also empty out the freezer a little more – still don’t have much space for frozen soups and TV dinners after giving up the chest freezer in the garage.

I took some salmon steaks out and only once they were committed to defrosting did I stop to consider how tomatoes might figure in tonight’s dining experience. I got some ideas from Google, selecting this one for Mexican tomato rice and beans from Fine Foods as my base.

It looked like – and was – a quick cook so I got the rice on first. Now that the last of the white rice is gone, it’s all brown from here on – I’m using a mix of long and short grain – with black held in reserve for special occasions. The spicy tomato bit has this in it:

  • 1 teaspoon of oil (grapeseed tonight)
  • 6 close of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 generous tablespoon of Jalapenos, also finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of black salt (the colour doesn’t really mean anything)
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon of curry powder
  • 1 can of red kidney beans (also the last can)
  • 440 grams of fresh tomatoes, blended
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of coriander powder (will use crushed seeds next time)

I started by frying the garlic and jalapeno in the oil til the flavours were rally strong – about a minute – before stirring in the spices and slat. After a couple of minutes add the tomato and beans, followed by the herbs. If it looks a tad dry, add about half a cup of water (I rinsed  the bean tin into the pan).

Once this is simmering away, I added the salmon steaks, and let it all simmer away until the rice was done.

Nice a simple. Hot and spicy. Brought out a good sweat on a cold wind wet night…

Took out some more fish to do again with the leftovers tomorrow…

 

Say no to sugar taxes

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Drone alert in more ways than one…

Healthy Food Guide reports today that

“A petition calling for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages that collected nearly 10,000 signatures was presented to Maori and Green Party MPs in Parliament last week”

That’s on the HFG site that is so paranoid that it has blocked the right mouse button function to prevent people copying or printing its articles and recipes. Heads up, team, all that does is force people to other sites more friendly (you’re not that unique), to use the browser drop-down menu, and/or just give you a miss: most, if not all of your recipes are available elsewhere (it’s not called the world-wide web for nothing you know)…just Google the recipe title to see if you can’t find the same -or often a better – recipe elsewhere…

But…back to the sugar thing…dear food fun Nazis, please get a grip…taxes don’t stop people using commodities they want to use…increasing taxes hasn’t drastically changed usage stats for spray paint, petrol, alcohol or nicotine, nor, had the legislation been enacted, would it have stopped sheep farting…all taxes on products like these is make them more expense so that people waste more money on them (less the sheep farting – sheep farts will always be free).

If you really want to stop people using something, then ban it and make it totally unavailable, except of course, for the bootleg and black market alternatives that will spring into existence the second the ban goes into effect. Bans – certainly where the market mass is most of the population – are rarely (not really!!) effective.

Ongoing effective education is the solution. Not anti-sugar propaganda because even kids can see through that. Tell it like it is. Put the truth – not truth, not your truth – out there. Be first with the truth. It’s not perfect but have a read of That Sugar Story anyway. Damon Gameau is a bit OTT at times but his basic premise is pretty good and pretty healthy – and you don’t need any laws or taxes to make it work. Consume less sugar. Avoid hidden sugars: quick tip, if it’s in a plastic wrapper that says it’s healthy, don’t touch it…you DON’T have to give up food fun to be healthy…there’s more to healthy food than water and lentils …

(lentils get a bad rap sometimes)

Stop trying to protect everyone from themselves. Nanny-stating has an opposite effect in the long term: instead of protecting the people from themselves, the increasing absence of challenge turns them into mindless drones incapable of applying judgement, solving problems or thinking for themselves.

I caught up with an old friend last week – someone who I had not physically seen 2007 but whom the miracle of Facebook had kept me in touch with. She made the very telling comment that the more support services we offer, the more people demand AND the less capable they become of thinking and fending for themselves. More and more people expect everyone to be nice to them and for ‘someone else’ to doing all think and supporting for them as well…

The truth is that sometimes life throws up challenges; life is sometimes a bit hard; things do not always go according to plan. ‘The people’ need to make their own decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions. They need to be given opportunities every day to exercise and practise those skills. Taking away their ability, indeed their right, to make lifestyle decisions for them and their families doesn’t make us smarter or healthier as a nation…

Look askance at any politician babbling in support of a sugar tax…

 

Mad Millie Nut-milk Bag

 

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a big fan of reducing dairy content in our diets. I caught up with my sister and her family in Waitomo late last year when they were visiting the NI: we exchanged a few foodie tips and then this arrived a few months later for my birthday.

Previous on this green journey, I’ve tried nut-milk bags and dumped them in favour using simple squares of voile that I bought from Spotlight. I was happy using the voile but squeezing the milk out was kinda messy. Using the Mad Millie bag works best if the milk mix is left to drip through overnight so adding an overhead of coordination and organisation to ensure a continuous supply of milk: in short, the full process of soaking and filtering takes 24 hours so ideally needs to start as soon as the current bottle runs out.

I usually only use the milk at breakfast time on my muesli and in my cuppa tea and only in my cuppa if it’s in my take to work thermal cup. The reason for this is that something in the milk reacts with some teas (haven’t worked out a pattern yet) and causes a mild congealing reaction. It doesn’t affect the taste but doesn’t look so sharp: a friend recently re-introduced me to straight black tea and I’m more likely to have this for an open cup cuppa. Unless it’s bake fest night and I need to use some milk, I don’t usually use any milk in the evening.

My daily coffee fix, I now usually get via a bannofee smoothie using coconut milk powder for the milk content so no need for milk there anymore ‘specially since switching to this drink has dropped my coffee consumption to a cup a day (from 7-8!)

So..the Mad Millie Nut Milk Bag

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It’s quite simple really: extend the legs, hook the bag into the frame and pour in the milk and meal mix. The legs aren’t quite long enough to rest on the counter and hold the bag clear of the accumulating milk. One day I might get round to making a base frame to hold it slightly higher…

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After that, just let it sit overnight. By morning most of the liquid will have filtered through and the last vestiges can be gently squeezed out before consigning the remaining meal to the dryer.

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You do need to take care that the stand is set up squarely or life may become messy. My meal mix is about 1.25 litres; although the bag would hold more, I would start to worry about its stability if it was filled much more.

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I used this bread bag that Mum made, especially in summer, to prevent any ‘floaters’ or ‘swimmers’ getting into the milk.

The meal mix I’m using at the moment is a 25/25/50 mix of almonds, sunflower seeds and coconut chips. The sunflower seeds help spread the life of the more expensive almonds and add a slightly less sweet edge to the flavour but this could be easily counteracted by dropping a vanilla pod or some dates into the blender during the first part of the soaking phase.

Verdict? Certainly a handy device and now my tool of choice for making non-dairy milk. Yes, the filtering time means I have to be a little more organised but that’s not a bad thing. It would be nice if it came with a second bag so that I could still ‘milk’ when the other bag is in the wash but I guess that I can get another made up if I really feel the need…

A second oxymoronic treat…

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My first go at an oxymoronic treat was nice and got good reviews but I felt it was still a bit heavy…once again the path of true serendipity took me on another path. A friend posted a different sweet potato/kumara-based chocolate cake on her Facebook page and one of her daughters responded that it wasn’t as good as her black bean chocolate cake…a challenge, for sure…

The recipe is from Chocolate Covered Katie and can be made in a flash: I left work at 4-32 (it’s a 15 minute drive, 20km, 485 vertical metre trip) home, stopped at the National Park GAS station for a can of black beans (was sorely tempted to opt for the chilli black beans but might reserve that for a colder night) and had this OUT of the oven by 5-35…it is that simple but I did modify Katie’s recipe slightly:

  • 1 1/2 cups black beans (1 400ml can or 1/3 cup dry black beans before rehydration)
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • I dropped out the stevia as it doesn’t need any extra sweetening after the maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil It didn’t say to melt or soften it but I had a couple of lumps in the mix that were quite hard to smooth out so, yes, at least soften the coconut oil if you live someplace too cold for it to remain liquid in the bottle.
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup of chocolate chips This worked for me, personally better than the 1/2 to 2/3 cup recommended in the original recipe.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor, and blend until completely smooth.

Stir in the chips, then pour the mix into a greased pan.

Cook the black bean brownies 15-18 minutes, then let it cool at least 10 minutes before trying to cut or remove it from the pan.

This was only the first attempt but I much prefer the crispy crunchier texture and the more subtle chocolate flavour than what Katie originally intended. The fire fighters and rangers who tested the end result on Wednesday and Thursday certainly give it a thumbs-up…

Still keen to try a chilli variant next…

An oxymoronic treat…

An recipe that I didn’t, not being particularly chocolatey inclined, seek out…it appeared in one of my culinary feeds and the concept of a healthy chocolate cake begged further exploration, more so when one of the main ingredients is kumara…

I cannot find the source of the original recipe: all the links in my PDF of the recipe go to Happy and Healthy (one of my main sources of healthy raw materials) so I’m assuming that this a Kiwi recipe from a site not particularly visible to Google…

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Rather that try to cut a neat circle with scissors to line the base of the pan, I tried trapping the baking paper between the base and sides of the spring-form pan: perfecto!!!

Ingredients

2 medium (baked & skinless) kumara
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil, melted.
60g or 6 squares of 85% cacoa dark chocolate (Lindt or Green & Gold), melted
¼ cup unsweetened cacao powder
¼ cup organic rice malt syrup
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda (sifted)
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 165°C

Lightly grease a 20cm cake ring pan with coconut oil.

Place the baked sweet potatoes in your food processor and process until pureed.

Add the rest of the ingredients and process them until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes. Bake slightly longer for a crunchy outer shell.

Let it cool. Once cool, place it in the fridge overnight.

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This is the first result made exactly in accordance with the recipe. I used the Lindt chocolate and, once it had cooled overnight in the fridge, had collapsed into quite a firm slice with e very strong chocolate taste. This version did rise during baking but slowly deflated into a more solid slice during its overnight sojourn in the fridge. To be honest, I think it has a better flavour and texture ‘deflated’…

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For my second attempt I didn’t change anything in the recipe but used the slice as the centre layer on another variation on the no cheese cheesecake theme. The effect that I was after was a strong contrast between the deep chocolate centre and a tangy orange topping.

The base is the standard mix of dates, coconut oil and meal derived from my nut milk production line. This base had a very strong baked overtone and I think this is from overheating the meal when drying it over the fire – we scraped most of this off and the slice was strong enough to still support the top layer.

The orange topping is a cup of cashews soaked overnight in the the zest and juice of a dozen navel oranges and then pureed in the blender. More zest required next time, I think, as the orange taste was quite distinct but without the tangy effect I sought.

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An outcome of discussions on the orange chocolate cheesecake was a curiosity regarding the necessity for the syrup in the recipe. We felt this could be safely replaced with a mashed banana. Version #3 replaced the quarter cup of syrup with a mashed ripe banana and the Lindt chocolate with an equivalent weight of Healtheries sugar-free chocolate baking bits. To compensate for the additional liquid in the banana I added two extra tablespoons of coconut flour.

The result was definitely workable and one small segment survived fire training the following night. An unexpected but not unpleasant result was the embedding of small chunks of unmashed banana – not properly mashed – spread through the slice, delivering a nice banana hit every couple of bites. I don’t think it was necessary to add the extra coconut flour so will skip that next time but keep the banana. The chocolate flavour was not so smooth or strong – but still eminently doable – as with the Lindt but I’m not sure whether that would be due to the change in source chocolate or the drier mix caused by the extra coconut flour.

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A surprise chunk of unmashed banana is just visible in the edge closest to the knife…

Definitely a winner recipe…very simple to make, albeit with the slight inconvenience of needing an overnight chill in the fridge and with the high kumara content, if nothing else, is at least one way to get the kids to eat their veges…

Cranberries and broccoli

P70317-194038Not a meal that I had planned or even remotely considered but the combination flavours looked too good to ignore when it popped up in my daily Sugar Soil feed. I already had a roll of corned beef in the sous vide for a 72 hour session and this salad looked like it would provide a tidy offset to the natural saltiness of the beef…

P70317-194027I made it as per the recipe – too simple for words – and fished the beef roll out of the sous vide as soon as the salad came out of the oven. Three days in hot water had broken down any chewy gristley bits in the beef and render it super soft and tender. As expected the sweetness of the cranberries, the bite of the balsamic broccoli worked really well with the salty beef – the salty flavour may have been accentuated by the sous vide ‘cook in a bad’ process: further experimentation will see…

Three days in the hot water was too much for the ziploc bag and it split along the seems as I lifted it out. Subsequent cooks I’ve sealed the meat in a proper vacuumed sealed bag. The heavier plastic and total seal really do make a big different to the richness and depth of the final flavour and I think this is how we’ll do future extended duration sous vides.

The salad lasted three big dinners but the corned beef was just too more-ish and disappeared quickly on toast with fresh sliced tomatoes for breakfast and as inter-meal snacks…there’s another in the freezer already and it’ll be making an appearance soon…

 

 

 

A four power tool weekend

It wasn’t that restful but it was a good weekend. An early start for an ambulance shift in Taumarunui saw an extension into the afternoon after two jobs in the morning…no more eventuated but the afternoon was a good opportunity to get some hands-on with the on-board monitors. I got home with the best intentions of starting on the lawns but my pre-mow poo patrol took us into twilight.

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“Never repeat”? I wish but unlikely…

That, with a 4AM alarm, saw an easy dinner of sous vide corn beef with another crack at Jen Rice’s broccoli and cranberry salad.

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Sous vide brings out the colour in red meat…

The original recipe on the Anova website recommended cooking for 48-72 hours (gives a whole new meaning to slow cooking!) but the follow-on comments suggested that this was over-cook and likely to result in a mushy mess. As the uncooked beef felt a little mushy, I let it run in the sous vide for ‘only’ about ten hours. I’ve mastered by sous vide technique and use clothes pegs to secure a shopping bag around the top of the cooking pot to prevent the water evaporating and then stack a few tea towels on top to keep in the heat. Comfortable that running low on water during an untended sous vide won’t be an issue, I could have left this on much longer – just would have needed to have a Plan B for dinner on Saturday night…

While nice, the corned beef was still a little gristley…I expect that a 3-4 times increase in the cook time would address this…Unlike the normal cooking method for corned beef i.e. in a pot of water, sous vide traps all the fluids and flavours in the bag. With corn beef this means that the salt taste is much more defined…not so much stronger as sharper…definitely onto something with this dish! The salty beef works so well with the sweetness of the cranberries and the bitter effect of the balsamic broccoli.

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Dessert was a nibble on these coconut almond cookies – sweeter than the ones I made last year – than leaven the coconut almond meal (which is quite heavy) with homeground flour and coconut flour. It also has more sugar so are a tad sweeter. These are really filling and it only takes a couple to fill any post-main gaps…They’re based on this recipe from Celebrating Sweets but modified to lighten the heavier meal left-over from my nut milk production…

I’m not sure what scales exist for measuring the satisfaction of an outdoor working day but the number of power tools used must surely be one of them. Sunday was a glorious bluebird day that boded well for getting on top of lawns and clearing the scrubby self-seeds from the lounge windows outlook. Four power tools this day…I fired up the cheap Chinese chainsaw and diced up the logs that had been sitting opposite the garage for months, then laid into the scrub in front of the lounge.

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The plan is to eventually open access into all the punga groves in front of the lounge…

Powertool #2 was the dropsaw mounted on an old school desk that we use for dicing up wood for the chippy, anything less than about five inches in thickness. It makes reducing logs to chippy-sized chunks a breeze and the saw dust goes into the compost bin as a dry mix to offset the wet mass waste from the kitchen.

The old reliable mulcher was #3 into the mix, converting leaves and smaller branches into four bags of mulch to fill out hollows in the ground for later landscaping. The mulcher has had a long hard life but keeps on keeping on. It’s more than paid for itself in unpaid dumping fees at the transfer station and the associated fuel costs for the round trip with the each trailer load of green waste…

It’s been a very wet not-summer – the recent break of ten days or so of sunny weather were the longest such break we have had for the better part of a year – and I have resorted to using the big ride-on to just keep on top of the lawns and prevent them totally running away. Even they were quite long and it felt good to finally be able to power up the mower and knock them down to a respectable level. Even more satisfying to be able to mow around the area when the now diced logs had been residing for so long. The many loads of grass went with the mulch to smooth out hollows in the ground for later compacting and shaping….

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So nice to finally clear this area…the baths will go up on blocks next…

It’s been a long time since I had such a satisfying day in the garden: I crashed with a V (a now rare sweet treat!) to start on the next series of JAG (so shoot me!) as my reward…

Pistachio, chia seeds and vanilla “icecream”…

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The first fire training night after I got back from my training course the Fire Services’s  National Training Centre in Rotorua was our first Brigade meeting for the year. These are every two month and are where we decided on allocation of funds and resource, develop training programmes etc. In our Brigade we always lay on a dinner.

I normally draw dessert – our dinners are all self-cooked: everyone contributes to a course. This time I wanted to play with some of the ideas I’d hoovered up off the ‘Net in the previous few weeks. I settled on three recipes to make a single disk but the way it panned out, I ended up with two separate desserts.

Plan A was for a  pistachio chia pudding layered with a plum cream topped with a dairy-free vanilla ice cream. The layered part went together OK, although my layering needs work as you can see from the image above.

I had to double both recipes as I was preparing for fourteen – that’s a lot of pistachios to shell and ideally to fill the cups I would have needed the same again. The pistachio flavour is very strong and distinctive: it went OK with the plum cream layer but both would have been better if served separately- next time I do this recipe, I’ll be thinking more along the lines of three sampler deserts with plain ice cream…

The ice cream just didn’t work and, going on many comments on the page, that’s more down to the recipe than anything that I did or didn’t do. Simply the recipe, Jamie Oliver or not, does not contain any ingredients that will set it. A more recent note on the recipe page says that the staff will have a look at it. What I ended up with was a large vanilla-flavoured ice block with not the slightest creamy characteristic.

My Plan B recovery plan was to grab a tub of TipTop vanilla ice cream from the local GAS petrol station and Four Square dairy – when they learned it was for the Brigade dinner, they kindly refused to charge me for it…thanks, team!

The ice cream was the common denominator between the pistachio and plum dessert and what was now a rich vanilla cream over ice cream dessert. The pistachio and plum dessert would have been better served as two separate option and not layered in the same cup – next I’ll serve each of the three desserts in separate corners of a dinner plate, with a scope of ice cream in the middle.

I’m quite keen to play more with pistachios as the flavour is so distinctive and strong; the plum cream I could take or leave but the vanilla ‘cream’ was to die for – seriously: rich, sweet and strong…unfortunately not enough survived for any photos…next time..

Literal green pizza

Playing with toys again…had to wait weeks before the Todo pizza makers showed up again at NZSale…only a third of the price they go for at Mighty Ape…Yes, I know I can make pizzas in the oven but I was interested in something that might offer a more portable pizza-ing experience and a new toy (plus it IS in Deadpool colours)

p70101-192150I made a few conventional dough-based pizzas but I’d been hearing for a while about vegetable bases for pizzas. Being gifted a full head of broccoli seemed like a perfect opportunity to try this (plus a head of broccoli goes a loooong way in conventional meals).

I found this recipe at Gothamist. It was easy, easy, easy…I put some baking paper down case it stuck but I need not have worried: the base pan is super-non-stick.

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The topping was just whatever was in the fridge: tomato, pineapple, yellow capsicum and some mozzarella…

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Forgot to add the tomato sauce base (store-bought pasta sauce) so applied over the top of the other toppings…

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Came out OK…cooked for about 20 minutes…even though the base is a full head of broccoli, the taste is quite subtle and not as overpowering as you might expect – probably a good way to sneak soem veges into unwilling younger diets…

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I use the pizza make quite often with a variety of bases, including store-bought ones which are good to rush meals and also wraps, although these need some care so that the more liquid toppings don’t flow off the edge…

No cheese cheesecake #4

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If I stopped looking at Facebook, I’d stop getting these inspirations…I thought I was done with the ‘ no cheese’ cheesecake thing (#1, #2, #3) but this one just looked too good not to try…It’s another Nadia Lim creation, a bit pricier than the others only because avos area  little pricey at the moment: not a problem in season or if you are lucky enough to have your own tree…

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I need some more practice building a  level base as it always seems to build up unevenly around the edges, giving this untidy appearance of more base than filling: it is actually, more filling than base, just doesn’t look it…

My base was simply the meal left over from a batch of almond/coconut milk (a litre of milk gives up exactly the right amount of meal for the base). The avocado gives the filling a silky smooth texture and the lime zest and juice adds a real zing to the flavour – or it would if the only limes at New World that week weren’t nasty little dried up things with nary a drop of juice….and if my back bottle of lime juice had more than half the required cup of lime juice.

I’m tempted to try this again this week with the full charge of lime to see how much zingier it is…it was OK this time but I felt the lost zing potential…

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I did make the berry coulis recommended in the recipe but tossed in the last of the coconut milk just to expend it…tasted OK but the milk neutered the sharp crisp berry taste…should have just used water like last time…

Still…it went very nicely with ice cream down at the station…