Paper bags vs plastic: What’s really best for the environment?

Everyone is noticing how bad plastic is for the environment, but is the alternative we’re all leaning towards much better?

The Best Food to Batch Cook

As a mother of five in a family of seven, it will probably come as no surprise to you that things can get hectic around the house! Between extracurricular activities, homework, housework, bonding time and everything else in between, sometimes it is oh so tempting to delve into the freezer for quick meals or to order a takeaway or even just go out for food.

However, I pride myself on being a cook; it’s what this blog is all about! A solution for those jam-packed days is to cook something in batch that will keep for the rest of the week, is suitable for freezing and is an all-round life saver! Any of these dishes can be frozen and thawed, or kept for at least three days in an airtight container. They can be popped into lunchboxes or heated up for family dinner, they really are so versatile.

Chilli con Carne

Chilli con Carne is an old favourite of the family and is perfect for cold nights, summer BBQs and everything else in between. Fry up some onions in olive oil and, once they’re soft, throw in 1kg of lean minced beef. Cook the beef until brown then stir in two cans of chopped tomato, stir in some red and yellow peppers, kidney beans and chilli and paprika and there you have it! Serve with rice when you’re ready to eat it and add some cheese for extra flavour. This makes a huge batch so you might want to separate it into more friendly portions before freezing.

Pumpkin and Bacon Soup

Yes, you can even freeze soup! The bacon in this gives it a great smoky edge and adds that all-important protein. Heat oil and a knob of butter in a pan and add chopped onion and salt, cook this for 10 minutes. Add the bacon, pumpkin and some vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the pumpkin is soft. Pour in some single cream and boil again. Remove from the heat and blend everything up, adding more vegetable stock if you want it thinner. The best way to freeze soup is by pouring it into bags, when it’s time to defrost just cut the bag and peel it away from the frozen soup – it’s much easy to add to a pan this way.

Chicken Cacciatore

Place chicken breasts with salt and pepper in a baking tray and cook them on the hob on high heat until they are cooked nicely and place them to one side. Put red peppers and a chilli pepper in the same tray until they’re soft then pour in a generous amount of red wine, add chopped tomatoes and stir everything up. Grab the chicken from before and place it in the sauce before covering in foil and baking for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the tray out, uncover and cook again for 15 minutes. When you come to eating this, it goes amazing with pretty much anything! Mashed potato, rice, chips, anything you can dream up!

 

Home Appliances – They Don’t Make Them Like They Used to Anymore

Since I love to preach about and pride myself in being able to put my nose for the bargain to good use, I wouldn’t say I’m a brand conscious person, particularly when it comes to household appliances. I mean it’s kind of counter-productive if you’re going to be spending the whole morning navigating the open-air markets for the best deals you can get in fresh ingredients and then go back home to prepare that food using appliances and tools which are only expensive as a result of the name brand they carry.

That said however, there are some brands which I tend to gravitate more towards than others, but that’s only because of the quality they offer. Still, the price factor comes into play because it is after all about how well they perform in doing their intended job and how long they last and perform well. I recently had to replace a blender that had died and in all honestly it had served me really well over the years, in which case I replaced it with a more modern juicer, but the jury is still out because modern day appliances just don’t seem to be built like those of the good old days.

Things don’t seem to last that long anymore and the new juicer is more than holding its own so far, but I don’t know — the materials used just doesn’t seem like something I’d use to knock an intruder over the head with. It’s not all the way flimsy, but in comparison to say the blender my parents had in our kitchen growing up and even the blender which I had that had reached the end of its life cycle, this new juicer and actually all the others I had a feel for in the store before buying just doesn’t feel like it’s made out of durable materials.

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On top of that it’s getting harder and harder to find a repairman who can actually fix appliances that break these days. The general consensus seems to be one of replacing over repairing, the worst of which case is when the entire appliance needs replacing and not just the problem area identified.

The struggle is real and in a sense always leads one back to some of the trusted brands which are emerging in modern times since some of the old-school names in home appliance production seem to be falling victim to the times as well. So with appliances such as kettles, if you spot what is something like a very distinctive Russell Hobbs kettle, go for that original one and spend those few extra pounds as opposed to going for a cheaper version bearing a different name which you barely recognise.

A few extra pounds spent now will spare you having to make the decision between feeling up the repairman to see if it’s at all possible to repair a faulty appliance and concluding that you have to replace the whole thing.

Generally though and going beyond just home appliances, it just seems like consumer goods producers aren’t building things to last anymore.

Flavours of the World on a Budget

Well I definitely wanted to travel a lot more than I did a lot sooner in my life, but either way, I can honestly say that I was rather privileged growing up under the tutelage of a parents who made it happen in terms of exploring the length and breadth of this beautiful world of ours. One of the most outstanding features which define any destination however is its food, particularly that food which is unique to the place or which is prepared in a way that is unique to that location.

I’m talking here from your basic fries on which some people add vinegar in addition to salt, while others don’t and perhaps even eat them with rice, right up to dishes such as koshary, which is rather unique to North Africa.

A few short years ago however it was a bit of struggle to try and recreate many of these delicious flavours of the different parts of the world. I mean even if the restaurant owner was kind enough to write down the recipe for their favourite foreign customers who will perhaps never return to their establishment, some of the ingredients proved hard to find and still prove hard to find to this day. Shipping them across the world works out to be quite expensive and by the time they arrive they’re either not as fresh as you’d like or you’re not even in the mood for that specific dish you were previously craving anymore.

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Some of these unique flavours of the world one experiences are just too hearty to put away on the “once-in-a-lifetime-culinary-experience” shelf, so a plan needs to be made in order for one to keep enjoying them. Fortunately there is a plan and it’s called ingredient substitution.

Ingredient substitution involves a whole lot of experimentation, but it takes you through a journey of culinary delight along which you learn so much about your own cooking skills and about what can be achieved with a little creativity and ingredient chopping and changing.

Many people in this part of the world find apple pie revolting, for example, but I reckon that’s just because they don’t quite have the proper ingredients to make something like that come out the way it was originally intended to come out. You’d want to use original apple pie spice for example in order to get the authentic taste of this good old American favourite, but since this dessert isn’t that popular round here, you’d have a hard time finding apple spice.

That’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about however, that being ingredient substitution used to recreate the flavour almost as is, if not all the way as it is. If you don’t have apple pie spice for example, a tablespoon of it can be recreated with a mixture of two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, one teaspoon of ground nutmeg and just a pinch of ground allspice.

In many instances you even come up with a richer and more delicious flavour than the original, but as mentioned, there will be a lot of experimentation involved to recreate the various flavours of the world on a budget.

Juicing – What All the Hype is about

Mainly because of their sheer stupidity, it makes for quite a bit of fun watching those late night / early morning commercials through which they try to sell ‘useful’ and ‘innovative’ household products. I guess the reason why they sell them that early in the morning, particularly over weekends, is because that’s when drunkards are up and someone who’s drunk is the only type of person I could see buying most of these products.

Every so often though a good product comes along, often fuelled by whatever the latest dietary, health or beauty fad is. Recently there’s been a spate of commercials for blenders, but blenders which are referred to more as juicers than plain blenders, in line with the juicing fad that’s been sweeping the world, I guess.

So anyway, I took my time and got a good juicer for my kitchen, something which was overdue in any case since the old blender has been dead for quite some time now and I must say I’ve kind of fallen into trying this juicing thing out, with some rather intriguing results as well.

So what’s all the fuss about with juicing?

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Great for Weight Loss

For those who are on a diet and have a goal to lose weight, juicing makes for a great way to go. The idea is that you eat less solid foods while still getting in some vital nutrients you need to maintain a healthy diet, so less useless calories are ingested — calories which the body otherwise naturally processes by converting them into unwanted fat reserves.

As with any diet related to something like weight loss however, this is not designed to be a permanent solution. It’s okay to fill up on a fruit & veg juice when you’re perhaps on the go and need a quick, healthy snack to deliver the vital nutrients your body requires, but juicing should never be a permanent substitute for eating your recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables proper.

Juicing blenders are great at extracting the juice from the fresh ingredients, however they leave behind an important component of these fruits and vegetables, which is the fibre-rich pulp, something which is required in the body for regulation and to flush out toxins. If you’re going to incorporate juicing into your long term dietary plan then it’s perhaps best to add back a bit of the pulp just so that you get a bit more balance out of what is otherwise meant to be a short term or periodic dietary adjustment.

Detoxification & Nutrient Re-Balancing

Juicing is also great for detoxification, with some specific juicing recipes targeting specific organs and bodily functions. Beet juice for example is great for the cleansing of the liver, while juicing in general helps during the nutrient re-balancing process, like if you’re deficient in a specific nutrient or a specific set of nutrients then juicing delivers them on your body’s liquid express train, sparing the alimentary canal what would otherwise be the hard work of digesting the fleshier bits of the fruits and veggies you’re juicing.

Quick Microwave Dishes for When You’re Short on Time

You know that cook-book that came with your microwave oven when you first brought it home from the store? Yes, the one which has some recipes that seem impossible to prepare using the microwave oven? Well there’s a lot more to it than what you might think. With the right dedication to getting the full measure of the functionality of your microwave, you can indeed prepare some quick meals which nobody could ever guess you used the microwave oven to prepare.

Preparing the Dishes

With the right kind of effort and dedication to learning the various functions of your microwave oven, you can prepare just about any dish, even something like a roast dinner or a rice dish with veggies and the works. You can even bake potatoes or even bake a whole cake, but it’s not as simple as using the functions in the manner which they’re described in the microwave oven’s instruction manual.

Those instructions are actually just there to serve as guidelines and quite frankly they never seem to work out right. What you’ll need to do is a bit of experimentation, but not the kind of experimentation which will result in food spoilage and wastage. If you want to learn how to cook rice using the microwave oven for example, you would have your backup option on standby, which is simply to transfer the rice to a regular pot and then boil it like you’d normally prepare it.

Otherwise you might have to contend with not quite knowing whether the rice cooking in the microwave is still raw or if it’s been overcooked and has dried up.

So while we’re on the topic of rice as a dish you can prepare using the microwave, it’s as simple as combining a cup of long-grain white rice with two cups of water and half a teaspoon of salt in a microwave-safe baking dish. Do not cover. Proceed to microwave at your oven’s equivalent of power level 10 until the grains are tender and all the liquid has evaporated, some of which will be absorbed by the rice. This should take between 15 to 18 minutes, but again it all depends on getting your microwave settings just right.

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Pretty much the same applies to the other ingredients you’ll be adding to your rice dish and to the other dishes you prepare. Ordinarily, each food type cooks a bit differently, like pumpkin which would have very little to no water added to it if cooked in the microwave and each food type also cooks over its own time, but once you’ve figured out how you can pair certain food types together (in terms of their cooking time), you can make use of disposable, microwave-safe plastic food containers to cook those foods simultaneously in separate containing wells. That way serving becomes that much easier and also it saves you the trouble of having to do the dishes afterwards.

When I’m short on time I do use the microwave to prepare quite a few good dishes, but it’s never as directed in the manual. I don’t use the “baked potato” function to prepare baked potatoes for instance, rather using the grill function since it retains a good amount of the moisture in the potatoes. Other dishes I’ve prepared using only the microwave oven include the likes of grilled/baked salmon, fried scallops (yes you can fry stuff in the microwave) and even roast beef with all the sides to go with it!