As if it’s not hard enough catering to the varied dietary needs of a family of seven (including yours truly), try getting a letter from your teenager’s rugby team nutritionist recommending that your boy, who is showing some signs of real talent that can have them develop a serious career, follows a strict diet which is spread out over six small meals per day! That’s what I have to deal with after my son’s summer school rugby camp…
Cooking for my entire family is sometimes a chore, but in most situations I’m glad to do it. Trying to get everyone fed on a budget can be challenging, but the more challenging thing is to make sure they all have the adequate nutrition that they need in order to remain healthy. Every one of my children will hopefully live longer than I do, but for that to happen I must make sure they are properly nourished.
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. Another way to easily store and make soup is to buy a soup maker. This is probably the best solution.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
When you’re cooking for yourself and perhaps when you’re experimenting as well it really isn’t too much of an issue, but when you’ve somehow conspired to burn some food when you’re cooking for an entire family of seven, it’s that much more painful to have to throw it all away and let it go to complete waste. I’m not saying I force-feed my babies burnt food, but depending on the degree to which you’ve burnt the food you can iterate through some steps to try and save it from going to complete waste.
As careful as you may be and as experienced a cook as you likely are, it happens to the best of us and could just be a matter of getting distracted, putting the heat up too high or perhaps just trying to do too many things at once in the kitchen and elsewhere in the house. Perhaps you’ve left the shell of your pie to bake a bit too long, some of the food you’re pan-frying has burnt and stuck to the bottom of the pan or maybe the steak you’re cooking isn’t cooking evenly all the way through and is burnt on the outside while remaining raw on the inside. Either way, here are a couple effective ways to save it all from going to complete waste:
Stopping the burning dead in its tracks
Well I never went all the way to become the professional chef that I had ambitions of becoming, but I did get some good exposure to that world of professional food preparation. One of the many lessons I learned from the restaurant industry is that of stopping the burning of food dead its tracks. There’s a specific point — almost a single instant when you can smell the food just starting to burn, but it hasn’t quite burnt all the way through. In this case take it off the heat source, out of the pot or pan you’re cooking it in, transfer it to different container and pop it right into the freezer.
This stops the burning process which usually carries on even after you’ve removed the food from its heat source.
What if the food is burnt proper?
If the food has actually burned then the degree to which it’s burnt is what determines just how much of it you can actually save and in fact if you can save it at all. For food which clearly tastes burnt but is only really burnt at the bottom of the pan, do not stir. Simply transfer it into another pan leaving the burnt bit behind and then add a peeled potato to reheat the food on low heat. 15 minutes or so is all it should take for the burnt taste to disappear, after which time you should remove the potato.
For a BBQ steak that’s scorched on the outside but raw on the inside, wrap it in foil and then grill it in the oven until it cooks in the middle, after which time you can cut off the burnt bits.
If this was a one-line post and I didn’t have to go any further than explaining why you and yours need to be eating more fish, it would be as simple as saying that fish is very healthy. There are indeed some reasons for eating fish more often beyond its health benefits and since fish does indeed make for one of my favourite ingredients to cook with, I’ll be happy to get into it all.
“Clean” source of protein
As far as getting your recommended dietary portion of proteins, it seldom gets “cleaner” than fish as a good source. Depending on the type of fish you’ll be cooking of course, fish is almost as pure as protein can get in its natural form and this is largely due to the fact that fish as they occur in nature are often on the move and so build up lean muscle tissue while their constant need to be on the move has them eating all the time for their energy. That’s why fish pretty much doesn’t have any fat to speak of, with even something like a fried fish dish making for a very healthy source of protein.
So something like deep sea hake will do well for your family’s source of the closest thing to pure protein as you can get, without going the supplements route.
Pilchards in particular come to mind as another variety of fish which is extremely healthy, very rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which aid in the development and functionality of the brain amongst other things. Canned pilchards often don’t taste too good however and this is often the case no matter how they’ve been canned (precooked and canned in tomato sauce, etc).
So if you can get them fresh or as fresh as you can then a good fish curry with white rice and an island coconut salad will do.
Going back to the health-factor however — you only have to look at counties such as Japan where fish is major part of their diet in that part of the world and if you were to go there now you wouldn’t find too many obese people. Fish is filling and healthy, making for a great main for any meal.
Many ways to prepare fish
This is one of the biggest reasons why I personally love fish and why I think you and your family should be eating it more often. There are about a million ways to cook just one variety of fish and in each case the dish can come out tasting completely different from the next dish which features the exact same fish variety.
Season your hake with fresh lemon and garlic on one occasion for example and then on the next occasion you could season the same hake with fish spice and you’ll have two dishes of the same fish variety which taste completely different. You can also use sake if you want a healthy alternative to vinegar.
Even something like frying over microwaving, boiling or smoking will have the same fish dish tasting completely different, more so if it’s served with different sides.
Health nuts almost never eat-out for fear of what the fast food industry is generally associated with, which is unhealthy junk food. For the most part they’re right because fast food has this way of luring you in and making you feel like you’re not doing something too bad by indulging in what are actually very unhealthy eating choices and so you find yourself making all sorts of “making up” promises to yourself, like perhaps resolving to put in a double shift next time you hit the gym.
How your body reacts to something like some bad food which you’ve eaten is the perfect indicator for how long the contents of the food you eat last in your body. I mean think about what is the rather unpleasant experience of diarrhoea — how long do you experience the discomfort of having to run to the toilet every few minutes or hours? The same applies to experiencing the effects of having had some food poisoning or in fact just a reaction to some food which you might have an intolerance for or which you’re allergic to. Symptoms such as blackheads developing in your ears or acne breaking out on your face are the real indicators of how long food remains in your system since the likes of experiencing diarrhoea or reacting by vomiting are ways for your body to get rid of toxic food constituents as soon as it can.
So a moment on the lips is indeed very close to making for a lifetime on the hips, but even if you are a health nut, this doesn’t mean you can’t indulge every so often.
What being a health nut also means is that you don’t have to be afraid of perhaps eating out at a restaurant or other “fast food” joint where the food is prepared for you. More and more “fast food” outlets are taking this fast food thing quite literally and only really referring to the food they offer as “fast” because it’s prepared quickly.
So you can maintain a healthy diet while eating out, but be prepared to fight off the natural urges and the rather leading suggestions of the likes of serving waiters and the advertised special of the day.
You need to go with a set plan — there are certain foods you must be okay with eating when you leave the house and you should stick to your guns when you arrive at the restaurant or other food outlet at which you want to get your quick fill.
Unfortunately as far as restaurant menus go, the healthier options seem to be a bit more expensive, so you might want to listen to what the waiter is trying to up-sell you on, but often what is put up as the “manager’s special” or any other form of special of the day normally isn’t healthy. If you also demonstrate the intention to become a regular customer of a specific restaurant (or even if you aren’t) it doesn’t hurt to ask for the food to be prepared in a special way just for you, like perhaps replacing fries with a salad in a certain dish or something like replacing the fizzy drink with yoghurt.
If you or anyone in your family experiences symptoms such as itchy ears when taking the first bite of your food, chances are you might be carrying some food allergies. Food allergies are often detected very early on in one’s life, but they can be developed over time, mostly due to an unbalanced diet which is severely deficient in one form of nutrient or one which contains too much of a certain food which comes with an excess of a certain nutrient or a selection of nutrients.
A visit to the specialist to officially test for food allergies can be a bit expensive since it likely falls under “non-essential” medical care, but ultimately that should be the aim. You should go for an official allergy test so that you can be sure of which foods are causing your body to react.
That said, while you’re perhaps putting the money together to be able to go to a food allergy specialist, there’s a way to safely carry out a food allergy elimination test, but it’s something which should perhaps only be tried by those whose reactions to certain foods are of a milder nature.
For months on end one of my cousins would feel really, really sick after enjoying a full English breakfast, but it took a while to realise that it was indeed something in the full breakfast which was causing this allergy. It was indeed the egg, which she had somehow developed an allergy to and the symptoms were rather severe at times, including painful heels, double-vision in one eye, vertigo and constantly having a feeling of wanting to throw-up whenever she woke up in the morning.
Eggs as the culprit were narrowed-down on when she’d eaten more than one egg on a particular occasion when she’d been really hungry over breakfast and that’s when the symptoms were aggravated. All she did was eliminate eggs from her diet completely and the symptoms disappeared.
So to do a safe food allergy elimination test one must focus on the most common food items which are known to cause allergies, even if they’d previously not caused any reactions. Eggs definitely form one of these food groups, so too the likes of peanut butter, anything with gluten (which is just about everything these days), different types of nuts like almonds and even peanuts, cow’s milk and even something like artificial flavourings.
It doesn’t end there however because even sugar can cause allergies, particularly white sugar, but mostly when you react to white sugar you’ll most definitely react to brown sugar as well, which sort of gets worse because you might react to sweetener as well.
So while you’re eliminating the potential allergy-causing foods you should proceed to replace them with more natural whole foods, like perhaps replacing white sugar with honey as a natural and healthier sweetener. While you’re at it, keep a box of anti-allergy tablets handy for possible breakouts caused by a food you’re sill eating that might be the cause of the allergy, but yeah, often just eliminating known allergy-causing foods one by one does the trick to find out just what it is you’re allergic to.
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.
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!