Most people don’t know this about me, but I have an acute need for control. I consider myself a highly organised individual and will plan itineraries down to the hour with connecting transport down to the minute. I like to bake a cake knowing that it’s going to take 20 minutes in the oven, and it’s the perfect amount of time to prep dinner at the same time, while simultaneously starting the washing machine. I plan what I’m going to have for lunch today based on what I’m going to be having for dinner later in the week.
I will openly admit that I’ve previously struggled with anxiety; it’s so difficult to avoid in this day and age where we are each expected to juggle multiple commitments and chores, keep up with pop culture and our social lives and eat amazing and look fit while we are at it. So it’s no surprise that I react quite badly when things don’t go as I’ve planned.
If I take too long deciding on an outfit because the one I had in mind makes me look square, I miss the bus which causes me to be late, which then causes a whole domino-ripple-effect and makes me sulky and bad-tempered for at least half the morning. Not too long ago I baked a chocolate frosted cake for a party on a very warm day and to my dismay it started to slip and slide. I frantically rushed it across the apartment from the warm kitchen to our cooler bedroom in an attempt to save it – but it was too late and it slumped on the cake decorating board. Dispirited and down, I requested Night Owl to dispose of it…and it fell onto the carpet (!!) while she was attempting to transfer it back to the kitchen.
At this point I firmly shut the bathroom door, climbed into the dry bathtub and put my head between my knees to take some deep, calming breaths. Night Owl – bless her – didn’t quite know how to react to my inner implosion, and was quite obliviously stuffing her face with Devil’s Food Cake a la Carpet.
It’s difficult as I guess I’ve always felt that I should feel more in control of my life as I get older; but if anything it’s the smallest things that drive me up the wall – like how citrus is so expensive in summer! It seems so ironic that citrus fruits are in season and at their cheapest in winter, yet all the delicious recipes and drinks I want to use them in are primarily summer-centred.
I have a terrible habit of not checking in on my fruit bowl and a couple of months before some lemons and oranges got away from me and got mouldy; there are seriously few things worse in the world than mouldy citrus! So I bought a bag of imperfect lemons on the cheap and kept an eagle eye on them – when they started to reach peak ripeness, I decided to preserve them for some salad recipes I had in mind.
Preserved lemons possess an entirely different quality to the OG lemon. Strip away its raw, bright acidity and waxy skin and after sitting in a salt and spice bath, it takes on a beautifully floral perfumed soft aroma, with a mildness that lends itself perfectly when chopped up finely with seafood dishes and roasted vegetables. Oh and definitely divine with roasted chicken!
To make your preserved lemons, have a few clean and sterilised jars on hand. Cut the lemons into quarters Place a tablespoon of salt into the bottom of the jar, and put a few layers of lemon quarters into the jar, pressing down firmly to release the fruit’s juices. Choose a spice (chillies, peppercorns, coriander seeds if making savoury; or I like just bay leaves and cinnamon sticks) and slide it down the side of the jar. Sprinkle over another layer of salt, then add another layer of lemon quarters and repeat these layers until the jar is full. Remember to keep pushing down as you go. The fruit needs to be completely covered in salty juice.
Leave 1cm of space between the top of the fruit and the lid of the jar – if the salty fruit touches the top of the lid, it will corrode the metal. Seal the jar and let them sit in a cool, dark place for six weeks. You know they are preserved when the salt has completely dissolved into a gel-like liquid. These preserved lemons will keep for years un-opened, but once open are best stored in the fridge.
When using I like to give it a quick rinse and shake dry to get rid of any excess salt before chopping it up.
Roasted Broccoli Salad with Toasted Almonds, Garlic, Chilli and Preserved Lemon
The inspo for this came after making the Cauliflower salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple, where he combines raw cauliflower florets with roasted florets to create an amazing contrast of textures to make the salad pop. Unfortunately this was a bit of a cooking-by-feel recipe, so the measurements are not precise – however this recipe is to taste and so very forgiving.
Broccoli with lemon, garlic and chilli is like a polyamorous match in heaven.
You will need:
One large head broccoli;
2 tablespoons olive oil;
Two teaspoons salt flakes
Two cloves of garlic, minced;
Handful of slivered/flaked almonds, toasted;
1/4 preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped finely;
Hot dried chilli flakes, to taste
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius, fan forced.
Cut up the broccoli (including the stem!) into 2-3cm sized florets and 1cm chunks for the stem. Place one quarter of the chopped broccoli to the side (this will be the raw part of the salad) and chop a little smaller if you prefer.
With the remaining broccoli, spread onto a large parchment-lined baking tray. Add the leaves for added crunch. Drizzle over the oil and scatter over the salt flakes before placing in the preheated oven and allowing to bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges of the broccoli are slightly brown.
Scatter the garlic over the broccoli and cook for a further 5-10 minutes.
Remove the broccoli from the oven and allow to slightly cool before combining it with the reserved raw broccoli and the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with dried chilli flakes and salt and pepper, if desired.
Brilliant as a side for roast chicken or any other protein, really.
As it nears the end of the year, work commitments increase as offices prepare for the Christmas period. For Night Owl and I, neither of our offices shut down, but instead will be running on skeleton staff- and we have sacrificed our annual leave for a worthier cause, to be spent over the course of the next year for optimum holiday satisfaction. I don’t enjoy forced annual leave over the Christmas/New Year period, as the prices of flights and accomodation hikes up, finding parking at the beach is impossible, and it’s too hot to lounge around at home.
As the days grow longer, it means that the balmier, sticky evenings are on their way. I’m always on the lookout for dinners that are quick to throw together, as both of us will hit the gym most weeknights after a day in the office, and only return home between 8 and 9pm. These meatballs are perfect to make ahead of time and freeze – all you need to do is throw them in the oven while you prepare the vermicelli and salad.
There’s quite a few elements to these bowls, but with preparation prior it all comes together very quickly. This is one to prep on a Sunday for a couple of meals during the week ahead.
It’s a big bowl of goodness, crunch and flavour. The pickled daikon radish and carrot is not a typical Vietnamese ingredient, but a Japanese one. I find that adding a vinegar-y element to your food aids with digestion and a nice acidic tang.
You can make the pickle by shredding daikon/carrot into julienne. One cup of shredded vegetables will require a mixture of 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sake, 1 tablespoon salt flakes, 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes, and 1/2 cup caster sugar. Combine all of the ingredients together until the sugar dissolves. The pickle tastes best after a day or two in the fridge – you may want to keep the daikon pickle in a sealed box/jar and plastic bag, as it will release quite a pungent aroma the first couple of days!
For the meatballs, I like to use chicken mince, or pork and veal, but it’s entirely up to you what meat you prefer. This recipe makes a lot of meatballs (much more than will serve two!) so do freeze the rest. Make sure you leave the meatballs to fully cool, spread out on a tray and freeze the tray. When the meatballs are all frozen, then remove them and seal them in a ziplock bag/box – this way they won’t stick together when they freeze.
Nuoc Cham is a popular Vietnamese dipping sauce and you will find it at the table of every self-respecting Vietnamese eatery. You can probably find it bottled at an Asian grocer, but it tastes so much better when you make it yourself. I use a few shortcuts like lemongrass and chilli from a tube (gasp!), and caster sugar instead of palm sugar because those are ingredients that I don’t utilise all that often.
Sue me – I’m on a budget and hate it when things go off in the fridge before I even get to use it up! If these are ingredients that your household uses on a regular basis (or you’re just a purist), by all means use the raw ingredient in its natural form.
Mix together 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup fish sauce, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon caster sugar, one teaspoon finely chopped lemongrass, 2 teaspoons of finely chopped red chilli, and one crushed garlic clove.
You will need:
For the meatballs:
500g mince of your choice;
1 cup panko breadcrumbs;
2 large eggs;
3 tablespoons fish sauce;
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint; plus more for serving;
2 teaspoons lime zest;
2 full spring onions, whites and greens, chopped; plus more for serving;
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger;
2 cloves garlic, minced;
2 tablespoons rice bran oil.
Bowls for two:
Nuoc cham sauce, recipe above;
1/4 cup each of pickled carrot and daikon, recipe above;
50g mung bean vermicelli (or rice vermicelli);
2 cups mixed green salad leaves;
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves, picked;
1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts;
Deep fried shallots, to taste.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Line a large baking tray with foil.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, spring onions, lime zest, and mint. Whisk to combine. Add the mince and panko crumbs, and using your hands, mix until evenly combined.
Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil while you wet your hands lightly.
Roll the mince into golf-ball sized meatballs and drop directly into the pan – don’t over-crowd it! Picking up the frypan, roll the meatballs around so they form nice spheres. They shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes to brown – you want a decent amount of colour on them, but don’t want them cooked all the way through yet.
Transfer to the foil-lined tray when they are nicely browned, and repeat with the remaining mince. When all meatballs are done, place in the oven for 15 minutes to continue cooking.
When the meatballs are done, serve immediately or leave out to cool if freezing.
To make the bowls
Boil a kettle of water. Spread out the mung bean vermicelli in a heat-proof bowl and pour over the boiling water, stirring to ensure all the noodles are submerged. The noodles are done when they are semi-transparent. Carefully drain and rinse under cold water, and use kitchen scissors to cut the noodles roughly.
Combine the salad greens with the Thai basil and extra mint.
Divide the vermicelli between two bowls, then add the pickled daikon and carrot. Add the greens on the side, and a few hot meatballs. Scatter over the crushed peanuts, extra sliced spring onions, and deep fried shallots. Drizzle over the nuoc cham and dig in!
If you’ve been following me on my social networks, you will know that my 10 week challenge has been over for a little while now! But despite having lost almost 4% body fat, and about 4-5 kilograms, I have my engagement party next month and so I want to keep myself on track so that I don’t lose sight of the end goal – which is, to look fabulous, of course!
We’re keeping relatively low carb still and counting our macros, because to be perfectly honest our bodies and taste buds have simply become accustomed to it. It’s certainly not a cheap lifestyle, but when the items to make low carb dishes are already in your fridge and pantry, of course you go ahead and make dinner with the same ingredients as it’s less hassle and it has become habit. Essentially that’s the base goal of a 10 week challenge – yes some people do it to drastically lose weight, but what it is meant to do is train you into adopting new habits and practices.
A 10 week challenge will however never get rid of my love of baking. I do sometimes now bake my old recipes and find the finished product too sweet for my new palate- but since I’ve more baked for the soothing nature of the practice (my form of meditation, really), I will divide the finished product into Tupperware boxes for Night Owl and I to take to our respective offices to share.
This easy pear cake is one of those recipes that smells absolutely divine while cooking. I found this recipe on Not Quite Nigella, while I was deliberating over what to do with a trio of Corella pears which were starting to acquire brown spots. It’s a wonderful way to use up old pears or apples, and the addition of wholemeal flour gives it a more rustic mouthfeel. It’s also a one bowl recipe, so that makes it even more wonderful!
You will need:
3/4 cup plain wholemeal flour;
3/4 cup self-raising flour;
3/4 cup caster sugar;
125g melted butter;
1 teaspoon vanilla essence;
400g pears or apple, diced;
2 teaspoons cinnamon;
2 teaspoons icing sugar.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease and line a 20cm/8 inch springform tin with baking paper.
Mix the two flours, sugar, butter, egg and vanilla in a bowl. Press three quarters of the mix into the base of the tin. It will be like a sticky dough, and you can use your fingertips to spread it to the edges of the tin, and use your knuckles to level out the base.
Scatter the diced pear or apple on top. Then place small pieces of the dough in uneven pieces over the top in a pattern so that the pear/apple isn’t entirely covered up.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden. Obviously this is a cake you can’t really test with a skewer (as it’s more like a shortcrust pastry), but believe me – you will be able to smell when it’s done! Sieve the icing sugar on top. Allow to cool completely before slicing as it’s very delicate while warm.
Only one more week left to the end of my 10 week total transformation challenge, and I’m already planning all of the things I want to eat again: ramen, croissants, beer… but then on the other hand, I’m terrified of blowing out and going back to the way things were before. Night Owl and I actually went out for dinner to one of our favourite restaurants on Wednesday, as even though we haven’t finished our challenge yet, the restaurant was closing this week and we would not have had the opportunity to return post-challenge. We shared the large house-made rye sourdough roll to start and had a glass of red wine each during the meal – and I severely regretted it with the after-effects the next day. It took about a litre of water and a huge salad for lunch to get myself back to feeling some form of normal. Who have I become??
I’ve been talking to some people who have started or are about to start their own transformation challenges, and they are on low fat and low carb diets – which I would severely struggle with! A low carb and fats diet would definitely make you lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time – but sustainability would be a struggle. A low carb diet at least allows you pleasures like cream and cheese to indulge in (in moderation!) so my Moussaka is one of Night Owl‘s favourite dishes that I make. Rich, cheesy, filling and delicious – it’s also gluten-free and freezes well.
I’m not saying that a low-carb, high-fats diet will necessarily make you lose weight – as it will also depend on how much exercise you’re squeezing in. We exercise about six days a week for two hours a day most days, and without the fats our bodies would have insufficient energy to fuel us through those gruelling workouts. I was thinking that maybe when this is all done I could scale back on the exercise – but then I wondered what I would do with all that free time, and realised that I would be extraordinarily bored without my workouts! It’s official: I’m hooked on exercise.
It’s a bit of a catch-22: on days you do exercise, as much as it may be difficult to motivate yourself to get started, once you do your body releases endorphins – so you feel great afterwards. But on days you rest and don’t exercise? You don’t feel so great as you obviously don’t get the endorphins.
So it looks like we are going to continue with this low-carb diet and integrate it into our daily lifestyle.
Back to the recipe! I use beef mince, or veal and pork mince rather than lamb as I prefer the flavour and texture. If I have any leftover roast veg like zucchini or pumpkin, I will also chop it up into the meat sauce to amp up the vege count!
To serve six, you will need:
2 large eggplant;
Spray oil for grilling the eggplant;
1 tablespoon of olive oil;
1 brown onion, finely chopped;
500g grass-fed beef mince;
3-4 cloves garlic;
1/4 cup red wine;
6 flat mushrooms, sliced;
400g can diced tomatoes;
1/2 cup water;
1 teaspoon beef stock powder;
4 tablespoons tomato paste;
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce;
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg;
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon;
Ground black pepper;
1/3 cup plain flour;
2 cups milk;
Salt and ground white pepper;
1/3 cup grated pizza cheese.
Cut the eggplants in half from top to bottom, removing the top stem. Slice into half centimetre thick half moons.
Spray a hot grill pan with oil and cook eggplant, in batches, for 2-3 minutes each side or until browned. Transfer to a large plate.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir until softened, then add the garlic and mince. Cook, stirring to break up the mince, for 6-8 minutes or until browned.
Add the the red wine, de-glazing the pan and scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom.
Add the mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, water, stock, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg and cinnamon. If you have any leftover roast veg, also add them in at this point. Season with ground black pepper to taste. Stir and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce is thick and most of the liquid has evaporated.
To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk into the melted butter. Cook, stirring for a minute or two until bubbling. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium, stirring for five minutes or until the mixture has thickened, Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease an eight-cup capacity oven proof dish. Place one third of the eggplant, slightly overlapping, over the base of the dish. Spread half of the meat sauce over the eggplant. Repeat layers, ending with the eggplant. Spread white sauce over the top and sprinkle with cheese.
Bake for 45 min or until golden. Stand for 15 minutes before digging in!
Now starting to go into the seventh week out of my ten week challenge, it’s surprising to not only discover that some parts are getting easier, but also realise that there are always new and inventive ways to inflict pain on us. For example, last weekend I was too tired to post, as the workout that our trainer Tom (who’s ex-military, by the way) had put us through had been one of the most gruelling experiences I had ever done. It wasn’t particularly complex – in fact incorporating exercises and movements we had all done previously – but it was more about the variation of timing to play with your heart rate, muscles, and most importantly – your mind. At one point, three quarters of the way through I was the closest I’d ever come to throwing up and/or passing out and/or crying, or a combination of all three. (What an image that would be!)
The food side of things is getting easier – most of the time. Before I added the last part of that sentence I had a flashback to earlier this Sunday morning when I went up the street to get coffee, and they had brought out a tray of freshly-baked, fragrant, flaky and buttery apple crumble danishes; and so after I ordered my coffee, I promptly stepped away from temptation!
It’s more about knowing what options are available and what works for your lifestyle. Now that I have a few low-carb dishes under my belt, they’ve been in steady rotation for dinner times over the course of the week, and one of Night Owl’s favourites is these Naked Burgers. She always declares that she feels immediately “better” after having this – whether it made the “hangry”, or iron levels or energy levels better, I don’t know – but I’ll take it as a good sign nonetheless. It’s a wonderfully easy and quick recipe to rustle up after coming home from a day of work and the gym, and kicks an burger cravings to the curb. I think if I actually went back to eating a proper burger in a bun I would struggle through it!
I don’t have a barbecue, so I like to put a dash of liquid smoke into the mince for extra aroma. It will still taste amazing without it though.
You will note I haven’t posted any pictures with this post. I haven’t because it’s such an easy and quick recipe that I’ve never bothered or had the time between things cooking to take out my camera while making it. I will post up one photo though – which is my progress photo at the half way point. Three kilos down and just a little longer to go!
To serve four, you will need:
4 iceberg lettuce outer leaves washed and trimmed into bowl-shapes;
500g grass fed beef mince;
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, finely chopped;
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, finely chopped;
1 tablespoon olive oil;
1 large brown onion, finely sliced;
4 large field (Portobello) mushrooms, sliced;
4 slices vintage cheddar cheese;
4 dill pickles, sliced;
1/4 cup mustard;
1/2 cup tomato relish;
Sea salt flakes and pepper.
Crank up the grill setting on your oven to pre-heat at 160 degrees.
Put the beef in a bowl and add the herbs and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Add the liquid smoke if using. Using clean hands, mix the herbs through. Divide the mixture into four even portions and form into patties about 1/2 inch to 1 cm thick.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the oil to the pan and when hot, add the beef patties. Cook for two minutes, pressing down, then add the mushrooms and onions to the same pan with a pinch of salt. Turn the burgers over and cook for another two minutes on the second side, or until cooked through.
Place the patties on a foil-lined baking tray, top with cheese slices and put under the grill until it just melts.
Continue to cook the mushrooms and onions for two minutes, or until soft. Remove from the heat.
To serve, place the lettuce leaves on plates. Add the mushroom and onion mixture, and dill pickles. Squeeze over the tomato relish and mustard. Place on the beef patties and serve immediately to enjoy!
Different diets work for different bodies and it can take a little time to figure out what food habits work for you. For example, Night Owl finds that intermittent fasting works for her – she will skip breakfast and stretch it out for as long as she can ’til lunch, maybe snacking on some pistachios.
For me, I’m ravenous about 9-10am in the morning, and it’s the time of day where I consume the most. I’ve found savoury fats like bacon and eggs fill me up the most and will keep me going until even 2pm, but of course it’s not always to arrange a cook up during the weekday, where every minute of precious sleep counts. So I’ve taken to making a big batch of this delicious Peanut Butter Granola Clusters, a recipe adapted from The Healthy Foodie (recipe here). It’s amazingly good to just snack and nibble on and disappears surprisingly fast – don’t say I didn’t say I told you so!
I have it with some high protein Nudie yoghurt and frozen berries, but one morning when the missus made banana protein pancakes, we decided to scatter some over the top and it was one of the best life choices I’ve ever made (along with saying yes to her proposal three months ago, that is!).
I can’t emphasise how essential it is that when making this you pack it down firmly before baking, and that afterwards you really do let it cool for at least two hours – one hour in the turned off oven, the other at room temperature. That’s how you get perfect the perfect level of crunch.
I’ve halved the original recipe to make seven cups – simply because it’s easier to store.
You will need:
2 + 1/2 cups (225g) rolled oats;
3/4 cup (130g) roasted peanuts, unsalted;
1/2 cup almond meal;
2 teaspoons baking powder;
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon;
1/4 teaspoon salt;
1/2 cup (135g) all natural peanut butter (doesn’t matter if crunchy/smooth);
30g coconut oil, melted;
40g maple syrup;
2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celcius. Mix the oats, roasted peanuts, almond meal, baking powder, ground cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.
Combine the peanut butter, coconut oil, honey and maple syrup and vanilla together in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until completely melted. Pour this peanut butter mixture over the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. (NB – the saucepan is bloody good to lick out, but make sure it has cooled down before you do!)
Line a 20cm x 30cm baking tray with baking paper. Pour the wet granola mixture over the pan and spread evenly, pressing it down to help it stick together. Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning the pan around halfway until the granola is golden brown and slightly dry to the touch.
Turn off the heat, crack the door open (I like to use a wooden spoon) and leave the granola in the oven for about an hour, then remove from the oven and leave the granola out for another hour to finish cooling and drying out.
When fully cooled, break the cereal into clusters of your desired size with your fingers. Store in an airtight container for up to a couple of months (if it lasts that long!)