Mini Lunch-box Pizzas

Although a pretty organised person by nature, some weeks throw us out of whack and it feels like we’re chasing our tails. The first two days of this past week felt like that, but by mid week I seemed to be on top of things again. It’s during these crazy times that I am really glad for a little pre-planning and I can rely on having the ingredients I need to whip up a meal or grab lunch box fillers out the fridge or pantry or even a ready-made frozen sandwich.

Mini Lunch-box PizzasThe school term is back into full swing with activities on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; weekly spelling tests to prepare for; this past week we had a school trip; choir books to remember on certain days; library books to be returned; swimming togs daily for the current training on the go at school, etc. and that’s all just for my 9 year old. But this is the wonderful life of a working Mom that I am so very blessed to call my life and I thoroughly enjoy it. And all other Moms, both working and stay-at-home, completely understand and laugh at the normality of life. A while ago I had a moan on Facebook about what seemed like an endless list of chores I was ticking off when a long-time very special friend put me in my place very eloquently, but nicely. Her comment was something like: “So just another regular day being a Mom…”. That shut me up pretty quickly. She has 3 sons, two of them fully grown and left home ages ago. She’s walked the walk and is savouring the time with her youngest at home.

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily drudgery – and can sometimes feel like Groundhog Day (remember the early 90’s movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell?) or like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel, but it is so important to live in the moment. That doesn’t mean every moment has to be a happy moment. Sometimes the moment might be one where we want to pull our hair out, or lock ourselves in a dark room so we can sleep, have peace or read a book. At other times the moment is maddeningly busy, or filled with spontaneous laughter, or joyful surprises of seeing your offspring take pride in doing something for themselves, or lie in bed snuggling while they read to you, or the good-bye kiss and frantic hug of a pre-teen boy outside school before he dashes off at top speed.

I cherish the fact he still sometimes grabs hold of my hand or walks with his arm around me around the shops, or calls me from another room to say: Mom? I love you! I know these moments will get less and less over the coming years, but I will cherish each and every one of them.

School lunches are a whole other topic on their own. I recently started following a group called Lunch boxes for Kids or Kids School Lunches, or something like that on Facebook and I am constantly amazed at the very beautiful, designer arrangement of foods that get sent off to school. I almost feel sorry for the children because I can imagine the sorry state it might be in when they finally get to open their lunch. My child isn’t reckless with his backpack, but kids run, jump, fling their bags around, hang them up, knock them over, you name it…it happens. I far prefer using smaller re-usable containers that are dishwasher safe to kill off any possible germs and seal the food so it stays in portions or separate to other food. These mini pizzas are a great break from sandwiches and I pop one in once a week. Once made, they are cooled and then packaged into freezer bags, separated by baking parchment so they’re easy to get apart. Then on the morning before school, I pop one, still frozen, into the flat sandwich container and it is thawed and ready to eat by lunch time. No pizza dough or toppings used on these ones, but you can add whatever you wish on top. I found mini wholewheat pita pockets, smothered one side in tomato pizza sauce and covered in a mixture of cheeses and baked in the oven. Perfect!

These particular pita breads guarantee 100% natural ingredients with no preservatives, no additives, great for Vegans and GE free. I’m not sure about nut free though, but they may contain traces of poppy and sesame seeds – gosh, I should be getting a kick-back! And just mentioning the obvious, if you prefer to only half the packet, you have the other half left over for fresh pitas in the lunch boxes too.

ingredients:
1 packet Danny’s Mini Wholemeal Pita Breads (contains 8)
1 packet Tomato Pizza paste or use my Basil, Tomato & Garlic Sauce
2 cups mixed cheese (Mozzarella, Edam and/or Colby)

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
  2. Spread the pizza paste/tomato sauce over the pita breads.
  3. Sprinkle over the cheese (and any other toppings you like).
  4. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the bases is slightly crispy.
  5. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool before laying a square of baking parchment between them and packing into freezer bags.
  6. Once frozen, they must be used within 3 months.

Enjoy!

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Blueberry & Oat Smoothie

I love Blueberries. They grow really well in New Zealand and throughout Summer we have an endlessly delicious supply. These tiny blue berries (funny that!) have oodles of health benefits too, things like aiding in weight loss as they are extremely low in calories and helping to prevent heart disease.

Summer Blueberry SmoothieWhether fresh, frozen, in jams and chutneys or baked into pancakes, muffins, tarts or as purees, you might do well to include these awesome little gifts from nature in your daily diet.

Great for lunch-box snacks too, they are easy for little fingers and little teeth. We love including them in fruit kebabs too, but my current favourite breakfast smoothie, combines them with banana, honey, oats and milk. Just take care to brush your teeth thoroughly afterwards, as nobody wants to see dark blue pieces of skin stuck between your teeth. That must be one of the most uncomfortable yet silly things, finding yourself chatting with someone who has no idea they have food hanging onto their teeth and you have to find a way to tell them without making them collapse in embarrassment wondering how may other folk they’ve grinned at who haven’t had the nerve to kindly let them know. Yes, sound like I’m speaking from experience? I am – on both sides of that story.

Read this article to give you 10 good reasons why you should include Blueberries in your diet.

As this is my only breakfast item, tend to make a large one which sees me through til midday when my tummy reminds me it’s time to eat again.

ingredients:
1 large banana
1 handful fresh blueberries, washed
1 good squirt of honey (or about a Tbsp if you must measure)
About a quarter cup raw Oats
Enough milk to take the total measurement up to around 400 ml

  1. Slice the banana into a large jug with clearly marked measurements up the side.
  2. Add the blueberries, honey and oats.
  3. Pour in sufficient milk as mentioned above (it will depend on the other quantities and how much space is left for the milk) but use your discretion as my amount may be too big or small for you.
  4. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth or in a liquidiser if you have one.
  5. Drink at your leisure or gulp it down as I do.

Enjoy!

 

Creamy Mushroom and Cheese Sauce

I’ve never really been a fan of a slab of red meat on my plate, even at a Steak House more often than not I’ll order ribs, chicken or fish. But occasionally I just get the need to tuck in, especially when I drown it in this rich creamy sauce.

Mushroom and Cheese Sauce

You really do have to use Portabello or some type of brown mushroom though, I just find the white button mushrooms pretty tasteless so only make this sauce if you can get your hands on some beautiful big brown specimens. Something I was told a long time ago by a chef friend is that you never wash mushrooms (or strawberries) as they are like little sponges and absorb water. Simply wipe them down with a clean kitchen towel or peel off any dirt patches using a sharp knife.

This sauce takes about 15 minutes to make and will separate if left on the stove too long so once it’s thick and gorgeously gooey, turn the heat down, or better still, turn it off completely but leave it on the hot plate as you definitely want it served hot/warm over your freshly seared and rested steak.

A great time-saving mid-week meal as the steak only takes a few minutes to sear over a very high heat, then about 5 – 10 minutes resting time and hey-ho! dinner is served! Simple enough with a side salad and baked potato, or chips.

Please use fresh full fat cream for this, no half and half or lite varieties. You’re really just wasting your money and time as it isn’t the same; and guaranteed, the cream will split and you can’t thicken split cream.

I’ve made this with many different cheeses, all depends on what I have on hand and what mood I’m in: creamy blue, a strong aged-vintage Cheddar, a milder, gentler Colby or even good old Edam. My latest attempt (not photographed) was using Parmesan, but I don’t think I’ll be trying that again. Just wasn’t the right cheese for a smooth creamy sauce although it still tasted good, if a little strong. My advise would be to match the choice of cheese with those meant to enjoy it. In other words, some people can’t bear blue cheese, they even find the thought of it off-putting, and often little kids prefer the milder varieties.

ingredients:
150 – 250 g Portabello or Swiss Brown mushrooms
1 – 2 Tbsp butter
1 – 2 cups full cream milk
½ – 1 cup grated/crumbled cheese (quantity depends on you – less for a strong cheese, more for a milder cheese)

  1. Clean and slice the mushrooms.
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan on the stove top and fry the mushrooms over a high heat. They will reduce during the cooking time, so more mushrooms is always better.
  3. Once the mushrooms have softened and cooked through, pour over the cream. Reduce the heat so the cream simmers, not boils and leave to infuse and reduce for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Sprinkle over the cheese and stir to melt and distribute throughout the sauce. The reduction of the cream and melting of the cheese will thicken the sauce.
  5. Turn the heat low or switch off the hot plate. If the sauce stands for a while before the meat is ready, it may separate, but a gentle stir will bring it back together.
  6. Serve warm over freshly seared and rested steak (also delicious over chicken, veal or beef schnitzel).

Enjoy!
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Potato and Chorizo Salad

I know I was going on about my favourite potato salad the other day, and I stand by what I said, but this one is pretty darn good too. The spiciness of the chorizo, the crunchiness of the veggies combined with the smooth garlicky aioli makes a very tasty light meal indeed.

Chorizo Potato Salad

It’s almost time for my fortnightly shop again, so the fridge is looking a little bare at the moment. Staring back at me was a mixed menagerie of left over fresh veggies that were begging to be used before being relegated to the compost bin and giving me the guilts about wasting.

Red pepper, green beans, a couple of handfuls of rocket and baby spinach leaves, along with the last of the potatoes in the pantry – hmmm. Blank. So in stepped Mr Google. It’s amazing what comes back to you when you enter in a few random food items. I was in luck and came across this salad.  My version is slightly different to the original from an older Taste magazine (I think), but that’s just me using up what I had. A quick whizz through the freezer produced frozen chorizo sausages I’d bought a month or so ago and voila! Let the creativity begin. I was only feeding 3 of us so used small quantities, but adjust accordingly. Simple and delicious!

ingredients:
1 – 1½ whole medium sized potatoes per person, so I used about 5
250 g Spanish chorizo sausage
100 g (or thereabouts) fresh green beans
1 large red pepper
a couple of handfuls rocket and/or baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste
aioli

  1. Scrub the potatoes and bring to the boil in a large saucepan on the stove, keep the skins on if you wish.
  2. Chop the chorizo and fry gently until crispy and cooked through. Drain on kitchen towel and set aside.
  3. Wash and cut the sides (flesh) off the red pepper, discarding the central stalk and seeds. Roast the red pepper over a gas flame or place it under the grill (about 200°C) in the oven, skin side up until the skin starts blistering and turning black. Remove from the oven and put into a plastic bag to cool. When you can handle the bag, remove the red pepper pieces and peel off the skin. It should come away easily. Slice the flesh into strips.
  4. Remove the cooked potatoes from the water and set aside to cool.
  5. Add the green beans to the potato water. Allow to boil for a couple of minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place the cooked beans in a bowl of iced water to cool down quickly.
  6. Slice the beans into halves/thirds and add to the chorizo along with the sliced red pepper, rocket and/or baby spinach leaves.
  7. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins (they should come away easily) and chop into bite sized portions. Add to the rest of the veggies.
  8. Add a few tablespoons of aioli until the veggies are well coated but not gooey. Season to taste and serve warm.

Enjoy!

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Valentine’s Day Shortbread Chocolate-dipped Hearts

I’m always amazed at how much some people invest in Valentine’s Day, whether financial or emotional; while others prefer to spread the love and attention out throughout the year. Whichever type of person you are, why not give a home-baked gift this year?

Shortbread chocolate-dipped hearts

Personally, I’m not phased if this day comes and goes because I think it’s become very commercial, but what I do enjoy, is listening to other people’s love stories that this Day of Love makes them reminisce about.

The other day on talk-back radio they had callers sharing their biggest regrets, and some were pretty random, but one man recounted that he had been married to his sweetheart for 55 years. He described it as “seeing an angel on the side of the road and being determined to find out who she was”. He managed to find her and has been in love with her ever since. His only regret was that he met her when he was in his forties instead of his twenties so he could have had more time with her. Awwww! Melts my heart!

The kind of love I enjoy throughout the year is the little things. When I leave work to do the school pick-up, I’m on a pretty tight schedule. Minutes count as I have a fair distance to cover to get to the school on time. I had a particularly busy week this past week and one afternoon as I was rushing out the door, I received a text message. Always inquisitive, I checked it as I got into the car, albeit a little harassed that whoever it was should know what a hurry I was in, only to see that it was from my husband, taking a few minutes out of his day to remember that I would be leaving work and on my way to the school. His message read “Be safe and don’t rush too much”.

True Love is the kind that you’re left with after the honeymoon period is over and after twenty years I can honestly say that I still get butterflies in my tummy when I know my hubby is on his way home. As a friend quoted on Facebook recently in honour of her parent’s 56th wedding anniversary, an adaptation of a verse from the bible, whether you’re Christian or not, this is a beautiful verse about Love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Happy Valentine’s Day from me to you. I hope you share it with your loved ones; partners, parents, children, extended family and wonderful friends included.

ingredients:
Shortbread cookies
Chocolate ganache (below)

 

  1. Bake the cookies as per the recipe in the link above, using a heart shaped cookie cutter and allow to cool.
  2. Prepare the ganache.
  3. Dip the cookies into the ganache and set aside on a cake rack over baking paper to set (or you can leave out the rack and put them straight onto the baking paper, but the chocolate sometimes pools and then doesn’t follow the shape of the heart).
  4. Allow to set before packaging them for your favourite person (or perhaps even just for yourself!).

Enjoy!

Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup fresh full cream
400 g milk or bitter-sweet dark chocolate, chopped

  1. Heat the cream in a saucepan on a medium heat until small bubbles form around the edge, but do not let it boil.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir gently to combine.

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Red Velvet Cupcakes

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner I decided it’s time to make my delicious Red Velvet Cupakes again. Not very “in vogue” at the moment, but then I never seem to follow trends, I do as I please, and I feel very pleased while writing this enjoying one of these smoothly-velvety-textured chocolate yet red little cakes. Covered in a dollop of cream cheese icing.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Even though there is a bit more work involved in this recipe, meaning that you will need to cream the butter until light in colour, thick and fluffy; then add the sugar and cream some more until the sugar crystals have broken down and the mixture is almost white, thicker and fluffier; and you need to be very careful when working with the red food colouring as it can be an extremely messy affair; it is well worth the effort when you finally get to take your first bite and I promise you, you’ll close your eyes to give the delightful harmony of the icing and cake the full attention it deserves!

Creaming of butter and sugar really does work best when the butter is at room temperature.

Make a batch for your special “other” or simply make a batch for yourself, either way, it is a very good use of your time and will be appreciated by all who get to savour them.

ingredients:
125 g butter, softened but not melted (room temperature)
1½ cups caster sugar
2 eggs (also at room temperature)
2½ cups flour
¼ cup cocoa
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp red food colouring (liquid works best)
2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla essence

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line muffin pans with 20 paper cases. You can try to stretch it to 24, but they may end up being a little small instead of being level with the top of the paper case once baked.
  2. Cream the butter until light (in colour) and fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to beat with an electric beater until very pale in colour and thick and creamy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.
  4. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda into a separate bowl.
  5. Combine the milk, food colouring, vinegar and vanilla essence in a separate jug/bowl and mix carefully until combined. It may look like it curdles slightly but don’t worry, that’s the effect of the vinegar on the milk.
  6. Fold the dry and wet ingredients into the creamed mixture alternately in three or four batches.
  7. Share the mixture evenly between the cases, filling about half to two-thirds of the way.
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer/cake tester/toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the tray for about 5 minutes, then remove the cakes to a cake rack to cool completely before icing with either chocolate ganache or cream cheese icing (as pictured).

Enjoy!

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Good old traditional South African Potato Salad

My husband teazes me that I must be Irish because of my love of potatoes. But having said that, this is his favourite salad – combining the humble yet versatile potato with hard boiled eggs, chives and tangy mayonnaise. We can’t go through Summer without having it at least a few times, especially with it being synonymous with South Africans and our braais, but it has to be this one. Variations are nice, but nothing beats the one I grew up with. And I am totally against the inclusion of condensed milk in any way, shape or form!

Traditional Potato Salad

Chopped gherkins, onions, spring onions, celery or even garlic can also be added for a bit of crunch and additional flavour, so the mayonnaise becomes a type of aioli, but my preference is keeping it plain, simple and delicious, so you actually get to enjoy the flavour of the potatoes and not just a mixture of condiments.

You can peel and dice the potatoes before boiling them, but I prefer to leave the skins on and the potatoes whole. The smaller the potato pieces, the bigger the chance of it all turning to mashed potato in the pot, and then especially when you stir the mayonnaise through. You want firm but cooked pieces of potato, so by cooking them whole, removing them from the water once cooked, leaving them to cool and then pulling the skins off, you actually save yourself a whole lot of peeling work too. The skins come off really easily and once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, you can chop them into bite size pieces.

My favourite mayonnaise for this when still in South Africa used to be Cross & Blackwell tangy mayonnaise – not the salad dressing. But after a few trials of different brands in New Zealand, I now only use Edmonds Light Whole Egg Mayonnaise or Heinz Seriously Good mayonnaise as they have the same tangyness we enjoy, not the overpowering sweetness of a few others I’ve tried, which totally spoils the salad for me – this particular salad – don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings out there, but this is what works for me. I’m sure yours is just as tasty the way you make it.

And lastly, but most importantly, the type of potato you choose will make a world of difference. In South Africa I don’t remember choosing a specific type of potato, perhaps everything is a lot more gourmet now, I wouldn’t know, but on arriving in New Zealand a decade ago, I was faced with Desiree, Agria, Nadine, Red Rascal and about 50 others. Confusion and disappointment as I realised there is no one-size-fits-all and my dishes didn’t turn out as I’d expected them to. But after a little exploration and investigation, I’ve settled on Agria as my go-to potato. Soft and floury on the inside, but if boiled properly, it retains it’s shape nicely. Some types are waxy, glassy, floury, and each has specific uses. This is a great article about NZ potato varieties, how produce differs throughout the season, growing conditions, uses, etc.

Quantities of ingredients will depend on how many people you are planning on feeding, so adapt what I’ve listed below as necessary. This list makes enough salad for about 4 adults as a side salad.

ingredients:
4 – 5 medium sized whole potatoes, unpeeled
2 – 3 large eggs
fresh chives and or parsley
1 Spring onion (optional)
½ cup mayonnaise
salt & freshly ground pepper

  1. Wash the potatoes and place them into a large saucepan with a little salt. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes. Poke with a cake tester. You want them to be firm, but the cake tester should still slide through easily.
  2. Put the eggs into a separate saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. I like to turn off the heat and cover the pot with the lid, leaving the eggs in the hot water for about 5 minutes. Then pour the hot water off and let stand in cold water for a few minutes. Remove and set aside to cool completely.
  3. Once the potatoes are cooked. remove them from the saucepan and set them aside until cool enough to handle. Gently remove the skins. When completely cold (room temperature is fine), chop the potatoes into bite size pieces.
  4. Peel the eggs and chop finely. Add two thirds to the chopped potatoes.
  5. Chop the chives and/or parsley and add to the potato-egg mixture.
  6. Season to taste and stir through the mayonnaise, taking care so you don’t break down the potato pieces.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining egg on top with a few more chives for garnish.
  8. Place into the fridge for a while to cool completely and serve.

Enjoy!

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