live life, celebrate food, share both with those you love

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Portable, aka work, lunches

As promised in my last post, here are some tips! There are lots of options; you’re only limited by your imagination and the effort you put in. 

Leftovers (obvious ain't it?)
For me, this is the obvious choice – take leftovers from dinner the night before... assuming there are any leftovers! Get yourself some really good quality microwavable containers in various sizes. My preference is Tupperware, but get whatever you prefer - plastic takeaway containers are not a good option though, trust me! Some quality containers even have a divider in them, so your curry doesn’t touch your rice. Better yet, if you’ve got lots of leftovers, freeze them in individual portions so that you can grab one and go. Lifesaver when you’re running late!

Tips for leftovers:
  • Curries, stews, pasta dishes and some stir-fry’s are the best options, as they are easiest to reheat. Anything with a lot of moisture (or sauce) should reheat evenly.
  • If you’re reheating frozen food, try to defrost the night before for the best results.
  • Potatoes generally don’t freeze too well, so leave these out if you need to pop food in the freezer.
  • When reheating something that’s in one piece, like a wedge of lasagne, try cutting it into four smaller pieces first. This should (hopefully) give you four hot pieces, instead of one slab with an icy center – yuck!
  • Don’t like your rice soaking up sauce while it’s sitting in a container? Put your saucy meal on the bottom of the container and the rice on top. Once it’s warmed up, you can turn it out into a bowl – yum!
  • Frozen rice will reheat in about a minute on high!
  • Take precautions with microwaves as they all vary. Food might be searing hot on the outside but still frozen in the middle.
  • DON’T put foil in the microwave – it can explode.

Sandwiches / Wraps 

Sandwiches and wraps are another popular option for a workday lunch. The combinations of fillings are endless! 

Tips for sandwiches /wraps:

  • If you have a fridge at work, why not keep some staple ingredients to save transportation? Lots of office workers are near some sort of supermarket these days, so you could keep sundried tomatoes, cheese, spreads, etc in the fridge ready for when you need it. You might even purchase some items to share with another co-worker!
  • Hate soggy sandwiches? Lay your sliced tomato on absorbent paper towel for a minute. No more soggy bread!
  • Wraps store for about 12 months in the freezer and only take a few seconds to defrost.
  • Bread also freezes really well and lots of offices have toasters, so you could whip up a warm lunch in less time then it takes to go downstairs.
  • If it’s easier to bring in a fresh sandwich each day, Tupperware have some fantastic Sandwich Keeper boxes that will keep your sandwiches fresh for 24 hours! I use these all the time and swear by them. Definitely a case of “you get what you pay for!” (I don't sell them, I promise)


Salads are a great option in summer and are easy to throw together the night before, or with a bit of prep in the morning. If you’re going to eat salads for most of the week, why not do some prep on the weekend to make your mornings easier?

Tips for salads:
  • Slice up carrots, capsicum, cucumbers and store in airtight containers in the fridge.
  • Grab a big bag of mixed lettuce leaves or baby spinach from your local supermarket.
  • Rice salads can be made in advance and will stay good for 3 days. Add small amounts of different proteins, like grilled chicken or canned tuna, each day to make it different from the last.
  • Cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms and croutons will stay fresh for about a week and will jazz up any salad.
  • Can’t stand ‘rabbit food’? Bacon pieces and chunks of roasted potatoes will keep even the keenest carnivore satisfied.
  • Keep a bottle of two of pre-made dressings in your desk drawer or fridge. But be careful if you’re watching your weight as commercial dressing can be loaded with extra fat and sugar.
When I’m in a super rush, I’ll grab the following: 1 small can each of 4 bean mix, corn and tuna. When it's time to eat, I drain the cans, throw together into a bowl with a splash of vinegar and mix. Quick, healthy, cheap and delicious!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Want new shoes? Stop buying lunch!

Ok so we hear it all the time and for some of us the idea of a budget is ‘so lame’. But have you ever really stopped to think what buying your lunch every day is really ‘costing’ you? First, some facts, then, some tips... 

I LOVE! (img Tony Bianco Shoes)
Fact #1 – buying lunch is hideously more expensive
Don’t be fooled! You can almost always make your meals for at least half the price at home, sometimes even cheaper, ie: a cafe style coffee will cost about $1 to make at home vs almost $4 at a city cafe. Most lunches will generally set you back $10 on average these days and generally, that doesn’t include a drink. That equals $2,600 a year just on lunch! 

Fact #2 – store bought lunches have lots of hidden nasties
This is true whether you’re watching your waistline or just very conscious of what you put into your body. Most sandwiches that are for sale at your local cafe are double the size they were 5 or 10 years ago – that’s double the calories, double the gym sessions... you get the idea. There’s also loads of hidden salt, fat and sugar in almost everything we buy. Would you normally put THAT much butter, mayo, cheese, deli meat on a sandwich you made at home? And don’t even get me started on how some of the food is ‘hygienically’ prepared and stored. (That’s a rant for another blog) 

Fact #3 – I find most bought lunches are disappointing
Forgive this onerous generalisation, but for me it’s true. I’m always just that little bit disappointed with lunchtime fare. The bread is a little soggy, the tomato could have been riper, that’s not the cheese I requested but I can’t be bothered arguing because I’m running late for a meeting. Tell me you haven’t had a similar moment?! 

Fact #4 – everyone needs a day off!
I’m not saying that you should take every single meal, snack and coffee with you to work from home! I’m just as busy as you are and we all need a break. For me it’s Friday – I don’t cook a single thing on Fridays. It’s all lunch orders, take away and wine for us. Pick a day that works for you and make it one of your treats for the week.

Need ideas for portable lunches that are quick and simple? Check out my next post...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

When I needed chocolate the most...

Last week, was a particularly miserable week. Not only had the weather taken another soggy, frosty turn, but work was, well... super duper sucky!

When I finally got home at 8:15pm on Wednesday night, the love of my life had a little surprise waiting for me - chocolate cake! But not any old packet mix cake, oh no! He pulled out all the stops! He made THE richest chocolate cake FROM SCRATCH with a choc-orange ganache = pure bliss!!

What has someone made you to cheer you up?

Buon appetito!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Recipe: "Red" sauce

Have you noticed it's all the rage to 'know what you're eating' these days. But I think someone should hold classes in how to read food labels! I can't interpret them!

However, one thing I do know is that commercial pasta sauces are SO high in sugar and salt, it’s ridiculous. Some can contain 6 tsps of salt for such a tiny jar, ick! And what's with all the sugar?? I do know that some Italians (not me) do put a small spoon of sugar in their sauce, but I think it just depends on the tomatoes they've used.

We Italians, normally call tomato based pasta sauces ‘red sauce’ and every Nonna has a signature recipe that they do all the time.

I'm not a Nonna, not even quite a Mamma yet, but here’s a super basic ‘red’ sauce and you can change it into a bagillion different sauces. As you can see from the pic, I normally double or triple it and freeze it in small snack sized bags which serves around 2 people.

Basic red sauce – ‘Napoli’ style 

1 onion, diced finely (brown or red)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
2 x cans tomatoes or jar of Passata (Always buy Product of Italy, they just taste better and they should be whole not diced, as the diced are more watery. I blend the canned tomatoes as we don’t like chunks)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
Small sprinkle of chilli flakes
Fresh parsley and basil

How to… 

- Heat a heavy based pot and add a good glug of oil and a small knob of butter – it’s a flavor thing.
- Gently cook the onion for a few minutes to soften, but not brown. Then add garlic and cook for about a minute.
- Add the tomatoes and stir in the bay leaf, oregano, about a tsp of salt and a good crack of pepper – a tiny sprinkle of chilli flakes really livens the sauce without making it spicy.
- Bring to boil and check your seasoning, you may need a little more salt.

- Simmer lid off for around 20 minutes, the sauce should reduce and thicken up a little.
- Add fresh chopped herbs to finish off.

Parma Sauce 

My husband loves Chicken Parmigiana which is just a cooked chicken schnitzel, topped with a little sauce, a sprinkle of cheese and melted under a hot grill.  Kids love this too and it's a great way to hide vegies if you have fussy eaters.  I add a grated carrot and finely chopped celery in with the onion, or you could pan fry separately and add the sauce to combine.

Add minced meat (pork and veal combo is traditional) after you’ve cooked the onion and garlic. I also like to add mushrooms or peas (at the end) just to be different, and a little water if it’s too thick. A beef stock cube is a good idea too for a really robust sauce.


This is too easy!
- Make the sauce.
Buy some quality Italian sausages.
- Pinch the sausage about an inch from the end between two fingers and drag along the skin to create little “meatballs”. Drop straight into a hot frying pan, fry off, then add some sauce. YUM!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Recipe: Cookies, nom nom nom!

I'm not sure what 'made' me have to bake cookies last night... it could've been the bub I'm currently incubating... or the fact that a radio star has been forced to wear a Cookie Monster outfit to the snow this week... or the episode of Everyone Loves Raymond on TV last night that revolved around girls scouts selling cookies... the universe conspired and I HAD TO OBEY!

Enjoy with a glass of cold milk :)

Makes 40 small or 20 large cookies.

125g butter, room temperature
1c brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
2 c plain flour
100g chocolate, chopped
3/4 c coconut or chopped nuts or rolled oats

- Preheat oven to 190°C
- Using a cake mixer or handheld beaters, beat the butter and brown sugar until pale and creamy.
- Add the eggs and vanilla and mix to combine.
- Add all the dry ingredients and mix well. You want the mix to come together but don't over mix the dough.  
- For smaller, flatter cookies, roll out teaspoons of the dough onto a cookie sheet or flat tray, leaving a little room for spreading.
- For larger, cake like cookies, roll out tablespoons of the dough onto a cookie sheet or flat tray, leaving a little room for spreading.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden.  Cookies firm up as they cool, so don't worry if they feel softer then you like.
- Using an egg flip, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Tip: for a crisper cookie, flatten the dough ball out a little before you bake.

Monday, 1 August 2011

How many chickens can I squeeze into my freezer?

Last night I got home, cold, hungry and broke.  My only option was to cook but what could I do in hurry? After having a quick look in the freezer I noticed I had some frozen chicken thighs, already cleaned and sliced up, perfect for a 15 minute curry and I knew we'd have enough left over for lunch the next day - two meals covered with half the effort!

When storing food, the best time saving tip I can give you is: store food in a way that is useful for you! Well, preparation is super important too... ok, so maybe that's two tips.

It's essential that you store items in a way that best suits your cooking style.  For example, I have two freezers... hey I'm European; I only know how to feed 20 people at a time!  Unlike me, you might only have a freezer the size of a shoebox, so buying in a large quantity might not be an option.  That's ok, but if you optimise the way you prepare and freeze your meats/meals, you'll maximise your space and save time.

Whenever I buy chicken fillets, I always buy in 2 or 3 kg lots - depending on the storage space left in my freezer and the cash in my purse.  But it's how I prepare and store the chicken that is a real time saver.

To store items in the freezer, I use ziplock bags or good quality, airtight plastic containers.  (Obviously containers are better for the environment, but sometimes I run out)

How can I say 'no' to that face?! :)
Firstly, if you've bought chicken breast fillets with the skin on, you'll need to pull it off... unless of course you're making something that requires you to leave the skin on.  I normally pull it off and give to my very grateful puppies - but not too often or they get fat and the Vet yells at me!

Next, separate the tenderloins - it's the little flappy bit underneath the breast.  Again these should just pull off.  Tenderloins are great in a stir fry, on a skewer or crumbed as quick mini-schnitzels.  They cook very quickly so I normally store them all together in one bag, but store them flat so they'll defrost quickly.

Now, slice up 2 of your chicken breasts into strips... now you have about 500gr of stir-fry strips or taco strips ready to go!

Freeze the rest of your breast fillets as singles or doubles depending on how you normally cook.  Singles fit perfectly in the snack size ziplock bags and you should be able to fit between 2-4 fillets in a sandwich sized bag.
Thigh fillets are great for curries, casseroles, bbqs - anything with a longer cooking time or intense heat.  Chop some fillets into nice, big chunks, great for a curry or casserole.

Lastly - and most importantly - grab a permanent marker and write the contents and date on the bags!!  Or put stickers on your containers.  I also include the approx weight just as a quick reference point.  Oh and don't forget, you can only freeze items for certain periods of time.  (Check out my Freezer Guide)

Can anyone make raw chicken look glamorous?!