Approximations of the Nachos kind

I’ve mentioned the bountifulness of my pantry in a previous post, but what I didn’t mention was that its bountifulness means that I usually forget what’s in it. Sometimes I come home from the shops with 5 packets of pasta, only to find the pantry overflowing with their identical carb-loaded buddies. And then when I think I’ve got something in there, I actually don’t.

I used to flavour my beef for nachos and burritos with little sachets of Mexican seasonings purchased from the supermarket. Of course, one day when I started to cook nachos for dinner, my pantry yielded not even one little yellow packet.

Now Daddyken wasn’t home at the time, so it would have meant I either had to bribe the Cherubs with some lurid-coloured, sugar-infested sweet, or endure the wrath that is the Cherubs being dragged from whatever life-changing thing they were doing, into the car, in order to go to the shops just to buy a $2 sachet of ingredients that was probably more than 50% not natural.

So I rallied up my spices and winged it… and my family didn’t even flinch. Now the reason wasn’t because of my amazing culinary ability to reproduce authentic recipes based on the ingredients in seasoning packets, but because they’re used to me changing recipes on them. And unfortunately, they’ve never been to an actual Mexican restaurant… We have Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and Italian restaurants in the suburbs, but Mexican restaurants aren’t common – they’ve only really started to pop up in the city in the last few years.

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I’ve also found out recently that nachos isn’t actually an authentic Mexican dish. It’s Tex-Mex! Reminds me of when I tasted ‘Beef in black bean sauce’ for the first time in a Chinese take-away when I was a teenager. I couldn’t believe I was Chinese and had never come across the dish before! (there’s a reason why of course – it doesn’t actually exist in the dark, salty, gooey-sauce form that’s offered in take-aways). I have also never ordered it since.

Luckily Daddyken loves my approximation of Tex-Mex Nachos. It’s easy to make and the accompaniments make it light and fresh. And I hope that when we do eventually make it to a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant, they won’t be too startled with the difference in taste!

My Tex-Mex Nachos

Serves 4

Gluten free (if using corn chips)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 500g minced beef
  • Small bunch of coriander (plus extra for serving)

To serve:

  • Avocado, tomato, lettuce, chopped
  • Coriander
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Lime
  • Corn chips or tortillas (cut into wedges and toasted in oven)

Cook:

  • Heat olive oil on a medium-high heat and add the onions
  • Cook for 3 minutes and add the capsicum
  • When the onion and capsicum is soft, add the spices and tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes
  • Turn the heat up to high, add the mince and cook until the mince is cooked through
  • Turn the heat to low and simmer for half an hour
  • Add the coriander and simmer for another 10 minutes

To serve, spoon the meat mixture onto a bowl of corn chips or tortillas, add a spoonful of each of the veges, cheese, sour cream, coriander and a squeeze of lime.

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Notes:

  • The general method is to put the cheese with the meat under the grill for a yummy melted cheese sensation. We don’t – just because we think it’s yummy as it is and it’s also too much effort!
  • Daddyken likes to add store-bought tomato salsa to his nachos, but I think it’s fine without.
  • Eat without the corn chips or tortillas and you’ve got yourself a yummy, filling carb-free meal!

My foodie friend, the freezer.

As much as I would love to make totally amazing, fresh and inspired meals from scratch every night of the week with a wide smile and sparkle in my eye… when I’ve been out all day, just had a hard week, or my day involves the Cherubs trying to maim each other because he/she is staring at me well only because she/he said I was a bum but it’s because he/she said I was a custard… I just prefer to hide in my favourite corner of the family room with my mug of ginger tea, some nuts and the Food Channel.

But when the darlings eventually hunt me down for some sustenance because they couldn’t find custard anywhere, even with half an hour to go until dinner, I still feel the need to feed on something with reasonably complex flavours. And bread with peanut butter doesn’t come anywhere near complex. Ever.

And that’s where my large upright freezer with the 3 drawers and 3 shelves rescues me from my distress.

I freeze raw, marinated and cooked food, so in the afternoon, morning (or the night before if I’m unusually organised) I just take out a protein/pre-cooked meal of choice to defrost and I’m ready to cook or reheat at the end of the day. Perfect for those times when someone gets hurt because he/she said there’s a chicken on my head.

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So here’s a rundown of what’s in my freezer-for-those-rainy-days.

  1. Frozen meat

Portions of meat are handy when I haven’t had the chance or energy to go to the shops. Just defrost, marinate (or not) and cook.

Lamb cutlets or steak are a great standby because they don’t take too long to defrost.

2. Frozen meals

If I’m already crushing the garlic or mincing onions for 4 people, it won’t take that much extra time to crush or mince and cook for more. So when I make teriyaki chicken (a firm favourite with the Cherubs) or pretty much any dish, I cook 2 kgs of it, put the excess into large glass containers, let them cool down and then freeze.

If you’re more organized than I am, label the containers so you know what’s in them. Otherwise, I’ve never had too much trouble identifying what’s in the containers and I’m also pretty flexible. If I’ve taken out spaghetti bolognaise and it turns out to be burrito mince, I just pack the pasta and parmesan away in the fridge for another day, pull out the tortillas and grate some colby cheese. No sweat.

The meals I find perfect for freezing, especially because they taste better the day or week later are: butter chicken, burrito mince, spag bol and soups.

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3. Marinated meat

I get fresh meat, marinate it and pop into the freezer. This is for the meals which once cooked, I don’t think really stands up to freezing and reheating. Or when I’ve got a rare burst of energy, I just get some meat and marinate it. I then just have to cook it when I need it.

The meals I marinate and freeze are: honey soy chicken mid-wings, lemon garlic chicken mid-wings and lemon grass pork or beef.

4. Frozen veges and herbs

I always keep a pack each of frozen peas and corn. They’re yummy, healthy and cook in a flash. Sometimes if I’ve forgotten to cook rice, or we’ve just got enough left over rice for 3 people, Panda will happily have peas and corn as a substitute. Also in there is ginger, galangal and lemongrass, so I have access to them when they’re not in season.

I admit I’ve got a whole freezer to play with, but that’s only been a recent occurrence. Previously I had a normal fridge with a little freezer section. I’ve never played tetris, but Daddyken thinks I’d be amazing at it considering how I was able to pack a few week’s worth of frozen meals into that little freezer. But back then I also just made less ‘extra’ portions for freezing.

So while I’ll never be able to manage a wide smile or sparkle every night of the week, or ever, at least someone’s got a chicken on your head doing a poo, employees at American restaurants are still being caught doing every dodgy thing they’ve ever done exactly on the one night that the surveillance cameras are on, care of Food Network’s Mystery Diners, and I still get to eat food I love.

A Few Of My Favourite Things

Thick cream on cupcakes and laksas and seafood,

Pork crunchy crackling and hot dumpling noodles,

Fried crispy prosciutto and some deep fried wings,

Those are a few of my favourite things.

When my head hurts. When I feel bleak,

When I’ve got the flu,

I simply remember the things I could eat,

And then I don’t feel, so bad…

I got through Winter with just a slight sniffle. Now it’s Spring and I’ve got the damn flu. Even though my taste buds are in bed with a hot water bottle, I’m still thinking about all the yummy things I could eat. This flu is temporary but delicious food is forever : )

The Carb Curb

I adore a thin, chewy, stretchy pizza base cooked in a wood fired oven sprinkled sparsely with prosciutto, rocket and mozzarella. Sweet, gooey, sugar laden rose pink hued cubes of turkish delight. Thick, toasted sourdough bread spread generously with real butter. Slippery, slurpy noodles lazing in a warm bowl of beef pho…

Carbohydrates, glorious carbohydrates! Those comforting carbs…they just seem to be able to cuddle me in a way that no other food could. Every meal was only complete when there was a whole bowl or plate of them. Empty and unsatisfying without.

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But alas, my joyous run of uninhibited carb over-indulgence came to a screeching halt when I was pregnant with Soccer Boy. Gestational diabetes struck.

At the Diabetes Centre at the hospital, I was one of 6 pregnant mums politely nodding hello to each other. The nutritionist did her little talk about how our bodies can’t cope with the extra demand for insulin production resulting in high blood glucose levels, blah blah blah. That we could manage our gestational diabetes by monitoring blood glucose levels blah blah, adopting a healthy eating plan and performing regular physical activity, blah, blah, blah. Of course, I knew that I got this, with my healthy food and occasional exercise. How hard could it be?

She then went around the room asking each of us in turn about our diets. I nodded in sympathy with the other mums. Chapatis? Yes, of course you can still eat them. How many? 3? Oh, just have half. Of one. Yep, I thought smugly, three is definitely way too many. Half is perfect. Toast? No, not 4 slices, just 1 thin slice. If it’s a thick cut, have half of that. From my pedestal, I smirked. Who has 4 slices in one sitting anyway? That’s just gluttony.

And then she took out a small bowl with what looked like 3 spoonfuls of rice in it… I stared… um, how much did you say that I could have? One? Like that is, like, I mean, like that’s one serve you’ve got there in that bowl? In that silly plastic bowl, my carb allowance shrank by 70%. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the mum who ate too much toast give me an uncharitable look of sympathy.

So it turned out that I was eating the right things, just in the wrong proportions. Way, way wrong proportions. Apparently lots of carb, some more carb, just a bit more carb, lots of meat, more meat and a token vegetable, no matter how fresh, in the one sitting wasn’t the way to go. And I needed to spread my meals throughout the day. No more 3 large meals, just 6 smaller ones every 2 -3 hours.

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With effective management of gestational diabetes you’ll reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy and the birth of your babies. That darn nutritionist knew how to press my buttons.

So I withdrew from the restaurant scene (silly hidden carbs everywhere), and set my energy into writing a food diary for the nutritionist and started carb counting with military precision. Luckily Daddyken was reasonably patient. Can we have dinner now?

What? Oh, yes, in 23 minutes.

But everything’s cooked and ready.

Yes it is, but we’ll eat in… yep 22 minutes. I had my afternoon snack an hour and 38 minutes ago. It hasn’t been two hours yet.

I was determined to carb it up after Soccer Boy was born. And so after he came out fat and healthy, I totally eased up on my carb counting. But dang it – I found that I could no longer stomach the amount of carbs I used to inhale in my pre-Soccer Boy days. I just felt bloated, heavy and even unhealthy.

Five years on and I’m still working on trying to eat more vegetables and finding a good balance with the food that I eat and cook, although I have managed to curb my carb intake. Especially for the sake of the Cherubs, I try to minimize the amount of salt and sugar I add to our food, serve more whole grains and limit junk food to a bare minimum. But it’s hard when the Cherubs tell me what their school friends are eating (chips and Tiny Teddies) at recess, while they get apple or cucumber. And it’s particularly tough when they come home from a party with a lolly bag… have you ever seen a grown woman wrestle a lolly bag from a child?

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So you’ll find that the recipes I post will have been tampered with – usually the salt or sugar will have been reduced. Oh, but I’m not shy about fat in my food. No carb in that : )

A drink for a lazy winter’s Saturday

Today’s winter is 20 degrees, bright sun, blue sky and gentle breeze…perfect conditions that render a jacket necessary only inside the house!

And in the garden on the table sit freshly squeezed juice: blood orange from a generous neighbour down the street, orange from Daddyken’s parent’s orange tree and mint that’s growing in random places in our front yard.

I love the summery flavour – the blood orange is sweet and a little tart, while the orange juice is just wonderfully sweet – no extra sugar involved! Mixing the two juices and not straining the pulp is my recommendation. Apart from the perfect colour combination, it’s a perfect balance of summer on a lazy Saturday afternoon in Sydney.