Making the perfect lunch box

The perfect lunch box! Does such a thing exist? Of course it does!

The perfect lunchbox is the one that any parent puts together to send with their child to school or kinder. It doesn’t have to be packed full of homemade, raw, organic treats that you have spent the whole weekend trying to prepare even though you hate cooking. All the perfect lunchbox needs to be is food that nourishes your child’s body, provides their brain with enough glucose to concentrate, and adequate fuel to get them through the day.

Yes, I love cooking and I love baking and we always have several home made options on offer at any given time, but I appreciate that not everyone is lucky enough to have the time to prepare such foods, nor do most people enjoy it as much as I do. Plenty of families have 2 working parents, leaving time for dinner and lunch preparation and not a lot else, so I am not suggesting that you spend every spare second in the kitchen, but if you do have a spare half an hour, start by making a batch of picklets or muffins. These all freeze exceptionally well and if you make a double batch, you’ll have a good supply that will last a good 1-2 weeks. If you’re choosing to make some of my muffins or pikelets, choose the ones with berries rather than grated apple or carrot as they are less time consuming.

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What do kids really need at school?

A morning tea for most kids should consist of some form of fruit or vegetable. Whether that’s a whole piece of fruit, cut up fruit or even a fruit cup (in natural juice not syrup), it doesn’t matter. If you kids like veggie sticks by themselves, it’s a great way to get some extra veggies into them. Next, a source of protein to help to keep them going until lunchtime. This can be some hummus, or other, dip, with some wholegrain crackers, some yoghurt or cheese or some roasted chickpeas or fava beans. You can roast your own, or the supermarkets and whole food shops sell them – my kids LOVE them! If your child is at high school, and nuts are allowed, nuts are also a great option. A home baked pikelet, muffin, muesli bar, bliss ball or slice is a great option here as well.

Lunch should consist of 3 main things: Carbohydrates, Protein and Vegetables. A ham, cheese and tomato or cheese and vegemite sandwich on wholegrain bread is a perfectly nutritious option for a quick throw together sandwich. Add in a container of veggie sticks to add in the extra nutrients. If you have a bit more time to prepare and freeze some lunch options, things like fritters, zucchini slice, savoury muffins or sushi are excellent options. If you have some time to prepare lunch fresh, a protein and salad sandwich or wrap is a great option. As long as there is some form of protein (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese or bean/legume), carbohydrate (bread, rice, pasta, other wholegrain or potato) and some vegetables, your child will be set!

Most (primary) schools don’t like nuts being brought to school, which is quite disappointing as so many awesome snack recipes have nuts. However, if I had a child with an anaphylactic reaction to nuts, I would be pleased that such policies exist. As a result of this, I have been trying to adapt some of my nut filled snacks, such as muesli bars and bliss balls, so that they use seeds in place of the nuts. For the most part, they work quite well without the nuts. I will just have to save these nut filled snacks for afternoon tea.

If you’ve made it through this first week or so of school and have been scrounging the back of the pantry for things to fill lunchboxes, then set aside some time this weekend to do some lunchbox preparation. Make a batch of zucchini slice and fritters and pop them in the freezer and lunches will be sorted for the week! Add to this a batch of muffins or nut free muesli bars and snacks are sorted too. All you’ll need to do of a morning is grab some of each of these and a piece of fruit and/or some veggies and you’re set for next week, or longer.

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Hope this provides some inspiration xx.

 

Tuna and Bean Nicoise Style Salad

First of all, apologies for my absence in posting new recipes, but the holiday season and lack of routine has left me trying recipes out of new cookbooks I have been given or making quick meals, therefore, not coming up with anything creative and worthy of posting, but I’m back and will be aiming to post new recipes a little more frequently, as well as hoping to make a start on my cookbook this year!

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Tuna and beans (from a tin) are 2 ingredients which are highly nutritious and can be used as a meal in themselves or added to other amazing ingredients to make something really special, such as this salad.

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My inspiration for this salad came from an Instagram post from one of my oldest friends and ex-housemate. She was given a whole heap of tomatoes from her neighbour on a 40 degree day and mixed them with beans, tuna and pickled onions and lunch was sorted! This set my tastebuds tingling, so I sought out what we had in the vegetable garden and added a few more ingredients to the base, along with a dressing and thus we have this salad. Perfect as a meal by itself or you can omit the tuna and serve as a salad at a BBQ.

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Tuna, or other oily fish (salmon, sardines, cod) should be eaten three times per week to get the required amount of essential fatty acids the body needs. As most people wouldn’t eat whole or filleted fish three times per week, tinned fish is not only convenient, it also makes reaching this target more achievable. Tinned tuna is great for a snack and also a great addition to a salad to make it into a meal. My favourite tinned tuna is Sirena tuna as it’s not as fishy or cat food like as some of the other brands. Essential fatty acids, or omega 3s are really important for brain and heart health and have also been shown to improve mental health when consumed regularly, as well as decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease.

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You can use any beans for this salad. Four bean mix, borlotti, chickpeas, butter beans, cannellini beans, red kidney beans, whichever you feel like using. The beans I used, on this particular occasion, were chosen by Mark and Claire (who loved the salad by the way). If you prefer to soak your own beans then feel free to do so. Beans are a great source of fibre and non-animal protein, making them a really good choice for vegetarians and vegans to help to get adequate protein in the diet. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you would obviously omit the tuna from this recipe and the feta.

Enjoy xx.

 

Ingredients:

Serves 5

  • 2 x 400g tins beans (I used butter beans and cannellini beans), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 cob of corn, kernels removed
  • 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g green beans, ends trimmed, blanched and cut into thirds
  • 1/2 lebanese cucumber, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 50g olives, roughly chopped
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2/3 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 an avocado, cubed
  • 50g feta, crumbled
  • 190g tin Sirena tuna, oil drained

Dressing:

  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp capers, chopped

Method:

  1. Slice the onion as thinly as you can (a mandolin works well here) and place into a small bowl along with the white wine vinegar. Mix well and set aside for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Place the rinsed beans in a large bowl, along with the corn kernels, tomatoes, cucumber, green beans, olives, spring onion and parsley. Mix well to combine.
  3. Prepare the dressing by placing all ingredients into a small bowl and stirring well to combine.
  4. Add the avocado and feta to the beans, pour the dressing over the top and gently toss to allow the dressing to spread through the salad.
  5. Place into a serving dish or onto plates and top with tuna.

Summer Entertaining

Over the weekend, we had some good friends over for a festive season get together. Every year, we catch  up with these friends to celebrate, have a drink and most importantly, share some delicious food.

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I thought I would share our delicious dishes that we created this year, to provide some inspiration for the festive season with some simple, tasty dishes to share with family and friends.

Starters:

Labne Balls with Cranberries and Pistachio Nuts.

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This was the first time I have made labne and it is so delicious and easy. It is commonly eaten more as a dip, but these festive flavoured labne balls were a little bit special. Labne is simply Greek style yoghurt mixed with some salt and strained through a muslin cloth for 12+ hours to remove the whey protein. This leaves a thick yoghurt with a soft goats cheese consistency. I added a small amount of lemon zest and some chilli flakes (only a few as I knew small people would be eating these). After rolling into balls, I rolled them in chopped cranberries and pistachio nuts.

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Baked Camembert.

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If you haven’t tried baked camembert, it is truly amazing! Rich, gooey and delicious! Don’t waste your money getting the most expensive French triple cream camembert as it will be wasted. Any camembert will work well. If you do not have a suitable dish to bake the cheese in, make sure you choose a camembert in a wooden container that is stapled, NOT glued, as the glue will melt and you will have cheese all through the oven.

To make this beautiful cheese:

  1. Score the top of the cheese in a diamond pattern and stick a sprig of rosemary in each of the intersections.
  2. Bake for 10 minutes in a 180°C oven.
  3. While the cheese is cooking, chop 1 tbs of walnuts
  4. Once cooked, remove from the oven, drizzle with 1 tbs of honey and sprinkle the walnuts on top.
  5. Serve with crackers or thin slices of toasted bread.

Potted Salmon:

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Our lovely friends brought round this tasty salmon dish. It does involve clarifying butter, which actually isn’t as daunting as it may sound and is well worth it. The flavours of salmon, dill, capers and lemon work so well together in this yummy starter and can be served with fresh bread, crackers or toasted baguette.

Baked Samosas Cigars.

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These fill wrapped, Indian inspired, vegetarian cigars were also brought by our lovely guests. These were particularly popular with the kids and had chickpeas and plenty of flavoursome spice in them. They were served with a mango dip and a raita type dip.

Mains:

Smoked Rainbow Trout Salad.

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I have made this salad many a time and it is very loosely based on this salad from the Gourmet Traveller magazine. I am going to save my version for my cookbook!

Aaron cooks the fish on the BBQ with is smoker box, which gives an amazing subtle smoky flavour to the fish, and when mixed with the freshness of the Spring vegetables, fresh herbs and kipfler potatoes, it is definitely a crowd pleaser.

Corn, Mint & Pecorino Salad.

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If you want a super, quick and easy salad that is a taste sensation, then I highly recommend this corn salad. The recipe is originally from a restaurant in Byron Bay and has corn, mint, pecorino cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper as its ingredients! The corn needs to be char grilled, which can done on the BBQ, a the recipe suggests or under the grill or in a frypan. So light and fresh, it will accompany seafood so perfectly this festive season.

Barbecued Prawns with Honey and Sesame.

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These prawns were yet another Gourmet Traveller recipe, this time from this months Christmas edition, which means the online recipe isn’t yet available, so if you want the recipe, you’ll need to buy the magazine. They require the marinating of the prawns over night, but the marinade is simple, as is the cooking process and the cooked prawn is then just sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and drizzled with honey. So tasty!

Dessert

Cardomom, Rose and Gingerbread  Cake.

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I stumbled across this cake in my Instagram feed and I’m so glad I did. From a website called cardamom and tea, it is a simple cake that has to be one of the best cakes I have ever eaten. I would never have thought to pair gingerbread spices with rose water, but wow, what a combination. Whether it be for a Christmas party or a birthday, it is one cake that should not be overlooked!

I hope that this post has provided some inspiration for this busy and delicious time of the year.

Merry Christmas! Xx

Christmas Pudding Truffles

These little Christmas Pudding Truffles are Christmas in a mouthful. They are one of Aaron’s favourite, mainly because they contain fruit cake, but I have also had people who don’t like fruit cake love these.

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In the lead up to Christmas every year, I like to choose 5 or 6 delicious Christmas treats and bake them. These are for us to enjoy as a family, but also if someone pops round I have something festive to offer, and when we go to Christmas parties I will take a selection as a little thank you. Baked goods are also a great idea for teachers and coaches. In previous years I have also made hampers for family members, but I have 3 kids now, so time is of the essence.

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There are literally only 4 ingredients in these truffles and they are VERY easy to make. If you have a bit more time and like them to look pretty (as I do), you can decorate them with a toothpick and some food colouring. It does take a bit of time, but they look so good when they are done. An alternative to drawing holly and ivy onto every truffle is to use chopped place cherries and mint leaf lollies to give the same effect.

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When topping these with white chocolate, I suggest melting the chocolate and leaving it to thicken up for 5-10 minutes in the fridge. This helps the white chocolate to sit on top of the truffles, as opposed to dripping down the sides. I have made this recipe family friendly and used orange juice, but if children won’t be eating them, I highly recommend using some cointreau or brandy.

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I hope you have some time to give these delicious morsels a go this festive season.

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Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

  • 350g dark fruit cake, crumbled
  • 150g 70% dark chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1-2 tbs Cointreau or brandy (optional – if using use 1-2 tbs less orange juice)
  • 100g white chocolate, melted

Method:

  1. Place the crumbled fruit cake into a large bowl
  2. Add the melted chocolate, orange juice and alcohol (if using) and mix with a wooden spoon until it comes together.
  3. Roll into balls the size of a ping pong ball. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm.
  4. When ready to top these truffles, place the white chocolate into a microwavable bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir. Microwave for a further 30 seconds if needed, and continue until just melted.
  5. Place in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to thicken up.
  6. Remove truffles and chocolate from the fridge and top each truffle with ~ 1/4 tsp of white chocolate. Once all truffles are topped, return to the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Using a toothpick and some red and green food colouring, draw some holly and ivy on each truffle.
  8. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or in the freezer.

Speculaas Reindeer Biscuits

Since receiving the Sweet cookbook from Ottolenghi for my birthday 12 months ago, I have been systematically working my way through a lot of the recipes. All, which have been delicious. There are several recipes in there that are definitely more Christmassy than others, so I have been waiting to try some of them until this joyous time of year. One of these recipes is the Speculaas Biscuits on page 37.

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Speculaas biscuits are a Dutch spiced shortbread, which are traditionally baked for St Nicholas Day (6th December) in the Netherlands, which marks the start of the festive season. It is quite fitting that these biscuits were the first of my Christmas baking for this year, and I made them on the 3rd of December, so a little early (I was not aware of the origin of the biscuit when I made them). These biscuits are reminiscent of gingerbread, yet a different spice flavour and more crispy.

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I have made a few alterations to the original recipe, including replacing rum or brandy with lemon juice and omitting the flaked almonds from on top.

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I have ordered a patterned rolling pin, which I was hoping would arrive in time for my Christmas baking, but sadly, no rolling pin yet. So, the kids helped me decide upon the reindeer for these biscuits. The other choices were stars, bells and Christmas trees. I think the reindeer were a good choice.

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These biscuits are great with a cuppa and great as a gift. I only cooked half the batch when I made them and froze the rest of the cut out reindeers as I knew we wouldn’t get through that many biscuits in a week or so. It also means that the week before Christmas I can pull the frozen ones out and pop them in the oven so we’ll have fresh biscuits ready for any social events we will have in that week.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 3/4 tbs ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tbs star anise, ground
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp grond nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 330g brown sugar
  • 50ml lemon juice

Method:

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the dry ingredients and mix until it all comes together. The dough will be quite dry.
  3. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and wrap in plastic wrap, form into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until firm.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  5. Remove dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 0.5cm thick. Using a large reindeer cutter (or cutter of your choice), cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking tray. They won’t rise much, but ensure you leave at least 1cm between biscuits. Continue rolling and cutting with remaining dough.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly on the tray before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

Gingerbread Cinnamon Scrolls

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With Christmas fast approaching and our house desperately needing some more snacks, I decided to add a bit of festivity to my usual cinnamon scroll recipe, and they were a hit!

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Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. The magic, the carols, the festivities, the catch ups and the food! Every year, I make a list of Christmas goodies to bake for us to enjoy at home and share with family and friends. When it comes to baking, spices, especially gingerbread spices, added to anything, really give off the feel of Christmas, which by the way, I love! This simple addition, really lifted these scrolls and I think they may become a regular on my baking list.

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These Gingerbread Cinnamon Scrolls, just like the plain cinnamon scrolls, are super easy to make and make an excellent lunchbox or after school snack, and are freezer friendly. Whenever I make a batch, we all have one and then the rest go straight into an airtight container and into the freezer. This means that they can be popped straight into kids lunch boxes and defrosted by lunchtime, as well as helping to keep everything cool. Or, if you’re at home, 10 seconds in the microwave is all it needs.

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My kids love scrolls (as do I!). I have made several different flavours over the 12+ months that I have been making these for and everytime, they are all gone within a week. If you’re yet to try them, I highly recommend these ones as a starting point!

Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups SR flour
  • 90g butter
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1 tsp spice mix (see below)

Filling:

  • 3 tbs butter, softened
  • 2 tbs golden syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbs spice mix (see below)

Spice Mix:

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice

Glaze:

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tsp spice mix
  • 1-2 tbs boiling water

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Place flour, spice mix and butter into a food processor and process on medium speed until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add currants and milk and process for 1-2 minutes until it forms a ball.
  3. Lightly flour bench top and tip out the dough. Roll the dough out to about a 45cm x 30cm rectangle or until the dough is about 0.5cm thick.
  4. Mix the softened butter and golden syrup until it forms a paste. Spread over the dough.
  5. Sprinkle the spice mix over the butter, leaving about a 1cm edge on the long side for rolling.
  6. To roll the dough, start at the long edge and roll tightly away from you.
  7. Cut into 1.5-2cm scrolls, and place onto prepared tray, leaving room to rise.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes.
  10. While the scrolls are resting, prepare the glaze by mixing the icing sugar, golden syrup, spice mix and water into a small bowl. The glaze should be quite runny, so add more water if needed.
  11. Drizzle the glaze over the scrolls and enjoy warm or store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze.

Lemon and Raspberry Muffins

Muffins really are one of the best snacks for kids and adults alike and they can be packed full of goodness or just packed full of deliciousness if thats what you prefer.

The thing I like best about muffins is probably that they freeze really well, meaning I can make a batch and there isn’t the pressure to eat them all before they aren’t so good anymore. This allows variety throughout the weeks.

These lemon and raspberry muffins came about as we had a whole heap of lemons that Mum gave us and we had frozen raspberries in the freezer. If we had blueberries, they would have been lemon and blueberry muffins, which would also be a nice match. This is a really basic recipe and requires no beaters, just 2 bowls, one for wet and one for dry ingredients. I have used coconut oil, but you can use a vegetable oil if you prefer.

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The kids really liked these muffins, as they do any muffin. They are great for lunch boxes as they can go straight from the freezer and are defrosted by morning tea and help to keep the rest of the lunch box a little bit cool.

Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Makes 18 muffins

  • 3 cups plain flour (you can use wholemeal)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g white sugar
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 tbs natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 cup frozen raspberries

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare muffin tray.
  2. Place flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and mix to combine.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the eggs and sugars until combined. Mix in the milk, lemon juice, yoghurt, zest and vanilla and mix to combine. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and lightly mix. Add coconut oil and mix. Do not over mix.
  4. Gently fold in the raspberries and avoid over-mixing to avoid excess running of the raspberries.
  5. Spoon mixture into prepared muffin tins and flatten the top.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.