Lemony baked parmesan mushrooms

parmesan mushrooms 4 Lemony baked parmesan mushrooms

Things have gotten a bit off track with my eating recently.  We seem to have had a flurry of morning and afternoon teas at work for farewells, welcomes, birthdays and any other type of occasion you can think of for celebrating.  On top of that we have had a family birthdays and lunches out where eating has been the order of the day.  It does make me think why so many of our celebrations focus on food rather than other activities.

When I was losing weight and had a goal it seemed much easier to say no to that piece of cake (or maybe I should say that second piece of cake….)  Now that I am just maintaining it is just that little bit harder to keep that focus.  I must admit that in the past I haven’t really gotten on board with the whole goal thing but I am now rethinking that and looking and where else I could use some good clear goal setting to tidy up my life.

Beside the weight on the scales going up ever so slightly, I have also noticed that I have become tired again and my skin is not looking as good as it did a few months ago.  I didn’t notice an increase in energy when I was losing weight, but that may have been because it was such a gradual thing – like the weight loss itself.  I suspect that eating too much sugar is the culprit.  It is highly unlikely that I will ever cut sugar completely out of my diet and I don’t really believe in completely cutting something out of a diet unless it is for medical reasons or ethical reasons.   But I am now working on getting back to reasonable levels and eating healthier again.

When I am looking for great low calorie meals that are still filling, mushrooms are often my go to ingredient.  I find mushrooms fill me up in a similar way to protein but don’t have the same number of calories.  One of my absolute favourite mushroom recipes is this one for mushrooms baked with parmesan, thyme and lemon.  Not only is it low calorie (about 150 calories) but it is just scrumptious and so easy to make.  It feels quite substantial when you eat it but the lemon makes sure the taste isn’t too heavy.

parmesan mushrooms 2 Lemony baked parmesan mushrooms

To make this recipe for one I used the following ingredients:

  • 200g swiss brown mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • 1 tbs of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic (equivalent to one clove of garlic)
  • ½ tsp of dried thyme
  • 1 tbs grated parmesan cheese (I have also used pecorino when I had leftovers from another recipe and it was equally delicious)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Flat leaf parsley to garnish

I followed the recipe as given but I mixed everything in a bowl before putting it on the baking tray rather than on the baking tray.  The first time I made this I tried tossing on the tray but I couldn’t get everything nicely mixed.  Using a bowl was much easier.

I had mine on some toast but the mushrooms would also go well on top of a baked potato or can even just be eaten by themselves.   Even if you doubled the recipe it would only be 300 calories.

Bison ceramics and lunch at Eightysix (86)

bison Bison ceramics and lunch at Eightysix (86)

For my birthday, my lovely friend Elizabeth and her family took me out to lunch at Eightysix (86), a newish restaurant in Canberra.  My brother had raved about it but it had mixed reviews on a couple of website – mainly about the service.  I am not sure if going at lunch time made a difference, but the service we received was fabulous as was the food.  The restaurant does share plates and we ordered a couple to make sure we had some child friendly food and then let the waitress do the rest.  We got food that we might not have normally ordered that was just amazing.  My favourite was a whole trout stuffed with lemongrass and mushrooms.  The waitress ordered us pretty much the right amount of food though we did order on additional dish after she had bought her recommendations that we probably didn’t really need.

At dinner, 86 do two sittings so things may not be as relaxed in the evening.  Two sittings are one of my pet peeves. If I go to the early session, I feel rushed from the get go and if it is the late sitting I am normally either starving by the time the food has arrived or I have succumbed to pre-dinner nibbles and don’t have enough room for the meal.

bison 2 Bison ceramics and lunch at Eightysix (86)

The food was served in beautiful bowls from Bison, a local company that creates the most stunning ceramic products.  They have created a beautiful range for Canberra that features a popular motif – a tree that has been liberally planted in Canberra.

The lovely coincidence is that Elizabeth gave me some beautiful Bison pieces for my birthday – to enjoy but also to use as props on this site.  How gorgeous are the pieces she gave me.   I think my favourite is the small jug – it has such a beautiful shape and a luminous quality to it.

bison 3 Bison ceramics and lunch at Eightysix (86)

And how cute and clever is the little flower that this all came with.  It is made from post it notes.

bison 5 Bison ceramics and lunch at Eightysix (86)

I have checked on the Bison website and anyone in Australia can order from them and for those overseas they suggest that you contact them first to see how much shipping is.

bison 4 Bison ceramics and lunch at Eightysix (86)

Note this is not a sponsored post.  The ceramics I have featured I received as gifts from a friend who purchased them.  My friends paid for my lunch and I have since been back to 86 for my Dad’s birthday as a paying customer, enjoying another fantastic meal.

Tuscan Chicken Skillet

tuscan skillet 2 Tuscan Chicken Skillet

For those of you who have been reading my blog regularly, you will know that I don’t subscribe to any particular diet.  I believe in pretty much everything in moderation with some things in more moderation than others.  I think there is nothing like banning something completely to make it seem that much more enticing.  Of course there are people with medical conditions that mean they do have to cut out certain food and I have vegetarian and vegan friends who don’t eat meat or other animal products for ethical reasons. But I think for the everyday person , you are just looking for a balanced diet.

Of course there is then the question of what is balanced and I am not a nutritionist so that is one question I will leave up to the experts.  But there is quite a bit of advice out there that suggest the Mediterranean diet is a pretty good place to start.  The diet is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil and herbs and spices and lighter on the red meat and sweets with fish, seafood, poultry eggs and cheese eat in moderate amounts.  There is a good infographic on the Mayo Clinic website giving more detailed guidance on how often to eat each group.  It unfortunately doesn’t give portion sizes so while it says to eat fish and seafood at least two times a week, it doesn’t say what that size serve should be.  What I do particularly like is that it says red wine in moderation is absolutely ok!

There are lots of books and websites out there on the Mediterranean diet if you want to read more.  Laurie Constantino has published a list on her blog of other blogs promoting Mediterranean recipes.  Some of these blogs are not active but in the wonderful world of the internet, the recipes are still there to try.

This recipe for a Tuscan chicken skillet incorporates many of the good attributes of the Mediterranean diet.  It uses olive oil as the healthier fat (yes they do exist), tomatoes, cannelini beans (my all-time favourite bean) and herbs.  The protein is chicken but I reckon you could do a firm white fish if you really wanted to go all out on the health factor and that would probably also reduce the cook time.

Plus as an added bonus it all cooks in one pan. No sides required at all.  There is a bit of chopping and dicing required but not too much and most importantly of all it is tasty.  The first time I made it the dish was a little bit bland – possibly because I couldn’t find fire roasted tomatoes so maybe the tomato taste was not as flavoursome as it should have been.  To overcome this I add some chilli flakes in to give it an extra hit of flavour.

To make this for one I used the following ingredients:

  • 2 tsp of olive oil (you may need to add a dash more when you add the onions.
  • 130g chicken breast tenderloin or chicken breast cut to a similar size
  • ¼ tsp of sea salt
  • ¼ tsp of freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp of oregano
  • 1/8 tsp of thyme
  • 2 tbs of onion, diced
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic (equal to one clove)
  • 90g of button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup of sundried tomatoes, sliced
  • 100g of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 200g of diced canned tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp of chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley for garnish

Following the recipe, cook time was about 26 minutes – I cut back on the cook time from ten minutes to eight minutes for the final part.  It only took me 10 minutes of preparation time but I used pre minced garlic.  In the first part of the recipe where you brown the chicken I used 1 teaspoon of olive oil. I then add a teaspoon when I took the chicken out and added the mushrooms.  When I removed the mushrooms, there wasn’t much oil for sautéing the onions so I added a dash more.

The calories come out at about 400 calories which is fabulous for a filling one pot dinner.

Cheesy Chipotle Cauliflower Casserole

cauliflower chipotle Cheesy Chipotle Cauliflower Casserole

I have just finished reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Cheesy Chipotle Cauliflower Casserole by Susan Cain.  I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction and particularly not books that might sit in the self-help section.  But Quiet had been recommended to me by a couple of people and the local library had a copy so figured I had nothing to lose.  I loved it so much that I have bought my own copy.

It is not a traditional self-help book in that much of it is about considering introversion and what that means in today’s society.  There are some tips to help introverts like me but the focus is much more on how introversion is not a bad thing and that introverts have as much to contribute as anyone else if given the chance and appropriate environment.  I am much more comfortable with my introversion now than when I was growing up but I still found the book reassuring and comforting – introversion is not a bad thing.

One of the other things I like about the book is that while it is talking up introverts, it also has examples on how introverts and extroverts have worked together to get a better outcome.  Just not necessarily in the traditional team setting.   Neither introversion nor extroversion are wrong, just different and both should be valued.

But you are probably actually here not to hear about my reading adventures but to get ideas of cooking and eating.  Quite a while ago, I discovered a place in Canberra where I could get chipotle in adobo sauce.  I used a small amount to make this Moroccan chicken and since then the remainder that I minced and put in ice cube trays has been languishing in my freezer.  At the time I made the Moroccan chicken I was seeing heaps of recipes incorporating chipotle in adobo and then as soon as I find it, poof, they disappeared.  How does that happen?

But then I came across this recipe for cheesy chipotle cauliflower casserole.  Just the title of this recipe is enough to make me swoon.  I love cheese, chilli and casseroles and yes I also love cauliflower.  Growing up, cauliflower with cheese sauce was one of my favourite meals.  My mum tells stories of going to stay in a caravan with my gran and me insisting on cauliflower with cheese sauce for every meal.   Then in brackets after the recipe title it says low carb and gluten free.  I am not on a low carb nor gluten free diet but eating foods that proclaim themselves as such does make me feel like I am eating a healthy option though with the cheese and other creamy goodness in this recipe it is pretty clear why low fat does not rate a mention.

My main grumble with this recipe is that I didn’t manage to get mine to look as pretty.  I printed the recipe without the picture to save on printer ink and then chopped my tomatoes to finely.  Not that this affected the taste mind you, just the visual appeal.

To make this for one I used the following ingredients:

For the puree:

  • ¼ head of cauliflower
  • ½ tbs of heavy cream
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 tbs of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp pureed chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
  • A pinch of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the casserole:

  • 1 and ½  tbs salsa verde (I used ready-made)
  • 2 tbs of light sour cream
  • 4 cherry tomatoes chopped in half
  • ¼ cup of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

I dialled back the salsa verde as the one I have bought is quite spicy – or maybe I am just becoming a chilli wimp.  I also skipped the pickled jalapenos as it was a bit expensive to buy them just for one meal.

cauliflower chipotle 3 1024x1021 Cheesy Chipotle Cauliflower Casserole

I followed the instructions fairly closely the first time around but found that resulted in rather brown cauliflower.  My microwave is 1100w and with the smaller amount of cauliflower it got overzapped.  So second time around I only cooked the cauliflower in the microwave for 5minutes before adding the butter and cream and then 6 minutes afterwards.  It was still a bit overdone but only slightly and I don’t think it affected the taste.  I baked the casserole for 20 minutes – I often find I have to cut back on the cook time when I shrink a recipe. Preparation time is about 5-10 minutes and cook time is about 35 minutes.

My cauliflower wasn’t smooth after processing – I have a cheap and nasty processor but it was nicely crumbled and tasted great.  The recipe comes in at about 350 calories and I found it quite filling with the cheese.  It goes well with a nice piece of toasted sourdough.

Note there are affiliate links in this post.  If you click on the link and purchase the book, I will receive a small portion of the price. 

Beef stir-fry with peanut sauce

thai beef with peanut sauce 2 1024x768 Beef stir fry with peanut sauce

For my niece’s birthday a few months ago, my brother suggested I get my niece some dress up costumes.  My niece has a fabulous imagination and loves dressing up and pretending to be someone else.  I popped along to the local toy store with good intentions.  I wanted to get her something to inspire her.  There were loads of amazing outfits for boys – they could be firemen, astronauts, super heroes and doctors just to name a few.  But the choice for girls pretty much centred around dressing up as a Disney princess.

With hindsight, I should have bought the astronaut costume and just removed it from its packet – I knew my niece would not have been impressed if I had bought her a boy’s costume.  But it wouldn’t have seemed like a boy costume if there hadn’t been a boy picture with the costume.

Not only were most of the “girl” costumes for Disney princesses but they were also pretty impractical.  The mermaid costume with its super tight skirt looked like an accident waiting to happen.  I know I couldn’t have walked in it.  I worry about what this is saying to young girls.  Should they just sit around and look pretty and not go out and have adventures?  There were definitely no adventures to be had in the mermaid costume.

In the end I managed to find an Alice in Wonderland costume, which turned out to be a streak of genius.  My niece went to an Alice in Wonderland themed party not that long after her birthday and the present solved any costume making dilemmas for my sister-in-law.  At least Alice had adventures.  I also bought a Barbie ballerina outfit which was more pink than I would have liked but my niece loves pink and dancing so in reality a good pick.  Cause I don’t want to force my ideas on my niece and her life, and I do think dancing should be pretty much a feel good activity for anyone – my niece’s love of dancing reminds me of this every time I see her.

One of the interesting things about food blogging is that from my limited experience, food bloggers are primarily female.  I think the food industry is a strange one in terms of how the genders are represented.  So many of the top chefs are male, yet I think it is still fair to say that at home, women generally take on most of the cooking jobs.  And it is these home cooks that you often see food blogging.  Of course there are also professionally trained female chefs blogging.

But this recipe for beef with Thai peanut sauce comes from a male blogger.  Mike, who is the creator of The Iron You blog, writes about not only food but also health and exercise, though the emphasis does seem to be on food – at least for the period I have been following his blog.  If you are looking for great healthy recipes, there are some wonderful looking recipes on this blog.  This is the first one I have made but I have quite a few others flagged to try.

To make this for one I used the following ingredients:

  • 130g of steak – I bought beef already cut into strips so I have no idea what the cut was.
  • ½ tbs of olive oil
  • 15g peanut butter
  • 1 tsp of honey
  • ¼ tsp of minced garlic
  • ½ tsp of Sriracha sauce – mine was most definitely store bought
  • About 1-2 tsp of hot water
  • 1 spring onion (scallion), sliced on the diagonal for garnish

As the recipe title says, this meal is super quick to make – easily on the table in under half an hour.  There is about 10 minutes preparation – less if you buy pre cut beef and minced ginger.  I wasn’t that impressed with the beef strips I bought so am going back to cutting up my own beef.  It tends to be cheaper and I have more control over how fatty it is.  That is I like pretty much no fat except for some light marbling when I making a stirfry.  I can also make sure the beef is lovely and thin.

thai beef with peanut sauce 4 Beef stir fry with peanut sauce

If you use the ingredients listed on the original recipe, it is gluten-free.  My version wasn’t as I used ordinary soy sauce.  I followed the recipe as given, adding one teaspoon of water at a time to check the consistency of the sauce.  I cut back a bit on the water – unlike Mike, I like my peanut sauce fairly thick.  My beef also cooked quicker than suggested (5 minutes compared to the 10 in the recipe), but I like my steak rare and generally err on the side of slightly pink when cooking stir-fries.  Taking this into account the recipe takes less than 10 minutes to cook.

The resulting dish was good but not quite as good as the peanut beef I have had in Thai restaurants.  It was a bit light on in the peanut department.  I suspect that this is because it is a healthy version of the one the restaurants provide.  Maybe not one that can be truly made healthy?

It is already not the lowest calorie dish on the block so adding more peanut butter would up the calories quite a bit.  The original recipe says it is 454 calories per serve.  When I put it in to myfitnesspal, I get 358 calories which is a huge difference and I am not sure which one is more accurate.

Thai curry turkey meatballs

thai meatball 4 Thai curry turkey meatballs

In my previous life when I didn’t pay attention to things like calories and suitable portion sizes, I had a recipe for a delicious green chicken curry.  I love curry sauce with rice and I used to make this curry with so much curry sauce made from coconut milk that it was more like a coconut soup with some chicken.  As part of my losing weight, I cut this recipe from my diet.  I loved this recipe so much that I wasn’t willing to compromise to make a low calorie version.  I think there are some favourites that the low fat version is just never going to cut it.  I figured I would just save this recipe for special occasions – I don’t think you should always be counting calories, you have to give yourself days off to truly enjoy food.  This recipe would be kept aside for those days.

But then I saw this recipe for Thai curry turkey meatballs that had the ingredients of my original curry but in much healthier proportions.  Given my love of meatballs and my original recipe, I thought it was worth giving it a try.  And I am so glad I did.  This recipe incorporates the flavours I love from my original recipe but in a much lower calorie version.  I should qualify this a bit and say it is still about 390 calories a serve.  But compared to my original recipe that is positively slimifying.

Since making the recipe the first time, I have made some adjustments to the recipe.  The original recipe effectively poached the meatballs and while this tasted delicious, the meatballs looked very insipid.  In my version of the recipe, I have browned the meatballs first – you don’t need to do this but I think the meatballs look nicer and so much of eating is with your eyes.

I also used this recipe to try out replacing eggs with chia seeds, something I have been meaning to do since making these pork meatballs that use chia seeds as a binder.  I followed the instructions at Food Renegade to make an egg substitute but I used 1 tsp of chia seeds to 3 tsp of water rather than the tablespoons.   I was impressed with how well this turned out and was great in acting as a binder for the meatballs.  They also take probably 20 calories at least out of the recipe.   How good is that!  I am now a chia seed convert.

thai meatballs 1 Thai curry turkey meatballs

This is now one of my favourite recipes.  I love the saltiness of the fish sauce, combined with the clean flavours of the lime juice and the creaminess of the coconut milk. The meatballs are lovely and tender.  I served my meatballs with basmati rice and I love the way the rice soaks up the flavours in the sauce.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.   Sweet peas and saffron recommend avoiding light coconut milk and I would have to agree.  The creaminess is one of the charms of this dish and I don’t think you would get that with light coconut milk.

There are some good recipes out there for green curry paste but I bought mine.  I used to use a great curry paste by John West but for some reason they stopped making it, something a friend and I often lament.  Curry pastes can vary so if you find the first one is a bit bland, there may be a better one out there for you.  I use the Valcom brand. It isn’t as good as the John West one was but it is pretty good.

I suspect the recipe would also work well with pork or chicken mince.

Thai curry turkey meatballs

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 1 serve

Ingredients

    For the meatballs
  • 150g minced (ground) turkey breast
  • 1/3 tsp of fish sauce
  • 1/3 tsp of brown sugar
  • 1 tsp of chia seeds (you can use any colour but white probably looks better)
  • 3 tsp of water
  • 1 tbs and 1 tsp of bread crumbs
  • For the sauce
  • 1 tsp green curry paste (or use red if that is what is your cupboard - either will taste great)
  • 130ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of lime juice
  • To garnish:
  • 1/2 tbs coriander (cilantro), chopped

Instructions

  1. Ground the chia seeds using a mortar and pestle.
  2. Mix the ground chia seeds with the water and let sit for 5 minutes - it won't look appetizing but will be a good binder. It will thicken to a paste like consistency.
  3. Once the chia seed mix is ready, mix it in a bowl with all the other meatball ingredients.
  4. Roll the meatball mixture in to golf ball sized balls.
  5. Heat a small frying pan on medium heat.
  6. Pop the meatballs in to the pan and brown them off - about 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the meatballs from the pan.
  8. Put the curry paste in the pan and give it a quick fry until it is fragrant.
  9. Mix in all the other sauce ingredients and stir until well combined and the curry paste is fully mixed in.
  10. Add the meatballs and bring the boil.
  11. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer until the meatballs are fully cooked, about 8 minutes.
  12. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the coriander.
  13. Serve with steamed rice.
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 Thai curry turkey meatballs

thai meatballs 2 Thai curry turkey meatballs

Pasta with bolognese sauce

spaghetti bolognese Pasta with bolognese sauce

I am so over winter and we are only half way through.  I can’t wait to shed the layers of clothing, open up the house to gentle summer breezes and feel the sun on my skin.  I had a touch of summer the other day when the sun finally came out and it was warming my face as I sat in my car.  Fabulous feeling.

The winter this year has felt much more grey and foreboding than usual. Canberra is cold by Australian standards but normally has these beautiful clear blue skies.  I may just be imagining things but this year it seems like there has been more rain and fog.  The clouds have meant it has not been as cold overnight but I prefer mornings like this morning.  The ground was decidedly crunchy with frost as I walked the dogs but the sky had that big blue openness that I associate with Canberra.

One of the downsides of these beautiful blue but cold mornings is that my hot water gets a bit temperamental.  I have solar hot water and on frosty mornings, the system freezes up and it takes a little while for the backup electrical system to kick in.  I stand shivering in my bathroom trying to get the heater to keep me warm while I wait for the water to flow.  I still haven’t managed to live in a house with great bathroom heating.   Do they exist?

On to winter food. Except when hunting for great mac and cheese recipes, I have cut back quite a bit on the amount of pasta that I eat.  I found that the portion sizes of pasta that I like to feel full are laden with too many calories.  But with this cold weather, I was looking for some favourite comfort food like pasta with a Bolognese sauce.  We had Spaghetti Bolognese when I was growing up when the non Italian parts of Australia started to discover the joys of Italian food.  Spaghetti Bolognese was so exotic and served with that absolutely revolting canned sprinkly cheese that someone thinks is ok to call parmesan.  Blech.  I am so glad we have moved on from that to being able to buy the real deal.

spag bol cropped Pasta with bolognese sauce

Pasta with bolognese sauce is a good pasta option to go for in terms of keeping calories down and this recipe from Weight Watchers has about 540 calories when I made it for one.  To make this for one I used the following ingredients:

  • 1 tsp of light olive oil
  • ¼ medium onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ of a carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 145g of very lean mince beef
  • 200g of canned tomatoes – I used chopped rather than the whole tomatoes.
  • ¼ cup of beef stock
  • A pinch of chilli powder
  • 1 tbs of fresh basil (I am a bit of a basil fiend so didn’t reduce this and the basil is so low in calories it doesn’t matter)
  • 100g of fusilli pasta (I am just not coordinated enough to use spaghetti)
  • 1 tbs of parmesan cheese, shaved (the original recipe does not have this but what is pasta without some parmesan to top it off)

I followed the recipe as given and the preparation time as given of 20 minutes is pretty close.  It is important to chop the carrot and onion finely to make sure it cooks through.  Try and get the pieces as similar in size as possible to get even cooking.  The cook time is more than that given – following the recipe you can’t cook this in 15 minutes.   It is more like 25 minutes if your cooktop is slow to warm up like mine or 20 minutes if you are using gas.

As I mentioned in the ingredients, I added parmesan cheese at the end as a garnish.  Love great parmesan with my pasta.  Parmesan is one of those products where you need to buy good quality to properly appreciate it.  But you don’t need to use much so worth the extra cost.

There is some wastage for the single person in this meal.  I have yet to find a quarter carrot of sale though you might be able to use baby carrots.  And you need to plan meals to use up the rest of the tomato and onion.  Or you could make a bigger batch of this sauce.  I didn’t freeze any sauce but the recipe indicates it is suitable to freeze.  You could then use it for a cottage pie or more pasta.

Fish pie and narrowboats

fish pie 3 1024x1024 Fish pie and narrowboats

I was quite homesick for Australia, Canberra and most importantly family and friends when I lived in the UK.  My parents came over to see me and other family members a few times and when they were in the UK, it always helped to ease some of that homesickness.  Of course the homesickness always came back when they left.  I was lucky to have family in the UK – my parents emigrated when I was 3 and aside from my parents and brother all my relatives live in the UK.

While my parents were in the UK, I often took leave from my work as well as weekend trips away.  One of the best trips we did was with my Aunt and Uncle on their narrowboat.  We left from Worcester and I think headed north towards Birmingham. I loved the time on the river.   I always find water relaxing but the added interest of having to open and close locks made my day.

IMG 0003 e1404903692862 684x1024 Fish pie and narrowboats

The trusty narrowboat

One of my other lasting memories from this trip was the fabulous fish pie that my Aunt bought along for our dinner.  The narrow boat had a very basic kitchen and the pre made pie was the perfect solution.  It was also not that warm so something hearty was definitely required and the pie also ticked that box.

working the lock 688x1024 Fish pie and narrowboats

Working the lock

I did this trip in the early 00s and this food blog got me thinking about reliving some great food memories.  Do you have any of these types of dishes you dream about?  I wasn’t much in to cooking at the time and didn’t ask my Aunt for her recipe – I really should email her for it.  But in the meantime I went hunting for another recipe that I thought I could make for one.  This one from The Missing Lokness blog looked doable (some other recipes looked crazy difficult).  I also thought the name of the blog was a good omen for a fish pie and the photo with the recipe looked very promising in terms of making a single serve.

To make this for one I used the following ingredients:

  • 170g of firm white fish, cut into 1.5cm cubes (confession time: I forgot to write down the name of the fish I bought and can’t remember what it was called.  It was a not a fish I buy regularly and was a bit on the sinewy side)
  • 140g of desiree potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • ¼ of a brown onion
  • ½ a carrot cut into pea sized cubes
  • ¼ of frozen peas, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ cup of shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbs of milk (I used skim)
  • 1 tbs of unsalted butter plus 1 tsp for fish
  • 1 tbs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp of olive oil
  • 1/8of tsp of lemon juice
  • A pinch of paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I followed the recipe pretty much as given, the onions took about 5 minutes to soften and the fish took about 5 minutes to cook through.  Preparation took me about 15 minutes and the total cook time is about 55 minutes if you get the initial cooking of the fish done while the potatoes are bubbling away.

fish pie spoon2 1024x1024 Fish pie and narrowboats

It is not a light on washing up recipe and given it is a bit time consuming to make, this is not an everyday meal for me.  It also has about 630 calories so is not the lightest of dishes.

I did enjoy the pie but not as much as I hoped.  I think I just had too higher expectations from my Aunt’s pie.  Perhaps sometimes truly fabulous meal memories should remain in the past?  Having said that, I was reading this post from the Amateur Gourmet and one of the readers commented that fish pies should have smoked haddock. I am sure my Aunt had a wider variety of fish than in this pie and maybe that is the key.

fish pie 4 1024x1024 Fish pie and narrowboats

Drunken Noodles

drunken noodle crop Drunken Noodles

About 6 years ago I worked for a not for profit in Laos as their finance person.  Laos is an absolutely stunning country and one you should definitely have on your list.  It is such a contrast to the other countries around it.  I remember the first time I flew in to the capital Vientiane from Hanoi.  I remember getting of the plane and just feeling the relaxed vibe sink in.  Hanoi is amazing but it is such a chaotic place.  Vientiane is much smaller and sleepier and just what you need after Hanoi chaos.  And if Vientiane is not relaxed enough then you can always head to Luang Prabang, where I dare anyone to feel stressed.

laos sunset 1024x768 Drunken Noodles

Sunset over the Mekong, Luang Prabang

I lived in a beautiful restored warehouse that had been converted in to flats.  My one bedroom flat was not vast but it was more than big enough for me except for the kitchen.  I had a microwave and a little 2 ring electric cooktop.  Mind you I wasn’t that in to cooking back then.  This was in part because I lived right next door to a local restaurant that sold fabulous food, much cheaper than I could make it.

Not only was the food fabulous but the family that owned the restaurant were just so lovely and welcoming.   I was invited along with two of my friends to join in their family occasions which was just so special.  There were serious communication issues with language differences, but it is amazing how much you can share with a good meal and some Beer Lao.

One thing I do wish is that I had gotten them to show me how to make my favourite noodle dish.  I used to order it at least twice a week.   I never even knew the proper name of dish as it was written in Lao and they use a unique Lao script that looks nothing like English.  I have been craving this noodle dish and from my investigations, I think it was what I have seen called drunken noodles on the internet.

There was much umming and ahhing on my part about which drunken noodle recipe looked most like the one I ate in Laos.  There were some quite healthy looking options that had too many veggies.  Other recipes contained ingredients that I knew weren’t in the original dish.  I ended up going with this recipe from average betty website.  It says it is Jet Tila’s recipe but I had no idea who he is.   I have since looked him up and it sounds like he is someone American readers will know?  He just hasn’t made it regularly on to Australian TV yet – at least not the free kind that I watch.  I was a bit dubious about the tomato but otherwise it seemed like a close match.

The first time I made the average betty recipe I went a bit heavy on the noodles and while it tasted beautiful, the calories were just over the top.  The second time I made it I couldn’t get the really thick noodles at the local Asian grocer but the serving size was much better and the taste was still fabulous.  It just didn’t look quite like I remembered.  Isn’t it interesting how much we eat with our eyes.  I have had a look for rice noodle recipes on the internet and it seems fairly straightforward to make my own so will give that a go in the not too distant future.

This recipe is different from Pad Thai in taste.  The sauce is thicker and more smoky tasting.  It has a great mix of sweet and salty flavours that combine beautifully.  The chicken is cooked very quickly so it is still lovely and tender.

To make this recipe for one (and not overload on noodle calories) I used:

  • 1 tbs soy sauce (the recipe says black soy sauce and I have assumed this is the soy sauce you normally see)
  • 1 tsp kecap manis (the recipe says sweet soy sauce and from my google investigations I think kecap manis is very close if not the same thing – it may just be a bit thicker than some sweet soy sauces)
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • ½ tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs peanut oil
  • 3/4 tsp of minced garlic (equals three quarters of a clove)
  • 125g of chicken breast, thinly sliced against the grain and skin off
  • 1/8 of an onion, sliced
  • 80g of fresh rice noodles, separated
  • ¼ of a cup of Thai basil leaves (the second time around I used regular basil, as I couldn’t find Thai basil where I was shopping and it was ok but not as good so do get Thai basil if you can)
  • ¼ medium tomato
  • 1/8 tsp of white pepper

I skipped the egg that the original recipe includes as that was definitely not in my Laos memory bank.  I don’t think it needed the egg and to make this for one would have required half an egg which is always problematic.

drunken noodles 1 Drunken Noodles

Aside from skipping the egg, I followed the recipe given.  It is such a great work night dinner recipe in term of time to make as it only takes about 10 minutes to make including heating up the oil.  Preparation time is only about 10 minutes so you can have this ready to eat in about 20 minutes.  Even with removing the egg, it is still not super low calorie – about 580 calories per serve.  So not a meal to eat every night but not a complete diet buster.

And of course the recipe has one of my most favourite attributes – it is a true one pot dinner.  Unless of course you are going to go all healthy on me and suggest a side of vegies.

Low fat butter chicken

low fat butter chicken 1024x1024 Low fat butter chicken

Update:  Oops I forgot to link the recipe!  Link now included.

In my late twenties, I moved to the UK to train to be a chartered accountant.  I wanted a career change and the opportunity to live overseas and combining the two seemed like a good idea.  I didn’t love living in the UK.  I was in Bristol which is quite wet and I missed my lovely aussie sun and the big blue skies we get here in Canberra.  Canberra has very few industrial businesses so the skies are very clear and they have such a sense of space.  But I did love having the opportunity to get to spend quality time with my grandmother and the ease at which I could travel to Europe.

Working as a trainee chartered accountant does not pay large amounts.  For nights out, my fellow trainees and I often went to cheap Indian restaurants which were ubiquitous at the time and could well still be.  Going to these restaurants often seemed to involve traipsing down precarious flights of stairs to windowless basements of old buildings.  But to be fair to these restaurants, whilst the ambience wasn’t always the most delightful, the food was usual tasty, plentiful and cheap.

While some of the options were tomato based, many were heavy on the cream.  Probably not very authentic but just delicious.  And normally this was all washed down with cheap beer.  Not a meal for those looking to lose weight.

Even though I loved this Indian food, it is never something I have cooked much at home.  Recipes often contain a long list of spices that if I purchased them would probably go stale before I used them all up.  I also found that many westernized Indian recipes are not exactly low in calories.  I did find this prepackaged spice mix for rustic rogan josh from the Spice Tailor that wasn’t too high in calories and really delivers in terms of taste if you don’t feel like cooking from scratch.

I was a bit skeptical when I saw this recipe for low fat butter chicken.  I thought it either wasn’t really going to be low calories or it was going to taste like a pale imitation of previous curries I have had. I have found some low calorie recipes are low calorie because the serving size has been adjusted to lower the calories, but there is no way you can call the serving a proper serving.

low fat butter chicken 3 Low fat butter chicken

But I was so wrong to be skeptical.  Sure it isn’t the butter chicken that I remember from my cheap Indian days in Bristol.  But it is a great tasting recipe and is surprisingly cream – which is due in part to the use of yoghurt instead of cream.

To make this for one I used the following ingredients:

  • 130g boneless and skinless chicken breast pieces cut in to largish cubes – amount 1 inch squared

For the gravy:

  • 1 tsp of butter – I wasn’t sure what cooking butter was.  I thought it might be ghee and I didn’t want to buy that just for this recipe, so I used normal butter
  • 1/4 of an onion, pureed
  • 1/4 cup of chopped tinned tomatoes. I didn’t have tomato puree but aside from that I can eat tinned tomato for breakfast the next day whereas puree tends to go to waste if I don’t do some serious meal planning
  • 1/4 cup of skimmed milk
  • 1/4 tsp of brown sugar
  • Instead of Kashmiri red chili powder which I couldn’t find, I used ¼ tsp of paprika and a pinch of cayenne which google tells me is a good substitute.
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp of salt

For the marinade

  • 2 tbs of thick low fat yoghurt
  • 1/4 tsp of garam marsala
  • 1/8 tsp of red chilli powder
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp of minced ginger
  • 1/8 tsp of minced garlic

I followed the instructions pretty much as given.  The chicken does need to marinate.  The recipe says to let it marinate for 2-3 hours but I did mine overnight.  I cooked the chicken in the oven for 9 minutes and after adding the tinned tomato in place of the tomato puree I only let it cook for 5 minutes and was cooked through.  The recipe doesn’t say when to add the turmeric, Kashmiri chili powder (or substitute) nor the salt.  I added mine at the same time as the tinned tomato and sugar.  It is a bit confusing when the recipe says to add grilled chicken.  Maybe it is called grilled in the US?  I would call it baked.

This is not the quickest recipe to make and does involve both the oven and the stove top.  It took me about 30 minutes to cook this dish excluding the marinating and preparation was about 15 minutes.  The recipe has about 300 calories.

low fat butter chicken 2 Low fat butter chicken

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