Staff Lunch Club

Breaking Bread is basically a lunch club... (Photo by avlxyz)

It’s a neat simple idea. It offers tastier, cheaper, work lunches with less work. Yet we cannot persuade others to join…

It’s the Carey Staff Lunch Club. The idea is simple, any menbers take it in turns to make a lunch to share with the others. The only rules are the lunch has to be cheap, tasty, filling and nourishing. (So far we have majored on beans which do these things very well, but it won’t always be beans.)

Even with two members we each have to prepare (or buy 🙁 lunch half as often, but if we had more people the work would be more distributed and so less. So, how come despite four really tasty and attractive looking offerings no one else is beating the door down to join? Have you tried a lunch club at your place of work, how did it work? Is there a secret?

Nathan’s Really Quick, Really Tasty, Really Easy Lunch

The remains of the Really Quick, Really Tasty, Really Easy Lunch after the Carey Baptist College Staff Lunch Club had both eaten their fill
  • Can of mixed beans, drained.
  • Sundried tomatoes, sliced.
  • Fresh parsley or whatever herbs you have, torn/shredded/chopped/cut/rubbed/whatever.
  • Olive oil and a splash of balsamic, (Nathan says S&P I wonder if he meant Lea and Perrins? I used lemon juice).

Serve with nice bread and mixed leaves.

Nathan adds some ground corriander and chilli flakes or whatever I have around.

This really was really, really quick, really really easy, and pretty tasty too 🙂

A sneaky vegetable – Spaghetti squah

This past week I snuck a vegetable in on my six year old daughter for dinner. I replaced her ordinary noodles in a pasta dish with spaghetti squash.

It looks uncannily like angel hair pasta, though it has a different texture. If you put sauce on the spaghetti squash before you serve it to a child they may not realize the difference, at least not by sight.

I did make one mistake. I used an Alfredo sauce that was milder than a tomato sauce. So about half way through her dinner my daughter realized what I had done. Had I used a stronger sauce she may not have noticed, or at least gotten further along before she noticed.

Of course when she realized it wasn’t “real pasta” she didn’t “like it” anymore (though she had already eaten half of it ;-)). But it leaves me hopeful for spaghetti squash in the future. Think I just need to use it in a different dish.

If you’re unfamiliar with what spaghetti squash is I’ll try to add a link or picture later. Blogging from my mobile today, which is somewhat limiting.

Vegetarian Fondue – Great meal and a lot of fun

First, I should apologize for my absence.  Over the last three weeks I’ve been teaching some certification courses in my diocese.  I had a great time doing it, but it has pretty much consumed my life.

So, I thought I come back with probably the most successful meal I think I’ve ever done when I had company over.  And, that was a fondue dinner I did with my folks and my wife a while back.  The food was great and we all had a blast sitting around the fondue pot and enjoying one another’s company.

That night I didn’t go vegetarian.  We had seafood fondue, but shortly after that I tried a vegetarian version with my wife that was very good too.  (Not to mention we once again had an enjoyable time ;-))

The meal requires that you have a fondue pot.  It is also helpful if you have an insert for the fondue pot for the cheese and chocolate, so that you don’t have to clean your fondue pot between each course (perhaps like this one – luckily we had an insert from another set of pots that fit right into our electric fondue pot).

The fondue meal I’m going to suggest does have a good bit of dairy in it.  So, I’ll leave you to decide on that as it’s been a matter of discussion on this blog.  Otherwise, I think you’ll enjoy it.

[One of our favorite restaurants is a fondue restaurant called the Melting Pot.  You can find a significant number of their recipes scattered over the internet or in this cookbook.  Each of the recipes below are from the restaurant.]

First course

For the first course, I’d recommend starting with a spinach and artichoke cheese fondue.  The recipe can be found here.  Rather than waste space reproducing that, I’ll just give a couple of pointers.

The recipe calls for cheddar, but the current one that they are doing at the Melting Pot uses a mix of Fontina and Butterkäse cheeses.  I think this mixture probably works better, as we’ve had it at the restaurant.  However, I’ve not been able to find Butterkäse locally, so we’ve stuck with the cheddar, which is still very good.

In addition, for the dipping the recipe suggests cubed bread and raw vegetables.  I’d suggest that tortilla chips work well too, perhaps even better.

You’ll want to use an insert to cook the cheese at this stage if you have one, so that for the next course you can simply remove the insert and cook your broth in the large pot.

Second Course

The second course I did was the entree, but if you wanted to throw in a salad you could easily turn this into a four course meal.

For the entree, the first thing that you will want to do is get a broth going in the fondue pot. You can just turn the heat up to high and add the broth ingredients.  Or you can get the broth going on a stove top and then add it to the pot.  Our personal favorite by far is the mojo broth.  It is very citrusy and has a bit of a kick.  But, if you are looking for something a bit more savory you can try the coq au vin.  The coq au vin is also great because whatever wine you don’t cook with you can then drink ;-).

While you are getting the broth going, you can bring everyone a selection of items that they will use their fondue forks to cook in the broth.  For a vegetarian meal, I’d suggest giving everyone a selection of portabello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and vegetable dumplings.  I used wonton wraps and stuffed them with shredded cabbage and carrots.  If you wanted to add a bit of meat you might want to add a bit of pork.

Once, the broth is going throw in some broccoli florets and small size potatoes (or larger ones cut up).  The longer you let these cook in the broth the better they will be.  (The broccoli is probably my favorite part of the meal because the tips of it soak up the broth so well).

While those vegetables are cooking everyone can begin sticking their main entree selections (i.e. mushrooms, artichokes and dumplings) with their fondue forks and cooking them in the broth.  They shouldn’t take too long to cook, but you may want to check the cook times and give everyone an idea of what to expect.

You will also want to make a dipping sauce ahead of time.  Since you are using vegetables, I would recommend a Green Goddess dipping sauce.  I used this recipe once, but I did it a second time substituting cream cheese for the sour cream.  It was much better the second go round.  You can let everyone dip out the sauce on to their own plates.

One good thing, since you are using vegetables, those who are dining can eat from the same plate that you served them with their selection of vegetables.  When using meat for the fondue you’d have to use separate plate.

Don’t forget to enjoy your conversation while everyone is cooking their vegetables.  And, maybe even share some of the wine you used for your coq au vin 😉

Third Course

The third course was the most simple.  I just threw some fondue chocolate into the insert (which my wonderful wife cleaned while I was getting the broth ready for the second course) that we place into the fondue pot.  I served out strawberries and bananas for everyone to dip in the chocolate.  Though this was the easiest, it is probably everyone’s favorite part of the meal.  Once you melt the chocolate you can cut off the heat and let everyone use their hands to dip the strawberries and bananas if you’re okay with that.  Otherwise, you may need to clean some of the fondue forks.

I’m sure I may have left out some details in such a long post.  Feel free to shoot out your questions or suggestions in the comments section below.

In my opinion, fondue isn’t all that hard to do.  You could even take the cheese or chocolate fondue recipes and add them to a course for any meal that you are cooking for friends, even if you do something else for the entree.  The upshot is a lot of fun and some really good food.  The down side is the clean up afterwards.  🙁  But, it’s worth it if you’ve got good friends and family coming over.

Frying onions (tip learned late)

These fried onions would be nice as a garnish to steak, but have been cooked to fast to really caramelise, the aim is no burnt bits, but a mellow yellow all through (photo by Laurel Fan)

Writing up the African bean recipe below reminded me how late in life I learned to fry onions. I apologise to everyone whose mother or school taught them this, mine didn’t 🙁 So I read about “frying onions” and assumed that “fry” means hot oil, usually within reason the hotter the better. Result, charred but uncooked onions.

Onions are not usually “fried” whatever we say 1The exception is the deep fried crispy onion and garlic that adds crunch and a flavour explosion to some Asian dishes, they are cooked fast to remove the water, but this is a different process and uses lots of oil. , they are should be slowly simmered with an oil lubricant to stop them sticking to the pan, the trick is to use a low heat and a long time (stirring now and then as you walk through the kitchen) then they’ll caramelise beautifully, adding depth and richness to the flavour as well as softening the onions 🙂

Notes   [ + ]

1. The exception is the deep fried crispy onion and garlic that adds crunch and a flavour explosion to some Asian dishes, they are cooked fast to remove the water, but this is a different process and uses lots of oil.

African Black Eyed Beans

African Black Eyed Beans (no the beans aren't from Africa, just the recipe 😉

Last night I tried Lois’ African Black Eyed Beans. 1I did not mean to do two of Lois’ recipes in a row, but that’s what I had in the storecupboard 🙂 Barbara was just back from Tauranga and I had them ready with rice, Barbara did not know it was a competition recipe but said the beans were delicious without prompting 🙂 I adapted the recipe for Repentant Carnivores (rather than Vegans) by cutting the fat, especially the bad fat in the coconut cream, halving this works fine and still tastes deliciously different.

  • 1½ cups black-eyed beans. Start these cooking for 30 – 45 minutes.

Make the sauce with:

  • 2 chopped onions Sautéd in a little oil until they’re softish.
  • 1 small can tomato paste (or chopped tomatoes but then you will need to “reduce” 2That is boil to remove some of the water. the sauce a bit).
  • ½ can coconut cream
  • 2 tsp paprika 3I used smoked, it adds a nice depth to the warmth – as I also used less chili.
  • ½ tsp (or more or less) chili powder
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Stir together till combined, if necessary reduce to thicken, but if you keep the beans warm in the sauce before serving it will thicken up a bit then.

When the beans are cooked, drain and mix the sauce into them.

Serve with rice. This is would serves 4 as a main meal. 4Lois or Alison reckoned 4-6 but the 6 would all need small appetites or to eat desert as well 😉

Lois gave credit to Alison Holst, the beans taste interesting and different as most Westerners are not used to the coconut and bean combination, which worked very well. Once again the recipe risks looking plain, I think (in the Capsicum season at least) some thin Jullienne strips of green Capsicum might lift it… I am sure this dish, especially if it was enhanced by some appropriate (or better still inappropriate) story about the African origin of the recipe, would go down a treat with most children – though definitely reduce the chili (like I did) in that case.

Like the previous two entries I’ve tested this is likely to stay on my regular list, so far it is going to be hard to choose who gets the prize 😉

Notes   [ + ]

1. I did not mean to do two of Lois’ recipes in a row, but that’s what I had in the storecupboard 🙂
2. That is boil to remove some of the water.
3. I used smoked, it adds a nice depth to the warmth – as I also used less chili.
4. Lois or Alison reckoned 4-6 but the 6 would all need small appetites or to eat desert as well 😉

Mushroom and Barley

Lois' Mushroom Barley Mix - all packed for lunch

After a fortnight of a cold that left me with no enthusiasm for recipe testing 🙂 I have again begun to trial the Great Vegan Recipe Competition entries.

Yesterday I tried Lois’ Mushroom and Barley Mix, and brought the “left overs” in a box for lunch. The recipe is extremely easy, and seems forgiving – I left it simmering with no stirring for an hour and it was still fine!

  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 3-4 cups vege stock or water
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Harissa (or in Lois’ original chilli – I like less chilli and more spices that most Kiwis)

Sauté onion, carrot, garlic and spices. Add barley, mushrooms, soy sauce and stock. (I’d now keep half the mushrooms to add later with the chickpeas – if you are using soaked, dried but uncooked chickpeas add them now.)

Leave to simmer happily for about 3/4 hour, until the barley is soft but chewy. Check occasionally to ensure there’s sufficient liquid. I found with precooked chick peas that 3 cups was plenty, but if cooking the chick peas then I expect the extra cup is needed. Add the sundried tomatoes (or other veges like Lois’ capsicum [too expensive at this time of year]) for colour before serving.

This is savoury, convenient one pot, and one serving. It works well to warm up next day for lunch. I would also add some chopped fresh herbs at the end to add more colour as garnish and to add a little zing to the flavours which are otherwise savoury but almost bland. (It was the same reasoning, as well as what was in the fridge, that led me to use sundried tomatoes.)

Falafel Fail

Last night I had my family over for dinner and I decided to do a vegetarian style Greek dinner.  The menu was falafel sandwich with hummus and salad.  I used this recipe for a greek yogurt dressing for the salad, which I thought was very good.  The hint of fresh mint was a very nice touch.  For the hummus I used my usual recipe which I think is fairly standard and is usually a hit.  But, when it came to the falafel sandwiches, they were …. well, just okay.  And okay is fine, but usually when I invite people, especially family, over for dinner I hope for better.

For one, I baked the falafel not wanting to deal with the mess of frying.  I suppose that may have been the bigger of my mistakes.  But, I used this recipe and just found it to be a bit lacking.  In addition, I pulled another recipe for the tahini sauce and it was simply too overpowering.  It was very thick unlike the tahini sauce I am accustomed to seeing in my local Greek restaurant.  I was almost wondering what would have happened had I inverted the quantities of tahini and lemon juice.

At any rate, everyone ate their meal with no complaints and said that everything was good.  But, I know it could have been better.   So, my questions for you … has anyone got a good falafel recipe?  I love falafel and definitely want to try again.  Also, do I have to fry it to get the real deal at home?  What about a good tahini sauce?

Baked Potatoes

You can usually avoid this by stabbing the potato viciously with a thin blade before cooking (Photo by Robert S. Donovan)

Lifehacker prompted this post, they linked to a page of Kitchen Myths. Most of the list was pretty boring, stuff I either knew (that microwaving does not cause food to become radioactive 😉 or was not really interested in (like whether “real chili” could contain beans) there was one I’d qualify. The author says:

The microwave oven certainly has many legitimate uses, but baking potatoes (or anything else) is not one of them. Sure, you can cook a whole potato in the microwave, but what you get is a steamed potato. The crispy skin and fluffy interior of the genuine baked potato require a long cooking in dry heat.

This is true, but misses the point. What you do is almost cook the potatoes in the microwave, then oil and salt the skins and finish them off in the oven. A saving in fuel as the oven is on much less long and time.

Baked potatoes taste great, loved by most children and are a great opportunity for creative stretching. Think baked potato with olive oil or peanut oil and a little tomato and bacon, for example.

But what suggestions do you have for fully vegan fillings?