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Love Cos lettuce this time of year.  We’ve had a little bit of rain and a cool start to spring and the greens are very happy.  With Cos and eggs in abundance, my thoughts for the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week turned to Caesar salad. There’s a reason that Caesar is a classic salad.  Bitterness of lettuce, creaminess of eggs, sourness in the dressing,  crunch of the croutons, the saltiness – beautiful fresh ingredients beautifully balanced. Traditionally the saltiness comes from anchovies, and if you are going for a meal without meat rather than vego, you can use anchovies. But pepitas sautéed in soy sauce work really well in a lot of recipes that want that little intense salty crunch.

There’s a nutritional balance in there too.  It’s not the lowest calorie of salads, but if you have really nice lettuce that makes up the bulk of it, you can afford croutons.

The Recipe:

This is a matter of preparing all the parts, then just putting them together. Makes two big dinner sized bowls.

The Croutons:

Turn the oven on to heat up to hot.

Use a mortar and pestle to crush one or two cloves of garlic in a pinch of salt.

Add a couple of dessertspoons of good olive oil and blend in the salty garlic.

Cut three or four slices of bread into little ½ inch (15 mm) cubes – enough to make a good cup full of croutons.  I use my heavy wholegrain bread and it works fine.  Toss the croutons in the garlic oil and spread on a baking tray.

Bake in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, tossing every so often, till they are brown and crunchy.

The Eggs:

Boil 3 eggs till they are just hard, drain, peel and chop into quarters.  If you start with cold water, they will take between 4 and 5 minutes from boiling, depending on the size of the eggs.  Eggs that are very fresh will be impossible to peel so choose your oldest eggs.

The Pepitas:

Mix two handfuls of pepitas with two teaspoons of soy sauce.  Dry roast them in a hot pan for just a few minutes, stirring all the time, till they just start to pop.

The Dressing:

Blend together

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 2 dessertpoons olive oil
Pour into a small saucepan and cook for just a minute or so, stirring all the while, till it thickens.

To Assemble:

Tear a whole lot of Cos lettuce into bite sized pieces.  Add the dressing and use your hands to toss through.  Add the pepitas and croutons and toss again.  Then add the eggs and very gently toss them through too.
Serve into bowls.
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Since I’ve been making sourdough, over a year now, I haven’t bought bread but I also haven’t bought crispbread.  Crisp, seedy biscuit topped with cottage cheese and salad used to be a really regular lunch for me.  So I’ve been playing with a homemade sourdough based version, and it’s joined the list of things I like homemade best.

Not only tastes better, but it makes frugal sense. You can make 18 to 24 crispbreads, depending how large you cut them, about 650 grams. The seeds, bought from my local little wholefoods shop, cost me less than $2.50, the semolina about 80 cents, and the flour just a few cents.  All up, about $3.50.  The equivalent in Vitawheats would have cost me $9.50.  It only takes about 15 minutes of actual time, though like everything sourdough, that’s spread out over a whole day. Even counting the gas for cooking and my own time, it makes frugal sense.

Seeds are way up there in the superfoods list. When you think about it, a plant’s whole lifecycle is dedicated to creating seeds, with all the protein, energy, nutrients, and protection from invasion by bacteria and fungus, that they will need to germinate.  Some are spectacularly good.  Linseeds have omega 3 fatty acids, which are antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and good for your heart. Pepitas are a really good source of several minerals including zinc, which is important for warding off viruses among other things, and  L-tryptophan, which is important for mental health.  Sesame seeds are rich in a whole range of minerals including copper and calcium. Sunflower seeds are one of the best sources there is of Vitamin E.

The Recipe:

It starts just like my regular sourdough, except I make a smaller batch of starter:

Before I go to bed:

  • Take the sourdough starter out of the fridge.
  • Mix 1  cup of unbleached bakers flour, 1  cup of water, and 1 cup of starter.  (I use my tank water, which has no chlorine or additives in it).
  • Put half of it back in the jar in the fridge.  You should be left with 1 cup of fed starter, to put in a bowl covered with a clean cloth on the kitchen bench for the night. By morning it should be frothy, like the picture.

Next morning:

  • Mix in 1 cup of fine semolina and 1 cup of seeds. (Ooops, and I forgot, half a teaspoon of salt).
  • I used a mixture of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, crushed linseeds, finely chopped pepitas and finely chopped sunflower seeds.  The larger seeds all need to be chopped fine – the same kind of size as the sesame seeds – so that you can roll the crispbreads out later.
  • Tip ½ cup of bakers flour, on the benchtop,  tip the mix out onto it, and knead for just a couple of minutes to get a ball of soft, springy dough. Put a good dollop of macadamia (or olive) oil in a large bowl, swirl the dough ball around in it to coat, cover the bowl with a clean cloth, and leave out on the benchtop for the day to prove.

When I get home at 5.30

  • Lightly oil three biscuit trays.
  • Tip the dough out on the benchtop,  knead very briefly, and divide up into three balls – two large and one small.
  • Flour the bench well and, with a floured rolling pin, roll first ball out to very thin – 5 mm or so – basically as thin as you can get it.  Carefully transfer to the oiled biscuit tray and trim to fit.  Prick all over with a fork and cut into 6 or 8 squares.
  • Do the same with the second ball. Add the trimmings to the third (smaller) ball, knead again and do the same with it.
  • Leave on the benchtop, covered with a clean tea towel, for a couple of hours.

At 7.30

  • The crispbreads will have puffed up slightly.  Bake in a slow oven for about 40 minutes, till they are firm and just colouring. They will crispen up more as they cool.  Cool on a cake rack and store in an airtight jar.
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I found this gem iron in an op shop.  It took me several months and quite a few goes to learn how to use it, but now it is one of my favourite kitchen tools.  It’s a heavy cast iron baking tray for tiny little cake-scone-muffin bites called gems. It’s an old fashioned implement designed for the days when any self-respecting cook was expected to be able to whip up a batch of baking at a minute’s notice. Which makes gem irons due for a resurgence in these days when time poverty beats money poverty every day.

Once you get the hang of gem irons, this can be done in less than 20 minutes – 5 minutes preparation and 10 to 12 minutes cooking time – making it feasible to be a domestic goddess (or god) and bake on weekday mornings.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to medium high and put the gem iron on the top shelf. It needs to be sizzling hot before you put the batter in.

Use an egg beater to beat together

  • 1 egg
  • 3 dessertspoons of plain low fat yoghurt
  • 1 dessertspoon of honey
  • pinch cinnamon

Stir in

  • half a cup (4 good dessertspoons) of dried fruit, seeds and nuts.  I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, chopped macadamias and sultanas, but you could use dates, dried apple, almonds – whatever you have and is in season.
  • half a cup of rolled oats
  • 3 dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour

You will end up with a thick batter. Like muffin batter, it is best not over-mixed.

Take the hot gem iron out of the oven and put a tiny dob of butter in each hollow.  You only need a small teaspoonful altogether.  It will sizzle.  Tilt the iron to spread the melted butter.

Working quickly, spoon the batter into the hot gem iron and put it back in the oven, near the top and up fairly high. Bake for around 10 minutes till the gems are almost cooked.

The Syrup

Meanwhile, in a small pot, melt a good dessertspoon of butter and a good dessertspoon of honey together. Working quickly, spoon a little syrup over each gem and put them back in the oven for another few minutes.

They’re best hot, straight from the oven, but if you make a double batch, you may even have leftovers for lunch boxes, making this double as a Muesli Bar Challenge recipe as will.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, andtaste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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This is my current favourite breakfast, and the next in the Breakfast Cereal Challenge. The first of the new season apples have just arrived at our local Farmers Market, coming down from the Tablelands (within our 160 km range as the crow flies), and there are still some late season peaches too, so just for a few weeks the seasons overlap.

Living with stand-alone solar power, you become very aware of what an energy guzzler refrigeration is.  Our little, 60 litre, 12 volt electric fridge is the biggest electricity consuming thing in our household, by a long way.  So I hate to think how much power is consumed, and how much greenhouse gas is created, cold storing apples.

One of the benefits of refusing to buy cold-stored apples is that you stop taking humble apples for granted and really appreciate these  first of the season ones.

Apple season is all over by the end of May in my part of the world.  If you live further south, it probably won’t start till next month and though the season is longer, it won’t last into spring.  Apples cold store reasonably well, but who would choose a cold-stored apple when there are fresh, just picked strawberries instead? And conversely, who would choose strawberries imported from USA and treated with methyl bromide, when you can buy fresh, crisp, sweet new season apples?

The Recipe:

Like all the Breakfast Cereal Challenge recipes, this one is simple, fast and healthy enough for a work and school day mornings.

This quantity is the amount I make for me.  You can double it, but don’t try to do too much at once or the fruit will stew.

Chop an apple and a peach into bite sized pieces.

Heat a little macadamia oil or butter in a heavy pan and saute the chopped fruit, along with a handful of  pepitas, a handful of sunflower seeds, and a handful of raw rolled oats.  Sprinkle over a teaspoon of cinnamon. Cook for just a few minutes, stirring gently occasionally, till the fruit starts to caramelise and the seeds toast.

Serve warm with a good dollop of plain, low fat yoghurt.

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A seedy biscuit

This is the last of my Muesli Bar Challenge series for the year. The draft of this post has been in my drafts folder since the very first week.  It’s one of my old favourites – so easy, so healthy, so school lunch box acceptable.  As a gardener, I’m really conscious that seeds are concentrated sources of nutrients – complex carbohydrates  that fuel a plant’s early growth, protein to allow it to create new cells, phytonutrients to protect it.  You can make these with or without nuts as well, depending on your school’s nut policy.

A whole four terms of Challenge recipes, and not one has come home uneaten.  Take that, LCMs!

The Recipe:

Into the food processor, put:

  • two eggs,
  • two dessertspoons (60 grams) butter,
  • two dessertspoons of brown sugar.
  • two heaped dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour.

Blend this mix well, then add a cup full of nuts and/or seeds. I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds cashews,  macadamias and almonds, but you can use any combination.  You can blend this very briefly, just enough to break up the bigger nuts but not enough to blend, or you can just stir them in whole.  Large nuts might need rough chopping but whole seeds give a good texture. In the photo I left them whole, but in this latest batch that the kids are reviewing I blended briefly.

Add half a cup of sultanas. Organic sultanas are worth the expense if you can find them. You can taste the difference, and they haven’t been coated in cottonseed oil. If your school has a no-nuts policy, stick to just seeds.

Butter a baking tray and put spoonfuls on it. The biscuits will spread as they cook so give them room. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes till nicely browned. Cool on the tray (they crispen as they cool).

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