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Meg Reviews Recipes: Leggos Tuna Bake with Sundried Tomato & Caramelised Onion

Comes in a 500g jar, and I bought this at Coles when it was on special for about $2.50 - $3 per jar (yes, this is a Thing of mine; this is part of how I manage to make a budget of $30 per person per week for food stretch as well as it does).

I decided to try this as a result of basically realising at about quarter to three on a Sunday afternoon that I hadn't even thought about what we were having for dinner that night, and being sick of either leftovers or instant meals as options. So, okay, pasta bake. Now, pasta bakes are about the easiest type of meal out there to assemble - you cook up the pasta, you combine it with the sauce and the protein (tinned tuna, in this case), top with cheese, and bake in the oven until done. If you're baking it right after you've assembled it, it takes about 20 minutes at 200C to melt the cheese and heat things through. If you're like me and you assemble these things hours before you actually need them, and store them in the fridge until it's time to start cooking dinner, then the trick is to heat the whole thing at around 200C for about an hour, as this allows everything in the middle of your casserole dish to heat through as well as all the stuff around the sides.

I fancied this up a little by chopping up a leek and adding that to the tuna, sauce and pasta mix. I do this partially because I feel we need some kind of vegetable content with or in these things, and partially because it stretches things a bit further and makes everything taste a bit better. The leek will pretty much cook in the hour I'm heating things in the oven, so that's a bit of a mercy. The other minor experiment in this case is I'm trying pasta bowties to see how they work in these sorts of dishes (usually I'm using small shells, small spirals, or macaroni).

Because Himself got all organised and managed to stop off at a supermarket on the way home from picking up another computer component (he's involved in trying to get two rather finicky monitors to work properly), we're having garlic bread with this as well. What that means in terms of juggling executive function for these sorts of things (one of my bugbears) is that I have to remember to put the garlic bread into the oven to heat about ten minutes before everything's supposed to be cooked. Which I think I can manage.

And in the end... it turned out pretty good. Main note was, of course, tomato, and there was a bit of onion in there, mostly from the leek, I think. It certainly balances out the rather coarse texture of cheap tuna quite well. I'll probably buy some more the next time it's on special.

Difficulty: 1 out of 5
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 1 out of 5 - the hardest bits about preparing this as directed are going to be opening the jar and the tin of tuna, and possibly the weight of putting the fully laden baking dish into the oven. Can be prepared well ahead of time and put in the fridge for later re-heating and melting of cheese (as per the post), so it's great if you need to time-shift cooking. If it's the only thing you're cooking, you can pretty much set a timer and forget about it, so you don't need to remember dozens of finicky steps along the way.
Overall: 3 out of 5.
Considerations: This one looks to be reasonably vegan-safe, provided you used mushrooms, quorn, or tofu/soy protein instead of tuna for your protein, and skipped the cheese (the only ingredients I can see on the whole thing which aren't obviously plants, plant-based or plant-derived are xanthan gum and yeast extract). If you're allergic to tomatoes, avoid this one. If you're allergic to tuna, dairy or gluten, make substitutions as required.

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Current Mood: chilly chilly
Meg Reviews Recipes: Spicy Fruit Loaf

Source: Australian Womens Weekly "Quick Mix Cakes and Deliciously Easy Muffins" Cookbook, p109; ISBN: 1-86396-001-5; (c) ACP Publishing Pty Ltd 1999.

This is a bit of a favourite of mine, although it's a right whatsit to make. The recipe is a "rub in" recipe, where you start by rubbing the butter into the flour, and this one has 125g of butter to be rubbed into 2 cups of flour (plus an extra 2 teaspoons of dry ingredients comprised of bicarb and spices). Let's just say if you have arthritis in your hands, this is probably not a recipe you want to try without one of those special little doovers (looks like a handle with a bunch of wire loops hanging off it - a bit of googling tells me they're called "pastry blenders"[1]) for cutting butter into flour. Failing that, you may want to stop every so often and let your hands stretch out a bit, because they will cramp up unless you make scones and/or pastry on the regular.

Once you've finished giving yourself RSI and improving your grip strength sight out of mind, you add the sugar, the dried fruit (standard mixed dried fruit works fine) and then the liquid ingredients (1 egg and a cup of milk) before pouring the whole lot into a loaf tin and baking it for about 1 1/4 hours. Unlike most of the fruit cakes in this cookbook, you're not cooling this one in the pan - it gets cooled on a rack after the first ten minutes. '

Serve it with butter; this keeps for well over a week without really getting stale or going off. It's very dense, and very dark, particularly if you use dark brown sugar (lighter brown sugar gives a lighter coloured loaf).

Difficulty: 1 out of 5 (it isn't a hard recipe to understand or follow)
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 5 out of 5 (rubbing in the butter takes time, and I inevitably wind up with my hands cramping); it's a very stiff mixture to mix, so if you don't have much arm and hand strength, you're probably better off getting someone else to make this for you.
Overall: 5 out of 5 (this is a favourite I keep making over and over again, despite the crampy hands).
Considerations: Cake. This contains gluten, sugar, butter, milk and eggs. Don't eat a whole one at one sitting (it's a very dense cake; I doubt anyone could do it without making themselves sick anyway) and don't try to serve it to vegans.

[1] Link goes to Amazon because that's the one which came up fastest and most reliably.

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Current Mood: calm calm
Meg Reviews Recipies: MasterFoods Slow Cook Mild Chicken Curry Sauce

This sauce comes in a 490g jar, and I bought it at the local Coles, probably when it was on special for about $2.50 - $3.

I made this up as a slow-cooked casserole with some cheap beef sausages (if you've ever had to eat cheap Coles beef sausages, you'll understand why they really need some other flavour added to them), a chopped onion, a couple of carrots sliced up, and four chopped up potatoes. Pre-cook the sausages before you start, then chop them into about 1.5cm chunks before putting them into the casserole with the other ingredients. The trick with making a slow-cooked casserole in the oven is this: put everything together in a casserole, cook in the oven for about 1 hour at 200C, pull out and stir, then put back into the oven for the rest of the afternoon at the lowest temperature you can get your oven to run at without extinguishing itself (if you can get your oven down to 100C, that's the best, otherwise, anything under about 150C is good). Let it cook slowly for about 4 hours, and you'll get a very nice casserole. This trick works well with any casserole you'd normally put in the slow cooker[1].

The sauce itself is very thick for a pour-from-the-jar sauce - usually I can pour these sorts of sauces straight from the jar, but this one definitely required the assistance of a spoon to get it out. I also did my standard trick of "swill out the bottle with a small amount of water"[2] in order to get the last of the sauce out. Now, it was probably lucky I did that, because the eventual casserole came out very, very dry (thanks to the potato soaking the liquid up).

As a curry sauce, this is incredibly mild. This is "you could serve it to curry virgins" mild. The main notes in the sauce which identify it as "curry" at all are cumin and turmeric - cumin is the main thing you can smell, turmeric is the main thing you can see (a quick look at the breakdown of ingredients on the label of the jar says "Coriander 1%, Cumin 1%, Turmeric 1%). They mention Chilli on the label, although I strongly suspect the nearest an actual chilli came to this particular sauce was someone very cautiously opened the warehouse door and waved a single chilli in the vague direction of the production line, before closing the door again very quickly. It's very much a "sweet curry" mixture rather than a spicy one - to the point where I joked with Steve that I should have chopped up an apple and added that to the mix, along with a handful of sultanas. (I should note the Look I got for that one was worth it)

Overall, it made a nice meal for two people, served up with rice, and with enough leftovers for another two meals afterwards. There wasn't much sauce (as mentioned, the potato got most of it) so it was a pretty dry curry. I think the next time I make it up, I'll probably put a bit more water in the mix, and a bit less spud (and I may just try the "sweet curry" variation, as a way of playing around with things).

Difficulty: 1 out of 5 (put all the ingredients into the casserole dish, and off you go)
Spoons/Fuss and Bother: 1 out of 5 (wasn't expecting the sauce to be as thick as it turned out to be.
Overall: 2 out of 5 (not spectacular, not terrible).
Considerations: Lists Skim milk and milk in ingredient list, and warns it's manufactured on equipment that processes peanuts. Not suitable for vegans.

[1] I wasn't using the slow cooker in this case because it's winter here, and our oven is also the effective space heater for the kitchen area.
[2] For creamy sauces, milk will work instead. You're using about a quarter to a half a cup of liquid in any case; shake the bottle until the whole mixture becomes a single consistency, then add to the dish you're cooking.

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Current Mood: blah blah
On Cooking and Learning

I've been cooking pretty much since I could see over the stove. My mother started teaching me how to bake when my age was still in single digits - making Queen Cakes and Cornflour Cakes from the recipes in her "Golden Wattle" cookbook, and learning how to measure in ounces and pounds on the fly (an ounce was roughly a tablespoon; an ounce of sugar occupied less space than an ounce of flour). By the time I was about ten, I was cooking meals for my family, at first on the weekends (and sometimes there were some rather spectacular mishaps there) and then during the week. By the time I was in high school, cooking dinner for the family was one of my expected chores.

One thing I've learned about cooking is you never really stop learning how to cook.

I enjoy cooking. It's fun, taking all these raw ingredients, combining them, mixing things together, adding heat and motion and bits of this and that, and creating something delicious at the other end. Even the occasional flops are fun, because the interesting bit then is sitting down and figuring out what went wrong. Cooking, as the saying goes, is science for hungry people. It's an art, and it's a craft at the same time.

So, in the interests of sharing with the class, a few tips I've discovered along the way.

1) The first time you prepare a recipe, it's a fifty-fifty chance you'll get a horrendous mess, even if you do your best and read all the instructions.

2) The photos in cookbooks are carefully staged. Real food is messy, and more or less brown.

3) To cream butter and sugar for cakes successfully, it helps to have the butter at room temperature. Chop it small, and if all else fails, run some hot water into the sink and sit the bowl in that until the butter softens enough to be malleable.

4) Getting a recipe to the point where everything is effortless is something which requires practice. It isn't going to happen the first time you cook something, or even the second. Instead, you're going to need to cook it at least four or five times, and learn from the mistakes you make along the way each time.

5) TV cooks start with everything carefully measured, everything carefully laid out, and with at least two off-siders preparing things around the edges as well as doing the washing up afterwards. Then they do everything multiple times, with multiple takes, in order to produce one photogenic version of the dish in question.

Restaurant chefs have a huge supply of off-siders doing preparation, and being delegated the more basic steps in the preparation and also monitoring the clean-up. Plus, of course, they produce a very limited menu, which is often focussed on being entirely too photogenic for its own good.

Home cooks, by contrast, get one try to produce something edible, and the vast majority of household kitchens aren't designed to have more than one person at a time in there. Plus it's very much "rinse as you go" as far as the washing up side of things goes. Learn to live with the fact you're not going to get TV or Restaurant results on a regular basis, and figure out a couple of dishes which don't require much effort to look fancy. Pasta bakes and lasagnes do pretty well in this department, as far as I'm concerned, because a decent layer of melted grated cheese and/or white sauce covers a multitude of sins. My mother's go-to "fancy" dish was salmon mornay baked up with cornflake crumbs on top, decorated with tomato slices and cheese, and served with pasta.

6) There are some dishes which quite literally cannot be prepared without getting the stove messy. Fried rice is one of these for me.

7) Meat stews default to brown. Tomato dishes default to red. Curries tend to go either brown or yellow, depending on the degree of turmeric in the mix.

8) The more you read recipe books, and the longer you spend cooking, the more adept you get at being able to tell what can be dropped from the recipe, what can be substituted for something cheaper or more readily available, and which bits of the recipe are the essential bits.

9) Every experienced cook will have at least one or two recipes in their repertoire which are basically about using up bits and pieces of left over this and that, and where consequently the "recipe" consists mainly of two or three things which are essential, and a long list of things which can be added and subtracted as available.

10) Soups and casseroles are very forgiving and basically consist of variations around a single core formula. (Soups start with a stock, then you add vegetables and/or meat, and cook until done. Puree if it's supposed to be a smooth soup, otherwise pass the ladle. Casseroles start by browning the meat, adding the slow-to-cook vegetables and appropriate seasoning, adding a liquid component, and then cooking slowly until everything has cooked through). Once you know the core formula, and a few basic flavour combinations, you can start coming up with a lot of variations on a theme.

11) The best accessory for any kitchen is someone who will eat what you produce, preferably with every evidence of enjoyment.

12) You don't need all the fancy gizmos and gadgets most of the time. You can get away with a couple of saucepans, a decent frying pan, a couple of good knives and some serving spoons. If you're going to be using a gizmo or gadget more than once or twice a year, it's possibly an investment, but if not, take time out to go through your gadget drawer every so often, and weed out the ones which aren't paying their way. (To be honest, the only one I've found even vaguely irreplaceable is a citrus zester - and even there, the small side of the grater will do as a substitute, even if it is more fiddly to clean).

13) This one isn't necessarily confined to the kitchen, but the kitchen is where I learned it, so I'll put it here: if you wind up throwing it out without using it, you threw your money into the bin. (This is testament to years of learning the sad truth of "economising" by buying bulk quantities of things I use very rarely, if at all).

Anyone got anything else to add to the list?

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Current Mood: chipper chipper
Re-use, Recycle, Reduce - A practical lesson

As my regular readers may well be aware, my partner and I are on a very low income. Which means I tend to be pinching pennies pretty hard these days. So one day, after realising that most of the fruit in the fruit bowl (apples and a few pears) was looking pretty much dead, I decided to make the best of things, and make up fruit crumble for dessert (dinner was "scrounge" - leftovers, foodsicles[1], or whatever the player fancies on toast). So I peeled, sliced and stewed up the apples and pears.

[Stewing mixture for core fruit - apples, pears etc:

Peel and slice fruit. Place in a small saucepan. Add 1 dessert-spoon white sugar, 1 clove, approx 1 dessert-spoon lemon juice, and just enough water to cover. Bring to boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Drain and remove clove if using immediately, otherwise store in fridge for up to a week.]

The stewed fruit went into a small casserole dish, and I made up some crumble topping. Unfortunately, my recipe for crumble topping is designed to serve about 8 people (rather than just the 2 of us), and it resulted in a lot of leftover crumble even after I'd generously topped the stewed fruit. Hmmm... what to do with it.

Well, the mixture was predominantly plain flour, brown sugar, coconut, rolled oats and butter rubbed in. Hmm... says I, that's a lot like the mixture for ANZAC biscuits. I could do something with that.

So the next day, I took the leftover crumble mix, added another helping of rolled oats, a couple of tablespoons of golden syrup, a couple of teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda, and a couple of tablespoons of boiling water; mixed everything together, and spooned it out in biscuit-sized chunks on a couple of baking trays. Cooked them for about 15 minutes at 175C or thereabouts (between 150 and 200 on the dial, anyway) and set them out to cool.

Turned out nice!

[1] A foodsicle is a frozen dinner. By extension from popsicle being frozen soft drink.

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Current Mood: calm calm
Update 03 JUN 2017

Well, I've finished classes for the first semester, I just have to finish editing the short story (which is due on Thursday coming up), which mostly comprises minor tweaks to try and make it a little less "stations of the canon" and "cast of thousands", and then I'm done. I have completed a semester at university (again). I've come out of this one feeling a lot more positive about things than I have in a while - I genuinely feel I could keep up study with this level of support and assistance, and I do think it's helpful having the Access Plan in the background, so I know if everything comes collapsing down at once, I just have to wave that and I can get the help I need. Having my specialist support group mentor to talk with as well was a great help - just knowing I have someone else I can vent to about things if necessary was a great relief. Means if I get to the point where my brain is tying itself into knots and trying to do Weird Shit with my executive function, I at least have someone I can reach out to and say "okay, help!" and I know they'll do that, to the best of their ability. It's such a reassurance.

The rental inspection passed without a hitch - our property manager is familiar with the place and with us, and knows we're not likely to try and knock the place down without provocation. She was okay with the idea of us requesting another twelve months in the property (she asked us to send her an email about it, so she had a record - so I did that), and hopefully some time in the next few weeks, we'll start dealing with all the paperwork needed to ensure the renewal goes forward. If we're really lucky, we won't see an increase in the rent, either - we're in a declining rental market, so I doubt the rent will increase by much (if at all). Also we have the owner coming around on Wednesday morning to measure up the kitchen for Ikea cabinets (the ones from the carpenter apparently cost too much or something). So, we may be getting a better kitchen out of all of this ... or not.

Eating and food related stuff below the fold )

What else has been happening? Oh yeah, I've been writing up a chapter by chapter summary of a particularly long story for another author - something to use as a writer's reference for what happened when, who appeared at what time, etc. Oh, and the weather continues wintery - cold and clear, rather than wet and miserable. Although we are in with about a 40% chance of wet and miserable today. But other than that? We're all fine here. How are you?

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Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
Easy Fried Rice

The name is something of a misnomer, as fried rice is definitely easy in all its incarnations. This is the version I make when I have a bit of leftover rice as a result of overdoing the cooking in the week previous.

I tend to start with steamed rice, and if I have two takeaway food containers worth (or about four serves, in other words) then I have enough for frying up.

My usual ingredients for fried rice:

2 - 3 eggs, made up into a bit of an omelette (slice the omelette thinly once it's had a few minutes to cool - I'll generally make it first out of everything).
250g bacon rashers, rind removed and chopped up.
1 onion, diced finely
1 - 2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed or very finely chopped
1 tablespoon or so crushed ginger (as in, the stuff you get in a jar)
2 cups frozen peas, corn and carrot mix
approx 1/4 cup soy sauce
approx 4 cups chilled steamed rice

Optional extra ingredients:

* Tinned champignon mushrooms (either whole or sliced)
* Chopped cooked chicken, beef, lamb, pork etc
* 1 tablespoon or so crushed/chopped lemon grass (the stuff you get in a tube)
* 3 spring onions (green onions), sliced
* Chopped chives
* Chopped coriander (cilantro, for our American friends)
* 1 - 3 tablespoons lime juice

Start by making up your omelette - break the eggs into a bowl, mix them up together and add about 1 tablespoon or so of water per egg. Mix together a bit more, then pour into the bottom of a greased frypan or wok (I don't own a wok, so I use a frypan) over a low heat. Slosh the egg around so it covers as much of the surface as possible, then scrape the cooked bits into the middle until you run out of runny egg (tilt the frypan to ensure the runny stuff doesn't clump into the middle of the omelette). Let it sit until the top looks mostly solid, then flip and cook the other side. Don't worry if your omelette breaks up at this stage, because it's only going to get chopped up anyway. Flip all the bits over, cook for about 1 minute on the other side, or until you're pretty sure it's cooked through, then pull it out of the frypan and put it into a spare bowl to cool.

Now, put the chopped up bacon into the frypan, and cook over low heat until it's starting to render up its fat. This is a good way of using up cheap, fatty bacon, because the grease gets used to cook everything else, and the meat just melds into things nicely.

Next, add the onion. If you're doing this like me, and prepping things as you go, you'll be chopping the onion as the bacon is rendering, and lo and behold, just as you've got the first half of the onion chopped, the bacon will have yielded enough grease to ensure the onion doesn't stick to the pan! If you're prepping things first, cook the onion until it's starting to turn transparent before adding the next ingredient.

Next up is the celery. Again, if you're prepping as you go, the onion will be just starting to get transparent as you add it. You want this to cook until it's just starting to soften a bit, so about 3 minutes.

Next, add the garlic and the ginger together. If you're adding lemon grass and/or meat, now is the time to put them in as well. Stir well to make sure everything is blended together.

Next, stir in the frozen vegetables. If you're adding champignon mushrooms, make sure you quarter the whole ones, and throw the liquid in as well. This stage is going to take about 5 minutes, because you're wanting to make certain the vegetables are all cooked (as well as breaking up any frozen lumps of them that have slipped in).

While the veges are cooking, start looking at the rice. If, like me, you don't rinse your rice before cooking it by the absorption method, what you'll have is a bunch of solid lumps of starchy rice sitting in your containers. The easiest way to deal with this, and get the grains separated is to rinse the whole lot under HOT running water in a sieve, breaking up the lumps by hand if necessary (just squeeze gently under the water and they'll fall apart). Also, take a few seconds to slice your omelette (thought we'd forgotten that, hadn't you?) reasonably thinly. Basically, you're looking at bits of egg about the size of everything else.

Add the soy sauce to the frypan now, and stir well. Yes, it looks like a lot of soy sauce, but don't worry, the rice will soak it all up.

Speaking of which, now is the time to dump in the rice. If you want to be careful, add it in spoonful by spoonful. If you don't mind wiping down the stove later (who am I fooling? You'll be wiping down the stove even if you are careful), just dump it all in at once. Stir well to combine and heat through. You'll notice the rice goes a nice brown colour, which it's supposed to.

This is the point where you add the omelette (as well as the sliced green onions, the chives, the coriander and the lime juice if you're using those). Stir briefly to combine and heat everything through, then turn off the heat and serve. The recipe I've listed makes about four to six servings, and keeps well in the fridge overnight if you want some for lunch tomorrow. (I've no idea whether it lasts longer than that, because it usually doesn't in our household!).

The frypan you use for this recipe needs to be BIG, and even with a large frypan, you'll still probably wind up wiping rice off the stove and its surroundings - this is a recipe which gets everywhere. But it's fun to make, and it's a useful way of using up leftovers. (Incidentally, my other favourite for using up leftover rice is kedgeree, but it requires me to have some smoked cod on hand in the freezer, and also Steve doesn't particularly like it. Fried rice he likes).

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Current Mood: cheerful cheerful
Chocolate Hazelnut Drink

(Because I like this one and want to share it with people).

Take a mug, and put in two generous teaspoons of Nutella or equivalent choc-hazelnut spread. Add milk (I use full cream milk, because if I'm going to have an indulgence, it's going to be an indulgence, godsdamnit!) to the point where it just covers the spread at the bottom of the mug (so your mug is going to be at most 1/4 full).

Stir until smooth. Add more cold milk to the halfway mark. Stir again until combined. Now fill the mug to the top and stir again. You'll probably have small lumps of chocolate-hazelnut spread here and there, and you'll almost certainly have some smears of it along the edges of the mug as well as all the stuff which was on the spoon which hasn't combined into things. Don't worry.

Put the mug into the microwave, and heat on high for 1 minute. Take it out and stir again - this time, stir until all the chocolate hazelnut spread on the spoon melts and dissolves into the milk.

Put the mug back into the microwave and heat on high for another minute. Stir again to combine, and drink. If you're really feeling indulgent, and have the appropriate bits and pieces, you can top it with whipped cream and maybe some drinking chocolate dusted on top, but it's lovely just the way it is now. Enjoy.

(If you don't have a microwave, you can probably make it on the stovetop, but you'll need to watch it like a hawk - milk tends to scorch easily.)

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Current Mood: meh meh
How To Make A Nice Cup Of Coffee [1]

(I'm having one of my periodic fits of "I should try and post something every day to get into the habit again". So this is something I've had sitting around on the hard drive for a while now. Enjoy).

Take a mug. Into it put 2 teaspoons of drinking chocolate powder. Add 1 teaspoon of Moccona Hazelnut flavoured instant coffee, 1 teaspoon of Moccona Classic medium roast instant coffee, and 2 teaspoons of coffee crystals (large crystal form raw sugar - you could substitute raw or brown sugar to taste, but white sugar doesn't quite taste right[2]). Add about 2 tablespoons boiling water - enough to basically cover the bottom 1/5 of the mug, in other words. Stir until everything is pretty much dissolved (it won't be, and you'll find this out later, but it'll all look dissolved anyway).

Now top it up with milk. Whole milk, for preference (I figure if I'm going to have myself an indulgence, it's going to be a proper indulgence, thank you very much). If you have one of those fancy coffee makers which can froth the milk, top with hot milk[3]. For the rest of us, use cold milk. This is the point where you'll discover your components haven't properly dissolved. Stir well, until things are pretty well combined, anyway.

If you've used cold milk, you now turn to the miracle of modern engineering which is the microwave. Put the mug in there for one minute at standard temperature. Take it out. Stir some more. Put it back in for another minute. Stir again. By this time, the coffee is hot, smells wonderful, and tastes great when you drink it. If it isn't hot enough, you probably need maybe another thirty seconds or more in the microwave. Stir after each cooking period.

Drink, and enjoy. Limit yourself to one per day, lest the caffiend visit his hallmark of the withdrawal headache on you the following morning (also, it's hard to get people to take you seriously when you're bouncing off the walls).

(The big secret here is making the coffee with milk rather than water. The milk smooths out a lot of the bitterness, and it adds a bit of extra sugar of its own. This is another reason for using whole milk. This is also at least part of why the coffee you get from a coffee shop tastes better than the stuff you make at home - watch the baristas sometime, and you'll see they tend to be making the coffees mostly with milk rather than water).

[1] In my opinion, anyway.
[2] Coffee tastes better with the touch of molasses in either raw or brown sugar - it seems to smooth out a bit of the bitterness. White sugar adds sweetness without the smoothing effect of the molasses.
[3] Although, if you have one of those fancy coffee makers which can froth the milk, you're probably not going to be faffing around with instant coffee in the first place. In which case, mine's a hazelnut mocha with two sugars.

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Current Mood: meh, need coffee meh, need coffee
Achievements for the Week

Meds: 7/7

Another week of full compliance for the thyroid medication. I suspect at least part of the problem with taking things in conjunction with the psych meds was due to the psych meds themselves. This could prove to be interesting.

Knitting: 5/7 (but I haven't done today's allotment yet)

Current length is 90.5cm, which is about half the length of the dining table. The original plan called for casting off when it reached 2m even, but I think I'll just run it to the point where it reaches the end of the table instead, if only because the weight of the knitting is starting to get ridiculous these days.

Jobsearch: 0/8

It was a short week today (Foundation Day public holiday was on Monday) but come Tuesday I just couldn't be bothered with trying to look for work. I heard back about the job I was interviewed for - I didn't get it. Their reason was that I didn't have access to a car. Given I'm able to see the bus stop I'd've been getting off at from the front door of their office, the job I was applying for was an in-office clerical job, and the nearest post office is also clearly visible from the front door of their office (and about the same walking distance away as the bus stop) I've no idea why having access to a car was such a necessity. My guess is the lack of car is very much about "we don't want to have to mention anything which might sound discriminatory".

Other minor achievements: cooked up a melt-and-mix fruit cake (which turned out quite moist, very full of fruit), although our oven being what it is, the cake wound up scorched on the bottom and around one edge. However, I'll try out the recipe again, and see whether I can lower the temperature to the point where the cake will cook without scorching. I also made up some vegetable soup yesterday in the slow cooker.

The basic recipe consisted of three litres of vegetable liquid stock (from the pantry, one of which was low-salt, all of which were past their "best by" date), two diced onions, two finely diced cloves of garlic, four sticks of celery, four small spuds, three large-ish carrots, 1/4 of a large turnip, 1 parsnip, half a small savoy cabbage, 2 440g tins of tomatoes, a handful of green beans cut into 1.5 - 2cm lengths, a lidful of pearl barley, a lidful of red lentils, and a half-cup of macaroni. The onions, garlic and celery were turned into a bit of a sofrito (basically by chucking them into the slow cooker with the lid on while I chopped up everything else) and then I added the next batch of ingredients (stock, root veges, grains and lentils) once they'd softened up enough to be fragrant. Then simmer for an hour, then add the next batch of veges (cabbage and beans) then simmer for another couple of hours, then add the macaroni, simmer for another hour and serve. Turns out rather like minestrone, thick enough to require a spoon when taken from a mug, and very tasty. It's currently being brought up to boiling point again in the slow cooker, and then I'll just leave it simmering for the rest of the day.

Winter is soup time, as far as I'm concerned.

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Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
Achievements for the week

Okay, managed to take my meds seven of seven this week (even if yesterday's timing was massively off - didn't wind up taking the medication I'm supposed to swallow first thing in the morning until about dusk). But it's one week of full compliance, and that's a Good Thing, given what's preceded it.

So, achievement one: 7/7 for the meds.

Searching for work - well, yesterday was a weird one, because I wound up feeling bleargh when I woke up (delayed reaction to Tuesday, I think) and as a result I didn't wind up actually looking for anything myself. However, I did get a call from an employer regarding an interview for a position the Disability Employment Services people put me up for, so I counted that. Other than that mess, I've managed my two job search efforts per day for the rest of the week.

Achievement two: 9/10 for jobsearch.

The knitting now measures 75.5cm (which means I'm about a third of the way through it). I only missed the five rows per day yesterday, and that was mainly because, as mentioned previously, I was feeling bleargh and was putting everything off until later. I got quite a lot accomplished on Thursday (mainly because when I went to visit the Disability Employment Services people, I wound up having to wait nearly an hour for my appointment), and I didn't take it with me to the interview yesterday because I thought it would give the wrong impression.

Achievement three: 6/7 for knitting.

In other minor triumphs, I cooked up some macaroni cheese from scratch (and macaroni and cheese) last night, because I was feeling the need for some comfort food. Turned out quite good - I added all the trimmings, which for me means I chopped up some spring onions and threw them into the dish with the hot pasta, and I added some chopped bacon to the sauce mix along with the standard ingredients (which included seeded mustard). Turned out very nice, although I may have under-estimated the size of the dish required, because there was a certain amount of overflow which will need to be cleaned off the oven before I use it again.

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location: Sunbeam!
Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
Stove-top "Oven Bake" Biriyani

This is my adaptation of the method for the Patak's Oven Bake Biriyani sauce. I love biriyani in general because it's a one-pot meal which doesn't require me to be constantly watching over it, or fussing about it, plus it comes in a hot and spicy variant, and is therefore my kind of curry. I adapted the recipe for the stovetop because it cuts the amount of washing up I have to do by at least two items (casserole dish and lid).

What you'll need:

* A large saucepan, preferably heavy-based, with a tight fitting lid.
* At least two burners free on the stove (particularly if you're using an electric stove).
* 1 jar Pataks Oven Bake Biriyani curry sauce (look in the "Indian foods" section of the supermarket)
* 3/4 - 1 cup basmati rice
* Water as per instructions on the jar
* Meat of your choice sliced thinly.

Optional extras:

* 1 coarsely chopped onion
* Veges to taste or preference, chopped (there are two broad groupings here to consider. The first is the vegetables which can be chopped up and fried up with the onion; the second is green leafy vegetables which don't require long cooking and can be added in later. I've not tried adding root vegetables, mostly because I don't know whether they'd work properly)
* 2 teaspoons sambal olek (I add this because I prefer my curries very hot - even the "hot and spicy" recipe can be a bit mild for me).
* Extra water, if necessary (if you're adding extra rice compared to the recipe, you'll need extra water).
* 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves (cilantro, for folks in the US) - this is *very* optional, and can easily be left out. However, I've found it does work well with the flavour of the biriyani sauce.

How to do it:

* In your large saucepan, fry up your onion and fry-able vegetables (if you're using them) along with the meat, until the meat is sealed. This takes about five minutes maximum, at a high heat.
* Add in the rice, the Biriyani sauce, and the water (I use the water to rinse out the inside of the jar of biriyani sauce). If you're adding extra spices, such as sambal olek, add them now.
* Stir to combine.
* Bring to the boil and boil for approximately 1 - 3 minutes, stirring constantly. The aim is to get the process of cooking the rice off to a very strong start.
* Now, put on the lid, reduce the heat to the absolute bare minimum, and leave it alone for at least 20 minutes. You're cooking using the absorption method here - the lid needs to stay on, and the heat needs to be as low as you can get it without turning the stove off. I actually change burners on my (gas) stove, doing the initial cooking up on a fairly large burner, and then moving to the smallest burner of the four at the lowest heat it can manage for the rest of the cooking.
* After 20 minutes, turn the heat off, remove the lid, and stir your biriyani. Try to get the stuff which has stuck to the bottom of the pan off the bottom of the pan, but don't be too worried about it if you can't. Now is the time to add green leafy vegetables, and the coriander, if you're using it.
* Put the lid back on, leave the pan off the heat, and stand for another 10 minutes.
* Stir once more, serve and enjoy.

Notes:

* As far as the meat goes, I've tried this using beef, chicken, seafood salad extender (the sort of red and white mock crab stuff you can buy frozen at supermarkets), and pork rashers. The key is that the meat needs to be able to be fried up quickly, and then able to handle the long cooking time of the rice without falling to bits.
* The oven-bake version is pretty consistent with this, except that once you've boiled everything up, you transfer it all to a casserole (with a tight-fitting lid) and bake it in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes before stirring, adding any leafy green ingredients, and leaving to sit for 10 minutes.
* The curry sauce itself comes in three different variants, depending on what sort of curry you prefer - there's mild and fruity, hot and spicy, and a medium variant. I love the hot and spicy, and I haven't really tried any of the others.
* If you're finding the flavours to be too bland, add a bit of salt with the rice and sauce.

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Have a bundle of ideas in the making

So today I read something on Charles Stross' blog (pointed there from Making Light) for the first time in months. Then I started reading back through the prior list of posts on the front page, until I got to Designing Society for Posterity, an ideas post about the nature of society which would need to be created in order to handle Generation Ships (extremely long distance - interstellar - colonisation). Which sucked me in massively (not just the post itself, but at least the first eighty of the three-hundred something comments which followed). So, after pulling myself away from that for long enough to get the next batch of truffle mix into the fridge and chilling (prior to rolling things into balls and chilling again, then choc-dipping), I switched over to Shakesville - and promptly got pulled into another enthralling comments thread.

This has not been a good day for the housework. It's losing out in a major way to the distractions of teh intarwebs.

So today my readers get to have a mini-linkspam, along with reflections of my own.

First up - social engineering won't really be possible until we really have the tools to do the equivalent of performing maintenance on a social system while it's still running in such a way that the participants don't find such maintenance obtrusive or intrusive. At the moment, the only tools we have are fairly blunt ones, such as advertising, war, legislation and suchlike. They all have an effect, but often all they do is pass the problem on down the line for future generations to handle (to get an idea of how effective this isn't, consider that we're still dealing with fallout from a war which happened in Palestine in 69AD, and another which hit Afghanistan in roughly 325BC). So first we need to be able to fix potential problems fairly early on, before they expand outward with chaotic effects.

Second up - The issue of "who is a good guy" is one which highlights some of the current problems in our society - particularly our love of simplification and easy binaries. Humans are always going to be more complex than a mere binary axis can pinpoint, and so are human problems. This is why I always tend toward the notions of multiple solutions to a single identified problem, simply because there are always going to be underlying factors in every problem which aren't considered in an easy fix. For example, imprisoning people is the "easy" fix to the problem of crime - but it brings with it a range of different issues (such as the cost to the state as a whole of maintaining prisons and a justice system, dealing with the simple logistical issues of keeping them functional, and also coping with a society where prison culture is starting to shape a significant fraction of your population over time).

Third up - Every single time I see anything about the US political systems I wind up having at least one massive "WTF?" moment. The issue spoken about in the link is one which would be far more difficult to achieve here in Australia - mainly because the average Aussie tends to trust political parties about as far as they could heave the collected membership thereof, and therefore hasn't left anything significant in their hands. Voter data here belongs to the Commonwealth and State Governments (or in other words, to the Commonwealth and State public service) and there are some very strict rules about what can be collected, what can't be collected, what can be done with the data, who has access to it, who they can give the data to, how it can and can't be stored, and what's allowed to be done with it in the meantime.

Fourth up - Currency, cash flow and crime and the relations between all of these. One of the most basic things about money is that it devalues - this is a universal. It doesn't matter how solid the currency is, it will wind up devaluing in one way or another. To put it another way, all money is ultimately inflationary, whether legitimately acquired or illegitimately acquired. The process of resetting the value of $CURRENCY is generally nasty, since it gets started at the top of the tree, and winds up hurting everyone all the way down - those at the bottom of the heap get the worst of it. One other small reflection: I started to think the US economy had effectively gone down the tubes when Australian dollars were very near parity point with the US dollar - given the Australian economy is approximately 1/15th the size of the US economy, it's probably a pretty good indicator.

Finally - Girl Genius is still my favourite web comic. Endless fun, drama, suspense, thrills, action and, of course, Mad Science!!!

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Christmas on a Shoestring

So, we're on the dole, paying about $300 a week (or $300 each per fortnight, out of about a $400 fortnightly payment) in rent, and trying to figure out how we're going to cover the cost of Christmas. Fortunately for me, I've been feeling full of energy since we moved into the new place (I think it's a combination of the other shoe finally dropping - we had to give up our old place after a couple of years of not knowing if or when that would happen - and the cheerful realisation that being woken up at oh-good-grief in the morning by the day breaking through the window seems to set up my biological clock for a good day) so I decided to give our immediate families (my parents and younger brother; Himself's parents) something home-made as a way of dealing with the whole "gifts" issue. So yesterday we did a big shop, and bought ingredients for about six different types of chocolate truffle (and I collected the extra bits needed for a seventh today) and I'm making them at approximately one recipe per day until Chrimble finally hits.

This involves a lot of melting of chocolate, and making small balls of various things, coating them in other things, and chilling them in the refrigerator until they're "done". So it's all heaps of fun right up to the point where I have to do the ball making, because despite having extremely poor peripheral circulation (to the point where my hands get cold walking through a supermarket freezer section in the height of an Aussie summer, and stay cold for a good hour or two afterwards) my hands don't get cold enough to roll balls of truffle mixture without getting extremely sticky. I also can't roll balls of choc-dipped truffle mixture between my palms without getting chocolate practically *everywhere*. Definitely something to get my younger niece involved with, I think - the messiness of it might appeal to her. On the positive side, I've just completed the second batch, which are chilling down in the fridge as I type this (all I have to do now is finish tidying up... ergh). Only another five to go. Then I get to make up the gift boxes I bought, find out whether we have any cards hidden somewhere near the surface, and do fancy tags for each one (it's amazing how useful my stationery craze can be at times - I have enough fancy-schmancy pens to sink a small aircraft carrier).

Oh, handy tip for those in the extreme southern metro region in Perth, WA (eg Kwinana/Rockingham/Mandurah) - The Spud Shed, on Kerosene Lane in Baldivis is a brilliant place to shop. They do fruit and veg, plus wholesale priced meat and fish, and a fairly good range of groceries too, and it's all at nice low prices. It's not absolutely brilliant quality - the fruit and veg is definitely the stuff Coles and Woolies reject (slight blemishes and marks on the fruit, veg is a bit smaller than average) but it's certainly edible, and for the price, it's well worth the trip.

Now, on to the dishes.

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Current Mood: hopeful hopeful
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