Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Old School Style: The Return of the Lunchbox

It's that time of year, when days and tempers get shorter. Harried parents tug their offspring through stationery stores and school suppliers, fights break out when an adolescent blatantly refuses to wear the proscribed blazer. I saw a woman burst into tears at a uniform shop when she was politely informed that her order had been misplaced and could not possibly be fulfilled until March.

But all of this is small fry compared to the big issue confronting us this Thursday: The Return of The Lunchbox. Merrily we've tripped along through December and January, free of the burden that is making and packing lunch, snacks and brain food 5 times a week. ("Brain food" for those of you who don't know, is school-mandated small pieces of fruit and vegetables, neither sticky nor messy, which your child will actually eat, ergo next to nothing.)


The ease of summer grazing seems to disappear the second food needs to be enclosed in a lunchbox. And there's something about throwing lunches together in a fog at 6am that simply wrecks any creativity beyond the dullest of dull (ham sandwich anyone?). So this year I'm getting organized, and I've got our Blanco Kitchen chef, Louise Harper, to help out with some fresh ideas.

I have one child who would happily eat a Vegemite sandwich, day in day out and another who would return with it uneaten, just as regularly. So I need to make sure that they're getting plenty of variety and also protein to sustain them during the school day.

One of my favourite lunchbox snacks is zucchini slice made cupcake-style. At this point in summer, zucchinis are positively being foisted on anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with a gardener. If you do not fall into that group, come in and avail yourself of the many varieties we have here in the Fruit and Veg Hall. Baked in a large cupcake or muffin tin, they have more crispy brown edges and kids scoff them, unaware of how healthy they actually are.


Another lunch that's guaranteed to be eaten is pita pizza. Pick up some fresh pita bread (I always keep a packet of the Mr Pitta ones from Chaso's Gourmet Deli in the freezer). Toast, then spread with passata or even ketchup in a pinch. Add a layer of baby spinach leaves, then top with diced leftover roast meat, sliced capsicum and carrot. Finish with a sprinkling of cheese and herbs, grill until cheese is golden brown.

 

On the snack side, anything that the children see as a treat - some beautiful little berries, watermelon chunks cut into shapes with cookie-cutters, salami slices is likely to be devoured. And with all the restrictions on nut consumption in schools these days, it's easier to whip up your own bars than scour the snack food aisles at your local supermarket.  (These are in fact so easy that you can conscript the young ones to do it while you look under their beds for missing school ties and sports skirts.)

Louise Harper's Date Bars

3 cups rolled oats

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼ cup sunflower seeds

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

¼ cup dried coconut

1 cup chopped dates

½ cup honey

½ cup tahini

¼ cup butter



Mix the seeds, oats, dates and coconut in a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the honey and tahini and stir until smooth.

Pour the butter mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Line a square tin with kitchen paper and press the mixture firmly into it.
Bake for 30 minutes at 180o C then cool for another 30 minutes before slicing.

The rest of Louise's Back To School recipes, including Peach Slice and Chicken and Leek Pies will be up on our website later this week. Or come in and watch her demonstrations on Thursday from 10 -2. Just like the teacher, she welcomes questions!


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

You Don't Break Friends With Salad

I know, I know, our New Food Resolutions were not about health or fitness but lofty culinary goals, to eat artichokes, minimize food waste, use the gadgets we already have. But that's not to say that a few of us here at the Market didn't set our own goals to eat more vegetables, exercise frequently and in one stellar case, give up smoking after a 20 year habit.

And by and large, we've been pretty good. One of us now cycles to work, another has taken up pilates at Lifecare Prahran Market Pilates (upstairs, above Market Square). The former smoker has been haunting the biscuit tin but is holding strong as I write.



But easily the resolution we've all been able to keep has been about eating more vegetables. With summer's bounty, it comes easy at this time of year and vegetables, either raw, or lightly cooked, have been tossed together with grains and some hearty protein (none of us went vegan) to see us through the working day.



The clear winner has been this Puy Lentil and Freekeh Salad.  On some days, more than half of our staff brought it in for lunch.  A solid, earthy salad, it lasts for several days in the fridge and had even the sworn meat-eater in my family popping home for "just a bit of that salad".  We've all spun our own variations on it, but here's mine:

Puy Lentil and Freekeh Salad

1 cup freekeh (available at the Essential Ingredient)
1 cup puy lentils
200g Persian fetta
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 red onion
1/2 cup green sultanas (available at 53 Degrees East)
1/2 pomegranate, seeds only
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1- 2 tablespoons lemon oil
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Cook freekeh and lentils separately, until just firm. Drain and mix together in serving dish. Season with salt and pepper and pour lemon oil over the freekeh mixture while warm.

Soak sultanas in red wine vinegar. Roughly chop parsley and feta. Finely dice red onion.

Add other ingredients to freekeh mixture, mix gently, season and serve.

Other options for these summer days are the ever-popular Thai salad Som Tum. My life became immensely easier after buying a papaya shredder for a few dollars from Lee's Asian Grocery. You can also substitute green mango for the papaya if you prefer a more zingy salad.

Louise Harper is our Blanco Kitchen chef and she whipped up some beautiful salads last week. The Hot and Sour Pineapple Salad is excellent with fish or chicken grilled on the barbeque. And her Mango Salsa is just what you need for those days when you buy a $10 tray of mangoes from Cheong's Fruit & Vegetables.

If you are too lazy or busy (perhaps you should think hard about your New Food Resolutions) then see Munira at Beangreen Vegetarian Cafe for a spicy chickpea salad. Or pop into Pino's Fine Produce for a selection from their salad bar. They produce four beautiful salads and a queue often forms by 11am.

Pino's Fine Produce Salad Bar

And if you're in need of inspiration, stroll through the Essential Ingredient's book section. Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's bestsellers Plenty and Jerusalem offer many leafy recipes that will leave you satisfied for hours. And possibly then you can tackle that artichoke!

Friday, 11 January 2013

BANISH THE BACK-TO-WORK BLUES

This week saw many of you shrug off the shorts and t-shirts and head back to work. It is practically an Australian tradition that no one should be forced back to their place of employment while there is Test cricket on the tv, but the harsh truth is that someone has to hold down the fort. And that someone, sad to say, is often you.

To make the transition more palatable, here are some of the top tips provided by our dear Twitter friends:




MAKE IT STRONG

Coffee. Let's face it, the whole concept of getting up in the morning just got a lot more interesting. Drag your sorry self into one of our cafes for a latte or give yourself an extra bit of va-va-voom with an espresso at Market Lane.

Flick through the food section of the paper. Ignore the weather report (27 degrees and clear skies). Brace yourself and head in to work.


MAKE IT A HAPPY PLACE


Your desk drawer should be a place of sanctuary. Yes, there's that one with staplers and old pencils and the like. But everyone should have a drawer with their secret stash - a bar of Dolfin chocolate from the Essential Ingredient, some roasted almonds from 53 Degrees East. And a box of chocolate biscuits to get through very stressful afternoons (the arrival of the Christmas credit card statement for example). I highly recommend McVities Dark Chocolate Digestives from Delicatess and Phillippa's Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies from Pete n Rosie's Deli.

MAKE IT SWEET



After the culinary and financial indulgences of December, many are looking to tighten their belts, both literally and metaphorically. Make your own yoghurt parfait at home and pop it in the fridge for morning tea - simply dollop in some yoghurt from the Health Bowl and top with muesli and blueberries. Just knowing that it is waiting there, healthy, delicious and saving you from the purchase of a packet of vending machine chips should be enough to make you smile.




MAKE IT HAPPEN

Open up some of the beautiful cookbooks you were lucky enough to receive over the holidays. (If you were not lucky, come wander through the Essential Ingredient's fabulous selection). Pick a handful of summertime recipes, to learn and then master this year. Plan culinary adventures in your lunch break and then pop in here on your way home (we're open until 6pm on Fridays).


Any other tips on how to ease your way back into the working year?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

NEW FOOD RESOLUTIONS

Every year at this time the papers fill with talk of New Year's resolutions, kilos to be lost and marathons to be run.  But I'm not interested in compiling a list of self-flagellation and denial this year, I want to concentrate on the positive and look ahead to the skills I'll (hopefully) acquire and the food I'll (definitely) eat.

Milton Brook Mortar & Pestle, The Essential Ingredient

  
USE THE KITCHEN GADGETS I HAVE

Here at the Market, it's so easy to wander into the Essential Ingredient or pop into Lee's Asian Grocery and decide that I really, really do need a mandolin. Or a mouli. Or a Thermomix. Or a mortar and pestle, completely ignoring the fact that I own three of those already (everyone needs one in every different size, right?).

This year I resolve to use the kitchen equipment I already own. To get every ounce of pleasure from something that I once couldn't wait to own. Which leads to ...


Stone fruit at Garden State Fruit Supply
 
MAKE ICE CREAM MORE OFTEN

While I can eat ice cream at any time of year, the ice cream maker does tend to get a little dusty over winter.  But in summer, with trays of nectarines and mangos everywhere it's a crime to let it simply sit there. There is nothing like eating freshly-churned ice cream on a warm evening as the cicadas whir in the background. And having your own machine allows you to experiment a little, try flavour combinations that you're unlikely to find anywhere else.

MAKE MY OWN PASTRY

I know, I know. (Don't get started, I hear enough about this from my mother).

One of the best cooks I know swears by Maggie Beer's recipe for sour cream pastry. I'll get right onto that, but then I'd have to buy a food processor which kind of breaks my first resolution ... (there are exceptions right?).

CUT DOWN ON FOOD WASTE

Here at Prahran Market, our traders donate almost 40,000 kilos of fresh food to SecondBite each year, which is distributed to agencies in need including the Prahran Mission and Sacred Heart Mission.

Now I don't have access to that kind of service at home. And I somehow don't think they'd be interested in the wilted contents of my vegetable crisper. Or the prawns I picked up at Theo & Sons that I was "definitely definitely" going to cook but then went out for dinner four nights in a row. But if I shop a little more often, a little more consciously and plan a little in advance, hopefully I can keep my own food waste down this year.


Artichokes at Russo's Fruit Supply

THINK ABOUT EATING AN ARTICHOKE

So it turns out you can be a food obsessive and work surrounded by some of the best produce in the world without ever having eaten an artichoke. Oh the hearts of course, in salads and on pizze, but have I ever acidulated some water and steamed, boiled, baked or stuffed me an artichoke? No. And they are so utterly beautiful, truly one of the knockouts of the vegetable world. I'll think about it. Really I will.

So do you have any culinary resolutions for the New Year? Some of our shoppers are talking about making their own pasta or bread this year or getting round to the cassoulet challenge ...