March challenge: Done

The challenge for March was one that was inspired by my friend: which was a cooking challenge in an attempt to expand my culinary repertoire. To tell you the truth, as a kid, I actually wanted to be a chef. I actually did work experience in a restaurant kitchen when I was in high school. I’ve always loved food. Food technology was one of my favourite subjects in high school. A whole subject dedicated to food. I even came third in the state for 3U Food Technology for my HSC. I am obsessed with food.

The goal for March was to try out new recipes and cook foods I wouldn’t normally cook. Cooking for one is never usually fun so my go-to dinners are something usually quick and/or simple eg rice and stirfry and/or pasta.

On a weeknight, I usually don’t eat until 10pm-10:30pm so I like to cook up meals on the weekend which I can freeze and then re-heat with some vegies.

I mastered making lasagne earlier this year and that has now become a regular staple. Lasagne and lots of vegies. And lasagne is very convenient to freeze. Here is a pic of the bolognaise that I use for my lasagne. Layer this between lasagne sheets. Top with white sauce and cheese. And then bake in oven for an hour.

From March challenge – cooking

I didn’t try out as many new recipes as I had hoped over March, but the thing is, whenever I cook a dish, it usually gives me 3-4 serves which meant it took a few days to get through hence the need for fewer recipe dishes. I was able to try out a new recipe and then freeze a lot of it for later. Cooking for one always means leftovers.

Here are some of the dishes I made throughout the month of March:


Pumpkin soup:

I cheated and used frozen pumpkin. I absolutely hate cutting up raw pumpkin. I boiled the frozen pumpkin till soft. Let cool and then cut off the green skin – but keep the pumpkin-y water. Mash pumpkin in a bowl.

From March challenge – cooking

Return pumpkin to saucepan. Gradually add it a little bit of the pumpkiny-water at a time using it like a broth. Mash up pumpkin as fine as you can get it. Keep on medium heat on stove I don’t have a food processor, so had to hand-mash the pumpkin. Season with salt, pepper other spices, chili powder, nutmeg etc. Keep adding a little bit of the pumpkin-y until soup-like consistently, but not too runny. Add in a small carton of cream. Keep on low heat. Season and stir.
Ready to serve. Now because pumpkin soup is a little too healthy, I, of course added in bacon and grated cheese (optional) as a soup topping. Hey, consider it a very paleo-friendly recipe. The soup would have also been perfectly fine served with some crusty garlic bread as well. This pumpkin soup was super easy, that I’ve actually made this recipe twice.

From March challenge – cooking

Tuna rice casserole/quiche thing:
This is great simple hearty dish that is suitable for freezing. I make a big dish and you can have it for dinner as well as put it in a tupperware box to take to work for lunch. It’s kinda like a vegetarian alternative dish to lasagne. I cook rice in the rice cooker. Once cooked, place about 2 cups in a mixing bowl. Empty in a can of tuna or two. Saute up some onions and capsicum. Add in some cooked broccoli. All the vegies need to be diced. Add that to the tuna and rice. Mix all together. You can mix/match with your own vegie conbination eg asparagus, corn kernels etc.

From March challenge – cooking

Add in a generous cup or two of grated cheese, like so:

From March challenge – cooking

Spoon the rice tuna and vegie mix into a large ovenproof dish. Season with salt, pepper etc:

From March challenge – cooking

In a separate bowl, whisk up 3 eggs, and then pour the egg mixture over the rice dish. The egg is basically a binding agent like in a quiche. Bake in over for about an hour.

And voila:

From March challenge – cooking
From March challenge – cooking

There you have a rice/casserole/pie/quiche thing. Serve with salad or vegies.

From March challenge – cooking
From March challenge – cooking

Great for work lunches or even a snack. I made this a second time, and in the rice/tuna and vegie mixing stage, I also added a few generous dollops of sweet chili sauce and mixed that in. Highly recommend that additional step for extra flavour.


Rice-stuffed capsicum:

This was a dish that didn’t turn out so great. Concept was good. Needed more flavour. I could probably improve on this dish.
I went a bit nuts at Costco and ended up getting a bag of 6 or 8 capsicums, which is a lot of capsicum for a person to get through. Decided to make stuffed capsicums. Basically made up a rice and mince stuffing.

From March challenge – cooking

Put that into the capsicum:

From March challenge – cooking
From March challenge – cooking

Add some grated cheese and then stuck it in the oven for a bit.
Turned out like this – not too appetising ay:

From March challenge – cooking

It was in a word: dry.
It needed more a like a rice bolognaise stuffing and or tomatoes or a salsa kind of topping on it.
Oh, well.

Chicken Schnitzel:
This has also become a new favourite. I never really eat a lot of chicken schnitzel since living in Japan. But decided I would make it myself. Super easy to make.
Flour on a plate, whisked eggs in a bowl, and another plate of breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs here in Japan are different – it’s the kind used for tempura or tonkatsu etc. So what I do is throw the breadcrumbs in a ziplock bag and then maybe another plastic bag for good measure. And the crush the breadcrumbs with your hands to make the breadcrumbs finer. To the plate of breadcrumbs I add in salt/pepper, oregano, finely chopped parsley if you have it.
I buy chicken breasts and cut them up thinner and smaller. Then coat the chicken in flour, dip them in egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. If freezing, you should freeze them after this process and before cooking. Use baking paper to separate the schnitzels:

From March challenge – cooking

Otherwise cook in a bit of oil (no need to deep fry) and serve. Squeeze some lemon juice over the schnitzel.

From March challenge – cooking

Tasty schnitzels:

From March challenge – cooking

I’ve also taken to making chicken schnitzel sandwiches which I pack for lunch on weekend day trips.

Potato bake:
Everybody loves a good potato bake. Easy to make and so yummy full of lots of nutritional sins like cream, cheese and bacon.
Peel and boil potatoes. Cool potatoes and then slice.
Saute up some onion and bacon.
Place potato slices into oven proof dish. Alternate with onion and bacon. Pour over a carton of cream and sprinkle lotsa cheese. Cover the top to prevent from burning with foil or baking paper. Place in oven for 45-60min. But remove cover about halfway through the process to let the cheese melt.

From March challenge – cooking
From March challenge – cooking

Yummy potato bake. Memo to self: must make this again.

From March challenge – cooking

Lemon Tart:
Tried to make a lemon tart. It was only barely edible. I had a couple of slices but then ended throw it away. It wasn’t too terrible, but not my best culinary creation. Without a food processor, baking desserts is not as good.

From March challenge – cooking

Mini apple pies:
Back in winter, I made mini apple pies. These were actually really yummy, especially with a dollop of ice-cream. I cut out pastry circles and placed them in a muffin tin. Fill the cases with stewed apple – diced apple, sugar, water and butter. Top with a pastry lid and bake in oven for about 30min.

From March challenge – cooking

For the last 3 years I have not owned a microwave or an oven. I was given a free microwave oven about a year and a half ago, and even then barely used it. I have only recently started using the oven function on my microwave unit. I tried to make a mini-roast in it once. Need to work on my chicken roasting skills.

From March challenge – cooking

These are all admittedly really easy dishes to make and freeze. But I did manage to experiment a bit more and managed to try out some new recipes and do more cooking from scratch. I want to try and make this an ongoing goal throughout the rest of the year. I love food and really enjoy cooking, so hopefully I can keep on expanding my culinary repertoire. I’ve also got a housemate which means I have a guinea pig for my cooking experiments. My cooking skills have reclined since living in Tokyo with no oven and very little kitchen space. Cooking more and baking more is something I’m really looking forward to doing more of when I leave Japan. It will be nice to have a real kitchen. Hopefully though, I’ll have some more recipes I’ll try out this year.

March challenge: Done

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