Frozen Bananas

All week, I have been craving bananas, but I did not want to eat a banana on its own. I wanted to make a bread item, so made my tried ‘n true Banana Bread (I have the recipe on my Banana Nut Bread entry).

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This loaf has no nuts or seeds.

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This loaf has blueberries.

I must mention that I have never used frozen bananas for anything other than my green smoothies. Finally, I tried something new. I remember people telling me all the time “Oh yes, freezing bananas are perfectly fine!” I don’t like freezing a lot of things, been resistant, actually.

If you have not read my Banana Nut Bread entry, you will not know the history of this bread. I turned a five-ingredient recipe into an 18-ingredient one over a number of years. Some of you may think I’m crazy, but I love experimenting and texture, and measuring ingredients does not bother me.

My kids  have been asking me to make a bread with zero nuts and seeds. This is not easy for me, as I LOVE texture. I added one more banana and instead of vanilla yogurt, I used coconut yogurt. I also replaced one cup of A/P flour with rice flour. The result?  A lighter, delicate bread. I made one loaf with and one without blueberries. Both turned out beautifully.

Do you like texture – seeds and nuts – in your breads? What type of seed or nut combinations do you use?

 

 

Charmoula Chicken

This is the second dish I made in my crockpot.  And I have to say, it is one of my favourites.  I’ll tell you a funny story.  I was anti-crockpot for many, many years.  Never wanted one, never was curious about them, ever!

One Christmas, my BIL and SIL bought one for us.  I have since told them, it took me over a year to crack open the box and use it.  Now, I try to use it whenever I can, because when I have a full day of events, I NEED my crockpot!

Who knew I would one day proclaim, “I love my crockpot!” ???

Charmoula Chicken:

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Searing the chicken thighs

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Measuring the lentils and placing them into the crockpot

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Topping the lentils with the sautéed chicken, onions, and spices

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Finished product

I am going to share this recipe I found in my old Canadian Living recipe book.  I love the intensity of the flavours:  I like to serve it with a side of brown rice or orzo lightly tossed with oil and spices.

*** RECIPE ***

Charmoula is a Moroccan seasoning mixture of fresh herbs (coriander and parsley) and spices (paprika, cumin and cinnamon). Adding the herbs at the end gives the freshest, brightest flavour.
By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
Source: Canadian Living Magazine: April 2005

Ingredients
1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
8 chicken thighs, skinned
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp (5 mL) paprika
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cumin
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper
pinch cinnamon
2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh coriander or parsley
1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh parsley
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice

Preparation
In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown chicken all over. Transfer to plate.
Drain fat from pan; fry onion, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and cinnamon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over onion mixture; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in stock and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits.

Return chicken and any juices to skillet; reduce heat, cover and simmer, turning chicken once, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced, about 20 minutes. Add coriander, parsley and lemon juice.

If you don’t like lentils, you can always substitute with a legume or bean that you do like.  I’m thinking chickpeas or navy beans.

What is your favourite legume/bean?

 

 

Toaster Strudels

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I was a teenager when I took my first bite of a pop tart.  The first time my dad bought them, I had them as a snack, not as a breakfast item.  My dad treated them like a baked cookie, clever! So, I had half of one.  The thought of sinking my teeth into this gem of a find was overwhelming, having huge expectations … I was in love, yes, with a folded over, iced with sprinkles cookie that you (re)bake in a toaster/oven!  I could not wait until my dad brought home another box.  Well, that second box he bought was unfortunately our last.  Looking back, I know my parents wanted the best for us, “you are what you eat”, right?

Huge thanks to my parents, as that carved a very good path for myself, as well as my family.  I sought out a pop tart recipe after many cravings and not succumbing to them by running to get a store-bought version.

I am going to share with you the recipe I got from the Smitten Kitchen website – www.smitten kitchen.com.  This version does use all-purpose flour, so if you are/have become wheat sensitive, you may have to limit your consumption.  I have another version which uses cassava flour, but if you live in Vancouver, you will understand why I didn’t run out to get this last night!  I am excited to try this version, as it is a much healthier option.  I promise to share my experiences when I make it.

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Here is the pastry portion of the smitten kitchen’s pop tart recipe:

Homemade Pop Tarts
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Pastry
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

You can find the remainder of the recipe at www.smittenkitchen.com or www.kingarthurflour.com.

Super simple with great results!

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Do not be afraid to pinch the edges – I did not do that on a couple here, and the jam filling oozed out the edges.

My daughter and I had so much fun making these.  Normally, first-time recipes, I only make one batch, but we had a good feeling about this one.  So happy we doubled it.  The kids got up a few minutes earlier to have a couple for breakfast, and they packed one for a snack as well.

I am not a connoisseur of toaster strudels, but my first choice would be homemade jam.

What are some of your favourite fillings?  And do you like your strudels frosted and topped with sprinkles?  Do share with us.

Strata

I first stared strata in the face at a hotel brunch, and said “What’s so special about that dish?”

That’s exactly it, nothing. It’s a casserole, or a mix of ingredients, that can be found in breakfast dishes or quiches. The main events are bread cubes, eggs, and cheese.

For years, I have seen this item on restaurant menus, and in recipe books and websites. No, no, no, I will not . . . finally, I decided to make them, in the form of muffins, for breakfast/brunch. I liken this version to a deconstructed omelette meets french bread. I have to say, to no surprise, I am not a fan.

Breakfast Strata Cups:

Dice up bread into cubes.  Grate sharp cheddar cheese, adding in diced onion/green onion and mix with seasonings of your choosing.  Divide evenly among greased muffin tins.

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I then beat together eggs and some whipping cream, with a dash of salt.  Then I gently pour over the filled cups.  Be careful not to fill too full, as it may pour over the side and make a mess of your oven.

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Here is a close-up look – I could have filled them with less bread cubes.  It wasn’t until after they were cooked that I realized I could have done with less.  More is not always better.

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They do look great.  I plated them two-by-two on a light bed of lettuce, then placed a dollop of ketchup on the side.  It made for a great display.  I apologize for not taking a picture of this, though.

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Will I make them again?

Yes, I would give it a second chance, as a casserole dish (an entree), served with salad and/or with a side of vegetables.  Because it’s made as a casserole and is easy to serve, it can be a great potluck item to share.  Hey, one can even bring this with them on a camping trip.  I would – so easy to transport, too.  A foil pan would be best.

How do you “strata” – breakfast or dinner?

 

 

Making Sushi at Home

I’ve been romanced by sushi for as long as I can remember. In fact, I believe I first tried sushi after frequenting sushi bars solely for raw oysters! Yes, raw oysters. My partner-in-crime and I could not wait until we were old enough to drink sake and enjoy raw oysters on the half shell!

I know, it sounds a bit comical, doesn’t it? A lot of our friends were busy getting fake ID’s to get into clubs and here we were, thinking we were sophisticated and “all that”, having sake n sushi with our raw oysters! I was not that one to rush growing up, but then again my outlook was a little different. I embraced everything that came my way … didn’t like some things, but learned how to deal with those situations gracefully.

I got bored of raw oysters after a while. It wasn’t easy, visit after visit, never ordering the beautiful assortment of sushi that seduced me each time. I started off with nigiri sushi – a piece of raw fish, typically, atop of a rice pod, sometimes with wasabi spread in-between. Then it was onto rolls, tempura, noodle and rice dishes.

I have tried a lot of Japanese cuisine but only care for sushi and the like. When one grows up with a mom who is an amazing representation of traditional Cantonese cuisine, any other Asian versions of noodle and rice, well … meh …uneventful. If someone cooks these dishes for me, I am all for it; otherwise, I will not be paying for something I do not enjoy eating.

I have always wanted to make my own sushi, so I set out on this adventure with my kids. One New Year’s Day, we went to Fujiya in Vancouver to get all our ingredients. Since that New Year’s Day, we have made sushi a few times more.

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Cucumber and Japanese fried pancake are cut into strips for easy rolling.

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Sushi mats are very inexpensive and are easy to use.

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Filling for Negitoro Roll

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Negitoro Roll, Salmon Maki, Tuna Maki

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Tuna Roll

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My little helpers

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We saw this neat contraption at the fair, and decided to buy a few.  It is very easy to use, and makes a great stocking stuffer item (hint, hint!)

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Cube-shaped sushi – wrapping a strip of seaweed around it makes the sushi look complete.

What I love best about making sushi is that the tools are as minimal as the creations themselves. Sushi are essentially minimalist creations of art.

What is your favourite sushi?

Chia Seed Breakfast/Snack Jars

I absolutely love yogurt, but there is something dairy-free, and even better, for me at least, because I love texture – Chia Seed Pudding or Breakfast Jars!

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Here is a breakdown of the nutritional value of chia seeds based on a 1 ounce (28 grams) serving:

Fiber: 11 grams
Protein: 4 grams
Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s)
Calcium: 18% of the Recommended Daily Amount aka RDA
Manganese: 30% of the RDA Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA

I use chia seeds in salads, cereals, steel cut oats, breads, and sprinkle them over yogurt as well.

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Group A:
8 T chia seeds
1 c rolled oats – I like to mix small and large flake oats (I’m a texture girl)
4 c unsweetened almond milk (I use plain but you can use Vanilla)
Honey or Raw Agave Sweetener (if you must have sweetness – I don’t use it)

Group B:
2 c fresh berries, solo or assorted, or fruit (Banana flavour, yes!)
2 t honey
Raw almond butter

Extras:
Hemp hearts
Granola (if desired)
Dried fruit
Nuts

Mix A in a container and let sit in refrigerator for a minimum of four hours or overnight.

Take B and mash together. Get some mason jars or other containers w/lids and line them up. This recipe makes 6-8 small jars, depending how much you ladle into them. Remove from refrigerator the chia mixture and give it a mix, then ladle halfway into jars.

Take the mashed fruit and divide them among the jars. Top with 1t of hemp hearts and/or granola, dried fruit, or nuts, then finishing with another layer of the chia mixture.

Can be consumed immediately, if not, store in refrigerator (good for three days).

Do you “do” chia?  What are your favourite combinations?

Pastas, Traditional and Not

As I was growing up, I thought it was a treat to have noodles in the house.  OK, it is a Chinese thing, but we didn’t always have noodles for dinner.  My mom considered noodles more of a lunch item, as it wasn’t hearty enough for dinner.  She would make wonton and other types of dumplings to go with.  She was also good at making fried noodle dishes, but I will save this for another entry :).

I got bored of all the different types of noodle dishes/bowls we had.  They were either rice-, egg-, or wheat-based, and they were the same – long and thin or long and wide.

Oooh, the first pasta noodle I had was elbow macaroni.  When mom ran out of Chinese noodles, she took this out to replace them.  The next type of pasta was lasagna, yum!  Every pasta experience brought me so much joy!

And not much has changed.  Along with many of you, for personal or health-related reasons, I do not consume many wheat products.  I am constantly on the hunt for new pasta types.  And I will share some with you here.

There are a few places I purchase my pastas from – Donalds Market and Famous Foods, in Vancouver; Pomme Market, Costco, Save-on Foods (Healthy Foods section), and Superstore (Natural Foods section), in Burnaby and Coquitlam, to name a few.

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I found this at Costco – and if you have had a Chinese style dish with black bean sauce, you will like this.  I found the flavour to be mild, though some of my friends found it too strong.  In other words, they did not like it and would never buy it again.  For my first time, I decided to keep the flavours strictly Chinese.  I did not cook the noodles as long as the instructions on the box.  As I like my noodles “raw”, as my friends call it, I like to turn off the heat and let it cook to a certain texture, then I drain.

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For veggies, I used a trio of sweet peppers, along with purple onion.

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I bought some pollock (as I did not have access to fresh crabmeat) and shrimp as well.

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The shrimp and pollock were being pan-fried as the vegetables were being cooked in the wok.  The shrimp and pollock were then added to the work, where seasoning would take place.

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Plating:  I just placed the cold noodles onto plates, then ladled the veggie mixture over.

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It was that easy …

Here’s another … Edamame Spaghetti

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I pureed cauliflower and spread it onto a plate, then put some noodles on top of it.  It did not require any fancy toppings, etc.  This is a very simple way to prepare it.  If you are using pastas you have not used before and are not sure of how their flavours would blend into a favourite sauce, etc., try something simple for starters.

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Here are some other pastas I have tried:

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What I have learned from using rice pastas, and this goes for every brand:  Best if consumed the same day it was made.  For example, I made a ziti dishes ubstituted it with brown rice pasta – when I went to warm it up the next day, mushy … I hate mushy pasta, and pretty much, you can sieve it through your teeth!  Make just enough and store sauce separately.  If you want more the next day, make a fresh batch of pasta.

What are your favourite non-traditional pastas, and how do you like them prepared?

Cream of Tartar

Have you ever come across a recipe you are dying to try, then realize you are short one ingredient? What do you do? Do you look for another recipe to try or are you like me, who will think of a way to substitute this, that, and/or the other, to make that recipe happen? It doesn’t always work in my favour, but I do try.

I often hear my mother-in-law saying things such as: “Well, I didn’t have any cornstarch, so I used flour instead.” OR “My cupcakes are a little flat because I didn’t have any baking soda.” I get it! I’ve been there so many times! It’s not always possible to make substitutions, especially when baking, as it is so unforgiving. Baking CAN be an art, but compared to Cooking, clearly, it’s a science. Measurements and ingredients must be precise. You cannot eliminate a binder without adjusting sugar, etc. as the ingredients may not hold together properly, etc., thus having breads and cakes looking disastrous.

In the last few years, I have come across recipes asking for Cream of Tartar, in cookies, cakes, and frostings. It is not a basic ingredient for a lot of people. I typically use CoT to stabilize egg whites, but rarely use it as a leavening agent in cookies and cakes.

If you are making something for an event, I suggest checking your cupboards and ensuring you have all your ingredients. This would not be a good time to try substitutions. I usually experiment with substitutions as I am making something I’ve made many times before. Take notes while you’re experimenting – I always take notes, as each experience will be different. Substitutions with the same ingredient will have different results with cookies, cakes, breads, etc.

Up until recently, I had not come across a cookie recipe requesting Cream of Tartar. This got me thinking … I actually started to doubt the recipe! Up until now, CoT was only called for in one capacity only – stabilizing & adding volume to egg whites. This opened up a whole new world for me, or not …. either way, I had to find out!

I checked in with a few friends who use CoT in a variety of ways:
Preventing sugar from forming crystals when making icing, syrups, and some candies
Stabilizing whipping cream
Preventing discolouration of vegetables while boiling (I use tapioca starch for this)

And there it is, now I can justify adding CoT to the spice cabinet as a regular resident … here’s another fact which an old friend told me about long before I even started buying CoT, as she, too, was an avid baker, and loved to experiment. Did you know that CoT is found in baking powder? Yes! And apparently, one can make her own by combining 2:1 (each) CoT : Baking Soda and Cornstarch.

There are many ways to use CoT but not in the culinary sense. I will leave you all to do that research on your own.

Thank you for reading. It has been a while since I last posted anything. Travelling, family, school, and training (yes, I have decided to complete another half marathon!) have kept me very busy. My schedule is a bit more manageable now, and I am hoping to write more regularly.

Stay tuned, love to you all!

Candy Make-Up

As I write this, I am wondering how I survived my childhood, having passed by without a single birthday party …. I kid you not. I never had a party. Don’t pity me just yet. Believe it or not, I am not alone.

I only recall one birthday where I had an un-iced cupcake and in it was a single candle. My parents and siblings were the only ones present. That was the way it was … I did not know of any other way. And growing up with friends whose parents, like mine, were immigrants, we didn’t have birthday parties. One of the main reasons I never had a party was this: If I held a party, I’m essentially telling my friends: “Look at me, look at me, it’s my birthday. I’m having a party and you are coming with a gift for me!” My parents did not think it was right to grow up this way. They thought it was wrong to “ask for gifts”. It put people on the spot. What if one of my friends were not able to afford a gift? Perhaps it would be putting them on the spot, having to come with a gift because if they didn’t come, it would be assumed that he/she were poor.

You know, it took me a while to wrap my head around this mindset, especially when I started my own family. I wanted to celebrate them, and in addition, I wanted to celebrate all that was important to them, including their friends’ birthdays.

I put my imagination to work, and almost every party was different. Even up until the age of 10, a lot of children’s parties were held at home. Some of our themes included: Dress-up; Pokemon; Superheroes; Princess; Beauty Night; and various types of crafts.

One of the most recent parties my daughter had was Beauty Night. The girls not only received goody bags filled with make-up palettes, brushes, sponges, lip gloss, mascara, and pocket mirrors; as part of their activity, they got to make their own make-up palettes with a various assortment of candies and cookies.

The girls made powder compacts, lipstick, mascara/make-up applicators, make-up palettes, you name it. Creativity is endless … they had so much fun creating their own designs, and after they finished, they got to eat them! Most of them did not eat their creations, citing that they were too pretty to eat.

I couldn’t agree more …

Each guest got to design a plateful of items. It kept the conversation string fresh, the creative juices flowing. What recognizable products do you see?

I see a compact on the upper left, a few sponges and makeup applicators.  Then there’s a compact with blushes and another with eye colours. In the forefront, that would be a tube of mascara.

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Here we have a cuticle stick, an eyeshadow palette, powder puff, blusher compact.You’re probably wondering “Wow, you’re good!” Not really. I am just guessing, like everybody else. I did not record what everyone made.

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Here are a few more designs. Depending where you go to get your candies n cookies, you could bring the designs up a few notches.

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What to came my mind was making cakes and cutting out pieces to make jewelry drawers, cases, etc., to accompany the make-up. How about a dresser upon which to place them?

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Here is the book from which derived all the inspiration. I wish I had the title to share with you; however, I do own it. It’ll just take some time to dig it out.

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What was your most memorable birthday party, and what were the foods that were associated with it?

 

Burritos To Go

I can’t name one person who doesn’t like something Tex-Mex. When I first had authentic Mexican cuisine, it was only then that I realized the Tex-Mex style I was accustomed to was not authentic Mexican cuisine. When I was invited out for dinner, it would be “Let’s go for Mexican”. I don’t think people were intentionally misleading, it was a point of reference as to type of cuisine.

I was immersed into the Tex-Mex scene when I moved to Texas. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so eventful, as I could get it anytime & everywhere! It was fun, however, trying as many restaurants as I could, to compare the various chilli’s, burritos, salsas, pico de gallo, mole …

I visit Texas yearly, and dine at a different Mexican restaurant each time. Yes, I need my fix! But when I’m at home, I like to make my own Tex-Mex foods. I do make the occasional authentic Mexican dishes, but have yet to make a feast! My family craves burritos, so every once in a while, we make them, then pop them in the freezer. The kids love having them as a quick meal in-between school and their activities. We are not a fast-food family, so this works well for us.

When school started, my kids said “Mom, remember to stock up on snacks, etc.” When MY KIDS say this, they are referring to home-made, not store-bought. That is music to any mom’s ears, don’t you think? During the summer, our food habits are not as rigid. Feeling like ice cream … sure! But with the hectic schedules of school, activities and other commitments, it is easy to fall prey to fast foods.

Every week, the kids have an ingredient list for me to pick up. Whenever possible, they come with me so they can compare ingredients, and read the nutritional facts for themselves. They are just as involved in the grocery shopping process as I am. They design a menu for one day of the week, and get cooking! Although I trust my kids to my kitchen, I still like to pop in because safety and developing/maintaining good habits are huge concerns – big knives, heavy pots to carry, electrical gadgets, gas stove, etc.

On the weekend before school started, my kids wanted to make burritos. We picked up all the ingredients, and got busy! Enjoy these photos … the kids made them all on their own!

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I almost always soak my own beans, and either steam corn and cut off the niblets or just as good, buy organic corn niblets in the frozen section. They have a much better taste compared to canned. I like to mix my meats as well – I picked up Organic Xtra Lean Ground Beef and Organic Ground Veal.

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I slightly steam the tortilla shells so they are easier to manipulate.  The meat mixture can be added, as well as some cheese.

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Which way is the best way to “wrap it up”?  Thinking …

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The two sides are pulled towards the centre before pushing the front edge inwards.  Continue rolling to the end.

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Prior to wrapping in plastic wrap, parchment paper was used instead of tin foil, to hold the burrito together.  This makes eating easier, making less mess.  The parchment gets put into the green bin, less waste.

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This is the final look prior to storing in the freezer.  The bag was marked – Item & Date Made.

I’m always trying to find different ways to reduce waste – instead of plastic wrap, what do you use?