Kitchen – The Heart of Christmas
If you asked my kids what the most important thing about Christmas is they would naturally reply – presents! And while I do agree with them to some extent (I love my slippers and earrings!) I still believe that food, the kitchen and eating are the stuff that brings us together to share all the gifts – and love! You don’t say to your in-laws “come over on the 25th for some unwrapping” now do you? Course not! You ask them over for lunch. You ask your friends over for dinner. And the neighbours come over for Xmas drinks (still classed as eating in my book – the best kind 😉 The kitchen is not only where all the lovely, decadent, overly rich seasonal food and drinks come from, but in our house also the sticky tape, super glue, scissors and batteries, making it even more so the most important room in our house!
That said, and me with all my food obsessions, I don’t cook the Christmas lunch. The Roast Master does that. How can you mess with perfection? And so far this December, unlike previously, we haven’t had a fridge die, and oven kark it, or a car that needs $1000s worth of repairs. We are doing well so far, the kitchen is perfect functioning order. The BIG FOOD shop hasn’t been done yet, but I always look forward to that one – the chocolates, the massive joints of meat, cherries, bikkies and cheeses and all the other stuff that throughout the year you are sensible enough not to buy. Buying presents stresses me out, wrapping and list making are all a source of anxiety. But when I think of the food part of this season, I just smile in happy anticipation.
Giving in to Christmas Pressure
If you had asked me in previous years if December the 9th was too early to put up the Christmas tree I would have said ‘hell yes!’ but for some reason this year I am now sitting amid the glow of old but still shiny baubles. The kids started asking in November, and the shops as usual start the seasonal feeling far too soon. But I have caved this time around, and had quite a nice tree-decorating ritual. I have managed to do the reverse of what I aim to do every year, which is to get organised with the mass of present planning and buying, and not worry about the tree or christmassy stuff. At this point though, I have tinsel and decorations around me but very little shopping done so far.
The Christmas Panic has set in, and I am starting to be concerned by my lack of ability to rectify the situation. I very much need to go to the shop and do The Big One, but when? Just keep on putting it off, maybe it will go away? Hmm. Now that the tree is up I have given in to the season’s greetings – and the kids – and it will be a constant daily reminder that I have mission to complete. I must put on my jogging shoes and arm myself with lists galore and my backup credit card, and brave the journey through the mall. Elbows out!
Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables
I know. It can be hard. They are stubborn. And eating veggies has almost the same stigma as going to the dentist. But there are a few hints and tricks that can help get them to scoff the healthy stuff.
The hidden factor:
2 words: GRATE and HIDE. They won’t know it’s there if they can’t see it, so the theory goes anyway. Throw the vegetables in with whatever you are cooking up, or flip them in a batter. You can even mix them with an egg and fry them in the pan.
Grow your own:
I’ve found that the kids are always up for eating something they grew themselves, even if they don’t love the taste, they might just force it down cause they put the effort into ‘making’ them. I know this isn’t a quick fix, but if you’re interested you will find you get a lot out of it. I love my garden, as embarrassing as that is.
Add a sauce:
Even if it feels defeatist, add a sauce. Tomato, gravy, white sauce, BBQ, sweet and sour, anything will do. Anything to get them eating those yummy nutritious foods, I wouldn’t advise letting the kids pour their own though, that’s just asking for trouble.
Kids are kids. Ask them to tidy their rooms and they pull a face. Challenge them to a ‘putting things away race’ and they are all for it. Food can be the same. Try to think of some fun names for foods, for example in our house Broccoli is known as ‘little trees’ and Brussel Sprouts are ‘baby cabbages’. See what you can come up with
Stick with what they like:
Don’t make a rod for your back, if you have found something that they love, stick to it. Variety is good, yes, trying new things yes, but not at the cost of the ‘eat your veg’ battle. As they get older they will become more adventurous with food. I’m 36 and have just discovered that I like dried apricots!
My Newest Secret Pleasure
This blog is not about food. Nor is it about that so get your mind out of the gutter! Lately (for years) I have felt an invisible pressure load weighing further and further down onto my shoulders until sometimes I can’t even see through it. And it isn’t really invisible either. My kids have too many toys. I’m pretty sure that about 89.7% of the population would whole-heartedly and head-shakingly agree with me, but that doesn’t make it any less of a burden. So I have tried to take a hard line to the clearing out of toys every once in a while and passing on things they have grown out of, chucking stuff that is broken beyond repair or fair use, and taking stock of what is there. Just like everybody else. Similarly I’m sure mothers everywhere have battled with their children to let go of once loved toys, the teddy that hasn’t been invited to tea for 3 years, it’s fair to say that children are hoarders!
So I have started my own secret underground revolution. When all the kids are at school/preschool I walk around picking up handfuls of their toys and throwing them straight in the bin. I surely am not the first to do this, and whoever started it, why didn’t you spread the word? Seems it has taken me 7 years to cotton onto the fact that if you chuck your kid’s toys away they won’t notice!!! Now before you picture me shoving transformers and Lego creations in the bin, I only rubbish stuff if it’s old, grubby, broken or from a McDonald’s happy meal. And it makes me feel so good inside, I really love doing it. I even do it at night time too when they are all tucked up in bed, not suspecting a thing. Mwah ha ha haaa. Maybe a little bit evil, but I will have totes cleared out a space just.. in.. time.. for.. Christmas.
Bringing Taco Tuesday to a Whole New Level
I have only just started reintroducing Chilli Beef to the kids after a super spicy disaster at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t one of my best moments, shouting at the kids to stop complaining and eat until I tasted it myself and almost burned my nose hairs. I hopefully have left it long enough for them to forget, and have been making up for it by making Mexican food fun instead of painful! With not much faith in the kids managing to hold together wraps or tacos, I tried those taco boat things and the kids loved them. But of course being me forever the practicality lover wanted to make them myself, why pay for something you can do at home?
After the experiment success I read that the first thing you should do is soften the Tortilla wraps in the microwave, obviously I skipped this step but didn’t make too much difference. I’ll give it a go next time. I got out my largest muffin tray and brushed them with oil and carefully, stuffed the flat wraps in by sort of folding the sides a bit. Popped into the oven for around 15 minutes, checking every 5 seconds thinking they were going to burn quickly. They didn’t but don’t get complacent. As soon as they seemed to have mostly baked is when I took them out. And with the chilli beef the kids loved my Taco Cups, I could tell because the plates, table AND floor were clean.
Perfect Pita Pocket Pizzas
My kids are really into what I call non-bread bread. I mean rolls of all descriptions, wraps be they round or square, wholemeal or grain. Mexican burrito wraps and Lebanese bread, you name it they will eat it. My youngest is so funny, he loves Vegemite so much that he will have it on any of the above bread-like items. And today I have made another great discovery that I hadn’t tried since I was younger, the Pita Pocket bread. I remember when I was a kid getting them and wanting so much to open the little pocket up, stuff it full of ham and salad goodness and get stuck right in, only to be dashed by my tendency to overfill and the whole thing falling apart. I don’t think my mum bought them again. There may have been teen tantrum involved.
Then in the supermarket yesterday I was searching for a new non-bread bread and I spied the lovely little Pita Pockets and I though why not? I’m older and hopefully wiser, I should be able to handle this. Happy to report that I wasn’t even tempted to follow the instructions and cut a little opening into the top and stuff the bugger full, no no. I just treated them like wraps, buttered them and lay the ham (lots of it) right in the middle and rolled it up. Three empty lunchboxes was the result. I had one myself for lunch just folded in half, stuffed with as much ham and salad as I could get in there. And just now for dinner I got the pita bread out again, spread tomato paste onto them and sprinkled a good handful of grated cheese all over and baked them for 5-10 minutes in a moderate oven. The perfect pita pocket pizza for my persistently peckish piggies.
Mondayitis and My Security Blanket Ripped Off Me
I have really come to dislike Mondays. Sorry to all those massive Monday fans, I really like Tuesdays and also the rest of the week. I suppose we just become busier and busier and just like the rest of the world I try to get as much done on a weekend as I can, in between chores and the calendar events I’m run off my feet. Or Mega Lego days, those can take up a bit of time too. The point is, by Monday I am exhausted and almost run out of puff by the mad dash to get out the door for school. It’s quite possibly my most challenging time of week. This Monday was a shocker. We were all tired and dusty and the kids were moving so slowly that time seemed to be going backwards. Managed breakfast, but when it came to making the second meal of the day I was in for a rude shock… No bread, no wraps, no rolls.
My security blanket is not having to put too much thought or effort into the lunchbox making, hence bread, of any description is necessary, and none there was. In the next few seconds I weighed up going to the shop or making some quick pikelets, couldn’t even bear the thought so once again raided the cupboard, fridge and freezer wondering if I would need a chainsaw to cut up a frozen Miche loaf. Then my saviour, golden rice cake rescue peeked out from between the cans of soup and tuna. Thanks be, I was saved by my son’s favourite snack. And I was only just a little bit ashamed of myself for having such a dependence on wheat-based products, trying to be kind and let me off the hook. Not sure what I am going to do next Monday, other than check the pantry on Sunday night!
Ooh I had one of those days today, the kind that leaves you feeling like you haven’t achieved anything. Interrupted over and over and over *insert fade out*. I was hoping to get a good chunk of work done on the computer but my gorgeous three year old had other ideas, I felt so frustrated being unable to start and complete tasks in one go. People out there who try to work from home when there are children about have my greatest sympathies. It is almost impossible! My little guy was interrupting me every 2.27 minutes from the time we got home from school drop-off to the time we left for pick-up. This put my head in a space not able to cope well with the barrage that was/is the coming-home-from-school debrief, feed, bag drop and inevitable homework battle.
I almost got to the end of my tether when my sister called (interrupting me from finally setting my daughter up with some maths homework) because here was something that I actually wanted to do – talk to my sister – but unhappy as once again being torn away from the activity I was attempting to complete. So I gave in and had a chat for a while and she pointed out that I had just finished something – talking to her. I decided to set myself an achievable goal that would make me feel better, I chose to clean the kitchen. I find tidying and cleaning therapeutic and so was easy to get started and even though I had to stop a few times to find a piece of Lego and assist in the maths homework I did it. I actually finished a task. Not only do I love a clean and tidy kitchen but it acted as a visual reminder that today I have succeeded in something I set out to do. And guess what? I only had to stop twice during the writing of this blog, and the bath only over-filled a little tiny bit…
Still Don’t Know How We Managed to Pull it Off
There were 30 kids. It was 30 degrees outside in the summer-like heat. And only 3 adults positioned at various points in the house. The juice boxes were starting to go to the heads of the many 5-9 year olds running laps through the house, and a large plate of fairy bread only lasted 20 seconds on the table already laden with food. It should have been a recipe for disaster, but somehow, I managed to keep calm. At midnight the night before my husband and I laboured over the Castle Cake, consolidating our efforts in a combined push to the finish. But we coped, and didn’t even argue about colours or decorations! My daughter wanted a longish party so I was almost dreading the three and a half hours of screaming I was to endure and a little concerned that we wouldn’t have enough games to amuse them all. But it was easier than I imagined.
The first game we played was a sensory game with rice. After they had all run so much that their little faces were pink we rehydrated them and got them all sitting in the shade. 4 teams, 4 bowls of (uncooked) rice, and enough beads for one for each team member, hidden in the bowls. Blindfold one kid from each team and they have to find the treasure (I added a few extra for good measure and it made it a bit easier for them). I thought I would only get them to stay interested for one round if I was lucky but they were begging for another turn. They loved it. Another saviour of the day was the Disco that my husband set up in a large room in our house, flashing lights and all! It created another fun space for the kids to play in and kept them occupied. Not to mention the biggest game of musical statues that our house has never seen the likes of before! Massive win on the watermelon cut to perfection – why had I never done this?
A big pack of bubble blowers to hand out meant that we had hundreds of bubbles floating through the garden for as long as it takes most kids to drop a bottle of mixture. With the “open and serve” variety of chips, biscuits and lollies, good old party pies, sausage rolls and spring rolls, cake made the night before and low maintenance sandwiches and cut fruit made for a very easy going vibe in the kitchen. It was the easiest kid’s party we have ever thrown, and certainly the most kids we have ever had in our home. Maybe my husband slipped Valium into my morning cup of tea, you have never seen a cucumber looking as cool as I was.
When Food Becomes Art
I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. Food literally became art today at my house. Well it became craft but that’s close enough really. I don’t know where I read it, I can’t remember who suggested it to me, or if I came up with it I have no idea what I was thinking! But yesterday afternoon sitting in the shade on a beautiful spring day the kids and I were getting our hands stuck right into a bowl of oat-based gloop for papier mache. Yes oats. If you read my blog from last week What to do With All Those Uneaten Rolled Oats you will know that I have been determined lately to use up this space hogger and yesterday we took a leap of faith with strips of newspaper and cardboard boxes.
At the time, right in the moment I was trying to recall where I had got the idea to do this and I had very serious doubts. With sticky oat glue dripping from my fingers I searched through the memory banks and hoped like hell that it wasn’t my idea in the first place. Why listen to yourself? This isn’t going to work! It’s oatmeal you crazy lady!
Ah, I should have had more faith in myself, it worked a treat. Now not being much of a paper mache type of mum I may have picked the wrong materials by mistake. Boxes that were a little too shiny (ie glossy) were trickier to stick and gloop to, so my advice to you is this: be mindful that the items you are using are porous enough, BUT you can make paper mache glue out of just about anything!!!
What to do With All Those Uneaten Rolled Oats
It happened last year and the year before, so why not this year? At the beginning of every winter as I start to get cold I romantically imagine eating and feeding the kids porridge for breakfast. I say romantically because it really just is a fantasy in my house. I do love porridge, and would love nothing more than for the kids and I to all sit down together on cold wintery mornings eating our hot breakfast with steam coming off the top and everything. Alas, my children do not like porridge, but that doesn’t stop me from trying every year to see if they do. Which leaves me with a box or bag of rolled oats taking up valuable space in the pantry, and food going unused is just too awful a thought for me to consider. So this year I was determined to work out just what to do with it all before getting to the time when I know it’s only destination is the bin.
Sure oatmeal cookies are cool, and everyone loves a good Anzac bikkie, but there must be more to it than that surely? So I whipped up my very own version of a muesli bar, aptly named Oat Bars. Really easy, really yummy. Feels healthy although a lot of butter and sugary things were harmed in the making of this slice. A much lower calorie use for the oats came in my blender with Strawberry Oat Smoothies. So think and full of goodness it’s like a meal in a cup. Other thoughts for using up the uneaten rolled oats blended to almost powder are for the skin. An oatmeal bath can help soothe dry, itchy or irritated skin, without the need for expense or chemicals. A paste could also be made for a makeshift face mask, just keep away from animals when you do it. My last thought was to make up a glue using equal parts water and oat powder for paper mache. Or you could make it easier for the birds rather than pick apart a craft creation drying in the sun and just stick it in your bird feeder.
Another Epic Mummy Fail
But this time not in the kitchen. Well not today anyway. This one is about putting too much faith in a 7 (almost 8) year old to check the calendar when you ask her to. A two day fight preceded the invitation debacle, as my daughter’s birthday lands on a Thursday and she wants her party to be on at the first available minute after that, I had to cajole her into NOT having it 8am on the Saturday morning. Once that hurdle was passed, we set about making the invites. Fun, actual fun was had in the choosing of colours and fonts and moving pictures and all the rest. And yes, I asked her to look at the calendar to check the date.
Once we had printed, cut and folded the invitations and stuffed them into the envelopes and sealed them we were feeling good. Like when you have been doing something for far too long and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then Daddy pipes up with “Saturday isn’t the 10th, it’s the 11th”. Oh. You. Are. Kidding. Me. Check myself, yep. Daddy saves the day again in his so nonchalant manner. So to my daughter I suggested we reprint the party invitations tomorrow and get some new envelopes and start again. I may well have suggested she cut off her arm from the reaction I got, so I sucked it up and we did a patch job. A terrible chore of opening every one with a sharp knife, rewriting the date with a texta, stuffing them back in the envelope with pretty stickers to seal them. So please, when you open that birthday invite and have a giggle at the wrong date and the opened/resealed job, please spare a thought for me, suffering severely from end-of-term-itis almost as badly as my kids are!
Who Taught You?
Often when I am cooking I can’t help but think about the kitchen lessons I have learned over the years. Like whenever I make a white sauce I hear my mums voice ringing in my ears… ‘now we need to add the flour first to the butter so it cooks, and then once mixed you have a roux’ and I have also learned indirectly through her the words of her teachers. Granny always said she never burned anything on the stove because she never cooks anything on high heat, and Grandma never used to write down all the ingredients she used in a recipe just so no one would make it quite like her. That’s a little needy for my style but I like the notion.
In recent times my husband has enlightened me on many things about cooking, like how to grill chops and steak, and the all important – bacon. He and I are happily adventurous in the flavours we use, and always show each other our little tricks. I’m lucky enough to also have a culinary expert step-mum up my sleeve too, who loves telling me how she creates her masterpieces, and like my mum will share recipes with me whenever she comes across them. Now when I am in the kitchen with my little ones, I try to teach them clearly and with nice words. If they are going to have my voice ringing in their heads for all of time with cooking tips, best if I don’t use my bossy crossy mummy words!
With a Little Philly and Dill on the Side Pleeeease
Don’t you just love it when, for a recipe, you have bought items not usually on the list, and they bring joy to your cooking and eating for the short time they live in the fridge? I do! I deliberately don’t make a habit of having cream in the house often, although delicious and perfectly added to so many meals, it is just too much of a treat to buy all the time. And other items too, including this week’s bonus, Philly cream cheese and fresh dill. I didn’t even need the cream cheese for cooking, there was a promotion in the supermarket – buy two Philladelphia products and receive two stemless wine glasses for free. My husband’s love for stemless glasses combined with his ability to break them offered me the perfect opportunity to splash out on an “only occasionally” item. The dill was needed, but only a little.
So every day this week I have added a little Philly and fresh dill to just about everything. Baked potato, regular and sweet, on toast with everything and anything, mixed with pasta, you name it, I added the phillydilly. One meal I made for myself on my own for tea one night was baked sweet potato, some leftover pasta and salad, all individually topped with my flavour of the week. It has almost turned into an addilliction. You could say I have a PhDilly. Alright, I’ll stop. But the kids have also benefitted from this with creamier meals and a little dill mixed in here and there to help broaden their palate. Bonuses all round.
The Chances Were 50/50 But I Won
I had a very satisfying success with the kid’s dinner last night. I don’t know what you know of me, but I experiment a lot in the kitchen and the family is usually receptive, they will at least give it a go. Sometimes they will carry on forcing every mouthful of a disaster just to make sure I don’t cry. So I have varying degrees of wins, often I will make something that I don’t foresee any complaints with that they just hate (thanks omelette) and on the flip side I produce a more risky meal that stuns them into silence as they wolf it down (hooray for Mexican!).
In an attempt to get the kids eating steak I bought some ‘sizzle steaks’ I think they are also called minute steaks and perhaps something else. Thinly sliced I figured they were perfect for crumbing and so whipped up some beef schnitzel in the hope that my eldest son would manage as he has trouble chewing thick meat, especially beef and pork. And with some leftover rice I did a very different kind of fried rice without any onion (which is a base ingredient in about 98% of the meals I cook – you may have noticed) instead I just fried the rice adding soy sauce and a bit of golden syrup, and threw in some peas and corn.
It’s always a bit frightening as you put the bowls down on the table, ready to speak over the top of anyone to claim “I don’t like it” but no need, and when the inevitable “what is it?” comes I so offhandly say ‘oh it’s just beef schnitzel and some fried rice’ (you have to be casual about it, I’ve learned that the more you try to sell it the more suspicious they get). It was smiles all-round and empty bowls. Phew, survived another one.
At Home With Zombie Mummy
The flu has swept through my house leaving three and a half of us in various stages of the Zombie life cycle – moaning through the night and shuffling around all day with eyes half closed, but with more sneezing and coughing. With the lack of ability to do much, I have resorted to severe energy restrictions which is very difficult when you’re a mum. While the washing and other housework can pile up, certain things can’t be ignored like kids and their need to eat. And because they are all zombies too (in different stages, one is even cured!) we are all home together.
This morning when in the kitchen I opened the fridge and got out everything I could see to make my day easier. Buckets of strawberries, cold pizza, banana, rice cakes, boiled eggs and salami sticks. Just left it on the bench and the kids have been feeding themselves (and me) all day with bits and pieces. Smorgasborg has a new level of usefulness in my books. Now if you’ll please excuse me I need to get back to the couch.
The Kitchen is a Dangerous Place to Be
It’s all good and well if you’re a grown-up, able to reach the top of the bench and firmly in control of the storage height of all the yummy food in the house, but if you’re a cat, it can be rolling the dice of fate. Our feline friend Cookie loves the kitchen, it’s where her food is, and so she spends a lot of time in there. Eating her food, waiting for her food, miaowing for her food, she is as relentless as the kids. And when she is hungry she isn’t afraid in the slightest to jump around my feet tripping me over, or batting them playfully while I stand at the bench wearing a hole in my chopping board. She weaves in and out of my legs reminding me that she is still waiting, so bloody impatient!
Sadly for Cookie though her dance with danger came back to bite her, or step on her toe as is the case here. I was frantically making the lunches with kitty underfoot as per usual and I stepped on her. Given how much of my life I live in the kitchen, and how persistent Cookie is, it’s bound to happen, and it has from time to time. But last week I came home from school drop off to breathe a sigh of relief, only to be greeted by a hobbling little grey ball of fluff, unable to put weight on her left back foot. Poor girl, once she had bitten me enough to let me know she was furious, I took her to the vet and we got her attended to. I’d like to say that I will be more careful of her and she may have learned a lesson to stay away, but the kitchen is a danger zone for those nearest the big feet!
Encourage Those Healthy Requests
My youngest and most stubborn child is well known for his reluctance to eat healthy food at times. There is never a time he won’t eat chips, crackers or rice cakes, but trying to feed him a wide variety of fruit and vegetables is a challenge. He likes what he likes and he sticks to that. Only recently did he add oranges to his list of 4 (now 5) kinds of fruit he will eat, and similarly with veggies he is quite adamant about what he will eat and what he will throw on the floor.
However recently he has been showing signs of expanding his palette, and in particular has grown very fond of salt and pepper squid. Almost every time we go to the supermarket together and walk past the fish counter he asks for it. I try to say yes as often as I can, to be honest it is easy to grab the pre-cut stuff but when you do it yourself you get so much more. Daddy likes that. And it’s much more simple to prepare than you think. I’m not usually an advocate for oil-fried food, but I’m happy that the kids are starting to branch out and try new things, especially my hardest-to-please.
For Preparation’s Sake!!!
Life is chaotic, no revelations there. So we invent and utilise tools to help make our day flow more easily whether it’s an app that you can keep your shopping list up-to-date or putting the washing in the machine the night before so that it is ready first thing. I know I’m not alone in feeling chained to the kitchen sometimes, but there are ways in which we can find the key and escape!
Like many jobs around the house, preparation is often the hardest and most time consuming part. Painting for example is such a pain, moving furniture, laying drop sheets, cleaning the walls, removing old paint… the list goes on, and all of this before you even touch paintbrush to wall. While this can’t be helped, the kitchen can be systematic and efficient if you use preparation as a tool. Some mums (much more clever than me) plan their week’s meals into the shopping list. Others spend a day every week cooking as many meals as they can freeze to save on evening time. I use a very simple trick in the mornings when I make lunches for the school kids, I make one for my too-young-for-school child also. Then throughout the day as he inevitably asks for food, I can just hand him his lunchbox and tell him to go for it. For the love of preparation, think of how you can create systems to make life easier.
When Food is Hypnotic
Tonight I discovered a new hypnotic food. I should explain by saying first that I am possibly a little weird, but have always loved how certain foods look as they are being created and I can get lost in staring at them. When I was a child and we got our first ever microwave, I used to stare at it, watching the food go around (maybe this is the cause of my unusual habits). Also I have always loved making pavlova, the beaten egg white mixture looks pretty cool but then you add the sugar and vinegar and it is a shiny, morpheous mountainous mass. And I love making the roux of a white sauce (until recently!) and how it looks and sounds. How cool is watching butter melt? Is it just me? Making caramel is a pretty sight awesome too.
Tonight’s discovery was the watching of pork rind coming to crackle. I made a slow-cooked Pork Belly dish, but to make the crackling crackle I took the lump of meat out of the cooker and bunged it under the grill. Hubby is usually the roaster in our family, so he warned me that I must watch the pork like a hawk. Side note: this is the best way to cheat and get the best crackling result ever. I got a kid’s seat and parked it up by the grill. As the rind started to snap, crackle and pop, I was mesmerised by how the bubbles were coming up from under the skin and bursting on the surface with a great ‘puishoo’ kind of a sound. It was super cool. My new favourite zone out spot. Bring on the next roast pork, bags do the crackling.
Work It Baby, Work It
Not sure what it is, but lately I can’t make a white sauce for shit. I have never had problems before, not in the last few years anyway. I was making lasagne last week for quite possibly the hundredth time and my white sauce was lumpy as porridge and I had to work it so hard the biceps in my right arm were throbbing from the intense workout. I got there in the end but I was left wondering how on earth that could have happened.
Tonight I was again making a white sauce for a mornay, and the same thing happened. So lump! So not working without a fight. My muscles are once again tired in that ridiculous kind of way when you have sore muscles from doing daft things. I think I need to blame the saucepan and move on so that next time my mornay mojo is bubbling again. Next time it’s back to basics; measuring instead of wildly guessing and getting the old green, round-bottomed and over-loved saucepan out of retirement. I can’t handle any more of these workouts.
It’s school holidays in my part of the world right now and for me it is a love/hate relationship. I love not having to make lunches and dash off to school, but the trade-off obviously counters the mini sleep-ins. Sleeping in to wake up to the kids tearing apart the house is no good, but hey you can’t put a price on any extra sleep you can extract in a day! One of the many tricks I use to get the holidays cruising by is in the food I choose for the school break.
Lots of snack food is required, obviously, I try to make fun by baking special items and making jelly. Jelly is loved by all, made so quickly and is so easy that the kids can help.
I make dessert for them to look forward to (and even bribe them with if need be). Instead of sandwiches for lunch everyday I try to mix it up with rolls, wraps and pizzas. Breakfast can be special too, although I felt like the world’s meanest mum in the supermarket the other day when my kids asked for Coco pops from the cereal isle. My reply? Sorry kids it isn’t Christmas. I sincerely hoped no one heard me. Holidays can be a good chance for you to get the kids interested in cooking. Try some of our recipes together in our section: Kids in The Kitchen.
Gently Gently Catchy Monkey
I am often left wondering when we, as a family, will eat together on a regular basis. We sometimes have breakfast together on a weekend, or lunch and the occasional dinner, but we are still in the period of segregation between kids eating kid’s food and us (not wanting fish fingers for tea) having our own creations. The timing isn’t quite right yet either, us adults haven’t managed to alter our appetite times so that we are hungry at 6:00 at night. Instead we find ourselves eating anytime between 8-9:30 depending on what is happening at the time. I know people who need to eat at 5-6pm, friends of my own age, and I think we are just different people to them. I think of them like those people in retirement communities in Florida getting to the cafeteria for their early bird specials.
In tackling the first issue though, I have been slowly trying to build up the kids taste for a variety of things so that I can more and more cook a dish for the whole family instead of two separate ones. This is how I do it:
I experiment on them a lot and;
I add herbs and spices into their dinners but only a little at a time.
Last night was a good example of how I do it; I had a leftover BBQ chicken which I knew if I made with a white sauce they would happily eat with some veg. So I added to the white sauce a sprinkle of ground coriander seeds, a sprinkle of tumeric (which is so good for you I am trying very hard to incorporate it into loads of meals right now) and a sprinkle of garlic flakes. Add the steamed broccoli and some leftover cooked plain spaghetti into the mix and I watched with glee, laughing from the kitchen at my 3 year old loving it so much he was using two hands for good measure. I will catch that monkey one day, hoping to soon be cooking one dinner EVERY night.
Morning Cooking, Who Does That Really?
Most mornings in my house are the same. I snooze on my alarm for 15 minutes more than I should. Drag myself out of bed (getting harder and harder in this horrible cold Sydney weather) and start with the hubbub. Breakfast, make the lunches, order the troops into uniform, stop the fights, remind them continually to get dressed and stop fighting. The usual. Generally there isn’t any time to spare and so when I consider cooking before the school run I just can’t imagine how I could possibly fit it in. Just the thought of the mornings is scary enough without adding an extra task.
Having said that however, there have been a couple of occasions in which I have managed to hard boil some eggs or steam some corn in the mornings to add to the kid’s lunches. And I also experimented on the kids with porridge before school the other day (varying degrees of success – I loved it but the kids didn’t) that’s cooking right? So even though the mere thought of cooking in the morning sends shivers down my spine, it can be achievable. You just need to be brave. My friend sometimes makes pikelets for her kids when she’s out of bread. I don’t think I’m that brave.
Kick Back Tuesday – Blue Meringues
I made Chocolate Custard from scratch today for the first time, having always relied on the good old custard powder. And so I had four egg whites leftover, and you know me, I instantly start to think of what I can use them for. So I thought I would try to recreate something odd from my childhood. I say odd because I remember these little blue meringues in the bakery window, but I don’t think I ever ate one!
I made them using:
the four egg whites
about a 1/3 cup caster sugar
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp cornflour
couple of drops blue food colouring
Beat the egg white until it forms peaks, slowly add the cornflour, vinegar and sugar and food dye. Spoon mix onto a lined baking tray whatever size you like. Bake in a medium – low heat around 160C for 30-40 minutes, turn the oven off and let them cool in there.
Mine are a little bigger, messier and a lot less blue than the ones in my memory banks, but it was fun to finally satisfy the urge to eat blue meringue.
Making Caramel Should Come With a Warning Label
I was inspired by a friend of mine to make Salted Caramel Popcorn yesterday. The end result was pretty impressive, but I had a bit of trouble making the caramel. And ‘a bit of trouble’ is a bit of an understatement! In all the advice I received or read, no one warned me of the dangers of overcooking the caramel. The directions I read used the words ‘amber colouring’ and to leave the caramel ‘undisturbed’ while it boiled, so I waited, and I watched, and because it didn’t turn the colour I was expecting I kept waiting, until I had made what later resembled tar.
Once I had finally realised that it was burning I took it off the stove and it must have kept boiling for another 5 minutes, much like black smokey lava. Slightly panicking and wondering where the hell I was going to pour this disaster I managed to burn a couple of fingers, and then pour it into plastic bags that it melted straight through, thankfully landing on the baking tray lined with the “good” baking paper (the “bad” one is so terrible it is only used for tracing). I manged to recoup after school pick-up with some wise words on making caramel, and my second batch was awesome. I guess sometimes the best way to learn is by making mistakes, but I could have done without the injuries and the black tar stuck to the pan, the spoon, the bench….
Only One Bolognese Was Better Than My Own
Spaghetti Bolognese would have to be one of the most internationally recognised meals of today. It’s the kind of dish that everyone has made at least once, and for many it is a staple weekly meal (include me in that group – in fact I think I have been eating Spag Bol that regularly for my whole life). So we’ve all tried our hand, but how do you rate? It’s impossible for me to judge others’ Bolognese because I love this pasta meal so much that I think it would be hard for me to find any fault. I love my mum’s basgetti, I’ve tried at least 5 of my friend’s versions and various others, but, my own is my favourite. Sorry world.
It is such a well-known food that it is an easy benchmark for how comfortable someone is in the kitchen. After my friend had her second baby I brought her around a few frozen meals, including a tub of never-fail Bolly goodness. A few weeks later when I was around there her partner returned my Tupperware and thanked me, telling me that my Bolognese was ALMOST as good as his. Ha! In my face! I have only ever once eaten Spaghetti Bolognese that I liked more than my own one night at a small Italian restaurant near my university. It was heaven, sweet and full of garlic, but I never returned. Was it because I flew too close to the sun? No I just never spent any time in that area once uni was finished. Maybe I should go back one day…
When Beetroot Meets Tzatziki – Beetziki!
I just love beetroot, I’m a big fan, and have been meaning to make myself a beetroot salad for a while now. Eventually I got some fresh beets and a few bits and pieces and still didn’t quite manage it. With a birthday party coming up I was staring into the fridge thinking about what food I needed when I had an epiphany much like the Master Builders do in the Lego movie.
Frozen cob in the freezer… Fresh beetroot and carrot… Mint and a big tub of yoghurt… Beetziki was created. Inspired by my mum who used to (and still does) make the good old spinach dip in a cob of bread. I think when I put it out on the table it blew mum’s socks right off.
Easiest Dinner In The World
Rushing through the supermarket tonight in between ballet and bath time I was wondering what I could quickly grab to replace my didn’t-thaw-in-time meat. Once I had set my eyes on the hot chicken stand I couldn’t think of anything else. While I’m standing there looking at them I’m just thinking of tearing open the bag on the spot and ripping into the juicy chicken… yumbo. My mum says that when we were younger and she was working we sometimes had barbecue chicken three times a week. Now while I know that is a bit of an exaggeration as my mum is prone to do, I do however remember eating a lot of BBQ chooks as a kid.
Perfect for lunch, dinner, picnic, work, anytime really. Not to mention the day after chicken and stuffing sandwiches for lunch that my husband adores. It really is an all round meal of awesomeness. And the party doesn’t stop there, oh no you can boil that bad boy down in a pan of water for an hour or so and get a lovely stock to use up as a flavour booster for supper the next night. Barbecue chicken is the gift that keeps on giving. Now not to encourage mutation of the world’s natural creatures or anything, but I really would love a three-legged chook one day, to make things even easier.
The Adventures of Cooking in a Foreign Kitchen
Holidays are great. Brilliant. Wonderful. Full of adventures. Getting to know a new (or old) area, spending quality family time together, applying lots of sunscreen and a different kind of eating schedule. We eat out and we eat in, and sometimes we forget lunch, no biggie, we’re on holidays! My recipe for the week Garlic Prawns was inspired by the quintessential seaside vacation we are currently enjoying. Lucky for us we are staying in a lovely big house with our friends, it has been so much fun sharing the kitchen and the cooking detail and the chaos in keeping 13 people fed.
It is always a bit strange cooking in a kitchen that is not your own, but add to the mix a brain on holiday and meal times can be a little befuddling. But I do find it amusing to be chopping up in preparation and then go to the wrong cupboard for oil, look in the fridge for a condiment that isn’t there, and not have the faintest idea where to begin to find a straw. Plus the stove is different – gas – and I use electric at home so that takes a bit of adjustment too. Making your way around a new and alien kitchen is a holiday adventure in itself. Just earlier I cooked my prawn dish, which at home would have taken me 5-10 minutes. This evening it took me around half an hour I think, and I somehow managed to squeeze over a dozen mistakes into a three-step meal. Like I said, until tomorrow I am on holidays!
10 Rules to Making Pancakes
There are some inherent rules to pancakes that I was chatting with my sister about this morning. Like you should always make a double batch!
1. The first pancake is always terrible. It might taste alright, but for some reason the frying pan isn’t quite ready to cook for the beginning of your special breakfast. And let’s face it, pancakes is always a special occasion.
2. As the process is a bit lengthy, in my house someone always gets hungry before they are ready, and so start eating the toppings.
3. Bacon and maple syrup sounds weird, but it is actually a super tasty combination. You should try it! Maple syrup on the pancake with bacon on the side. Eat together. Yum.
4. Flipping pancakes is a big deal. Either you are talented in the ‘flick of the wrist’ department or one corner always ends up being folded underneath.
5. It seems that adding butter to the pan only works once more after the first time.
6. You can add more filling in the pancake batter making them more like pikelets, or add more milk for crepe-like result.
7. Use self-raising flour for more fluffy pancakes, but plain flour will do just fine.
8. The best toppings (in our opinion) are: banana and honey, lemon and sugar, berries and cream, and yoghurt with any of the above.
9. Less mess for kids tip – roll them up and tuck one end in if possible.
10. Pancakes are best served one at a time so they are still hot and the topping station isn’t too busy.
However you have them, little else can beat pancakes for breakfast. So thanks to my little sister for making them for me this morning. We won’t forget the bacon next time 😉
VERY IMPORTANT RULE #11 (also known as rule 5a)
To keep the frying pan nice and clean from the little black bits on the edge, tear off some baking paper and scrunch it into a little ball and use it to scoop a little butter and wipe it around the pan, cleaning and re-greasing it.
Leftover Rice, So Many Choices!
Whenever I cook a meal with rice, I always deliberately make loads more than I need because I love creating new ideas with what is left over. It’s not only great for a spicy fried rice or to mix with soup for a cheeky risotto, but you can also bake it with custard to make rice pudding. And then there’s yummy rissoles to make, casserole sauce to thicken up a bit, or use that leftover rice to make a rice-crust pie. Today I made cheesy, veggie, eggy rice snacks. Not the best name but I’m working on that.
3 cups cooked rice
2 grated carrots
1 small tin canned corn
1/2 cup grated cheese
salt and pepper
basil (or any fresh herbs lying around)
Mix it all up and spoon carefully onto a tray lined with baking paper and stick in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Sneaking Veggies Into Cake – The Cunning Parent
We have all heard of and most likely enjoyed a lush carrot cake in our time, that isn’t news. But when I heard about Chocolate and Zucchini Cake I was intrigued (even though it still took me a while to get around to baking it). And what a find! This is such a moist chocky cake that it tastes like self-saucing chocolate pudding, truly! The zucchini basically bakes down into water, simply adding to the amount of moisture in the end product. There is no vegetable taste, just chocolatey gooey goodness.
When at the supermarket buying the zucchini, and old fella looked over and said “aw that’s nice and healthy for the kids”, when I told him it was for chocolate cake he looked at me very strangely. I don’t blame him, he probably thought I was taking the mickey! Sneaking vegetables into cake seems like an all-time parenting low, but I like the fact that the kids all know there is zucchini in it, and they all think that’s crazy, but they all love it. I wonder what we will try next… Caramel Pumpkin flan anyone? That actually doesn’t sound too bad 😉
It Wouldn’t Be a Party Without a Cake!
Well, firstly it wouldn’t be March without the string of birthdays commencing. All in the space of a month we have myself, two sons, father, step-mother, two step-brothers and one wife, all to celebrate. At least I only have to worry about two cakes, or do I? Last year we had a big family do to include all the birthdays, and I made a humongous cake with several polka-dots on the top, each polka-dot had a different name in it. Not too bad although I still have a long way to go to be as good at decorating cakes as my husband is. Maybe this year for the extended family it would be easier to try to etch their names on a grain of sand.
And then there is the problem of MY birthday… I refuse to make a cake for myself and as talented as hubby is in cake decoration, he doesn’t even know how to cream sugar and butter, so often I end up with a store bought cake (boring!) or nothing. One year I was given two cakes because the givers didn’t know that the other had already silently volunteered for cake duty. I felt under pressure to equally like both cakes and so felt a little uneasy. (You know after writing this I will never have a cake on my birthday ever again after offending the only two people who DO bother to make a cake for me if they’re around) Ah, to be a mum and not worry about cake, instead just enjoying it, now that would be sweet.
Use a Little Magic in Your Cooking
The art of distraction is paramount to magicians everywhere, and so too with parenting. Most mums and dads learn quickly that a crying child needs to be attended to, and when applicable a diversion swiftly applied. Something along the lines of ‘Oh poor baby you bumped your arm? Let me kiss it better, oh LOOK! I found a marble on the floor!’ Works like a charm. Especially at the times when the child has been grizzling for such a long time they have forgotten what they were upset about. Well food need not be different, and we can easily find ways to misdirect the kid’s attention to get new foods into them, as well as encourage them to eat that particular healthy food they just aren’t convinced about.
Cookie cutter shapes can be ingenious tools in disguising food, a little fiddly yes, but not many kids can turn down star-shaped fruit, or star-shaped anything for that matter. When I was trying to entice my daughter to eat sandwiches I would cut them with the gingerbread man – much to her delight. Ah, those were the days when I only had one lunch to worry about. Another trick that has worked for me is serving the new or hard-to-sell food with a guaranteed winner. They may not pay attention and eat the new food by mistake, and then if you’re lucky, not be bothered by it. This week I made their dinner, a tad concerned that they wouldn’t like the salmon and smoked cod I wanted to use. So I mixed it with some simple veggies and made a nice creamy sauce through it, served it on sweet potato and I didn’t hear a sound for 15 minutes. Now that is magic.
Microwave Love and Loss
It can be a challenge sometimes to achieve a goal without all the tools that you require. For me, that meant cooking dinner tonight microwave-less. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t lean on it that much, but it is something I expect to be a functioning part of my kitchen engine to heat baked beans or do corn on the cob. The stupid thing tonight though was that I didn’t realise that it wasn’t working until I had tried it around 5 times. All I needed to do was heat up some leftover mash to mix with the fresh, and finish off the peas – they only needed a minute!
Mondays are not the easiest day for me. The kids were running wild whilst waiting for dinner, so I was using all my strength to ignore them and stay on track with actually getting a meal onto the table, running late as usual. So at the crucial point of the dinner-making, right at the end when I bring everything together and quickly zap that stuff for a minute or two, I was just a little bit disheveled to discover that everything was coming out of the microwave cold. The inconvenience of having to cook it on the stove had me putting bowls on place mats 15 minutes later than I had expected. It’s like when the power goes off at home, everyone looks around wondering what to do with themselves minus the TV, computer and devices. I should use this as an opportunity to improve the quality of my cooking by going without… but then again, I do love that the good old microwave saves me the small processes. We will just have to get another. Tomorrow.
Slow Cookery – How to Cook Two Meals At Once
As the days are getting a little cooler I automatically feel like warmer meals, and so I pulled out my slow cooker to shake out a few cobwebs. I haven’t had the best relationship with my slow cooker until recently, but it is all my fault really. The mistake I made in the past was forgetting to get the meal ready and into the cooker before lunchtime, and so by evening it was okay-ish but not great. Could always have done with a couple more hours. So I had an ingenious idea the other night to cook two dinners at the same time.
I have wanted to stew corned beef since I saw my mother-in-law do it, and had all the bits I needed to go with it. As is inevitable with cooking dinner there are breaks in play, usually filled with folding washing and shouting out for the 7th time for the kids to get dressed, but instead I chopped up some veggies and the lump of beef for the next night’s tea. I figured if I were to have the slow cooker on over night then I wouldn’t even need to precook anything so I chucked it all in and turned it on. Just in time for dinner number one to come out of the oven and be served. How efficient is that? If I do say so myself it was pretty impressive, and much easier to pull off than you would expect. And to top it all off the next night all I had to do for dinner was flick a switch to warm the stew up. Brilliant.
The Old Purple Fish Pie Chestnut
I feel like writing about another of my failures from the history pages. Looking back I do seem to make a lot of culinary faux pas. But hey, I do like to try new stuff and that is one of the consequences. My mother-in-law makes a great Fish Pie and back when I didn’t have much kitchen experience I decided to try the fish dish without asking anyone for advice. Yep I learned pretty quickly that I should always ask, always google, always look it up in the trusty old cook book. But I was younger then, brash and innocent to all the mistakes I was yet to make.
So I set about getting everything ready for the pie, fish ready to go, chopped some veggies to throw in uncooked (big mistake number one) and used milk instead of white sauce (big mistake number two). Then just chucked it all in the casserole dish (number three) with mashed potato on the top. When the crust was browning I proudly brought it out of the oven and after allowing it to cool a bit served it up for my husband and myself. Imagine my surprise when I was looking down at the bowls, filled with purple fish and purple raw vegetables in a runny, purple milky sauce. Thank heavens I didn’t have kids back then because the shame would have been much greater. Lesson learned – never just jump straight into making a meal without first thinking it through. Now if only I could improve on my thinking…
This week’s feature recipe is Cornflake Chicken, inspired by a local fast food chain, embarrassing as that is, yes I go to fast food chains, yes I enjoy the plastic food, and yes I know the nutritional value. But I really did get a great idea from a chicken burger one day and it worked a treat at home. My cornflake creation was tasty, and with a little homemade Peri-Peri it was dynamite. Peri-Peri (if you’ve been living under a rock) is a lovely lemon and herb hot sauce and it is very easy to put together. First find some nice hot chillies!
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon or 3 tbsp from a bottle of
splash of vinegar
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp butter
salt and pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chilli sauce
All you need to do is blend it all together and pour straight over the top of your crispy cornflake crumbed chicken to add a bit of spice to your life. Makes enough for two generous fire-breathing servings.
Perfect Pizza Bases
I wasn’t sure whether to title this blog “I have found the perfect pizza dough” or… “my family is sick to death of pizza.” Those of you who know, know that I am not much of a baker, cake or pastry maker and have challenged myself to improve in my lacking department. I have made a few different pastries, and now have tried a few different pizza base recipes too, and have finally decided on this as my favourite method. Find my Best Pizza recipe, and then go crazy with the toppings. Pumpkin and pine nuts, egg and bacon (cook the egg first), or garlic and 3 cheese (regular tasty, mozzarella and a nice creamy blue cheese always does the trick for me).
If like me you prefer a thinner crust pizza then halve the dough and spread it a little lighter in the pan. Remember if you do this that the cooking time will be less. I like to make pizzas for the kids in small square shapes, easier to roll out and easier to fit into lunchbox spaces too. The beauty of making pizzas is that the kids can get involved too, choosing toppings and having their say can help aid in those fussy-eater scenarios. And it’s a little bit of fun.
Packing Lunches? Think Picnic, Not Panic
Now that we are back into the swing of the morning mad dash, I have come back fighting in coming up with new ideas for the lunchboxes. I do often try the night before when I am scrounging around for dinner to think of things that would be easy to pack and send the next day. Cooking extra sausages, pasta, veggies or anything can be easily rehashed into lunch. I use a series of containers, even the tiny ones that you get from the Thai take-away can be great for ‘wet’ stuff or dips. My friend Felicity uses silicone cupcake patty moulds to divide the space, I daresay the best looking lunches I have ever seen.
I know it may not seem possible at the moment to fit anything else into the morning routine but I find a couple of eggs boiling or veggies steaming is something that can carry on in the background while flailing your arms around trying to dress children two at a time. Cold sliced meat, cheese and yoghurt are a good protein top up too, and if they like baked beans then why not make a roll or wrap out of it? Try a few different things, either made yourself or from healthier choices of packet food like crackers, dried fruit, even cereal from the box is a winner, and don’t forget to make the most of what is in the fridge.
A Different Kind of Snack For The Season
Went to our Street Christmas Party yesterday. Don’t ya just love the old street Xmas do? I have many fond memories as a kid attending various seasonal shindigs, and so was looking forward to enjoying some community spirit. Even though we didn’t know many people, not by name anyway, the kids played together and we all made some new friends. Aw. Other than a visit from Santa and a really cool bicycle-come-skateboard, the focus of my attention was solidly on a beautiful snack that tasted truly amazing and was such a simple idea.
The Roasted Lebanese Flat Bread was so moreish but not too guilt-loaded. Grab a couple of packets of Lebanese flat bread, some low or no cholesterol oil, crushed garlic and fresh Oregano (I think any fresh herb would work with this, you could match it to your meal). Mix all the ingredients together and brush over the bread on one side in generous amounts, and bake in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes or until crisp. Break into finger fitting size and serve on it’s own or with your favourite style of hummus. Be sure to make plenty, it will go quickly.
Sauce of Power
I have trouble from time to time, well pretty much every night, getting my 2.5 year old devil to eat his dinner. He eats his breakfast and lunch without much of a fuss, but come dinner time it’s on for young and old. Most nights we end up spoon-feeding him and/or threatening him with killing the 697th replay of Toy Story 2, it is a battle to say the least. But last night and tonight I didn’t have to force him, beg and plead, because his meals contained a mysterious source of power – sauce.
Tomato sauce and BBQ sauce are a guaranteed dinner finisher. I haven’t experimented yet with gravy, white sauce or a rosemary-infused red-wine reduction, but I suspect that it is the sweet nectar of the Heinz bottle that has him hooked. Sauce on meat, sauce on veg, if he had it his way there would be a black line with the words “fill to this line” circling the top of the bowl. I do remember as a kid having tomato sauce sandwiches, not many but loving that sweet tang. So I don’t blame my little boy for liking the stuff, I just feel slightly like I have created a saucy monster.
5 Easy Dessert Ideas
Are you planning for an upcoming dinner party? This time of year they seem to be a plenty as people come together to celebrate the season. Dessert got you stumped? You’ve been hastily flipping through your recipe books for an easy idea but it only ends in frustration. Every recipe either has over fifty different (and possibly pricy) ingredients or requires you to fluff around in the kitchen all day. In our already busy lives, nobody has time to create a lemon meringue ice cream (as delicious as this sounds) that’s process involves five separate components over two days. In your exasperated disposition, you contemplate ordering an ice cream cake from Ben and Jerry’s Australia or skipping desert altogether. But what dinner soiree would be complete without dessert? Before you throw in the towel, consider these five super easy, no stress desserts that will be certain crowd pleasers.
What could be easier than melted chocolate in a bowl? That’s what it might seem like to you, but to your guests it’s the ultimate decadent dessert that has thus far only been reserved for the tables of the elite. The best part about fondue is that you can choose your own weapons. What will yours be? Marshmallows, pretzels, apple slices, strawberries? The choice is up to you. And, if it’s adults only, try including a generous splash of your favourite liqueur. Place in the middle of the table and watch your guests devour this yummy treat.
What’s that you say? I don’t have to sauce this pudding myself, it does the job for me? Yes please! Quick, easy and only requiring one bowl and your sturdy old miccrowave, this easily be the best chocolate pudding out there. There’s just one problem though, it’s so quick and easy, you’ll have to stop yourself from making an extra one… or two… perhaps three… ok five.
Have you got people coming over that are a bit on the health nut side? A refreshing and nutritious bowl of fruit salad will satisfy their palates and won’t leave them feeling like they need to go for a five kilometre run after consuming it. Tip: stock up on the best seasonal fruit from your local market and mix it together midweek to avoid extra pressure on the big day.
Bread and Butter Pudding
Remember when your Nana used to make you bread and butter pudding on a cold winters night? It was a simple dish that she threw together in minutes and always left you wanting more (knowing nana, she always made extra.) It’s sure to leave your guests with a sense of nostalgia as they tuck into this sweet pudding. Feel free to alter the jam, swapping raspberry for apricot or even a lime marmalade.
Take something that is normally quite complicated and simplify it with a three ingredients to make a divine chocolate mousse. How is this even possible? Well, with a little good quality chocolate, sugar, water and five minutes of whipping, you’ll be doing the happy chocolate dance all night.
The Art of Lunch-Making
I think I must make over a thousand lunches every year. It’s no surprise that sliced bread is the bench-mark for good inventions, as the sandwich is king at lunchtime, my go-to guy in the morning rush to get to school. I try to pack good lunches, as wholesome as possible for the kids as I don’t want them to go hungry in the playground. It isn’t easy to keep coming up with ideas, I don’t like to be too much of a repeat offender but I also want the kids to actually eat their food and so don’t like road-testing new things in the lunchbox. We have had a good run so far.
Making lunch for my hubby though is a new daily challenge altogether. Ultimately he can get bored with anything if given it for more than one day. So that means using the cold meat for one or two days (non-consecutive of course), and coming up with leftover conversions to lunches. So far the menu has contained curry sandwiches, stew rolls and countless other dinner-turned-lunch items. Cold pizza is a classic favourite, and KFC apparently okay cold too. I have just made another first tonight for tomorrow’s lunch – hash brown sandwiches. Exciting I know. But where to go from here?
Here’s to the Men in the Kitchen
Today I have been racking my brains trying to think of something to write about but was struggling. The reason I don’t have much to report is that I’ve hardly cooked the last couple of weeks. Guess I have just been too busy or tired, but have no fear, no one has starved! My wonderful husband has filled in the blanks for me and I couldn’t be more grateful. Some men are tidy and clean and organised, not mine. Some dads like to do laundry as their chore, while ours prefers a never-ending pile of clothes at the end of our bed, down the side of our bed, under our bed… My partner loves to cook as much as I do, and how wonderful for me to not have the constant pressure of being nutritionist and chef.
We have different styles of course, I like to add in as many vegetables as possible, while he is more focused on meat. He doesn’t experiment on the kids as much as I do, and so always serves up a success – even if it is a little light on the greens in my opinion, but the kids love it.
Now if only I could teach him to clean up after himself in the kitchen…
It Happens to the Best of Us – The Cooking Disaster
It is not with a sense of overconfidence but rather knowing my kids tastes that I say I don’t often serve them a meal that they simply refuse to eat. I’m probably running at a 99% success rate with dinner, pretty good average really considering I cook my guinea pigs a new dish every week. But not this week. No, last night I managed to create disaster on a plate, and that’s putting it lightly. Not as catastrophic as the purple fish pie incident, but way worse than burned sausages.
It started innocently enough, pork steak, Chinese broccoli, mint, tumeric and coconut cream. I thought I could pull something together, in fact I was sure of it (I have watched loads of Ready Steady Cook, man I would kill on that program). I made the mistake of asking my 7 year old to have a taste test before I had finished cooking it and she pulled a face I didn’t recognise. The disgust was that strong. So I tried to fix it with this and that, making it worse and worse, and at one point I even added a teaspoon of jam. It was terrible but the optimist in me kept thinking (hoping) that at least one of the kids would love it and it will have been worthwhile. Nope. All hated it and had tinned spaghetti instead. How did I react? Not exactly model behaviour, I can be sensitive about things I put a lot of time and effort into, I guess I’m just human and was thoroughly disappointed in myself. This week I will be sure to double check my cooking mojo before the next experiment.
From Drab to Fab in Just One Addition
I had one of those rare great moments in the kitchen yesterday, tired at the end of the weekend and having had too much to eat at Sunday lunch with the parents, trying desperately to throw something together that didn’t require much thought or in fact, food. Lucky for me I had some chicken stock I had prepared the day earlier and lucky for the kids that they like noodles. My effort was not going much farther than that.
Noodles can be so quick and easy, and adding whatever you like to them gives you an element of freedom. On occasions such as this though, it was the simplest of the simple, and as dinner was boiling away the stove I had a stroke of brilliance to jazz up the chicken and vegetable noodles. Leftover in the fridge we had half a packet of some kind of spicy capsicum dip that was very creamy. Into the pot and all of a sudden we have a beautiful concoction that very loosely resembles something similar to a Laksa. Yep, other than the exotic herbs, all that you need for a cheat Laksa is a pack of chicken noodles and some leftover creamy dip. Learn something new everyday.
All My Favourite Bananas
This week my featured recipe is Banana Pancakes, easy, yummy, and uses up those brown bananas that no one wants to eat. It seems at the moment I have an uncontrollable banana buying issue. I guess the kids and I are eating a lot more of them for some reason, and I always seem to have three stages of the bendy fruit… a little green, perfect to eat, and the poor old lost banana souls whose prime eating-time was passed by. As sad as it is to see a lonely brown banana, I have so many uses for them! Banana Bread and Banana Cupcakes, Pancakes and Banana Smoothies.
Easiest Banana Smoothie recipe in the world? 1 brown Banana, dollop of honey, tiny splash of vanilla essence and as much milk as you need for however many children you have. Blend. Drink.
The last of my favourite banana thoughts of today is of Lou Reed. He has passed his own expiration date and joined the gang of brown bananas in my fruit bowl. The Velvet Underground will forever be waiting for their man. They guy was bananas.
A Mum Can Beat Google Any Day
Setting about my task this week of making cupcakes in the shape of boobs, I thought I would go with an old school recipe that has actually been passed down from the generations to mum and finally down to me. Well I say that and I’m not lying, but it seems like quite a common recipe so we can’t exactly go claiming it. It was probably published in the Women’s Weekly of the time. The 2-4-6-8 cake is nice and easy: 2 eggs, 4 oz butter, 6 oz sugar and 8 oz flour. Which I have nicely converted for the purpose of this week’s Busy Mummys activity.
It had been a couple of years since making this recipe and so I figured I should give mum a quick call to double check the measurements with her. I could have Googled. I may have even had the recipe written on a card in the mass stack of recipe cards I have. But it was a nice excuse to pick up the phone and call mum to discuss baking cakes. Mum got so much out of our chat as she does every time I call her to talk about cooking. So this week, I highly recommend calling your mum to ask her how to make something, you’ll get more out of it than just a recipe. I always do.
We have never been one of those families who have a ‘Theme Night’ however I like the idea as it helps to narrow your focus. Sometimes I wonder what to cook up for dinner and I think about what meat/protein I want to use and what bits and pieces I have. Without a solid place to start (like choosing a meat or flavour) I find my mind wandering to a fishy, baked beansy, pastary kind of a place where no good ideas are formed at all. Tonight I cooked up a Cowboy Casserole storm to celebrate the release of Disney’s Lone Ranger of which we have DVDs to give away at the end of this month – stay tuned for details. So having a cowboy theme actually helped me to focus on making a cracker of a meal instead of wasting brain space just trying to decide what meat to use. Also using the help of the theme on the weekend I threw together a great kid’s party with a Cat and Dog motif, and it was easy to come up with ideas when given the givens.
To carry on a blog theme last week I reported on my attempts on getting my kids to like curry (all going according to plan so far) and tonight’s Cowboy Casserole was the perfect platform to get the kids to like Mexican Chili. It has a very mild spice in it (Cumin) and what still remains my favourite food to cook with – mince! As if I needed another reason to love it. The family scored this one FIVE thumbs up – and as many grubby faces.
Getting Your Kids to Like Curry
No of course it isn’t necessary. But curry is one of both mine and my husband’s favourite meals, so the sooner the kids like it, the less often I have to cook separate meals for us all. I sometimes add to a description about a recipe that it is a good ‘whole family’ meal because I think it’s important to be able to share a meal together from time to time. When I was young all I seem to remember is that we all sat around the dinner table every night with the TV turned off and had polite conversation while we ate… something that happens little today, and most dinner tables I have seen lately are just as much of a stuff dumping ground as they are a place to eat.
So have we evolved into a nation that all hunch around the coffee table for dinner most nights with our favourite shows on the tube? Maybe, but we can still enjoy sharing meals with the kids and to me that means eating the same food together. I have given my kids curry a few times now, of course just mild curries like the vegetable curry (coming next week) and creamy ones too are usually winners. I ate my mum’s hot Malaysian curry when I was about 10 years old, so I have a couple more years to build up that resilience to spice and appreciation for the flavours in my kids. Maybe one day we will all eat the same food, at the same time, sitting around the dinner table!
And Here’s Something I Prepared Earlier…
A real test of one’s abilities in the kitchen is when forced to whip something up from nothing at dinner time for three kids and grandparents dropping in at dinnertime, but not having dinner. With not enough time to go to the shop, noting available to “open and serve”, I wonder how it is that I didn’t put any thought to this earlier. I close my eyes and focus on the vibration of the refrigerator, and through the power of mind take a mental inventory of it’s contents. The food selections floating around and around in my head space until a handful of ingredients find each other, meld and the idea has been formed. Saved by puff pastry once more.
I really quickly threw some pastry scrolls together using ham, cheese, tomato and onion, sealing them with a bit of tomato soup that looked like it wanted to help out. Chucked them in the oven while wrangling the kids into pj’s and cooking them a masterpiece also. Well it may have been chicken and chips but the scrolls were a hit with young and old. Pictures and recipe to come next week.
Rising to Another Baking Challenge
I said many blogs ago when I was making pizzas at home with the kids that I would challenge myself to try once again to tackle the invisible barrier standing between me and making a good pizza dough. My first disaster in short was just that. Gluten-free flour didn’t help my plight and it was a dry crumbly mess. So I vowed that one day I would try again, and I have. It wasn’t too bad either. I found two recipes, one more complicated than the other and I decided to go with baby steps.
The one I used is only flour, butter and milk while the other also used yeast, a little sugar, salt and oil. Not overly complicated I know, but I was still a little afraid. Don’t worry folks it all turned out fine in the end and not one crust was left uneaten. I think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to try for a lucky third go and maybe I’ll brave it with the next step… Baking dough with flavour.
And Introducing From the Random Corner – Rhubarb!
Since moving into our house just over 4 years ago, we have had a little bunch of rhubarb seemingly not growing much but just being there in the garden. That is it didn’t grow much until a long spat of rain a couple of months ago, and it quadrupled in size! For weeks I have been seeing it grow and grow and keep telling myself that I must do something with it, anything so that it doesn’t go to waste (typical me, I feel more like my grandma everyday).
So this week rather than a feature recipe, I have used a feature ingredient in two different ways. First I made a Rhubarb Upside Down Cake and then I boiled up some Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam. Both turned out much less bitter than I had expected in an overall successful garden to kitchen experiment.
So many people I know have random foods growing in the garden, lemons, chokoes, mint… whatever it is, it can be used. It’s a nice change sometimes to find some recipes to suit what you have in abundance rather than the other way around.
Record Breaking Leftovers Meal!
Lately it has felt like we have had non-stop parties and meals galore at ours… we haven’t, but if you saw the state of my fridge you may begin to understand. I had used up almost every one of my plastic tupperware/decor/take-away dishes to keep the excesses of the week that was. This is what happens when I plan dinner in my head and forget about what is already there, cooked and right under my nose in the fridge. I looked too late last night, and today every time I thought about getting something out of the freezer for dinner I had to restrain myself and move onto the next *insert one of the million things that I do in a day*.
So I served them what remained of the Corned Beef, a bit of white sauce I had tucked away, some leftover broccoli, and mash from another night, divided up the cheesy chicken pasta from Friday and added some beans. So not only did I make space enough for a three-tiered cake in my cold box, I didn’t have to cook a thing. It’s not cheating, even though it feels like it, it’s merely using what I have at my disposable to the best of my abilities. And my ability to press buttons on the microwave tonight was outstanding.
Feed By Example
We all want our kids to eat well and be healthy, but how are we expected to do that if we don’t show them ourselves what it is to eat healthily? As I wrote in last week’s blog, my mum used to make kidneys for us, and so I cooked kidneys for the kids this week and they loved them. It’s funny though, as I chat to my friends about this and that, every time I have brought up the fact that I cooked kidneys for the kids they screw up their noses and say “EEEEWWWW What? Kidneys?” I mean really, c’mon guys, it’s just meat, you’re all as bad as my husband who, incidentally when I told him my kidney plans he began to pinch his nose and I told him swiftly to keep his facial expressions to himself. Thank god the kids didn’t see him. I made him taste the meal as I was making it, and guess what? His head did NOT explode. The only person who was thrilled that I was cooking with offal was my mum, and I made this dish for her also to her delight.
Kidneys are a very healthy meat, packed with good nutritional stuff, lean and also cheap. They don’t have much of a flavour and so will soak up whatever they are cooked in, best stick to lamb kidneys they taste better. So can we all agree that kidneys are healthy and don’t taste horrible? Then why the face? The face that you are making right now thinking about offal! Show the kids that it’s a part of life to try new things and get over silly nonsense ideas. How will you ever get them to be open-minded about eating if you won’t be yourself. Go on, I dare ya, try kidneys again.
I have previously written about food that takes me back to my childhood, and I’ve done it again tonight. Some of you may be thoroughly disgusted to know that I cooked kidneys for the kids’ dinner, but I promise you these don’t taste like just any old kidneys, they are brilliant! When I was growing up, mum used to cook kidneys with gravy and mash potato, and I can still remember the little ritual we went through at the start of the meal… We would count out our pieces of meat in a circle around the edge of the plate to cool them down a bit, and then gobble them down before they were completely cold. Maybe it was a game mum used to play with us to distract us from the fact we were eating kidneys!!!!
Tonight I did something different. Having looked up what recipes I could find for lamb kidneys I was intrigued by one called Old Man Kidneys, a recipe with a name like that would have to be gold. So I took out the booze and mustard from the recipe and added sour cream and beef stock instead. These aren’t old man kidneys, these are kidneys kids will eat, picture and recipe next week I promise. For now I will make them for my mum on Thursday and perhaps challenge her to form silly patterns with her food on the plate.
A Little Too Much Healthy
Well it does happen every now and then, my kids have a few bites of their dinner in earnest, and then slow down and eventually look at me with sadness on their faces and they can’t even bring themselves to say it. I promise you I never shout at my kids for not liking what I cook, I do try to convince them to try new things, and what I have made for you is very healthy, it will make you big and strong is often heard around the dinner table. But my poor little kids somehow know that I am the one who will be sad if they say that they don’t like their dinner. So they give me that look and then we have to work around it.
I will always plead with them to at least try it, I often encourage again, I sometimes lather it in tomato sauce, but I never force feed them. I’m sure in this day and age that would be considered an act of cruelty, although I’m not sure I know of anyone my age who wasn’t force fed something in their childhoods. For my brother it was soap. So my solution this week was to plead and encourage, but then throw out the half-eaten dinners and give them all fruit to eat to fill their tummies. Nobody’s perfect and I am no exception, I don’t always get it right, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take to keep my family trying new foods and staying healthy.
Use Seasonal Food to Your Advantage
A combination of two things has occurred in the past few years, I have looked closer at the price of fresh fruit and vegetables, and I have looked closer at the quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. Resulting in only bringing home fresh food that is in season. Being a health conscious mum, wife and me, I only want what’s best for us (of course!) even if that means NOT buying my favourite summer fruit in the middle of winter. I don’t buy out of season fruit or veg for a few reasons; one is that I have no idea whether or not this item has just been in cold storage for a long long time, two is that if it hasn’t been in storage, then the item has most likely come from overseas and I would prefer to support local produce, and three… well it just feels strange to have a mango when it isn’t all hot and summery.
As it is such s a strong natural feeling, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there were particular minerals and vitamins needed from specific foods at certain times of year. Best example is for us right now: winter is cold, flu is rife. Oranges and other citrus fruit high in Vitamin C (to keep away cold and flu) are IN SEASON. Coincidence or clever nature? So in the spirit of things I have made a Potato and Leek Soup with the lovely seasonal vegetables at my wintry disposal. And have bought a massive bag of oranges to help keep my family flu-free.
A New Taste Sensation
This week for my feature recipe I wanted to cook chops in the oven. My mother-in-law does a great job of this with pork chops, very English style. So I was after a more ‘Aussie’ approach to the method and the first thing that popped into my head of course was lamb. My original plan was to make the sauce using flour mixed in with the vegetables and then add a tin of diced tomatoes. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the pantry and realised there were none (well that’s putting it lightly, I was something other than surprised, but thought I’d spare the details). I saw the tomato soup and thought this will work, I think.
I love the flavour of tomato soup anyway, so I was at least safe in the decision. However the dish started looking a little dry just when I thought I was finished so instead of watering it down anymore I grabbed a lemon from my large pile, thanks to a friend with a big old lemon tree in her yard. Cut and squeezed it, guessing that the flavours would go together well, and I was right. It tasted good before adding the lemon, and it tasted sensational with the addition of the citrus. I’m sure there have been many before me to use this combo, but I just love it when I discover it for myself.
A Meal Fit For a Future King
In continuing with last week’s theme of potatoes, this week I decided to go ahead and make a potato dish for the little prince. Now everyone keeps saying how much they are of hearing about the baby but I must have been living in my cone of silence for a week because I’ve hardly heard a thing. I had been thinking about a potato dish that my mum used to make and she called it Queen Victoria’s Potatoes, but little did I realise that it was just a joke she used to play with us as kids (bit of clarification – my mum’s name is Victoria). So I made the connection to creation.
In all honesty, this recipe wasn’t my original idea – gasp – it was my husband’s. Although I’m certain that he will deny that as in his eyes I have ‘butchered’ it. Prince George’s Potatoes as I see it is a simple, tasty, make-and-bake in three easy steps kind of meal, where as my fella put a bit more effort into his. But the bacon, the spring onions, that is his spin. So if Prince George ever asks me where I got the idea I will tell him that I find inspiration everywhere I look. Nah just kidding I will tell him the truth, my husband is English himself after all. And what is more English than a lovely dish named for royalty?
It’s Cold, It’s Winter, Eat Potato!
Here in the Southern Hemisphere winter is well and truly upon us and of course in the kitchen that means more oven time, stews and casseroles, getting the slow-cooker out, and poor old salad gets benched for a while. One ingredient that I simply cannot get enough of this winter is potato. We have a strange relationship potato and I, I do love it, but in recent years have kept an eye on my carbohydrate intake and so have become less and less dependent on it finding other ways to fill the veggie portion of our meals.
This winter though, my care factor has gone out of the window and I am in love with the potato once more. It appears in almost every dinner in some way, shape or form. To keep things interesting (for me, I don’t think the troops care how they have their potatoes) I like to challenge myself by making them a different way each time. That is until I run out of ideas and then go back to the beginning. So far I have baked and roasted them, whole, halved and cubed. Mashed of course, using a different mixer each time – milk and butter, cream, buttermilk, cheese or plain yoghurt. Cut and baked my own chips and skins, the list goes on. However tonight I panicked. By accident I made my own chips and intended to use the leftover mash from last night, not thinking about the fact that there would be two serves of potato on the plates (shock!). So I quickly mixed the mash with the baked beans and told the kids it was “bean mash… stuff” No one even listened to me as they got stuck in.
Well at Least I’m Consistent
So this week’s feature recipe is rissoles. If you have read some of my previous blogs you will remember how much I love minced meat and promised not to keep writing about it? Well I will just leave it at that. But at I’m predictable. In fact I was thinking of a few other ways that I am predictable in the kitchen:
I don’t follow recipes – this may seem odd coming from someone who writes recipes, but, I guess I’m just too much of a rebel. Unless I’m baking. Different story. I respect the baking authoritah.
When I bake I follow the recipe as best as I can, but I guestimate a lot. Especially with butter.
I love cooking anything noodles or pasta.
I burn toast far too often.
I have an innate need to use up everything in the fridge, LET NOTHING GO TO WASTE!!!
Using leftovers in the fridge I have been known to whip up all sorts of salads for myself – curry salad, beef chilli salad and meatball salad (my favourite).
I tidy as I go (it’s true!)
Wine (consumption of, not cooking with) somehow makes my cooking times MUCH slower.
So there you have it, and would like to add a handy kitchen hint: it is very hard to dance while chopping vegetables. Go on, try it and I will be amazed if I’m the only one in the world who can’t.
Fishy Fishy Fishy Fish
I really do love cooking fish, even though I must admit I am a bit of a novice when it comes to seafood. I never ate it much as a kid, I guess my mum was an amateur too. When I moved to Japan I had to overcome my ‘fish – question mark’ inhibitions and just get on with discovering how lovely it is to eat and cook. Not only tasty, but correct me if I’m wrong but the healthiest of all the proteins? Omega 3’s, brain food, can’t complain.
I am still discovering fun ways to prepare fish too, battering and frying being my first stepping stone, the second wrapping it in foil with a little butter, onion and pepper. My husband has now perfected that method and I have moved on. Nan’s fish pie, perfected. Now I really love getting a nice plain piece of fish and cooking it up with some different flavours. Most recently there has been White Parsley Fish and I did a nice Pear and Zucchini using fish, and of course this week’s recipe Honey Soy Fish. I think I am getting the hang of this fish thing. Next!?!
This week’s recipe Scrambled Greens was inspired once again by wondering how I could distract my kids from the fact that they are eating not only healthy foods, but green stuff. Not really sure why green is such an unliked food colour in my family, all the kids had to learn to like peas and broccoli, but they are quite good at being talked into trying things. Generally if they refuse something I can convince them to at least have a good mouthful of it, and during the first few seconds I can always tell if they actually dislike it (wrinkled nose, eyes squint, you know the look), in which case I stop insisting. But if I can tell they are just putting it on, feeling anti-green, then we talk a lot about the Hulk, Ironman and Spiderman who always eat their Broccoli.
Other sneaky ways to slip the healthy stuff in is to put that grater to good use. Grated veg is harder to see and even more difficult to pick out! Bonus! If you have the time, patience and forthought then making funny faces with veg can work wonders, comedy and food are famous friends. Then there is the hide and seek veggies… they can be hidden well in sauces, either drizzled with a cheesy white sauce or slow-cooked until they don’t resemble a vegetable anymore. And lastly is no trick really, I like to let the guys choose vegetables from the supermarket (this week it’s Broccolini) and then for dinner too. Hard to argue when it was their choice!
Cream. Get on Top.
Prince knew before I did that cream is an incredible staple to add to the fridge. I had often wondered why some people always have it in the fridge, thinking the only use for it was to whip and drown a pavlova in. Well it has made my essentials shopping list now and I haven’t yet once had to chuck it out having started a colony of mould. Even though it has revolutionised my mash potato and my 6 year old says to me “Mum did you use cream in these potatoes again? So silky smooth yum thanks!”, it took me a while to catch on. I didn’t like cream as a kid, too rich I guess, perhaps this is why I needed time and time again proof in it’s ability to transform my meals.
The first time I realised cream was white dairy gold I used it in a curry, and to the exclamations of “What did you put in this? It’s amazing!” I simply replied cream. It was also crucial in my mucking around with a kid friendly curry, which was so awesome that now I am wondering if I could have mixed anything with the cream to make a delish dish. It is eggs best friend, and I made some fabulous cupcakes last week using cream instead of milk. My husband has it in his coffee now, and it makes my cuppa soup taste so much better. Cream sha-boogey bop.
Pastry Challenge Accepted
So I set myself a challenge a couple of weeks ago to learn how to make pastry. I have this nagging feeling inside me that makes me want to learn how to cook everything from scratch, know how to sew, and be able to make cleaning products with ingredients from my pantry. Don’t ask why. And pastry was next on my hit list, which makes sense really because I love everything that is made with pastry. So I asked a friend to help me start and she gave me her grandmother’s cold pastry recipe – Helmi’s Cold Pastry. As far as recipes go, this is fairly simple in terms of ingredients and method, no lard or shortening required, and no layering issues either. And this is a lovely tasting pastry, buttery and soft, and keeps together well when serving out the dish.
As is the case with all pastry recipes, there are things you really should and shouldn’t do, and this one places emphasis on the cold aspect. When my lovely friend was giving me the recipe at the end of every process she said “and put it back in the fridge”. I didn’t put it back in the fridge quite that much, but I did every time I needed to walk away from the kitchen for even a minute. I DID sift the flour this time under strict instructions, as I am known to be a bit of a rebel and don’t like sifting. I was careful not to add the milk all at once but I think I added just a smidge too much. I would have sprinkled a little extra flour to even it up but I was too scared to veer away from the instructions. So I found it quite sticky to work with. The other important note is that it needs to be cooked slowly. My pie browned much faster than I expected (on 180C) and the pastry was a teeny tiny bit doughy in the middle. So next time (yes I will definitely brave a next time) I will watch the ‘wetness’ of the mixture, and cook it for longer and slower. It was so worth it, the nicest pie we have had in ages, tasted so homemade and real, flavoursome in that Grandma’s Bakery kind of way. I highly recommend you set yourself a challenge like this, it is rewarding as well as yummy.
I Think I’m turning Japanese I really Think So
I don’t know what has happened to me in the last couple of weeks, but I have gone on a bit of a Japanese frenzy. Not altogether too surprising as I did live there for three and a half years and you know me, I love the food aspect. I have already reported on making sushi and fried noodles – my version of yakisoba – but this week I went all out and made a few other simple yet totally exotic dishes that made me feel a little bit like a kitchen queen.
First up was tonkatsu, which is basically a marinated, slightly thin pork steak, crumbed and shallow-fried. The marinade was easy – soy, worcester, and a bit of barbequeue sauce, and crumbing with breadcrumbs would be ok – I used rice crumbs – I think you can even get proper Japanese crumbing mix from the supermarket these days. Served as I always ate it on a bed of cabbage that couldn’t have been chopped finer by Tinkerbell. Delicious.
Then this week it was Okonomiyaki which is in essence a Japanese pancake filled with mostly cabbage, and any other kind of ingredient one cares to add. A little of the fun was taken out of this meal by the fact that I don’t have a griddle to sit my friends around, so instead used the frying pan. Okonomiyaki was always such an event, because we only ever used to eat it at restaurant where everyone would sit around the hot plate in a cook-your-own-style night of fun. We would judge each other by how well we managed to flip the thing which is no easy feat and requires both hands. So I was thrilled the other night when I managed to not only cook and not burn it, but flip it one beautiful pancakey piece. Plus the kids loved it. A great and fun way to use up a lot of cabbage in the winter months. Oishii!
Girly Food – There’s Nothing Quite Like it
Before you ask, no I haven’t taken up my pastry challenge yet. Be patient, I am a frightfully busy woman. Well I definitely am busy. But with good excuse… one of my best friends had their baby shower on the weekend, so that took up a lot of my free thinking space last week. Which brings me to my blog this week – girl food. I secretly love it when my husband is out for the evening because I don’t have to cook any meat or potatoes. Plus I get to drive the remote control. He is a bit of a man when it comes to food, so meat and three it is most nights, but when I am just cooking for myself I have a bit of fun making something he would hate like roasted pumpkin with mushrooms stuffed with feta. Yum. Or flat-bread pizza with just tomato, onion and cheese. Or rice with anything. And then usually every biscuit in the house.
Saturday found me at the girliest of the girly events… a baby shower. And an all-girl event calls for an all-girl taste in refreshments. Sausage rolls, home made dips, cucumber sandwiches, mini toast treats, but mostly we focused on sweet stuff. Cupcakes, chocolate slice, caramel fingers, muffins plus two large cakes, cheesecake and a chocolate sponge finger cake. Plus of course tea and coffee and the all-important champagne. It’s so nice to go to a party where there are no chips, no beer, and certainly no steak!
The Pastry Challenge
I love everything pastry, everything. I love both sweet and savoury pasty feasts like pies, danishes, tarts, sausage rolls, scrolls, you name it if it’s made with pastry it already has something going for it. And as much as I love cooking, I am a bit scared of pastry. I have never tried to make it can you believe? Yeah I’ve made loads of meals using the puff pastry you can get in the supermarket, but have never made an attempt at the dough itself. There are so many different kinds of pastry too, puff, filo, shortcrust, I wondered how many so I just quickly googled types of pastry to see… There are hundreds.
So I challenge myself to learn how to make at least one of them. My step-mum tells me she has a fail-safe recipe from a chef so I will certainly be asking for a little help there. And the rolling pin has only been used a couple of times before so I know it will be grateful to feel needed. Or should I say kneaded? The challenge is set. Wish me luck.
Sweet or Savoury?
As I was making my recipe for the week today – Zucchini and Feta Slice – my friend was watching me haphazardly throwing ingredients in left, right and centre and said: you’re brave just chucking stuff in like that, making it up as you go along. The only thing I was being careful about was to note down what I had used in the mixture so that come the time to write up my recipe I wasn’t playing the guessing game (I promise I have only done that once). But there is a big difference between my friend and I, that being the sweet vs savoury style of cooking. She is very well practiced at all kinds of baking, and she is damn good at it.
I am not bad at the sweeties, but I am always petrified that I will produce inedible slop and so follow that recipe to within an inch of it’s life, except of course for sifting, because sifting is for wimps. I don’t appear to have the same discipline when cooking savoury, confident that I can generally recognise what consistency something should be, or how long it will need to cook, and which flavours go with what. Don’t think I will ever change, baking and sweets still scare me just enough to be precise, and I really can’t see myself just winging it with a chocolate cake. But it is one of my goals in life to know a sweet recipe off the top of my head so there is no need to get out my recipe book, giving the impression that I am a whiz and can throw in what I like, as I see fit!
Six Sizzling Sausages
The thought had never even occurred to me before, and we all know how much I love mince. So I surprised myself during the week when I decided: today I am going to make sausages. Really just like making meatballs of a different shape. So often in my cooking of new things I try something on a whim, not always thinking it through and disaster ensues. Well this time I was clever and prepared for the falling-apart food eventuality, and like the good engineer’s daughter I am, devised a support structure for my sausages. Just a little skewer through the middle and hey presto the chubby little fingers held together even after some rough treatment in the frying pan.
And of course, as always, the beauty of mince is you can use whichever protein you like, and add to it whatever taste tickles your fancy, spice it up or make it kid-friendly. I hope no one is thinking of staging an intervention, ’cause I can’t quit cooking with mince. A friend of mine once had a cookbook totally dedicated to mince recipes, obviously a publisher after my own heart. And proof that I am not the only mince-crazy mummy out there, there must be at least… one… other.
When Dads Make Cakes
I have blogged previously about birthday cakes, sorry, a fun topic that keeps popping up with a family of five. But I do need to pay homage where it is due… and that is to my husband – cake maker extraordinaire. He has been responsible for characters, trucks, pigs and trains to mention a few.
I don’t know what it is about men (or is it just mine?) that sometimes they are able to take a difficult task and do it so well that they make it look easy. What’s up with that? Yes yes, differences, Venus and Mars I hear you, but the morning of the party we were both rushing around tidying the garden and bomb site house, and then set ourselves to the food tasks. HE comes out with this Incredible Hulk (indeed!) and I have cut vegetables and fairy bread to show for it. Well I know that in essence I have more to accomplish around the house, but damn I wish I could put a cake like that on the table. I have another cake to make next weekend too, and already I am trying to think artistically and work out just how I can pull off a piece of art like this one. You could say I was green with envy… And with jokes like that I think I should be the dad!
You Give Meatloaf a Bad Name
For some reason people seem to dislike meatloaf. Whether it be an aged rock star displaying emotional turmoil on Donald Trump’s time, or a simple dish that we ate as kids, it doesn’t seem to appeal to the masses. I’d like to change all that. Now, I have a strong bias towards cooking with mince as some of you may know, I’m still attending MA meetings, but I couldn’t resist whipping up a bit of good old meatloaf for the kids dinner tonight. Its basic, it’s easy, and the children were silent when eating it – always a good sign. And as I write my husband has put it back in the oven with a little chilli added for us.
I’ll admit it isn’t as exciting as the Turkey Loaf but it is good and wholesome, and can be drowned in vegetables or salad. So why does this little beauty have such a bad reputation? Is it because it is made so badly by some and the rumour gets passed on and on like wild fire? Maybe because the vast majority just shapes mince into a loaf shape without adding any flavour? Or is it just because it shares a name with the formerly mentioned and has a bad connotation? My mum never really made it and I’ve never tried anyone else’s so I can’t judge, but a friend of mine once told me how horrible his wife said it was (already a game of Chinese Whispers) and I feel compelled to serve it to him one day to rock his world. Help me to help meatloaf! Cover it with a fancy red wine reduction if you have to. Make it well and spread the word!
Sneaking Them In
This week I created, yes created a new flavour. Well I thought I had until I googled Pear and Zucchini and found out it is a popular soup. Next time. Anyway, to the kids it’s just a sauce, but to me it was the biggest win I’ve had in ages. I am always beating myself up for not getting enough vegetables into my children, although in reality I know they eat quite well. But it can be very hard introducing new foods, they scrutinise and question me: What is this? Why is it in my bowl? I don’t like it! A familiar sound to many I’m sure. This week was different though. I was looking at my shopping and pondering just how I could combine the lovely fruit and vegetables in front of me and I figured I would just give it a go. Pear and Zucchini, who would have thought? What a great combo! And I deftly named it the Pear and Zucchini Sneak. Another great way to use up that leftover BBQ chook, not to mention three veg and one fruit in a dinner, that’s the daily requirement right there.
While I was on a roll I thought I would try to sneak some more healthy stuff into my kid’s meals and came up with another brilliant one. Today I was making wraps for them (devon and cheese, only the best!) and I buttered the wraps (because they stick together better) with avocado. My eldest was about half way through when she cottoned on… “hey, what’s this green stuff on my wrap?!?!” But we talked about it and she was convinced. Phew. My combos won’t stop there, I will keep you in the loop.
Grow a Pair
First, an apology. This blog is NOT about food. So if you need to, click away to somewhere else. I could always write about food, but something happened to me today that I really wanted to share. When I buy food that is bad, I take it back to the shop. Any product, any item that doesn’t perform up to standard is going back with receipt in hand, ready to argue if required. Buuuut… what do you do when you get a haircut you don’t like? Personally I shrink like a violet and accept that there is nothing that can be done about it. Until today.
I grew a pair and called the salon. Had my hair cut on Saturday and wasn’t happy with it. Didn’t want to get anyone in trouble I said. Didn’t want to complain I said. But also didn’t want to feel like a child too embarrassed to say they don’t like a meal and force themselves to eat every last bite, wincing the whole time and suffering a belly ache. Luckily for me the girl who cut my hair no longer worked there (because they usually get the same person to fix it, and man, how awkward would that be?), and so when I went in I explained myself (probably too much) they happily sat me down and had another stylist do the ‘fix job’. It’s the first time I have ever done that, and I encourage you all to do the same. If you don’t like the hair cut, say something about it! Grow a pair!
Winter is Coming
For us Aussies (especially in Sydney), the warm weather has well and truly left us, and the cool Autumn days seemed to appear out of nowhere. And since the clocks jumped back on the weekend, I can’t seem to get my washing off the line before it gets cold and damp! But the bright side to the cold weather is the winter meals. Soups, stews and casseroles, such lovely body-warming food, makes a nice change from meat and salad that we seemed to be living off for the summer months. Made a Pumpkin and Red Lentil Soup for lunch today, and even my almost two year old approved.
I vow that by the end of this winter, two of my enemies will be my BFF’s. I’m talking about my slow cooker and pressure cooker. I can use them both, but they haven’t friended me on Facebook yet. They can be elusive, even though seemingly so simple. My problem is that I am no good at following recipes, so I just throw stuff in willy-nilly and hope for the best. What I need to do is cook for longer in the slow cooker, and less time in the pressure cooker. There are a few little tricks that I have yet to learn, but having set myself the challenge I will use these great appliances to their full advantage. My two main goals are to: When using the slow cooker, remember to get it on in the morning so the dish is actually cooked by dinner; and when using the pressure cooker to not just burn stuff onto the bottom of the pan. I think it may have something to do with not using flour until after the cooker part is done. Wish me luck.
Ah, eggs. The saviour of Sunday (or in this case, Monday) night dinners when everyone is tired and needs to go to bed with something quick, easy and packed with protein. I can remember as a kid those nights when we were being ushered into bed as quickly as possible dinner was either cheese on toast or eggs of some description. You might think it sounds weird, but one of my favourites was hard-boiled eggs cubed (with one of those cool cooking utensils that can also be used as a musical instrument) mixed with tomato sauce. I always felt those dinners were egg-citing. Tonight it was googies and poached eggs, the king and queen of runny yolk.
My friend egg-sclaimed to me the other day “I can’t make any of your recipes with egg in them because the boys are intolerant”… to my dear friend I say: sorry. And sorry to all the no-eggers out there as I harp on about the little packages of gooeyness. I love egg dinners, they are just so egg-stremely easy. And if adding a bit of vegemite, onion or cheese can be egg-ceptionally magical. Can be cooked in so many ways according to taste, jazzed up or dumbed down, there are a lot of egg-zamples. It isn’t an egg-zact science (okay, okay, just one more), you can do with them what you want. We even had some special chocolate ones the last couple of days, I really needed to egg-cercise some self-control.
You’ve Gotta Fight for your Right to Party
The more kids I have, the more it seems like I am constantly thinking towards another birthday, and of course that means another party. I’m not complaining, I love a party, but I wonder how many people, like me, spend most of the party rushing from hither to thither getting stuff done. Well this year we had our shindig at the park so I did all my rushing, sweating and panicking in the hours before we got there. Once there I was mostly able to sit back and enjoy it, which doesn’t happen often.
As I’m sure you are dying to know, the food was as so: fairy bread, party pies and sausage rolls, sushi, cut veggies and dip, and the fruit platter (don’t forget to drizzle lemon juice over the top of the fruit to keep it from going brown). The rest was gourmet… various packets of things that needed to be opened and poured into a bowl. And of course there was la piece de resistance… the cake.
This year (as we always do) we went for simple yet effective, and Spiderman was a brilliant option as it can be done so effectively without too much fuss. Using Google images you can have a look at the incredible assortment there is of cakes made by incredibly talented people, but we generally don’t have the time (nor the patience) to go there. But you know, I think me and my fella do a great job, and our advantage over the cake genii is that we actually get to sleep the night before the big day.
Keep Calm and Make Toast
If you’re like me, firstly I feel sorry for you… you must be mad. But if you share my sense of needing all food stores full to feel comfortable, then I feel for you even more. After a busy week and busy weekend, I ended up on Sunday morning unable to move off the couch with no milk, no cereal, no Vegemite, no butter, and very little clue what to do next. How dependent I have become on my routines… Kid’s breakfast is ALWAYS cereal, with milk, and failing that, it’s Vegemite toast, with butter of course. In my bleary state I offered all I had – toast (even the fruit stores were low). What I often fail to remember is that the kids don’t really care too much what they eat, yes they can be fussy at times, but usually are happy with an alternative. Jam toast with no butter it was then, and of course they ate it.
So When exactly was it that I became so set in my ways? Am I 87 years old or something? I actually feel uneasy when there is little food in the house and I am not doing something immediately to rectify the situation. Perhaps I just know how easy it is to follow the pattern when I have all that I need, rather than to think of a new solution. And I often remind myself that even though I don’t want the kids to have the same meal, base or protein twice in a row, they don’t care. My husband cares, and will complain if served the same dinner twice in as many nights, but really and truly I believe I could make the kids toast for breakfast, lunch and dinner and no one would say a thing, except perhaps “Can I please have Vegemite this time mum?”
All Afternoon and Evening in the Kitchen, I need a Fairy
You know when you have one of those days when it would seem that leaving the kitchen is not only impossible, but there seem to be imprints of your feet in a couple of spots. Yes, I have had one of those days. The sit down part at the end of it all is so good, and extra bonuses if you receive a few yum this is great comments or the kids actually race to finish. I had quite a juggling act early on, attempting to help get my 6 year old ready for ballet and feed her before she left, giving sewing advice to a friend who had dropped in for a chin wag, trying to organise and decide what recipe to feature this week, and what the kids and I would soon be making for Busy Kids. I almost blew a fuse when my husband asked for a cup of tea.
So, first shift was afternoon tea. Success. Second shift was scones, also a success with no shouting (okay just a little, but the kids weren’t taking turns). Third was Quick Chicken for the kids, and fourth was Pumpkin and Pea Risotto. Thank goodness the boys did their own chops and chips, as I don’t think I would have had the strength. Clean plates and mmmm…yum…mmm… murmurings were result enough for me. My feet? Well let’s just say they are happy little chappies as they don’t need to be involved in writing a blog. The kitchen? Clean and tidy as Nan and Pops are still here. Dodged a bullet there. I think I need a kitchen fairy, permanently. Where can I catch one?
One Night in Bangkok, What About Three?
So, you may have noticed that this week’s recipe and Busy Kids are thanks to the wonderful Nan. She didn’t know at the time that some of the activities she did with (and for) the kids would make publication, lucky she is always well prepared! While my husband and I set off for a long week in the ever impressive Thailand, Nan and Pops were left in charge of the kids. When we came back, I asked Nan if she would teach me her secret to Toad in the Hole. Now, any English readers out there are tripping straight back to childhood. For the Aussie (and other) readers they may be asking themselves the same question as I did upon hearing about this dish for the first time – Toad in the what now??
My (English) husband has attempted this a few times before, but we needed the expertise of Nan to perfect it. The first time she made it for the kids I think they set a new time record for inhaling their dinner. And when my other half asked us tonight what we were having for tea, we told him – Toad in the Hole – and his face melted into a childish grin. It really is simple, just follow the method as best you can and you too will witness your kids eating like there is no tomorrow. Nan is my heroine in so many ways, but in this case it is in her ability to make easy dinners that never fail to delight the taste buds. Now I just have to work out how to get her to move out here for good.
I’ve Cracked the Curry Code
Previously I have blogged about the perils of trying to make one’s own curry from scratch and recommended to stick with the bought curry paste in a jar. Well I still hold that recommendation, but I had a ground-breaking result just this week. I was trying to make a curry bland and plain enough for the kids to enjoy. They do like Butter Chicken (from the bloody jar) so I was determined to find the right balance from what I had available to me in the pantry, armed with some cooking cream (because let’s face it, everything tastes better with cream).
Having taken a sneak peek at the ingredients list on the jars in the supermarket I knew very vaguely what I was aiming for, but in fact I just had to taste test as I was making it. I started with onions in butter, meat, tomato paste and cream. It tasted just like creamy tomato paste! So then started playing around with a few different spices and found that just a small amount of garam masala and cumin turned my creamy tomato paste into something vaguely resembling a mild creamy tomato based curry. I called it Kid’s Curry, and it is my feature recipe for the week.
I probably cook my kids’ meals five nights a week of which probably four would be already road-tested, and the other either a rarity or an experiment. It’s a gamble I know serving up food that I have never tried on the kids, but how will I ever keep my menu expanding if I don’t give it a try every now and then? My patient husband is happy to try new things, and the kids are too, but I guess the big difference is that he is much more polite if he doesn’t particularly like the dish I have created and mmms and hhmms at the right time and never berates me for trying. The kids on the other hand can be brutal! So honest sometimes it makes me want to cry. Ok, I’m not that bad but it does take me down a peg or two.
I made an omelette for them last week – perfectly acceptable if you ask me (I have served much much worse), and not one of the three ratbags could manage more than half their bowl! I think those are the worst stats I’ve had in years, and I even had to smother it in tomato sauce for them to get that far. Treated them like guinea pigs again tonight with a very strong flavour that I was dubious they would allow… and passed the bar. Phew. Most certainly the harshest judges and have the least knowledge of social niceties, but gawd I love them. So much so that I will always be experimenting and trying to broaden their culinary horizons, I won’t be discouraged no matter how many times I hear the ‘mum this is yuk’ statements. What they really mean is: nice try, but easy on the egg next time okay?
If at First you don’t Succeed, Banana, Banana again
We love bananas in our house. We buy a lot of them. In the last couple of weeks they have been fooling us and going too soft before they have the spots on the skin. Naughty bananas. So there have been a lot of banana smoothies, and trying out Banana Bread recipes (will post next week). I’m not really very confident in the baking department, generally sticking to the recipe like mad worrying all the time that I will mis-measure and bake a disaster. Well my confidence has gone up a few notches in these school holidays, with the help of a lot of soft bananas.
I looked up a couple of different recipes for Banana Bread, and being quite different from one another the logic in me decided to (no, not just stick to the one recipe, the sensible in me had left the building) mediate between the two. The first result was… dry and not very flavoursome bread. But Danielle’s kids still gobbled it up. I promised them I would do better. So I added more butter and milk and a little spice, and then didn’t cook it for long enough so it was falling apart drastically, but still an improvement on taste. Determined to perfect my recipe I tried again and this time my Banana Bread was moist, and also kept together well enough to stick in the toaster. Now I need to bake some for the kids again to redeem myself.
People Who Live in Gingerbread Houses Should Not Eat the Walls
Oh yes, Christmas time is well and truly on it’s way. That means eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much, but it’s all worth it to watch those little smiles as they ponder the magic. I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer by way of Christmas food blogging, I don’t do the roast feasts in our house. So thought I would give anyone who is considering making a gingerbread house a great hint.
There are an abundance of good recipes around, will post one later if time permits. But it is the shape that terrified me at first until my friend Fin changed my mind. It’s so easy it’s unbelievable. So, roll out your gingerbread and get yourself a large-ish rectangular sized Christmas card to measure and cut out the walls:
Make two of the first shape for the front and back of the house, cutting the top corners off for the roof to balance on. Make four of the plain rectangle, two sides of the house and two for the roof. Now construction is no easy feat, and I recommend 2 pairs of hands and very sticky icing.
Tricky hint: you can cut out holes for windows before you bake, and just pop a hard lolly in the hole to melt in the oven during baking, giving the effect of a stained glass window.
When building, stick the four walls to the plate or platter you are using, and make sure you have them all well and truly stuck together before you pop on the roof. Lastly, an icing piping bag is also essential to make this an easier mission. Good luck and a very Merry Christmas to you and yours. xxx
All Hail the Rice Cooker!
You know it isn’t rocket science to make a good meal. Get some meat or other protein (sorry vegetarians, I do tend to generalise), and some veggies, add a grain and you have the base for healthy food. Cook it all up together with a splash of soy sauce and boom, oh wait, that’s a stir-fry. My mum used to make stir-fry’s all the time, such a nice and easy meal, and I love eating with rice. Not good for the low-carb diet I know, but this is another one to add to the list of meals that we can share as a family. The list is getting slowly longer. And rice, with the right tools needs no attention.
After living in Japan for a couple of years I grew quite fond of rice, and no Japanese home is complete without a rice cooker. When i got home I had to carry on the tradition, so have always had one in my kitchen. If you’ve never used one before it goes like this: put rice in, add water, press a button and walk away. 20 minutes later and you have perfectly steaming rice. They can be very handy for other things too, add a bit of veg and soy and you have a million mixed rice options. A friend of mine even cooked a cake in a rice cooker once (no ovens in small apartments in Japan). Risotto made easy, Paella and any other rice dish can be started with this little beauty. All hail the rice cooker – the superhero of well-cooked rice!
Oops I Did it Again
Mince. I can’t get enough. Having just admitted my weakness for this wonderful and easy to use meat I thought I had taken the first step towards getting over my obsession. Alas, not until I had made this week’s feature meal and taken the picture I realised I had done it again! I just can’t help myself, it’s all too easy! And the burgers went down very well.
I love cooking with all other proteins, each in their own way can be easy and yummy, and made into whatever you please. But mince is in a league of it’s own when it comes to simplicity. No cutting, no marinading, preparing, just open the pack and throw it in. But have no fear, I’m pretty sure after Beef Burgers this week I have used every one of my mince favourites. I promise to steer clear, for now anyways…
Trying to Please Everyone?
It’s tough being the chef for a family of five who all have very different tastes. Not long ago there were numerous times when I had to prepare 4 meals between the 5 of us – a kid-friendly meal for my two eldest kids, baby mush for the baby, meat and three veg for my manly husband, and a salad with substance for me. What a nightmare. Those days are mostly over, even though my partner and I still sometimes eat different meals. At least all the kids eat the same meal now, they even gobbled up Teriyaki Beef on rice for dinner tonight – yes including my 18 month old toddler. It can be so hard to find those perfect dishes that suit everyone and only require a single stint in the kitchen, so far fitting the bill is Lasagne, Spaggy Bol, Sunday Roasts, Butter Chicken (and no, I have no desire to add that recipe to my lot – use the jar I say!), English Breakfast, and of course who doesn’t like cheese on toast? This week I found another.
Casseroles are usually whole-family-friendly, but this one I was particularly happy with because it was a little different, very meaty (happy husband), and served on a massive stack of vegetables (happy mummy). The Quick Casserole is best made with leftover (already cooked) meat, as it softens faster than cooking the meat from raw. Plus there is the added bonus of the satisfaction you get from creating a completely new meal using the parts of an old one. I wanted to focus on making the casserole part as ‘meaty’ as possible, and of course getting it to simmer for a good 20 minutes in the beef stock and gravy mix. Overkill? Perhaps… but the critics loved it, so I did too. Served on a bed of mashed cauliflower and sweet potato for health-conscious peace of mind. Added to my very short list of meals that will feed everyone.
Pick a Cut, Any Cut
I’m not a meal planner, I don’t have the time. I envy those folk who plan their weeks’ meals and then shop accordingly. My skills of organisation aren’t too shabby, but there is no way in hell I would be able to pull that off. When I go to the shop looking for meat, I buy what is on special, what is in season, and what I know wasn’t purchased in the last grocery shop. And so in mentally preparing a meal I stick to my tried and tested method – pick a meat and pray for inspiration (or pick a veggie if you will). I find that this seems to work well, sometimes tasks of all kinds can seem daunting at first, and that sinking feeling can stop you from just getting stuck into the task and instead think about the ‘hows’ and worry that it won’t be a success, or edible. So in simply choosing a platform from which to plunge, the other components start to fall into place. Most of the time. There are times when my brain will simply not work, and when this happens I ask my hubby “what are you cooking for dinner tonight?”
Being a particularly indecisive person at times, I relish the occasions when the decision is made for me. This week we had friends coming around for dinner, and I had no idea what to cook. It’s funny, I must have cooked hundreds of different meals, but when I try to pick one from the ocean I cannot. So imagine my glee when I noticed half a kilo of rump beef steak in the fridge that wasn’t used for the previous night as planned. Yay! Something using the steak it is! And from there the plan snowballed – I looked at what veg I had to use, and what sauce I could match it up with. I hope the next time you are staring endlessly into the fridge without a clue what to make for a meal you might think of me and just pick a meat, any meat. I think you will find the rest will come easily.
I’m Totally Addicted to Mince
Mince, King of easy meals. Cooking with it is easy. It’s shapable, flavourable, cooks quickly and comes in every kind of meat. I didn’t realise I had this addiction until recently while looking through my recipes on the site and so many are mince meals. Bolognese, Pop’s Cottage Pie, Kid’s Koftas, San Choy Bau, Turkey Loaf, Shepherd’s Pie, American Casserole, Chicken Meatballs, and my Sausage Rolls in the Kid’s Birthday Party Menu. I just love how simple and effective meals can be made with just a few other ingredients and mince, and it’s so child-friendly – no cutting required and chewing and swallowing don’t cause any problems.
I took my addiction to a new level the other night when I had some chicken mince and wasn’t sure what to do with it. I really felt like making a curry, but other than a Keema the norm is to use diced chicken, beef, lamb etc. So I took the plunge and made a Balti curry with the chicken mince. Not only was it easier minus the meat dicing step, but it tasted fabulous. My better half often complains that the curry flavour doesn’t absorb well into chicken breast pieces, and that the chunks can be dry and tasteless, even if I’ve had the time to marinade. The mince was a perfect way to avoid this problem, it was a win. Although I’m not sure if I will make a habit of continuing the new mince curry tradition, it might make me too lazy. And soon enough I will be cooking everything with mince. No, I can’t go there, it’s just crazy. The crazy mince lady. Hmmm, think I will just have to stick to my mince favourites for now, there will probably be more coming your way in the near future.
Hi, my name’s Emma, and I’m a mince-aholic. I’m totally addicted to mince. Ooh wa-oh wa-oh.
I wasn’t sure where I was going with this
Tonight’s dinner was not planned. Not even thought of. Not only did we get a new kitten on the weekend but also made a trip into hospital with my 3 year old son, and my husband was ill this afternoon. So dinner was the very last thing on my mind. Once I had the kids in the bath I peeled and diced some vegetables, conscious that they hadn’t been eating much healthy food lately. Well at least they will get a good share of veggies tonight was my train of thought. Beyond that I had nothing. So I asked them what they would like with their veg, noodles, pasta, rice… the resounding ‘cheesy pasta’ helped guide me to make a decent meal, complete with enough vegetables to cover the day’s requirements. I was glad to get there in the end.
My husband on the other hand I was sure would know I was bluffing my way through the kitchen tonight. So after a quick glance into the food stores I offered him a bacon sandwich and spicy noodles. I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist, there is no better comfort food for him. So have no fear… when you are having one of those nights when nothing is planned and you feel lost, just start somewhere, anywhere. You can build a meal around anything, all you need to do is to start cooking.
A Healthy Diet, Blah Blah Blah
I don’t know one woman on this earth who wouldn’t like to change their figure in some way or another. And food is such a big part of our lives that it seems almost impossible to steer away from our favourite dishes while trying to re-shape our lives and belt notch. Well I am going to hazard an encouragement to not avoid the things we love and instead to exorcise a bit of restraint in terms of serving size. I have used meal replacement shakes to diet before, and after a week of having the shakes 3 times a day and nothing else except fruit and nuts I had dramatically reduced my appetite. The desired end result. Slowly and carefully I began to re-introduce meals again, low calorie whenever I could, but with little change to the kind of foods I was eating before.
I believe that the more we tell ourselves NOT to eat something, the less we can focus on the rest of our day as we can’t stop thinking about that bloody chocolate cake in the fridge. Well my theory is this: have some of the chocolate cake, just have 1/4 of the size slice as you would normally cut. Don’t sit with your family at dinner time nibbling at a celery stick and feeling miserable, have a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese, just have half the serving you would normally have and eat slowly. Will you be hungry? Well of course, a diet is a diet, and it wouldn’t be so unless there was a bit of pain. But allowing yourself the foods that you want may just help you to feel human and normal while trying to shave off a few kilos. Food should never be our enemy, we just need to find the happy balance between starvation and over-doing it.
Happy Birthday to yooouuu…
Oh the yearly drama (multiplied by how many kids you have of course) of the birthday party. The stress, the budget, the mania, the excitement coupled with the daily barrage of “when is the party going to be mum?” It’s a test of strength for sure. At least the house gets nice and clean, and then gets trashed. There are games to sort out, and presents, who to invite – and kindergarten kids can be very blunt about things, not matter how much you ask them to be mindful of others’ feelings. And then there is the food.
Although the kiddies like to eat “party food”, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to be ramped right up on the sugar scale. Fruit platters are so popular at parties, I also had veggie sticks with dip, and sandwiches too so it wasn’t all chips and lollies. The cake is a big thing for us too. Not only do my husband and I argue over who is going to do the cake (surely the best of all the preparations), we also like to create the whole thing ourselves. We have had some good ones, some that fall apart, but all in all they taste great, and the kids always love them.
A Different Kind of Dinner
It’s easy to get sick the same old food, it’s also easy to shake things up a bit. Most cooking mums and dads I know like to make an Asian meal here and there, and I am no different. I made San Choy Bau for the kids the other night, and in deciding to serve it to my husband and myself realised that I needed something else to fill our bellies. So I whipped up some fried noodles. Yes I did say whipped up and I meant it, because this IS an easy meal to throw together.
I always have 2 minute noodles ready in the pantry for the kids, grabbed a couple packs and started to cook them. On the other hob I gently fried some onions and garlic, threw in some leftover chicken and other veggies and then added the drained cooked noodles. It is no easy feat to mix noodles, they get all caught up in the spoon! But mix them through as best you can with a generous amount of soy sauce, and a bit of chilli if you fancy it. Sesame seeds on the top make an attractive and tasty garnish. Too easy.
Glamping is Glamourous Camping
Packing for my family’s first ever camping trip all I could think of was: what are we going to eat?!?! I had a picture in my head of precariously dangling a piece of bread over a fire on a stick and wondered when my kids would get sick of toast. So I packed food to make breakfasts and lunches, some snack foods, a lot of fruit and vegetables, a pack of frozen sausages and a little bit of faith. Lucky for us our friends like to camp in style – glamping. We had fully functioning barbecues at the site (and toilets thank god) and they also brought along a camping stove. Even though it took half an hour, we could have a nice cuppa whenever we though far enough ahead to make it.
So the first night we had sausages and bread for dinner, pretty easy. Breakfast was pretty normal for the kids, and the grown-ups splashed out and had bacon, eggs mushrooms and pancakes. Glamping indeed! And the second night for dinner we had marinaded butterfly lamb, barbecued corn, boiled potatoes, fresh green salad and a cous-cous salad. I don’t eat this well at home! Well if anyone is wondering what on earth they are going to do for food while camping with the family, my recommendation is to not restrict yourself with the old sausages and beans on the campfire, and insist on tasty delights. After all, it is a holiday.
Soup – The Perfect Meal in a Can
I made perfect Risotto the other night, yes, perfect. Otherwise known as ‘The Eliminator’ in Masterchef, Risotto is not an easy dish to get right because the consistency has to be just so. But I cheated. I love cheating in the kitchen from time to time. I fried my onions, garlic, pine nut and seed mix , threw in some diced mushroom, seasoned with salt, pepper and a dash of cumin. Then came the cooked rice (here’s to my rice cooker) and when all broken up and mixed through, added a can of condensed Cream of Mushroom soup. I call it Instant Risotto, too easy. Add some grated Parmesan and it’s nearly gourmet.
Life is made so much easier with a stock of clever items in the pantry for such occasions. Tins of soup are not only handy for their intended purposes, but make great additions to pies, stews and casseroles, pasta and rice dishes, boundless options really. There’s Nat’s Tomato Tuna, American Casserole, and Meatloaf recipes using tins of condensed soup. Pumpkin soup can be a tasty option over pasta with cheese, and also for another Instant Risotto. Dry soup packets can be very handy too, in place of stock cubes or to use in gravy or sauces. Not only does it have the extra flavour but a thickening agent too. I always have a stash of French Onion and Spring Vegetable – ideal for making a vegetable stock and fantastic added to a big saucepan of boiled veggies to make into a (bigger) soup. Cooking the other night I was mindful to keep the water I had boiled some veggies in, and used it in gravy. Great. But how easy to just grab a little pack of dried flavour and do something a little different.
Thrice Cooked Chicken
Food. Is. Everywhere. Vending machines, convenience stores, drive-thru – you don’t need to interrupt your journey or even get out of the car to be fed these days. Is this a good thing? Well it definitely saves us time, the all-precious entity that we fight for more of, but I think that’s just about it. Are we being turned into a species of lazy people? Yes. In more ways than one the traditions of years gone by are slipping through our grasp. Making our own clothes, building our own houses and cooking our own food is not altogether discouraged, but the pre-packed life is most certainly being thrust into our hands at a rate of knots. My late grandmothers would be disappointed to know that shortbread comes in a box, gravy comes in powder and beschamel in a jar. I am not immune to the disease, curry is my Achilles heel and I have never succeeded in making one from scratch that is as good as the stuff in the jar. But sometimes I do feel that I am getting back to the teachings of my mother’s mothers, and this week it began with a roast chicken.
We had a roast chook for dinner last Sunday, and packed it away into the fridge with quite a bit of meat still on it. By Tuesday it was made into a stock, and by Thursday it was a Chicken Casserole. Then on Saturday the small amount left was mixed into egg and scrambled in the pan. Bet that little bird had no idea just how far it could stretch. And I hope that my Granny and Grandma were watching over my shoulder in spirit cheering every time I used it, roasted, boiled, stewed and scrambled. Hang on, isn’t that 4 times cooked chicken?
Double up on the Roasties
Everyone loves a roast, and we must have had some good karma coming our way because we managed to squeeze 2 roast beasts into our bellies on Father’s Day (Happy Daddies Day to all!). First the lovely lamb at my Dad and Step-Mum’s place, and then it was my turn to roast when we got home, which worried me a little. For some of us lucky Mums, our partners will share the cooking responsibilities with us and as is the case in our home my husband and I have our specialties. My husband’s specialty is roast, you see where I’m going here? So feeling the pressure of not only trying to whip up a delicious dinner for the family, but to make it as good as the master I set off on the mission.
There are a couple of tricks that I have learned from Maestro, one is that the meat likes to rest for a while when it has finished cooking, for about 10 minutes. Just cover it in foil and leave it on the bench while finishing up the rest of the meal. The perfect roast potatoes are also a must. Peel and quarter and put them on the boil for 10ish minutes or until they are just soft enough to poke a fork into (this is too long for sweet potato I discovered last night :). Just after you’ve put the potatoes on the stove, get your baking dish ready by adding a few tablespoons of oil to it and sticking it into the already hot oven to heat the oil before putting the taters in. When they are ready drain them, and stand back as you put them in the baking dish – hot oil! Sizzle is good, spread them out a bit on a flat side and you can forget about them for about 20 minutes, and then turn them onto the other flat side. They will want to cook for about an hour total. And the last trick I use is my own – gravy. The roast master insists on using gravy powder mixed with water and a stock cube (matching the roasting meat), but I prefer to use the roast pan juices. When you have brought the beast out to rest before carving, place it onto a carving plate and then put the baking dish on the stove. Sprinkle a little flour (1-2 tbsp) into the fat and juices mixing it well and working out any lumps. Add some gravy powder and a stock cube if you like, and then add water little by little until you get to the right consistency (between 1-2 cups). Season. As you carve the meat, more juice will drip out – I like to add this to the gravy too. And as if by magic (or by 2 hours in the kitchen!) you have a brilliant roast dinner.
Return to Childhood
You know how some meals can make you feel like a kid again? Maybe Fairy Bread for some, or Apple and Cheese sandwiches for others. I discovered this week that for me it is American Casserole. I don’t know where my Mum got the recipe from, but after a little research found that traditional American Casseroles are made with a tin of soup. This one is no different. As I was cutting the vegetables and preparing the meat I wondered if this was going to be one of those times when you have the rose-coloured perception of something that just wasn’t that great. I couldn’t remember any of the ingredients or flavours from my primary school age, I just remembered that I loved it, and so I couldn’t imagine what it was going to taste like once it was served onto the plate. Another concern was how my husband was going to enjoy it, very much a kid-style meal.
Well I should have trusted my gut, it was a big hit (even with the hubby). The flavours made me think of playing Batman and Robin with my brother, the Sesame Street sheets I had on my bed, and the Dallas theme music (hope I didn’t show my age too much there). And I get the warm fuzzies of a happy childhood, thanks Mum. So, this week I challenge you to think back to your childhood and see if you can remember a meal in particular that you haven’t eaten in years and cook it. What a sensation!
A Leftover Win
Sunday night: a lovely roast pork. I love roasts. Of course the flavour, warmth, the smell of the house, but most of all I love that my husband is the Roast Master, so having a roast means a night off cooking for me (with double the cleaning up – why do men use every spoon in the drawer with every saucepan in the cupboard?). He uses a lot of great processes making sure his veggies are the perfect temperature when they hit the oil in the baking dish, re-using boiled veg water in gravy, and of course flavours the meat depending on his particular mood. Last night was another beauty, the crackling crackled and Miss 5yo had 3 extra helpings of meat.
Monday night arrives and after a “terrible teething toddler” day, a scurry to school and then preschool, and then ballet, arrive home thinking, oh dinner, dinner, dinner… So after the usual splashy bath time, I grab the lump of leftover pork, any leftover veg and the gravy, cut up and fry an onion in oil and throw in the pork I have diced. Put on some Polenta, chuck the rest into the fry pan, and needing to make it a bit more saucy I also added half a tin of baked beans. Served the Pork ‘Surprise’ onto the Polenta and mixed it up so they wouldn’t just eat the best bits, I am a selfish cook. Result: empty bowls and happy me.
Sunday night… again?
Ooohh I’ve been busy today. Have been so tired lately that my right eye has looked like someone has poked me with a sharp object (child’s finger, a toy, or possibly a splinter..) and I have been walking around like a zombie on a mission. The weekend flew past me so quickly I’ve barely had a chance to stop and watch the kids play (better than smelling roses). So before I forget, here’s what happened – food wise: made a cracker of a Shepherd’s Pie on Friday night, small dish for the kids, add a few extra spices for the adult version. Saturday made some Guacamole, so tasty, my friend brought around her grandmother’s Apple Pie, so sweet, and I produced a fairly ordinary beef stir-fry.
Generally I make my own sauces for Asian cooking, but I was caught in the supermarket by that special tag on the marinade sauces and couldn’t resist. Should have resisted. It wasn’t so bad, but it was boring. When I create my own sauces, I have usually added a little too much garlic, or chilli, or soy, which always makes for an interesting taste. But the generic stuff coming out of the bottle just doesn’t have that flare does it? My lovely guests finished their dinners with compliments, but I knew they were just mostly being polite. NO MORE MARINADE SAUCES!!!!
Sunday night and I’ve decided on Nat’s Tomato Tuna with pasta. Youngest is teething, middle is tired (and is slow at best of times), and oldest is objecting to ABSOLUTELY everything since 2pm this afternoon. I start to dread how this dinner shift is going to go, I am envisioning crying and yelling and stamping feet, and the kids will probably play up too. Much to my delight, there were 3 clean bowls at the end, so spills, no tantrums, and no turned up noses. Phew.
Gotta love a curry cook-up
I love curry. Eating it, cooking it, smelling those spices. What made it even better on Saturday night was the fact that I had not only my lovely husband to share it with, but another 6 of my closest friends also. It was cold, we were warm inside, and there were kids everywhere. I cooked up a storm in the kitchen with a chicken and another vegetable curry. The beauty of my kitchen is that it’s open and so I was still involved in the conversations as I chopped and stirred.
Phil managed the rice for me, Leanne had made Naan dough which she fried, and then her and I teamed up to cook the poppadoms. I went into the garden to pick some mint and coriander to make with natural yoghurt (add a little lemon juice and even less oil). Add a dash of Mango chutney, some wine, Olympics highlights, and the result is laughter, chit-chat, and 8 clean plates.
There’s something soothing about a Sunday evening
SO… tonight was a classic Sunday night dinner. I looked in the fridge and challenged myself to use up all the leftovers which would have been chucked in the bin if not used. The theme seemed to be chicken in different forms and also the stacks of rice leftover from last night’s Indian curry. So for the kids I mixed the leftover chicken casserole with half the rice, heated it up on the stove, and everybody was happy with the result.
My husband however, is much harder to please, especially with chicken and rice! So I stripped all the meat off the BBQ chicken carcass, chopped up some chillies that I keep in the freezer (last forever – almost) and poured on some soy sauce. Fried up my veg in oil, threw in some more soy, added the chicken and chillies, the rice, and because I wasn’t convinced of the heat from the chillies, I backed it up with a splash (or 4) of hot sauce. Tell you a secret, I also added a teaspoon of sugar. I do this with curries as well, it just seems to enhance the pleasure of the spice. Could just be my imagination. Anyway, hubby was happy and there are no leftovers in the fridge – woop.