November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving

I have been having withdrawals from writing!!!
I feel like a part of me is missing and with today being thanksgiving in these neck of the woods and me bustling around trying to create a delicious meal for my friends and family, I thought it only appropriate to at lest TELL you what we are having for our last American thanksgiving. I know we will keep this tradition going in Australia but I am assuming it won't be quite the same celebrating with a bunch of Aussies (turkey isn't exactly a bird we get excited about, in fact I didn't even know you could have ground turkey!)

This year Nic and I decided to have thanksgiving at our friends house, the Croydons'. Kathleen and Jim have been with us since the very beginning. Their youngest daughter Clare is my eldest son's very best friend and it has been that way since they first met at the grand old age of 18 months. Kathleen and Clare came to visit us when we moved to Italy and then last year they dropped in on us in Virginia, we are only hoping we will see Jim with them in a few years when they come to Australia!
Kathleen is a fantastic cook, she always has something simmering on the stove or cooking in the oven, in fact I think I gained an extra ten pounds when I was pregnant with Alex due to Kathleen's desire to fill me full of delicious, tasty meals in those nine months. I wanted to do something special for her and decided to cook thanksgiving for her and her large family (the last I counted we are up to 26 people!!) Jim always cooks a turkey on the charcoal grill for thanksgiving, so this year I am brining mine and stuffing it with a sausage and cornbread stuffing. Nothing compares to the flavor of the charcoals but I am confident it will be juicy and tasty (I used the brine recipe from 'tastiest white meat Eva'). Along with the turkey I have made a version of the roasted cranberry sauce from last month's Sauveur magazine. Instead of using orange, I used a pink grapefruit and didn't add the jalapenos. The flavour is tart with a sweet edge- I'm excited!
Jim tells me it is tradition to have some apple sauce on the table and said 'Mott's' brand is fine, where I replied "not bloody likely!!" So I made a batch of apple sauce with a dollop of butter, cinnamon stick and a pinch of salt- boiled it all down to a lovely mush, we'll have to see if it passes the test.
Vegetables going along side the turkey and sausage stuffing are roasted parsnip and brussel sprouts, roasted delacada squash with a sage butter sauce and green beans slowly cooked with bacon, shallots and garlic. The only vegetable that was a must for Kathleen and Jim was the mash potatoes. Nic and I on the other hand feel the roast spud is a must, so I am making both and I am also adding some celeriac to the mash to peak a bit of interest.
After we have stuffed ourselves with the above food we are then going to cram in pumpkin pies and baked polenta cake served with roasted plum compote with buckets of whipped cream.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING to you all and enjoy the feast you have no doubt prepared, I am hoping to have photo's when we arrive in Australia next week.......

November 18, 2008

The last supper on Hinman


Time has come to face facts-although the cupboards are not bare the floor certainly is and dining on the floor with the kids is proving to be a challenge. Alex seems to think that the whole floor is considered the 'table' and proceeds to flick himself all over it while munching on his sandwich. Max on the other hand doesn't really do anything except eat and encourage his brother to fool around. 
I have decided to take a sabbatical from the blog until I have interesting food adventures once again. For the next few weeks while we're transitioning countries I'll take this time to gather thoughts and photos and then hopefully have a few interesting tales to tell when I am back on track again. Until then, enjoy the festivities of Thanksgiving, Christmas and what ever else comes you way. 
I'll be back......

November 15, 2008

Moussaka



The day has finally come, the guys from the moving company have arrived and the packing has started, the count down is on- 3 weeks until we board the plane and begin life back in Australia.  A new phase of blogging is ahead of me and I am intrigued to see the differences in food/styles (if any) when living back in Australia compared to the States.

 On the eve of having the kitchen whipped out from underneath me I decided to make one of my old favorites for dinner- Moussaka. I remember eating this when I was a kid and loving it. I probably thought it was another way of making lasagna, I know my mum was smart when it came to mentioning the layers of eggplant (meaning, she didn't!). I was a bit rusty on remembering how it was made so I hopped on line to look up a few recipes. The only helpful part about that was knowing what NOT to do. I didn't want to be in the kitchen for hours, nor did I want to use every pot and pan in the kitchen so I decided to make it up as I went along except for the white sauce that goes on top, I got that from an all time favorite "The PWMU centenary Cook book" (PWMU being Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union) The sauce is more like a souffle, a must for all to try!

 Anyway, back to the meat part- I bought a pound of ground lamb, on the Internet they say to use beef or maybe lamb but in my opinion it isn't moussaka if it isn't lamb! Because it was a family meal I wanted to  add vegetables, so I diced up some green peppers, carrots and celery along with onion and garlic. I got my pan smoking hot, added a little oil and browned the meat, once the temperature had dropped a little in the pan I added 1 tsp of cumin, 1/4 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp cinnamon along with a bay leaf and simmered it for about 10 minutes to reduce all the liquid. When the liquid was all absorbed I added the vegetables along with 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and a can of strained and diced whole tomatoes- mixed it all in, turn down the heat to a simmer and left it for about 15 minutes. Once it was all simmered, check the seasoning and then leave to cool. Fry your eggplant in olive oil until soft then layer the meat sauce and eggplant in a square pyrex dish.  Once it is all in the dish, rinse out your pan you cooked the meat in and make the white sauce. 
 When the cheese sauce is made, pour over the layers and bake in a 350 (180) oven for about 40-50 minutes. When you pull it out of the oven you'll notice the white sauce looks like a soft pillow- but as with all souffles, it doesn't last for long. I made this in under an hour, so that was pretty cool for a moussaka, especially when the Internet recipes would of had me in the kitchen for double that time.

Basic white sauce from The PWMU Cookbook

2 Tbsp All purpose flour
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup (250 ml) milk
sat & pepper to taste
3 Tbsp parmesan cheese
2 eggs -separated

Melt butter on medium heat, once melted add flour and stir until smooth and blended.
Add milk and whisk to remove lumps, bring to boil, add seasoning and boil for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly.
Once thick and smooth cut heat, add grated cheese and stir until combined then beat in egg yolks.
Whisk egg whites until stiff and gently fold into sauce. 
 Pour cheese sauce over meat and eggplant mixture and bake. 

November 13, 2008

Chicken and Beans

With the cold air blowing in from the lake it isn't any wonder we are craving hearty soups, ragu's and blowing the dust off the crock pot. Vince was playing around at work the other day looking for a new idea for beans. Whilst 'playing' he came up with a great recipe for the restaurant and I took the same idea and ran with it for us at home. I loved his idea of using a basic veggie combo (onion, celery and carrot) cutting it smaller for color and flavor and also giving the family- vegetables upon vegetables without them really noticing. Because the onion, carrot and celery are chopped into a small dice, it takes the eye away from the green beans they are mixed with yet giving the dish extra color, texture and making it look very appealing instead of the regular steamed beans. I also added a tin (can) of black beans for added fiber not to mention it is a great filler for the boys, plus they love beans!

When you have sweat the chopped veggies in olive oil, add some freshly chopped tomatoes (the big beef ones are great for stewing), garlic and fresh thyme to the mix for an added flavor hit. Saute until onion is transparent then add your top and tailed green beans, salt and pepper, a little water or white wine to help steam the beans then pop a lid on top, turn down the temperature to low and leave for about half an hour to forty minutes. Stirring occasionally so they don't stick to the bottom. About ten minutes before serving, add a tin of drained black beans if desired.
With the beans I served chicken wings (yes we do love our wings!) I always go for an Asian marinade with wings so I decided I needed to branch out a little and I came up with a lovely, mild and very easy marinate with absolutely not Asian influence. I left the wings to marinate for about 3 hours and that was fine, of course it would of been better if it was longer but that just wasn't going to happen. I simply turned the oven on to 500, got it really hot, placed the wings on a tray sprayed with olive oil and baked them until they were nicely browned and crisp- about 15-20 minutes.
The meal went down a treat and the beans were really yummy the next day cold (Alex didn't eat all of his due to the tantrum he was having about life) and Max could of eaten all the wings on his own if I'd let him. I am looking forward to trying this marinade on some chicken thighs for the BBQ when we get back to Australia.

Chicken marinade
2 shallots, peeled and roughly diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1- one inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly diced
1 tsp whole black pepper corns
1 tsp dried oregano
olive oil to blend (approx 1/4 cup)

Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender and pulse for 10-20 seconds.
Pour over meat and marinate for 3- 12 hours

November 11, 2008

Pear & Pine nut cake



Have you ever gone to make something at home and find you only have half the ingredients, or your one egg to short? It drives me to distraction!  I usually always check ingredients before I start anything so I don't have the disappointment half way through and find I have to abandon my efforts. However, on the day I decided to make the pear cake I was a little blase´, the phone rang as I was heading into the kitchen to begin. Instead of finishing my conversation and getting on with the cake I decided (as every mother does I am sure) to do two things at once for a time saver- hmmmm!
Firstly I have to grate the pears- no worries, then soak them in brown sugar along with the pine nuts, first problem. I only have half the amount of sugar that is required, what do I do?
 a) abandon the recipe and feed the kids grated pear
 b) get off the phone and go to the shops or
 c) continue with the phone call and use what I have.
That's right, I choose C

Next step- sift all flours and put to one side. Right about this time my friend was at a good point in her story so I had to decide weather or not to cut down the amount of flour I am using to balance out the sugar or do I keep on going with the normal recipe because I have all the pears? I decided on a lesser amount of flour and hope for the best while totally engrossed with the story at hand.  I am almost at the end of the cake when I go and get the three eggs required only to find two left in the fridge- a slight freak out! So I go to the cupboard and get out the oil to finish up the recipe- we have none. By this stage it was time to get off the phone and concentrate on the cake!
Long story short, I got Nic to pick up some oil from the store on his way home and decided to go with what I had and see what happens.
The cake was made, it rose beautifully, looked good and I have to say it was pretty yummy. The texture wasn't as even as it usually is, however I think I might stay with cutting back the sugar due to the fact that it is much better for the family with half the amount and it still tastes yummy.
Below is the original recipe for all those of you out there who check your cupboards FIRST and wouldn't dream of making a cake while chatting on the phone! The lime and cream cheese frosting is delicious also, however Nic didn't think it went well with the cake- I disagree, so see what you think?

Pear and Pine nut Cake


3 pears,grated with skin on
2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup pine nuts
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon powder
23o ml vegetable oil
3 eggs


Preheat oven to 350 and spray a 9 inch spring form cake tin with cooking spray, set aside.
In a large bowl place in grated pear, brown sugar and pine nuts, stir to combine and leave to sit for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon together in a separate bowl and put aside.
After 20 minute, add eggs and oil to pear mixture, stirring to combine, once all mixed add flours and fold into mix.
Pour into sprayed cake tin, place on a oven tray and bake in  the oven slowly so the cake isn't heavy. Cooking time is around 1 hour, maybe a little longer depending on your oven.
Cool in tin for 5 minutes and then remove side and continue to cool.


Lime and Cream cheese frosting
5 oz cream cheese
zest of one line
juice of half lime
1 Tbsp salted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until well mixed. Spread over cool cake and serve.


November 7, 2008

Friends to lunch




Alex and I had lunch guests today. Alex also had school and one of our guests is a pilot who had to be up in the sky later in the afternoon- meaning I needed to get Max and Alex to school on time (and pick Alex up again before guests arrived- thanks ML!), clean the house suitable for guests and make something we could linger over, yet eat in a timely manner. This is when soup, salad, bread and a few nibbles is the perfect combo!
 Because I had Alex with me and not his brother, I needed to make sure lunch was 'Alex friendly', meaning nothing spicy or over the top different. 
I made a cauliflower, leek and fennel seed soup- perfectly white for Alex and very tasty not to mention quick. Firstly I saute the chopped leeks in butter along with the fennel seeds. When the leeks have wilted I added chopped cauliflower (whole head) along with a peeled and chopped potato (for a thickening agent). Once it had been sauteing for five minutes, I then filled the pot with stock and a cup of milk, just barely covering the tops of the veggies. Bring it to a boil, simmer for ten minutes and then puree in a food processor. 
Making this the day before helped on time and the flavor really develops- you end up serving a delicious soup that you merely heated through.
 Along with the soup I served a goat cheese, avocado and bacon salad (bacon complimenting the soup), dressed with a balsamic and garlic vinaigrette. I had a 'picky plate' of olives, sliced cheddar cheese and a cucumber salad dressed simply with lemon, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt- I knew Alex wouldn't eat the bacon salad because of the lettuce but the cucumber salad was devoured!
 It was great to catch up with friends and having Alex join us at the table wasn't to bad which I owe all to the 'picky plate'- It gave him something to do!
Thanks for a great afternoon guys.
PS There was dessert but there is a story, so I'll tell it tomorrow!
  

November 6, 2008

Burgers on election night



It's happened, Obama brought it home (cheers and wolf whistles yeah, yeah!!) and what a way to celebrate with the most American thing I could think of- The burger.
  It was a long, glorious day for the boys and I yesterday. The kids got let out of school at 12 so they could use the local schools as voting stations, which meant we got to hang out at the beach on a warm, sunny November afternoon while the candidates were sweating bullets! We met up with a gang/gaggle of friends and the boys (and girls) played non stop making use of the summer treat that was left for us. I tell you this bit of back ground for you to understand why it wasn't possible to eat together as a family last night. I had dinner all planned, burgers- quick, yummy and a family favorite but for my little guys waiting until dad got home at 5.30 was near impossible. The sun had worn them out and all they wanted to do when we finally arrived home a few minutes before 5 was eat and go to bed!
 I usually do oven potato chips with burgers but I knew that would be pushing it with the boy so I grated up some carrot and onion and mooshed it in with the beef for a veggie hit. Searing them off, adding extra sharp cheddar and a piece of tomato for Max, dinner hit the table just before Nic walked in the door and the boys were scoffing, licking their lip with approval. It wasn't until the last couple of bites that Alex spotted the carrot yet he polished off every last bit!
 Now ours on the other hand were of the 'classic' variety. A delicious meat patty, seasoned with salt and pepper and then thrown on the gill with onions- oh how I love grilled onions, especially with the crisp very, very browned bits! To turn it up a notch I added a good dollop of  Kerrygold garlic butter and let that coat the grilled onions while I waited for the Swiss cheese to melt all over the juicy patty. Simply served with lettuce and thick tomato slices, this was pure heaven for the meat lovers we are.
I congratulate Obama in his victory and raise my beer and toast a very simple yet scrumptious meal the American burger can be if you just put a bit of thought into its construction, be it for a 3 year old or a thirty-something year old.

October 28, 2008

Dinner with friends






On Saturday night my whole family was gearing up for a food adventure. We had been invited to our friends house for dinner and not just any dinner. Aaron, our host has a passion and talent for New Orleans food. His dad is from there and has passed down the love of fantastic seafood and the great New Orleans flare in the kitchen. I had heard about Aaron's chicken and dumplings and wanted to get in on the deal. I promised to watch, chop and help in any way. The fact they have a divine kitchen also makes cooking and hanging out a pure delight (a long way from my slap dash apartment kitchen- this is one I one day dream of owning).
 I left my family a few hours before we were asked to dinner so I could help out in anyway. When I arrive Aaron had stocks boiling, black beans simmering and a list of recipes to choose from. I couldn't help myself and recommended we cook the lot! ( I also thought I'd be able to have a bit of a play if we did a few extra) Aaron was up for the challenge.
Our chosen menu consisted of a 'Summer crab salad with basil and lime'- a great zesty punch to the meal. Aaron has all the seafood flowing in from New Orleans, the crab was a delectable sweet meat, drenched in a lime vinaigrette and finished with the smoothness of avocado- a fantastic way to begin the meal.
After the salad we had 'Grilled shrimp with black bean cakes and coriander butter sauce' This was a wonderful play with flavor and texture. The bean cakes were soft with a little kick from a jalapeno then tempered with the coriander butter sauce and grilled shrimp, you just can't go wrong!
After licking our lips Aaron then placed a divine, creamy 'Creole corn and Crab bisque' in front of us which was pure heaven. So creamy with a hint of cayenne for an added punch -that was Aaron going out on a limb and very well done I might add.
Just when we thought it was all over we were tantalized with 'Pre cooked shrimp, boiled in New Orleans which are just a luxury on their own and served with mini risotto cakes- I think I sucked on the shell for a good 15 minutes! 
Now it wouldn't be complete without a bisque of the tomato variety and that is exactly what Aaron finished with "Herbsaint Shrimp and tomato bisque'- I just loved this, the full body flavor of the shrimp stock coming through. The tomato rounding it off and finished with freshly poached shrimp just before served. I have to say I was in heaven. Aaron and I had high hopes for dessert but I am sad to say we didn't quite make it- however- Aaron didn't disappoint and whipped up 'Bananas Foster' but that needs it's own page.

In case you are wondering if we shared this with all the kids.......I have to tell you they were to busy getting down with Aaron's chicken dumplings (flavored with a ham hock) and marinated drumettes to notice the seafood and I can tell you none of us were giving up our serves!
Thanks for a fantastic evening Aaron and Susan- next time I'll cook for you on your trip to Sydney, and of course Roisin and Phil will be there...right guys?

October 24, 2008

Dumplings, dumplings, dumplings




We were all sitting around the table the other night tucking into dinner and I was distracted by a recipe I was thinking about for the up and coming book. I was wondering what would be a great meal for the family that would be healthy, yummy for all ages and realistic for someone who doesn't have a lot of time to waste. I'm looking around at my own family and what we were eating and then thought to myself- hang on a minute, this meal took me 20 minutes to whip up and we all love it.
  Nic, Max and I all dive into our respective chili sauces for our individual flavor hit while Alex is happily munching away dipping into the soy sauce- DUMPLINGS!
Granted I did buy the ones we were eating from the frozen foods section of the Asian market but I thought it would be ten times yummier if I whipped them up myself, and as I realized after I made them the following week they are really cost effective and I could load them up with lots more veggies than you get from the packet ones. They freeze really well, so I took an hour out of one of my mornings, bought the ingredients and spent the hour making 100's of (well at least 40) pork dumplings. We now have two or three meals in the freezer that will only take 20 minutes to put on the table and I can change it up with noodles, rice or salad. Serve the Hot, hot chili sauce for me, the sweet chili for Max and Nic and Alex can dip away in soy sauce. 
They do take a little extra time to make as appose to buying them but the benefits out weigh the 'fast approach' hands down in my book.

For the dumpling mixture you can do what you like. I find if you use vegetables you can grate like carrot and zucchini then you can chop them a little more and they blend in beautifully with the meat, just as if you slice a green onion finely, grate a bit of ginger and garlic, chop some basil or cilantro- the list is endless. You will find a lot of ingredients go a long way. For half a pound of (ground) pork mince I used 1 carrot and 1 zucchini and I had a lot of mix. I wouldn't recommend salting your mixture- instead use fish sauce, that way you give the mix a deeper flavor. Wonton or Goyza wrappers both work really well, you just need to wet on side with a little water to get them to stick together.
When cooking them, for the healthy option, layer a steam tray with lettuce or cabbage leaves and put the dumplings on top. Place the lid to cover and begin to cook your noodles or rice. As you can see above I also fried a couple. They are delicious either way. Frying you cook them in a wok with vegetable oil until they are brown, put in a little water to steam them with a lid on and then turn the heat down until they are ready. This was a little more work but very enjoyable.
The night I served the ones above I used noodles with veggies. The boys thought they were getting off lightly with the vegetable department and that was just fine- nothing is what it seems!

October 21, 2008

Chicken in pajamas



It was Nic's night to cook and sadly I missed out due to a private party I was catering the night the Baker boys ate 'chicken in pajamas'. I think it would have to be one of Nic's favorite chicken meals. I to love chicken P.j's (or the more common name chicken parmigiana) though I have to say I have not even thought about eating one in years due to the fact I use to make about 30-40 a day when I was working at a resort in Australia. I swear it was the most popular meal with kids and adults. The fact that you have to build the dish works in really well with family life. If you have someone who  doesn't like food touching then just serve the chicken separately, if they don't like tomato serve it without (As most of you know Alex HATES tomato, BUT if you make a sauce and put it together with cheese on top- he is all over it!)

Nic said the boys were asking what was for dinner, he told them 'chicken in pajamas' and they were curious, when he put the meal in front of them they of course said 'Oh, I don't know' but then Max asked if the cheese and tomato were the 'pajamas'. That got them engaged and they started to eat. Of course they loved it, a crisp chicken fillet flattened and breaded with fresh bread crumbs, layered with a piece of ham, rich tomato sauce and finished with mozzarella cheese and grilled- what is there not to like about that? Due to putting the kids to bed by himself, getting homework done and everything else that happens in the evening, Nic ate his when the boys were tucked into bed (which also gave him time to read Charlie and the Chocolate factory to them while they ate, one of their favorite times). The meal took 5 minutes to put together because he 'cooked' it all when making the boys- this way he got to eat with peace and quiet in front of the telly no doubt watching some sort of football game with a cold beer- now that is what I call relaxed eating!

October 20, 2008

Chickpea and harissa salad


Chick peas are my best friend when I am all out of ideas for dinner. I'd thawed out some pork loins the previous day and hadn't thought about anything else until it came time to make dinner. Vince (head chef from Union) and I were playing around with different versions of harissa last week and I had some leftover in the fridge, so I pulled it out with the idea of putting it on the side when serving the pork. I knew I wanted to use up the broad beans in the fridge but I need a 'vehicle' to carry them otherwise the boys would of be up in arms with a pile of foreign green on their plate. The can of chickpeas was my 'vehicle'. 
I'm not sure how it all came about but the colors of the yellow and bright green together clicked and then I thought about other foods that the boys would like to see as to disguise the fact I was offering up a new green veggie- feta cheese, an all time favorite! All of a sudden the penny dropped and I thought why not use the harissa as a dressing on our chickpea salad and make a quick red wine vinaigrette for the boys. Just before I put the harissa on I took out the boys portion, mixed theirs with 1 Tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 3 Tablespoons of Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (added tomatoes to Max's- Alex got olives instead), poured the harissa over the remaining salad for Nic and I. The pork loins were seasoned with salt and pepper then grilled, rested and sliced and the salad served on top. 
We ALL loved this family meal. Boys are happy because they have the sharp soft textures and flavors of the feta and vinegar while Nic and I were enjoying the diverse flavors of the really HOT and garlicky harissa with the creamy Greek feta. Chick peas were perfect to match all these big flavors with the right textures for all age groups. The other good thing about harissa- it lasts for a long time in the fridge, so if you make it once you can use it through out the month in a number of ways.
 There is always a tin of chickpeas in the cupboard- you never know when they will come in handy, be it for a salad dip or burger.

October 16, 2008

Semolina gnocchi




I can't believe it has taken me sooooo long to make semolina gnocchi for the family!
We have a version at work for Wednesday's 'dinner plate'. I love eating the left overs but I totally forgot about a recipe I had hidden away in one of my hand written cook books from 6-7 years ago- along with squid ink dressing which I am not yet convinced the boys will like (funnily enough!).
 Nic and I are BIG fans of gnocchi but not all the work involved on a week night. This semolina recipe is a little gem- a little gem I had lost! You are going to hate me but I only have the measurements in grams not cup measurements so I do apologise. However if you have a set of scales in the kitchen you are balancing fruit on, clear them off and give this a go. Seriously I made it in ten minutes, set it in the fridge for ten (while I heated up the duck) and then warmed it in the oven for 5 minutes. 

I forgot how soft and smooth the texture was, yet a lovely rich cheese flavor. Max was very dubious of course (he thought it was potato) I swear I must of done a number on him with the mashed baby food because anything with similar texture, he is in his own personal hell if I want him to eat it- HOWEVER, I decided to go the 'cheesy' route telling him about all the yummy parmesan I put in it- it worked! For Max it helped having the duck ragu to blend with the other textures and flavors, however Alex was a fan from the beginning, it was almost like candy for him. The duck ragu wasn't as popular a little to rich for Alex's pallet- he did pick out and eat all the carrot and broccoli so I am fine with that.
I am coming back to this one for sure. The fact that it was so fast, flavorful and divine makes it a perfect starch for the cold winter months ahead what ever topping I put with it, be it duck ragu, vegetable stew or braised chicken.

Semolina Gnocchi

125 grams semolina flour
625 ml milk
2 eggs
100 grams parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 stick (75g) butter, diced

Heat milk in saucepan until just boiling.
Whisk in semolina flour until it thickens, 2-3 minutes
Once thick like mash potato, cut the heat and add remaining ingredients beating to combine.
Place mix into a 4 x 10 inch dish with 1 inch side and let cool in the fridge until set.
Once set, cut out into small circles (if you have ring cutters) or cubes, place on a tray lined with parchment and bake in a 400 oven until warm (about 5-10 minutes)
Remove and serve with desired sauce.

October 13, 2008

Zucchini Bread


I have been on the hunt for 'food fillers'. Max never seems to be satisfied with the food I give him (it's not that he doesn't like it, it is just never enough!). I have put off snacks so they won't ruin their appetites for dinner but now it is getting out of hand and I don't want them filling up on heavily processed snacks- however I also don't want to be or have the time to bake something every day for the little princes.
Nic suggested some bread ( I already feel like we should be buying shares in a bakery!) but then I thought about zucchini bread and thus began my search for a good recipe. The internet is very useful for a quick search as I am sure you all know. After looking at about 5 different recipes I decided on one- due to the fact it made two loaves! It is very quick and easy and I thought it was a winner, however when I ate some it was really sweet and not a good choice for an everyday snack so I have decided to cut the sugar back and add whole wheat flour. The results were great. Boys shovel it down and don't bother me until dinner and I feel better knowing they are eating a little vegetable before dinner- so be it it's mixed with sugar but that is OK with me. I think the breakfast cereal has more sugar than the bread!

Zucchini Bread (my version)
2 cups All purpose flour (plain flour)
1 cup Whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon- ground
1 tsp all spice
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 & 3/4 cups sugar (other recipe 2 & 1/4 cups)
3 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup nuts (walnuts or almonds)

Preheat oven to 325 (165) and grease two 8x4 inch pans or there about.
Sift flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder and spices into a medium bowl- set aside.
In a large size bowl- beat eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla until well combined and thick.
Add dry ingredients to wet and beat until well combined.
Stir in zucchini and nuts then pour into pre-greased pans.
Bake for approx 1 hour or until the skewer comes out clean. One of my dishes took an additional 20 minutes so it does vary.
Cool for 5 minutes before taking out of pan and then leave until cold. I put one in the freezer and it freezes really well.
Enjoy!

October 10, 2008

Pork for dinner



My youngest Alex has had a sluggish appetite this past week and I am at the point where I don't even feel like cooking for him due to 95% of his meal being left on the plate. I know this is apart of being 3, maybe he is going through a growth spurt or just not interested in food right now. None of this helps however when the dinner hour is upon me and I have Max on the opposite end of the scale- I never seem able to fill his skinny little legs! 
I suggested he finish off his brothers dinner the other night after he cleaned his plate in 30 seconds- I was quickly told that was 'disgusting' and 'just give me extra yogurt' (I am still confused and wondering which part was disgusting?)

Anyhow I had some pork loins in the fridge and suggested sweet and sour for dinner- no interest. I thought about a nice lemon butter sauce but then decided against it due to Alex's mood. Then I remembered one of my favorite ways to eat meat when I was a kid. Cover it in bread crumbs or a batter. I wasn't about to deep fry the pork loin but I did make some fresh bread crumbs (I always have a heap of bread ends in the freezer for crumbs), beat out the loins until they were very thin (the best way to do this at home is place the loin on a big piece of cling film/glad wrap, fold it over the loin loosely- grab a rolling pin and begin to bash until very thin) and then dip them in a crumbing mix of flour, egg and then bread crumbs.
When you are about to cook the schnitzels heat a large fry pan with a combination of olive oil and butter on medium heat and begin to brown both sides. Once crisp, lay on some paper towel and continue until all are done. It is best to do the kids first so they cool down.
Because it does take a little extra time to crumb the meat I made a quick salad with black eyes peas, carrot sticks, cucumber, green beans (cooked) and Greek feta. Dressed it in a red wine vinaigrette and served it on the side.
The salad was a great compliment to the crisp pork schnitzel and we were all very happy with the end result. I can't tell you Alex ate all of his up and asked for more, but he did eat at least 70% and then take himself off to the bath where his Elmo bath bubbles were waiting for him.

October 7, 2008

Pumpkin Soup


The weather is turning here in Chicago and Fall is upon us. I for one am happy as a clam- I love pulling on a sweater (jumper) and cooking to keep warm. On Saturday I stayed in the kitchen all morning pottering away and not even breaking into a sweat (we always seem to live in apartments with hot little kitchens). The pumpkins and winter squash are out and it is time to get the soups on the stove and stews in the oven. The other night Nic made a delicious pumpkin and potato curry, however I am banned from blogging his meals due to the fact I don't cook them!

Pumpkin soup would have to be one of my all time favorites. You can make it as simple as possible with onions, garlic, stock and pumpkin (butternut, acorn, Jap, Queensland blue etc), blend it all up and you have a delightful, smooth and satisfying meal or you can jazz it up a bit with cilantro (coriander) and coconut milk, curry powder or as I did on Saturday- lime leaves, turmeric and coriander seeds.
At first I was going to make a basic thick soup but once I melted the butter, threw in the onion and the sweet smell hit my nose I was drawn to my herb and spice draw and the next thing I knew it was a wonderful yellow color and the coriander seeds were permeating the air. The lime leaves were an after thought but assumed they would work seeing as they work so well in curries and sauces.
When the boys wonder into the kitchen asking what the yummy smell is, I know I have made the right choice. Both boys have been bought up on pumpkin soup. By the time Alex was onto solids I got a bit lazy with the puree this and puree that- he was eating the soups either watered down with a bit of milk or natural yogurt (always success in his case). The yogurt hides the curry flavor quite well!
To make a good soup my mum taught me to have more veggies than liquid- that way you could increase volume when necessary and not skimp on flavor. When I first started cooking I was terrible at making soup and I use to sweat bullets when the head chef asked me to make the soup of the day. I always managed to make it smell delicious but the end result was always a let down- until that is mum came to my rescue. Now when ever I make any soup I always fill the pot to barely cover the veggies. Even if I don't puree the soup I find this method works really well. 
If you do try the lime leaves, just pull them out before you puree the soup. Pumpkin soup also tastes yummy if you serve it up into bowls, squeeze half a lemon on top, sprinkle with chili flakes and finish with a dollop of natural yogurt. Who would think the yellow gourd would give you so much pleasure....don't even get me started on pumpkin pie!

October 3, 2008

Mini Pizza


I wasn't sure if I should write about this post. I was thinking everyone surly knows about the 'mini pizza' or 'pizza in a flash' as I sometimes call it. Then I thought what the hell, if there is one person out there who doesn't know about pita breads and  pizza then this is for YOU.
Usually when I have pita breads, I will make them fresh. They are really tasty and you can make a lot out of a small amount of dough. However, I was out shopping the other day trying to think of some ideas for dinner when I was standing at the deli counter of the local Greek/Polish/Asian Market and noticed the array of pita breads they had on sale. Some were still warm and felt fresh and inviting. I decided I'd buy a packet and give the boys mini pizzas for dinner when I needed dinner in a flash!
I freeze the pitas so they last longer and taste fresh every time I use them. You can thaw them out on the counter top or pop them in the oven to defrost (this method makes them taste the freshest). When making the pizza version on the pita's I get the boys to make their own. The base is pre-cooked so if I am putting sausage or bacon on I pre-cook it to make sure it's thoroughly cooked. The oven temp is around 400 (220) but they are in for a very short period- approx 10 minutes.
Toppings are really what ever I find in the fridge. On the day we made these I had bacon, peppers, olives and by request from Alex- peas! (that came out of left field). A can of whole tomatoes were crushed and blended with diced onion and oregano then the kids go for it with toppings. I find if they make them they eat them all up and I can get more bits and pieces on top than usual (for some reason they think I sneak in a bucket of spinach or liver into the pizza if they aren't watching??)
Anyway it really is a very fast and yummy meal. We will sometimes have these for lunch on the weekend or make breakfast pizzas. Don't get me wrong, I do love making a pizza crust however it is always great to have a quick alternative you can whip up if you feel a melt down coming on- be it you or the kids!

Chicken wings




The other day at work I was boning out some chickens for roasting. We usually make stock from the carcass and throw the wings away, or pop them in the wood oven for a 'kitchen snack'. Right now all the guys are going through a fat stage (??) and are all on diets, so I decided I'd take the wings home for dinner the following evening. The next morning I dropped both boys at school and felt like experimenting so I decide to bone out the wings and stuff them (anything to get out of mopping the floors!). Half an hour went by and I had only boned out 10 wings- it takes longer than I think, knowing I had to pick up Alex in 20 minutes I decide to marinate the rest of the wings and figure out the 'stuffing' later.

OK people, if there is one marinade you try this year let it be this one. I wasn't really thinking about what I was doing, just throwing spices and herbs together when I saw them. I have to say this marinate was -DIVINE!! The kids devoured there's in a matter of seconds (I can't say the same for the broccoli) and asked for seconds- there wasn't any sadly.

Chicken marinade
I am sorry I didn't measure anything this time around but when I make them again I'll pay more attention to measurements. In the mean time if you feel like giving it a go, do as I did:

In a mortar and pestle add about one inch of roughly chopped peeled ginger, two cloves of garlic, about 1 and a bit teaspoons of whole black pepper corns (have to be the whole pepper corn for full flavor) a good splash of fish sauce, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder, a hand full of cilantro (coriander) leaves and stems chopped up and 1-2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil.
When you have all these ingredients in the mortar begin crushing and pounding them until the pepper corns are all broken up, the leaves and stems of the cilantro (coriander) are bruised and mashed and it all looks to be a rough paste- you can try doing it in a small blender also.
Pour the paste onto the wings and rub with your fingers to get good coverage. Place covered wings back in the fridge for at least 6-8 hours (up to a day) then preheat your oven to 500 (220) and lay them on a tray. Place them in the oven for 6 or so minutes, turn to brown evenly. Once done (approx 10-15 minutes) serve with plain rice and stir-fry veggies- I did broccoli, onion and peppers in oyster sauce.

 For the 'stuffed' wings I grabbed a hand full of pork mince, chopped two little HOT chile's into thin slices, minced one garlic clove, added a whoosh of fish sauce and cut up one green onion (spring onion), finished with seasoning and then stuffed the wings. 
To cook them I had the oven on 500 (to cook the other wings). I heated up some vegetable oil in the wok- about 1/2 an inch. Lightly coated the stuffed wings in corn starch and then quickly fried the skin. Once brown I placed the wings on a tray and finished them in the oven for 5-7 minutes. 
We didn't give these to the kids because they were loaded with chile's and I have to say they were more than happy with the marinated ones. The kick of the chili and texture of the pork made these little beauties finger lickin' good. 
I don't know when I am going to bone out chicken wings again (if ever??) but I do know I will make the marinade over and over...
Let me know if you give it a go, I am still thinking about the flavor this morning!

October 2, 2008

Melting Moments



I could be talking about events that 'melt my heart' or something wonderful the boys had done but that just wouldn't be right. The 'melting moments' I am talking about are the delicious, decadent and down right mouthwatering biscuits (or cookies) we have in Australia. I am sure many of you have heard of them or at least tasted them and will agree with me that they are divine. You bite into one and the biscuit (cookie) melts on your tongue- that is then followed by the smooth butter lemon combo you have stuffed in the center. 
I only make these once in a blue moon as they get gobbled up in a matter of hours in our house. The kids love to help stuff them of course and then get covered in lemon butter ( I still don't understand how that happens- all they have to do is put the tops on?)
You could play around with the flavors in the center doing an orange cream or chocolate but I have never bothered- lemon and butter (again I use kerrygold salted apposed to unsalted for added flavor) are the creme of the crop for me.
These are so delectable you could put them out after dinner and everyone would be thinking them a treat- kids and adults alike!

Melting Moments
2 Sticks butter- softened
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup powdered sugar- sift
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour- sift
1/2 cup corn starch-sift

Preheat your oven to 325- degree
Place butter, vanilla & powdered sugar into a medium bowl and beat until light in color (approx 3 minutes).
Add sifted flour and corn starch to butter mixture in two turns. Beat with wooden spoon or use on 'slow' in mixer until it forms a soft/solid ball. Dip your hand in flour to coat and begin to roll dough into small balls the size of a heaped teaspoon. You should be able to get 24 in one batch.
When you have all the balls rolled- place on lightly greased cookie sheet and press each ball with a fork making an indent and flattening slightly.
Bake for approx 15-20 minutes or until cookies are pale in color.
Remove and let cool for a few minutes before moving to wire rack.
When cold begin to fill with lemon cream and top with cookie.

Butter cream
3 oz kerrygold salted butter- softened
2/3 cups powdered sugar- sifted
rind of one lemon
juice of half a lemon

Combine the above ingredients, beat until a smooth spreadable mixture forms.
Place heaped cream in the center of cookie and 'jam' together




September 29, 2008

Beans Means Heinz

Listen up people of America (or as Alex's says Ameri-car-ra). For the past six years I have tried to like your baked beans, I have tried every brand available and still I come to the same conclusion- too sweet! 
You can put as much sausage, beef or pork into your baked beans but the only way they will ever taste any good is if you remove at least half of the brown sugar that is added for this little Australian. There are only a select few stores across this country (Jewel Osco being one of them) that actually have the cream of the crop when it comes to tinned beans- HEINZ. They are a perfect balance of bean versus tomato sauce and most importantly, they are NOT sweet. If you have not yet tried Heinz beans
 give them a go.
Looking in the fridge this morning after having one to many cocktails at a friends house last night and craving a satisfying fry up- I fell short in the egg department. Lucky I had a tin of beans, half a packet of bacon in the fridge and a juicy ripe tomato sitting on the window sill. It did the trick, my craving of fatty bacon and beans was met and the kids were ecstatic to have beans and bacon for brekky. I'm telling you America- Beans Means Heinz (can you tell Heinz did a great ad campaign when I was a kid?)

September 28, 2008

Bread and butter pudding






During my pregnancy with Alex I was the pastry chef at Campagnola restaurant in Evanston, Il. Before that I was known as the 'grill bitch' in the main kitchen. I guess you can't be to nice when working in a male dominated work place AND get what you want! I absolutely LOVE working the line and my favorite position is in fact the grill. The thrill of seeing all the tickets lining up, meat searing on the wood fired grill and servers screaming in pre-orders for the last three tables they just picked up- makes me feel alive. The adrenalin is frightening at times, yet totally intoxicating, especially when you get through the service and no one has sent food back or you've lost a ticket on the line (which we all know happens!). 
I didn't give up the grill willingly I have to say and I also didn't give it up to reduce my stress levels (although all good arguments). I had to give it up in the end due to being way to big for the space. Doing a 360 turn from the grill to plating the food when you have a very large baby growing in your tummy doesn't leave a lot of room to move. I'd have to back up to let the other guys out- it was time to change jobs.

For the good part of my 15 years in cooking I have managed to avoid two areas of a professional kitchen I loathed. The pantry (salads) and pastry. I always felt my hands were much to clumsy for the delicate works of a pastry kitchen and I also wasn't happy about being so accurate around food. When the head chef, Vince suggested I try the pastry section I thought he was deranged and told him it properly wasn't a good idea but I'll give it a go because clearly I was not going to fit on the line for much longer!
 To cut a long story short I took up the post and was happy to be cooking yet feeling totally out of my depth. I was actually glad to finally pop Alex out. I didn't really learn to LOVE the pastry section until we went to live in Florence Italy for ten months (Alex was 6 weeks old when we left). Being surrounded by delicious cakes and pastries, being able to walk around the corner and buy fresh bread and sweet rolls from our house slowly changed my perspective on the dessert station. In the end I was dying to get back to the kitchen and reproduce the wonderful desserts and cakes we bought in Italy.

After being back at Campagola, full of ideas and recipes I'd picked up from friends in Florance I was raring to go and create. I found with the right passion and enthusiasm I wasn't to bad at the pastry thang and I even got a bit of a following. One of the dishes I made for the Fall/winter menu was bread and butter pudding. Restaurants always seem to have an abundance of stale bread and I thought it a waste to use it all for bread crumbs or throw it out. This recipe is very adaptable. When I made it for the restaurant I wanted it to be creamy and rich without making patrons wish they hadn't had it (for obvious reasons!) so I made it with half & half and a little cream. 
I didn't think my family and I needed that much fat in our diet so I made this one with full cream milk and a little cream. Play around and use what you feel most comfortable.
In the restaurant I also served it with a caramel sauce but I wasn't about to make the sauce at home because I had used up all my brownie points with Alex making the pudding, so I served it with Breyers praline ice- cream and I have to say it worked a treat! 
Seriously give it a go and change it around a bit. Instead of using banana, throw in some white chocolate and fig (that was another combo I did at work) or raspberry jam and chocolate- the combinations are endless!

Banana Bread and Butter Pudding
Preheat oven to 350-degree and have two ovenproof dishes ready for baking (you need a water bath to cook in so you don't make scramble eggs!)

1 loaf of stale bread (about 9 oz in weight)- crust removed, diced and browned in 350-degree oven until golden in color

Meanwhile in a medium saucepan heat
1-2 tsp. vanilla essence or 1 scraped vanilla pod
700ml  Whole milk
300ml heavy whipping cream

Heat but DO NOT BOIL.
Once milk is scorched cut off the heat.
In a separate large bowl combine
4 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Whisk until well combined and thick (approx 30 seconds)
Gradually pour in your scorched milk mixture with eggs until you have a custard.
Add your toasted diced bread and leave to soak for 30 minutes.
After you have soaked the bread make your banana mix so the flavors can meld.

In a medium bowl ADD
2 bananas- mashed, the older and blacker the better
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. brandy or Bourbon
Mix until combined then leave until your ready to form pudding

Meanwhile in a small oven proof dish go around it with butter giving it a good coating, leaving chunks of butter in for added flavor. Personally I like to use a salted butter (kerrygold being my fave) the salted butter gives it a distinct flavor of salty sweet adding another flavor layer to the dish.

OK, so you have your bead soaking and it is spongy and ready to go, your container is buttered up and the banana mix is all ready to go.
Pull out half the bread and cover the bottom of your dish- don't worry about the custard mix it all ends up in the dish.
Once you have the bottom layer in- pour over the banana mix and finish with covering the banana mix with the remaining bread. Pour remaining custard over bread until all gone or dish is full.
Place dish in a larger dish (water bath) and fill it with water until is comes up about an inch on the sides. Place in 350-degree oven for about an hour. 
When all custard is set remove from oven an let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

September 24, 2008

Leftovers + pasta

As I wrote on my last entry the skordalia was a success and dinner was wolfed down by all (not including the celery of course!). Having worked the past two evenings I thought I'd better clean out the 'leftovers' in the fridge. Seeing how the boys (Nic included) got the veal and pork lasagna for dinner last night there wasn't much in the way of left overs until I spied the white bowl sitting at the back covered in plastic and parsley- doesn't everyone have parsley running wild in the deep dark corners of their fridge??
 Knowing I couldn't top the lasagna I decided to put it to the test- did the boys really, like the skordalia? Because it was a couple of days old the oil had leached out a bit and intensified so I decided to pare it with fettuccine the random green beans I found and fresh cherry tomatoes. The results were
1) Over all 'look'- great, bright and eye catching
2) Flavor- rich, garlicky and very tasty
3)Speed- AWESOME!!! seriously dinner was on the table in 10 minutes and the fresh tomatoes really cut through the heavy flavor of the almond, bread and oil.
Next time I make the lamb and skordalia I will defiantly save a bit of the skordalia for a dinner later in the week.
  Max is sitting here eating ice cream, he demolished his dinner. Alex has only the lone cherry tomato to eat- the ice cream may or may not be hitting his lips- come on Alex you can do it!

September 21, 2008

Guinea Pigs



I have been writing down recipes, ideas and memories of recipes for my (hopefully ) up and coming book on family meals. Last year the boys were very patient with me asking them to 'taste this with that', 'make sure you eat it all together' or 'just taste it and tell me...pleeassseeee!' 
When we were heading back up to Chicago at the beginning of summer and I was wrapping up some recipe testing yet again- the boys gave a sigh and said, 'Does this mean we can just eat?' I got the message and have laid off.....until now. Deadlines looming and my urge for retesting and retesting again has lead me to tonight's dinner. Lamb chops with skordalia and something??? I really wanted to see what the boys thought of my version of skordalia and if I wasn't to off track. My version is a combination of flavors starting with a poached egg, lots of garlic, almonds, bread crumbs, parsley and a splash of oil and lemon juice then blended together in a food processor. Wondering if the garlic was just to much I thought I'd serve it with a salad of apples, raisins, celery and blanched broccoli - A few of their favorites just in case it fell flat and left them with just lamb and couscous.
Of course they were saying 'what is the green stuff, what's in the salad?' Alex's first words were 'I don't like it' and then proceeds to eat. I put the skordalia on the side of the boys plate (and served ours on top of the lamb) so they saw the lamb and recognized it as 'friendly food'. I of course hold my breath and Max butts in with 'Hmm this is really yummy' Alex then adds 'Oh yeah, I like it'. Just when I think all is well Alex pipes up in his loudest three year old voice and says 'OH this isn't apple......this is CELERY- I DON"T LIKE IT' Here I was worrying about the garlic being to intense and I should of been more worried about the celery!
From an adults point of view the skordalia was delicious, a very soft texture with a huge bite that compliments lamb beautifully. Having said that I kept on thinking how nice it would be with eggplant- next time.

September 19, 2008

Rice paper rolls




I have been thinking of a cold chicken salad dish for a while now- I finally had the fridge full of the right ingredients, a day off and time to spare (the stars were aligned!) Having all this happen at once seems to be a rare event in our house so when it happens and Grammie is still visiting from Australia Nic and I jump on the idea of 'date night'. I think it has been 18 months since I last saw the silver screen.
 The ground chicken (mince) is sitting in the fridge so I decide to continue with my plan- however I am still working on the 'salad' so I decide to make the chicken mix and wrap it in left over rice paper rolls I have in the cupboard. For an extra bite to the rolls I layer them with iceberg lettuce and then spoon in my chicken mixture- a little garlic, ginger, sweet soy, grated carrot, celery and peppers for added crunch and flavor. When you are adding vegetables to a meat dish you should keep it 'uniform'. There is nothing worse than eating a mouthful of food and getting a great big piece of onion or pepper when the rest of your ingredients are half the size. I base all the raw veggies on the size of the ground meat- therefor grating carrot is the perfect size.
 Max is very excited about the rolls- Alex a little dubious. Max asks for some sweet chili dipping sauce- a perfect accompaniment to this meal (my heart swells with pride) while Alex is poking and prodding the rolls. I can see the enjoyment on Max's face- alas the afternoon tea he and Grammie enjoyed was a little too big and he only ate half his dinner, though told me he'd like them again when he wasn't so full of cake (Grammieeeee!). Alex on the other hand couldn't get passed the texture of the rolls and decided he'd go to bed hungry (he didn't get afternoon tea) which leads me to perhaps serving the chicken with plain rice for the younger taste buds or noodles. Grammie enjoyed the rolls (I mixed hers with cilantro for added flavor).
Looks like I have to wait for the stars to align for me to revisit the 'chicken salad'. However dinner and a movie was well worth the wait- lets not wait another 18 months!

September 17, 2008

A bit of history








I am sure your wondering who this is? This is my mum. She is famous for her quiches among 100's of other dishes ranging from sticky date pudding to Morton Bay bugs- Oh how I long to sit on mum and dad's porch and eat chili bugs with a lovely drop of Tassie Riesling!

 My grandma was a baker, my mum is a chef and I guess it was more than likely my sister or I would walk in the same foot prints. I still remember mum flambe a dinner when I was very young- I was totally impressed she set our dinner on fire right before our eyes with a smile on her face. When we had picnics mum would always have wonderful food spilling out with the envy of our surrounding friends, we'd feast on her latest Thai chicken salad or beef satays. On camping trips we would always have a delicious curry to look forward to after putting up the tent and setting the fire.

Now I have kids of my own I am so excited to give them a taste of the food experience I had growing up. I didn't realize how lucky I was to come home from school and feast on a plate of homemade nachos or date scones with lashings of cream- if we were really lucky and the customers didn't eat all the 'Death by Chocolate' then we were allow to devour the leftovers topped with vanilla ice-cream. 
Mum was always thinking of new ways to cook and buy 'exciting' ingredients to spice up the family meal. I am sure back then I made the same complaints the boys make 'What is this?' 'Why can't we have pasta like everyone else?' but years down the track I am really happy she followed her taste buds and always wanted to know more. I think the boys will be happy too, it might take a few years for them to realize( just like their mum) how cool it is to eat eggplant and couscous.
T

September 15, 2008

The juicest white meat eva!!

I have decided to share one of my best tips for cooking meat with y'all. We are heading into the cooler Fall temperatures here in Chicago and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I know people are dying to fire up the grill in Australia and begin the hard core grilling season, so let me help you out with a 'knock 'em dead juicy brine recipe'. I use this on white meat- pork, chicken, rabbit (sometimes) and turkey. Oh my god- last years turkey got dunked in the brine mix for 7 hours and I have to tell you it was the EASIEST and tastiest turkey I have cooked in my six years of cooking Thanksgiving dinners. 
The key ingredients are the sugar, salt and water of course. The flavor ingredients are very versatile. I change them up depending on what I am cooking- I sometimes use fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds etc.
 When you are cooking meat that has been soaking in a brine mix you have a greater girth for accidentally over cooking. If you leave the meat (lets say a chicken breast) on the grill or have a partner who thinks they are the bee's knees on the grill yet dries the food out to hockey pucks then a brine is your best friend. It seals the moisture inside the meat allowing the juices to stay within instead of leaching out.
Brining is good for 'cuts' of meat and also whole birds- I guess you could brine an entire pig but you'd want to have bloody big bucket!
This recipe will brine one big turkey or two whole chickens- half the recipe for smaller chops, breasts etc.

Basic Brine Recipe
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup salt (table salt is fine or kosher)
1 gallon (4.5 litres) water
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
2  bay leaves
3-4 sprigs of fresh herbs like oregano/thyme/rosemary
1 Tbsp. chili flakes (optional)

Place all ingredients into a large pot and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1-2 minutes then remove from heat and cool straight away.
(A rapid way to reduce the temperature of your brine is to fill the sink up with cold water dump as many ice cubes you have into the water. Pour the brine mixture into a plastic or stainless steel container and plunge it into the iced water bath. Stir occasionally to quicken the cooling process)
Once the brine is cold- place meat into brine and soak for up to 6-7 hours (depending on the size of meat. Whole birds will take 7 hours, chicken breasts about 5 hours). Drain and use or if you are not using straight away, cover meat in olive oil to stop it from drying out. I usually brine meat 1-2 days before I need it so on the day all I have to do it cook it!
Give it a go, it is well worth the extra step.

September 12, 2008

Lunchbox


It is that time of year again when we have to start thinking- school lunches!
 Now I don't know about you but the mornings in our house are not leisurely, we don't have a lot of time to make glamour lunches. I once saw a magazine with 'back to school lunch ideas' in it (before I had kids) and they were making 'sushi sandwiches' flattening out the bread, making a concoction of carrot sticks the size of matches and rolling them with a delicious looking chicken and sour cream mix. I thought YES- that is what I am going to do!

Well reality struck and Max isn't getting anything of the sort. One of the main reasons he doesn't get the chicken and matchstick sushi sango  is the fact that half his lunch use to come home untouched  because he complains "Mum you don't understand..... I hardly have any time to eat!" Twenty minutes is not long enough for him to deconstruct the sandwich, see if it passes the 'do I really want to eat this in front of my friends test' and then eat leaving at least 15-minutes of 'playtime'. 
Having said that I do think that roasting a chook on the weekend then stripping it down for sandwich meat for the coming week is a great idea and one I do. I also like the idea of making a zucchini slice and popping that into his lunch box. It is protein packed with egg, loaded with cheese, grated zucchini and carrot for the 'healthy' angle. I can only get away with doing this every now and again as it isn't very 'cool' to stand out from the crowd at lunch time so I hear. So for us the above Vegemite and cheese sandwich on nutty whole wheat bread is going to have to do- followed by a muesli bar and fresh apricots due to Max's busy lunch schedule. I do however have to make sure I have the meat lasagna and milkshakes waiting for him when he gets home for his 'after school snack'- Max is bitterly disappointed when he arrives home to find a glass of milk and an apple awaiting him instead. I guess having a chef as a mum isn't all that is cracked up to be on a day to day level. The surprise baked cheesecake or scones with jam and cream are very few and far between, I need a few more years of experience, or I just need to open up my own cafe to satisfy the after school starvation!