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.

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


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!

September 10, 2008

Dinner on the fly.....

It's Pre-school open day/evening tonight. Of course it is a rush to get out the door, have the boys fed and bathed all to be on time (first meeting I should be on time- right?) for Alex's first schooling experience. 
There was left over bacon and spinach risotto in the fridge from Grammie Pam and Nic's dinner last night. (I swiped a piece of the boys favorite pork lasagna from work the night before which they think is a huge treat). After rolling the risotto mix into tablespoon sized balls, and then shallow frying in olive oil for 5-8 minutes-I served them with a green bean and cucumber salad dressed in lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. The crisp outside of the rice balls entice the boys while the soft creamy inner texture seals the deal (I bet they don't even find the spinach).

 I have an hour to go, Max devoured his in under 5 minutes while Alex is dragging (i think he found some spinach!). However I feel confidant we'll make the 6.30 start- I don't dare take them out after 6 with empty stomachs!

Title change

Only the name has changed!! Sorry for the confusion folks but I needed to change the title to fit in with some exciting news.
As of today I have sign on with an agent to publish a cookbook titled

'Family of Foodies'- Grown Up Meals Kids Will Love

I look forward to a lot of work and some fantastic recipes coming your way soon. I will continue to bring you cooking info and stories from my house and more.............

September 8, 2008

Veggie Tacos

I have been meaning to make a vegetarian taco for a while now. I know there are millions of different varieties but I wanted one that started to get the kids to eat the foods they tell me they HATE. You might be thinking that sounds mean or 'just let them be and they will work it out later' can do! I believe my kids (and I am sure a lot more out there) truly dislike a flavor or texture when they were younger but I refuse to believe they still HATE it a few years later. I understand as soon as they SEE the food the reaction comes up and that's when I hear "disgusting" or "YUCK" but do they really dislike it????

Last night I was mainly working on Max's taste buds seeing as Alex is still three and will do what ever his big brother does. I made a potato and black bean mix loaded with spinach. Max loathes potatoes and spinach but he is more inclined to try spinach mixed with something- potatoes however are an absolute no, no. This is why I combined them with black beans. The texture is close, the beans have a slightly more powerful flavor and last but not least- I didn't have to tell Max there were potatoes I just focused on the beans and cheese I mixed with it.
The spread above is what the adults ate seeing as the boys don't like guacamole or hot chile's. I also pre-made their tacos so my 'experiment' would work (as you can see the spinach is popping out!).

Verdict- Alex said they were OK and ate half then wanted to go have a bath (I also put sour cream in his for a creamier texture). Max ate down his first two tacos in under a minute and asked for seconds!!!! WINNER!!!
I know I won't be able to do this all the time but I am very happy with  the results and it makes me believe that if they say they HATE some thing it won't last forever- sometimes you just have to mix it up a bit.

September 5, 2008

Scramble eggs for dinner?

Have you ever thought- crap, I have to have dinner on the table in ten minutes before all hell breaks loose and you are still in the car trying to find a parking spot close to home with the kids in the back seat 'dying' of hunger? Well I have on more than one occasion! It is usually the day I know Nic won't be home for dinner and I have pushed the 'leaving time' to the red zone. Every time the melt down in the back seat happens I tell myself it isn't worth it (yet I'll have the same conversation with myself a month later- go figure?)
Nic would have a fit if I served him eggs for dinner. He isn't a big fan of the scramble variety so when it is just the boys and I, I try to have it for breakfast/lunch or dinner. The thing I love about eggs is it is a protein packed meal, super fast (especially if you scramble) and they go with just about everything. I can fit the 5 food groups into a 7 minute meal- what more could you ask for!

Pouring through the fridge I found the salsa I had made a week or so ago (and yes it still tastes great). The kids wont eat it but I will. Grate up some cheese, cut a few slabs of bread and toast it while putting the eggs on. Once the eggs are almost cooked but still look a little sloppy, I remove them from the heat, add the grated cheese and then fold onto the toast. I top Max and mine with tomato and leave Alex's plan- due to one less argument that I know I won't win. On the side of the plate I serve a little calamata olive and cucumber salad they devour in seconds. We are all fed within 7 minutes of stepping in the house, food groups are covered and no one died of starvation despite the cries for the last 30 minutes.
Scramble eggs for dinner- absolutely!

Mother-in-law suitable

It was a very exciting day for us yesterday. Nic's mum flew in from Melbourne and is here to stay for the next three weeks. Lucky for her we have a wonderful friend who has lots of room at her house and has offered to shelter Pam while visiting. Staying in a two bedroom apartment with two very excited little grandchildren might of put Grammie over the edge!

 What to cook? Never wanting to disappoint I was wondering what to make. When flying from Australia you feel exhausted, dirty, tired and not really up for much in the way of food (this much I remember). However I am unable to fill Max and Alex these days so I had to come to a happy medium. Good old roast chook! (chicken for those of you who haven't caught on yet). I figure if I serve cold chicken cuts with a couple of salads and a big old French stick that should serve every ones needs. 
My favorite way to roast a chicken- slit the skin with a sharp knife, shovel butter into the slits so it rests on the flesh and under the skin, increasing the 'crisp' factor. Rub a mixture of whole fennel seeds, salt and cracked pepper all over the skin and finish with shoving some fresh thyme or oregano up it's bum with half a lemon. Pop it in a preheated oven (400) and roast for about 1-11/2 hours until juices run clear, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

I also love roast beetroot so I placed 4-5 whole beets in with the chook and let them do their magic. Knowing my boys I knew Max would NOT even try the beets because they were a deep purple and that is not on his food radar. I had to come up with a simple salad they would also enjoy. I chopped up some Romaine (Coz for you Aussies) and made a watered down mayo, garlic and parmesan cheese dressing. I figured if I put mayo and cheese together Alex would at least eat one or two bits of lettuce. 
For the dressing I got about 2 Tbsp of mayo, added juice of half a lemon and just over 1 tsp of warm water (thins out the mayo), then mixed it with a fork until it was a thin consistency. I then added salt and pepper and grated on my micro plane- one clove of garlic and 2 Tbsp of parmesan. Mix all the ingredients until well combined then pour over the lettuce, add cherry tomatoes and there you have it a delish salad in 5 minutes.

 Once the beets were cool I peeled them (with gloves on otherwise you have very pink hands for the next couple of days), cut into a dice and then made a quick red wine vinaigrette (1 part vinegar to 3 parts e.v.o.o). Toss the beets in the vinaigrette then place them in your serving bowl, sprinkle with feta cheese and chopped Italian parsley- finished!
 As it happened, Pam loved the meal, boys loved the chicken and bread (go figure!) Alex at least tried the beetroot salad and I think he would of eaten more if Max hadn't been sitting across from him saying how disgusting it was. Alex did eat two lettuce leaves and then proceeded to lick the remaining. Max shoveled down the Romain salad going back for seconds and as you can probably tell didn't touch the beets!
Nic and I ate the lot- I'll be doing this one again.