February 28, 2009

To Many Peppers

I have found a wonderful fruit and veg shop in Eastwood- 5 minutes from my house. The produce is fresh, the shop is always packed to the gills with customers and the prices are great! I am pretty sure they sell to local restaurants and caterers as a lot of the produce is bundled up into 1-2-3 kg bags for a ridiculous price. Last week I brought a two kilo bag of red peppers (capsicums) for $2.99- BARGAIN!
 I knew I didn't really need two kilos of red peppers but I couldn't resist. In my mind I said I was going to roast them, stuff them, stir fry them etc. It was a hot week people and I was flat out with bits and bobs of jobs to do so the roasting never got done, I didn't stuff them, however I did stir fry one, chopped another into a fried rice and the rest I made into this 
great sauce. This sauce would have to be a favorite of mine. I make it when ever I have to many peppers, tomatoes or eggplant. If I have extra of one then I make that the feature ingredient and the other ingredients follow suit. I make the sauce in a big batch so I can bottle it (or freeze it) and use it for many dinner ideas. The night I made this one we had it over pasta with shavings of parmesan cheese and  chili flakes added at the last minute (boys not to keen on the chili flakes that why I add them at the end). I will also use it to dip bread into instead of a dip. Spread it in sandwiches, serve with polenta chips as a little entree- the list goes on.

When making this sauce I chop all my ingredients first so everything is ready to go before cooking.

Pepper Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced into a half inch dice
2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 eggplant, small, diced into a half inch dice
3 red peppers, seeded quartered and then thinly sliced
2 beef tomatoes, large, roughly diced
3 Tbsp red wince vinegar
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper for seasoning

Heat a medium fry pan (preferably with a thick bottom) on medium low heat and add olive oil.
Swirl oil around pan, once completely covered add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft- about 3-4 minutes. Add eggplant, stir for a few minutes to combine then season with 1/2 tsp salt and a good grind of pepper.
Add peppers then pop a lid on and cook for 8-10 minutes on LOW heat.

Once the eggplant and peppers have softened add chopped tomatoes and red wine vinegar, give it a good stir then leave to simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. You will need to stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

After 20 minutes, give it a stir and have a taste. You might need to adjust seasoning. 
Pull it off the heat, add your parsley and then serve for dinner over just about anything.
If you are really enjoying the sauce but don't want to eat it all at once pop it in the fridge and it will last for up to a week in a sealed container.

Note: Adding chillies, olives or capers also add another level of flavor to this sauce, however you might want to do that after you have served the kids.

February 25, 2009


I made these for two reasons. One, it is my friend Ramona's birthday- Happy Birthday to you!
Secondly they are everywhere in the shops here and I thought I'd make them just like they did when I was a kid for school fetes, church sales and any other reason to raise money. 

I can tell you now, I am NOT making these for Max's school fair next month! I have to say the amount of work and effort that goes into making these tasty little morsels does not meet my 20 minute criteria for a school cake stall!  I also have to tell you they were/are seriously yummy (sorry Ramona, you'll have to come here to get one :0) ) but they took me a good part of the morning to make them from scratch. I have decided I owe an apology to all the ladies of church stalls, school stalls etc...who made these when I was a kid- I devoured them without even taking a breath and they must of been good if I still remember them now.

If your not Australian, have never stepped foot in Australia or New Zealand or don't have Aussie friends then you probably haven't heard of Lamingtons. In a nut shell they are a sponge cake dipped in a sweet chocolate glaze then rolled in coconut- A real Australian treasure!
If anyone would like to make them I'm happy to post the recipe but I have a feeling the Australians will pop out to the shops and pick up a packet of 6 for a few dollars and my American friends will just wait until I come over again..... Of course I am always happy for you to prove me wrong! 
I think for Fridays morning tea this week I'll whip up a carrot cake- I know that will only take twenty minutes!

February 24, 2009

Mystery Dinner

Do you ever have that feeling of 'what can we have for dinner?'- when you go to look in the fridge all you can see are boring ingredients and nothing remotely interesting? Well that happened to me last night. Max had a friend around for an after school play, which means the kids left me alone until pick up. I had plenty of time to make something delicious and tasty, yet when I went to see what was on offer nothing looked appealing. I went to the cupboard and pulled a can of chickpeas and tomatoes out- they sat on the bench until the 11th hour.

I was running out of time, Megan had arrived to pick up her son and I was still wondering what to cook. In the end I thought I'd better cut up what ever veggies I could find to begin the process, otherwise it will be 8 o'clock and we'd still be unfed. The dinner was a total mystery to me until I turned on the heat of the stove and began adding to the pot. I needed to throw in heaps of veggies because Alex thinks he can survive on bread alone ( he hasn't eaten a good meal in days- the typical 3 year old!) and I needed it to be tasty because I was in the mood for some flavour before this cold I have takes over my taste buds!

 I diced all the veggies the same size as the chick peas so they will cook evenly, then  sauteed the lot in olive oil along with a couple cloves of garlic and some fennel seeds. After the aroma hit my nose it was time to begin making this mystery into something worth eating. I added a tin of tomatoes, plus some fresh cherry tomatoes that needed to be used up, salt and pepper then turned the heat down low, covered the pot and let it meld together for about half an hour, stirring every now and again. 
 I knew if I served it with couscous and a squeeze of lemon juice over the top, Max and Alex would eat it up, however I wanted a little something extra. I have had half a red cabbage sitting in the fridge for about 6 days now and thought it needed to be eaten. Knowing full well the boys would gag and complain if I put cabbage into the mix, I decided to make a coleslaw and add some chili flakes and orange juice to the regular mayo. It would improve the flavor and give Nic and I an extra 'punch' to the meal. 
I first thought to serve it on the side but after tasting the chickpea sauce I thought the creamy mayo and chili would compliment if eaten together. I was right, the yummy thick vegetable stew was rich and flavoursome but when finished with the acid of lemon  and creaminess of the mayo it really took it up a notch and we were very happy with the end result. The boys were not interested in the coleslaw but devoured the couscous and veggie stew- something Alex hasn't done in a while. Next time I am stuck for an idea I think I'll stick to throwing everything into a pot and hoping for the best seeing how it worked so well this time around.

February 22, 2009

Chicken sandwiches & Leg fillers

My mum use to always say to me as a kid "Have you got hollow legs? Where do you put it all?" Now I am a mother of two, I hear that same question but this time it is coming out of my mouth! Max and Alex have always been good eaters, from the time they popped out and drank me out of milk (well not really- it just felt that way), they now proceed to eat me out of groceries. Don't get me wrong, I am all for healthy appetites and strong healthy kids- I just need to get them onto a budget friendly eating programme, and that is where scacciata comes in.
 When we were living in Florence, Italy in 2005-6 I use to see all the school kids pouring out of the school doors and straight into the bakery doors. They all came out with the same 'treat', a big slab of scaccita (which in Italian means 'squashed'). Scaccita is just like foccacia bread that has been doused in olive oil, herbs and salt- plenty of salt. When it is hot out of the oven you could eat your body weight in the stuff and the best part- It's filling!

I have a standard bread recipe that I have previously blogged and that is exactly how I make my version of scaccita. When it comes to the last proving, I simply push the dough onto a tray, smother it in olive oil that I have had crushed garlic marinating in, sprinkle the dough with fresh herbs if they are available and then sprinkle the top with salt. I prefer salt flakes but if I don't have them, then table salt is fine. Once it is all prepped I poke my fingers into the top to make holes where the oil sinks into and then put it in the oven and watch it rise.
Once I pull it out of the oven I brush the top with more garlic olive oil. When I cut into the bread and hand it out to the boys, their eyes light up and the bread is devoured. 

 If you end up having some left over, it makes delicious chicken sandwiches which is exactly what I did the day after our laksa meal with all the left over cooked chicken I had. In this day and age, when you can get one meal out of a whole chicken that is great, but if you can squeeze another out by coating the chicken in mayo and stuffing it between two delicious slices of bread then that to me is brilliant!

February 19, 2009


           I am stuffed to the gills - fat and happy - couldn't possibly eat another wafer!

I have been craving laksa since we arrived back 
in Australia. I wasn't able to get it from my favorite Chinta Blues restaurant in Melbourne so I have resigned to a 'packet' mix for the paste and a very enjoyable shopping trip to my local Asian grocer this morning.
I have never used this paste before so I thought I'd give it a go. Laksa's are so delicious with the blend of coconut, lime, chicken, seafood and tofu just to name a few ingredients, but if I was to make it from scratch (which I do and the flavour is twice as good) it would take me all day- I was after short cuts due to the warm day we had, the fact I had to pick Max up from a play date and having Alex all day I wasn't about to loose my concentration to the kitchen!
 I made a chicken stock- popped a whole chook into a large pot filled it with cold water and then added a whole bulb of garlic cut in half, with skin left on. Added 3 lime leaves, a couple of onions and carrots all roughly cut up. Popped the lid on and waited for it to boil. Once boiling I turned it down to a simmer as I wanted the meat to stay tender. That simmered away for about 30 minutes. After the chicken was cooked I pulled it out of the stock, turned up the temp, added a couple squirts of fish sauce to the mix and reduced it further for about 15 minutes.

OK so the stock was now made and the chicken shredded, all I had to do was make the 'soup', add the noodles, vegetables  (peas, beans and choy sum) and fried tofu and fish balls that I brought at the market. So there you have it a delicious chicken curry laksa- seriously it really was that easy. 
Now you may be wondering if the boys ate the laksa- in a fashion! 
Max is quite partial to some spice so I made his like ours though cut back on the coconut 'spicy' sauce and added a little extra stock to make it a little less hot. As for Alex who cannot grasp the 'spicy' sensation just yet. I filled his bowl with noodles, and cooked chicken. I then ladled out some peas, beans, tofu and fish balls from the soup mix, washed them under the tap to take away any spice and then topped his noodle dish up with cooled left over stock and it worked a treat. He wasn't keen on the fish balls but ate the rest. As for Max- he loved it but couldn't finish due to the massive size of the bowl (I tend to go over board when it comes to noodles!) He did however tell me he ate all the chicken, quote 'Because that is just a waste of an animal if you don't eat all the meat and that isn't right'.
Spoken like a true carnivore!

Tofu on Foodista

February 17, 2009

I HATE Salmon

This is one of those blogs to remind us all that kids really don't always want to make our lives easy, nor do they ever want to admit that you as a parent really know what your talking about.
On Friday I thought it would be a good idea to try out the local fish shop. It is situated right next to my fabulous new butcher so I thought it should be just as good- I'm happy to tell you I was not wrong!
 The salmon fillets looked lovely, vibrant pink/orange with a lovely sheen just waiting to be eaten. When the boys got home from school and sang their ever so familiar chorus 'I'm hungry, what can I eat, what's for dinner?' I was happy to inform them that I bought fish and thought we could have 'fish and chips' for dinner. Smiles went up and I thought I'd hit the jack pot UNTIL Max asked 'What kind of fish is it?' 
'Salmon' I said thinking he'd be just as impressed- that was until my bubble popped and heard
'SALMON- YUCK! We HATE salmon mum, remember we only like WHITE fish- what else is there?'
Clearly someone forgot to tell Max mummy wasn't at work and this was the fish de jour!

After hearing what a terrible mum I was for not remembering they both HATE salmon and what was I thinking (all the time Alex chiming in 'yeah mum, yuck- what's yuck Max?')
I finally snapped and thought some bad words and then decided to serve it any way.

I made a yummy salad that I knew the kids would love, raw carrot sticks, cucumber, cooked green beans and cherry tomatoes (bar Alex), drizzled with a garlic and white wine vinaigrette and served with potato gems. I would of made my own chips but I saw these in the supermarket and it brought back childhood memories so decided to see if my kids like them (verdict- they woofed them down).

The salmon I seared in a very hot pan, flipped it over and then finished it in the oven for 5 minutes. When I pulled it out of the oven I squirted lemon juice all over it and rested it for a few minutes while getting the plates ready.

When I yelled out 'Dinners ready' the kids came running from the backyard dripping in water and mud.
"What's for dinner mum?'
''Salad, chips and fish'
'Cool- what type of fish?'
'Fresh fish, now come and eat'

As you can see from the photo below the salmon was a huge hit BUT it didn't stop Max leaning over to me at the dinner table and saying "It's salmon isn't it? It's OK, this is a yummy one."

February 16, 2009

Chocolate Cake

Have you ever felt like making a chocolate cake for some ones birthday OR just to have around the house (this was always a fantasy of mine when I was a kid, so when I left home and had my own place I remember making a big chocolate cake, iced it and stuck it in my fridge where I could eat and look at it when ever I liked. As it happens it sat there for a few days and I only managed to eat half of it before I go sick of it and threw it out!)

My sister was up for the weekend and we were celebrating her birthday (which was in January but she couldn't get a flight until now).  I knew she loves chocolate cake and all our furniture, pots/pans baking trays etc arrived from the States the day before her visit so I was adamant I was making her a chocolate birthday cake. 
My one big problem was, I have at least 50 different chocolate cake recipes to choose from but not a favorite- that is until now. I managed to find a recipe I will make time and time again. It has my three criteria met:
1) It tastes moist and chocolaty
2) Easy to whip up 
3) Delivers the WOW factor

I know there will be people out there with the BEST recipe and the most delicious, more chocolaty etc but I have finally found one I am really happy with and will use time and time again. I have to admit I was really looking forward to making, or more importantly eating the icing (frosting) but I had to for go it for my sisters cake as I totally flaked and didn't buy icing sugar (super fine sugar) due to the down pour of rain that continued to cascade until Tarsh left Sydney!
In the end I whipped up a chocolate cream that worked really well. The licorice all-sorts are a family favorite so they had to go on top. All in all the cake delivered the goods and we devoured it in two days which tells me it will be a family staple for years to come.

Our NEW Family Chocolate Cake Recipe is from the book 'The Complete Book Of BAKING' Edited by Deborah Gray
Due to copyright I cannot republish this recipe.

February 15, 2009

Vietnamese Sausages

When I was at the butchers the other day I noticed a sign 'Vietnamese sausages'. They looked fabulous raw- pink pork mince flecked with red, white and green bits so I decided to buy a few to try. It was Nic's night to cook while my sister and I kicked back on the couch and caught up with all the happenings of the past few years, sipping a lovely glass of Pikes Riesling (hard life I know!).
 Nic decided to stir fry the sausages with beans, capsicum (peppers) onion, ginger, fish sauce and lemon juice. I have to say the smells coming from the kitchen were fantastic. A mixture of lemon, jasmine (from the rice), cilantro and onion were tantalizing our senses and making our mouths water. When we finally sat down to enjoy the feast- about 30 minutes later, we were all in heaven. With my first bite of sausage came a delicious taste of lemon grass and chilli, followed by the crunch of the vegetables and the aroma of Jasmine rice. I was in heaven and the best part about it was I didn't have to cook!
 I do have to say Nic is very handy in the kitchen but we really can't take any credit away from the actual sausage. They were light, fresh and pumped with flavours of Thailand. It was all agreed we will defiantly have to have a supply of these in the freezer kept on standby for many more quick and tasty meals. The boys however complained they didn't look like sausages (Nic cut them into one inch pieces) and 'why can't we have tomato sauce (ketchup) with them?' Once Max bit into them he was sold, Alex was to preoccupied with the fact he had capsicum (peppers) on his plate to even notice the sausages. In the end he ate everything except the onion and peppers stating he was 'to full' to eat any more!
 I am looking forward to playing around with these little beauties. Why stop at a stir fry, there are patties to be made, even burgers or salads. After all there is always more than one way to skin a sausage!

February 9, 2009

Pumpkin Risotto

One of the veggies I really missed while living abroad were 'jap' pumpkins (squash for our American friends). They have the most beautiful color and texture. When making  soups, muffins or in this case risotto you are in for a treat. The natural sweetness pops out in a flavor burst. The closest squash in the States would have to be an acorn or Del-acarda squash. If you got a butternut squash in prime season, bursting with flavor then it would almost be in the same running.
Simply roasted with a squirt of olive oil, some sea salt and cracked pepper this pumpkin turns any meal into a flavor treat, be it in a warm salad or a side with  roast chicken.

For last nights dinner I made pumpkin risotto. I am getting really fed up with my lack of cooking equipment and electric stove so I decided to make something that only used two pans and with the range turned on HIGH, knew wouldn't fail me. Seriously a wok on electric just doesn't work!

When I make risotto at home I tend to cheat due to the fact I have more than one thing to do around dinner time. I wish I could give you measurements of liquid to rice but I am a guest-a-meter at home and never measure, so if you feel you need the guidelines, just look up any risotto recipe and use the relevant measures or check on the back of the packet.

I put the stock on to boil (chicken) and then peel and cut the pumpkin into half inch cubes in a rough dice. Throw the pieces of pumpkin into the stock and simmer for a few minutes to soften. Once stock has boiled and pumpkin is a little soft turn the heat right down low.
In a large fry pan saute some diced onion and garlic in butter(make the onion about half the size of the squash or small if you can). Once sauteed add the rice, put in some salt and pepper then heat the rice up without any stock, stirring constantly. If you have your rice and stock HOT then it is faster to cook the risotto. 
After a few minutes of stirring the rice, pour in enough stock to cover rice, be careful as the stock will bubble a lot. Give it a stir to ensure even cooking and then leave it to cook, stirring every few minutes so it doesn't stick. When your rice has absorbed 80% of the stock continue to add more so it covers the rice, you might have to flip some of your pumpkin dice into the pan and break it up with the back of the spoon when cooking with the rice. The photo above is how your rice should look.
While your rice is cooking, grate a handful of parmesan cheese and chop up a handful of parsley to throw in while you rest the rice. 
OK, so all your stock is in the fry pan along with your pumpkin, the rice looks fat yet a little liquidy- all good. Taste a piece of rice, if it is soft with a slight 'bite' to it then it is ready to rest.

 Remove from the heat, squeeze half a lemon over risotto (really adds another dimension to the dish) put grated parmesan and parsley on top and then leave to rest for 3-4 minutes. (so pour yourself a glass of wine, set the table what ever). Give your risotto one more stir to combine all ingredients and then pile onto a plate or bowl. If your looking for a meat hit as well, grilled panchetta works a treat on top or crispy bacon.

February 5, 2009

Mi Goreng


People of America listen up, I have news on the noodle front. I think most Australians know about these two minute noodles (so you'll just have to read and agree)- for those Aussies who have never heard of them......... you'd better listen up and then run to the nearest Woollies and grab yourself a packet or two!

 You all know about the Ramen noodles, quick carb fix in under 5 minutes- a little on the salty side but I think we have all eaten our fair share of them in our lifetime (if there is anyone reading this who doesn't know what I am talking about then this post isn't for you!). God knows I have eaten my weight in two minute noodles. When I was a teenager it was trendy in break up the dried noodles, pour the salt mix over them and eat it as is for a snack (that was until we were all told how bad it was for you and we would all swell up if we drank water afterward!).

  I always have a few packets of noodles in the cupboard for the 'just in case' meal or for lunch so now I want to take this a step further and tell you about Mi Goreng noodles. 
For those of you in Chicago I know you can buy them at the Asian grocery stores on Argyle St. For everyone else, try your Asian grocer and if they don't have them ASK them to order them in!

When making these noodles I add my own fresh vegetables like carrots, beans, mushrooms, peas etc. It turns a plain packet of noodles into a meal and if you top it with a fried/poached egg you've just about covered all major food groups. Pop the veggies in with your noodles and cook your egg while the noodles are boiling. In three minutes you will have a delicious, filling bowl of noodles that you can all enjoy. 

What makes these noodles so special is the sachets of flavour that come with them. Make sure you follow the directions on the back of the packet and you can't go wrong. For the kids I leave out the chili sauce packet (the red one) and give then everything else. They even come with a separate packet of dried shallots for sprinkling on top!  Seriously if your a noodle lover you will become a fan of the Mi Goreng, I promise!
 I think they retail for 40 to 60 cents a packet so what is there not to like?  Let me know what you think?

February 2, 2009

Lamb cutlets

I was talking with one of the mum's at school the other day and we were discussing the best places to shop for food. Because we are new to the area I was trying to scope out where the best places are and how to get there etc. I hit the jack pot! I was told to forget buying meat at the grocery store, forget the main road, I needed to find one of the Chinese butchers in Eastwood and all would be OK. 

The last time I shopped at this village I ended up carrying 8 bags of grocery's up 4 flights of stairs due to the lift in the car park being broken (which I have now found out hasn't worked in months!) so my memory of the place wasn't positive- did I forget to mention I had two grumpy, hot kids with me?. Anyhow I decided to give it another shot, minus one kid. Getting there was easy, parking there however was a bloody nightmare, after 15 minutes of driving around and around I snatched a spot in the uncovered part of the undercover car park (due to it being a blistering hot day, I had to do what I had to do!)
 I noticed the butcher shop the minute Alex & I arrived on the block. There was a lot of noise, hand waving and women jostling to get a position in line, not to mention the young guy running past us with a whole pig carcass (head removed) on his shoulder. Alex was stunned and asked me
 a) what was that?
 b) Where was the pigs head?
So you all know what the conversation for the rest of the day was about.
 Anyway back to the store- We have a look in the front window and there were the best looking cuts of meat I have seen in a very long time. I only wish I had the camera with me to show you what I am talking about. The pink/red of the meat was so bright and fresh you could of taken a bite then and there. As soon as I saw the lamb cutlets I knew I had to have them- beautifully bright red with the white fat encasing it, you just knew they were going to taste fabulous no matter how you cooked them!
For the cooking I had to pass that on to Nic (he complains I take all the 'good ingredients' and all I leave him are the end of week dregs in the fridge- it might be true!)
He marinated them in crushed garlic, cilantro (coriander), olive oil and pepper to compliment the sweetness the meat had to offer.
Due to the fact we are still waiting on our furniture to arrive, Nic served the cutlets with plain rice and quickly boiled snow peas coated in fish sauce to compliment the marinade. I of course opted for chili sauce on the side while the boys ate them a-la-naturale. When all you have are three saucepans, to work with it is a very tasty meal!
The meal was so good, the cutlets cooked medium rare were truly 'sweet'. I am now a fan of my semi local butcher and look forward to seeing what other cuts of meats I can master.

February 1, 2009

Brinjal Pickle

We all have our favorite bottled ingredients that make life in the kitchen 100 times faster than making everything from scratch and I am going to share one of my favorite bottled ingredients with you all!

Brinjal pickle (or as it is now called- Eggplant pickle), comes from the Patak's range and is just superb!  My mum first introduced this to me when I was still living at home as a teenager. She use to grill some chicken breasts until just about cooked then slather the pickle on top and finish them under the grill to make the pickle bubble and stick all over the chicken. Since then I have done the same and tossed the cooked, sticky chicken breasts through a salad, or used it on the side when eating some yummy aged cheddar with crusty bread. I also have been known to pop it in a stew of pork, potato and beans just at the end for a flavour punch. More recently I slathered it all over some chicken drumsticks we were having for dinner. I served the drumsticks with lentils that were cooked with diced carrot, celery, onion and tomato- a pretty standard way to cook lentils, however if you finish the meal with brinjal pickle on top of the drumsticks you really have a wonderful meld of flavours.

The pickle does have a bit of a kick to it, so if you are going to serve it to your kids do what I do and slather the pickle on top of the skin and cook it but before serving wash and peel the skin off so there is only a hint of flavour on the drumstick meat. A great way to introduce the flavour to a kids palette without the drama of them thinking their tongue is going to fall off! I cooked the meal together in one night but due to swimming schedules and library visits the boys ate theirs the following night. It worked out perfectly due to the hot day we were having, I served everything cold and it was eaten and relished!

Next time you are wondering what to have for dinner and know you have some chicken, pork or potato at home, give it a go. In no time at all you will create a delicious meal the whole family will love and you can do it in under 30 minutes!