March 29, 2009

Finishing touches


I wasn't quite sure what to call this post. There were a few reasons why I wanted to cook last nights dinner and a few areas I wanted to cover so if I drift from one subject to another, I promise you it will make sense!

 I was so excited to find a beautiful block of Tasmania Blue cheese at the shops last time I visited and even more excited to see the price reduced. I decided a while back I won't buy all the little flavour enhancers I'd like if it wasn't good for the whole family. Try as I might my kids are not that adventurous to go for a bit of smooth, creamy blue on the end of a cracker and nor should they. Blue cheese is a very acquired taste. I always had a fascination with it. My dad use to buy himself a piece of Stilton every once in a while when I was growing up and I use to watch him gloriously spread it on top of a cracker and savour every little bite. I once built up the courage to try some at the ripe old age of eleven or so. Dad seemed to enjoy it so much I thought it just had to be good. The only 'good' thing I got from it was a swig of dad's beer after I took a bite to wash the bloody awful flavour of smelly old socks from my mouth!
 It took me many years after that to try it again and slowly but surly I began to acquire the same love and appreciation my dad had for the smelly, delicious creamy blue. Nic is not one to jump up and down and go giddy at the sight of soft cheeses on a cheese board, however he does appreciate the subtlety of a good blue.
 I decided to pack the boys off to bed early last night with a favorite of theirs- noodles. There are just some nights after you have been hard at work or screaming around running the kids here there and every where, when you just want to spend the night with your other half and hear yourself think and last night was that night for me. They couldn't of given a flying hoot to tell you the truth. As soon as showers were done and teeth brushed both boys settled down to their favorite activity at the moment- drawing and that was fine by me!

Now back to the cheese, I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen because I was buggered from the day and secondly I hadn't seen Nic all day due to him marking papers so it was going to have to be a 30 minute meal. If you have read through my blogs you'll know I am a fan a risotto, pumpkin risotto to be precise. I had bought a 'Jap' pumpkin about 3 weeks ago and hadn't got around to using it, it still looked firm and healthy so I cut into it and was pleasantly surprise to see the lovely yellow flesh look firm, bright and ready to cook. 
Pumpkin and blue cheese go together swimmingly for those of you who haven't yet tried it. When blended together the creamy/sharp blue compliments the sweet, richness of a good pumpkin. 
In a nut shell I cut about 2 cups of pumpkin flesh and bring it to the boil in 4 cups of water. While that was coming to the boil I fried off some onion and garlic then tipped in 1 cup of aborio rice. Just before adding the pumpkin and water to my rice I mashed the pumpkin with a potato masher to break it up a bit. After adding all the pumpkin water and the rice is just about done, I threw in 1/2 cup of frozen peas and cooked them for the last five minutes.
To finish this little baby off, I removed it from the stove, squeezed half a lemon over the risotto and sprinkled it with cubes of blue cheese (about half the block above). I Folded it through then covered the risotto while I set the table.
Once rested,  fill your glasses with a yummy NZ Sauvignon Blanc, portion into bowls and kick back to enjoy the richness of this wonderful meal. One cup of rice is quite a bit but I have to say we polished it all off!

March 25, 2009

New toys

Well it has been a very exciting day for this little cookie. Friends and family know I do a lot of cooking at home. Every birthday (mine, Nic or the kids) I love to go out of my way to produce a good spread for adults and children alike.  I have to say I usually need to lift a few extra bags of flour at work or make sure I have a solid wooden spoon available before the big event. That's right folks all my adult life I have never owned a mix master or hand mixer. I have whipped my fair share of egg whites, and creamed butter and sugar until my arms feel like they are going to drop off!

Why? are you asking yourself would I wait so long? Well the simple answer was I had been hanging out for a Kitchen Aid mixer. I fell in love with them as soon as I first laid eyes on them. In the beginning my budget wouldn't allow it- so I waited. We moved countries- so I waited. I almost gave in last year and bought a hand held mixer but held onto the urge because I know myself and if I had bought the hand held I'd of never bought the big brother. OK so it isn't a Kitchen Aid, but it is most impressive and has a fantastic big motor!

Along with a new career in recipe development I thought I owed it to myself to have the right equipment (especially seeing how I have the worlds slowest electric stove!). I am now going to be whipping up a storm, beating to my hearts content and never working up a sweat. I am so thrilled about that I just wanted to share it with you all.
 Stay tuned for the first of many biscuits, cakes, meringues and anything else I can put to the test in my new mixer!

March 20, 2009

Pork Mince

You can choose between two pork minces (ground for our American friends) at my butcher. One is lean about 90% all meat, the other has white fat specks throughout with a ratio of 70/30 meat to fat. The health conscious part of me thought I really should buy the 'lean' mince but the chef in me knows the 70/30 was going to produce the most flavour for the sausage rolls Max wanted for his birthday party last weekend. I had grand ideas of taking photos of the party food and blogging about it, but I worked all morning at the cafe, came home and started cooking, guests arrived before my pita dough had it's fourth 'rise'- yes, it was all going pear shaped! and that is when I was so happy I'd brought the fatty mince and pre-made the sausage rolls so I could at least offer them to arriving kids and parents.

Now back to my mince. Because it is really inexpensive to buy and so versatile, I grabbed a few extra grams for dinner another night. To me pork is a fantastic white meat, full of flavour, sweet and delicious what ever way you cook it. I didn't really eat it much before moving to the States and now I'm a convert!

The meal above was something I'd thrown together one night after a big day of work and grocery shopping- I know not a glamorous story but one I am sure you can all relate to. I'd decided to make up a little sauce and pour it over the cooked mince and simmer it in the last few minutes before serving with rice. My idea behind this was to get the most flavour out of the dish. I needed to cook the meat right down and get rid of some of the fat and if I had added garlic or ginger to the meat, the flavour would of disappeared with all the liquid in the cooking process. I do like the flavour of the meat when cooking it with diced onion so I combined them in the beginning then once the meat was brown I added finely sliced red cabbage and grated carrot. The sauce I poured over the meat/veg combo was: one part fish sauce, one part black vinegar, one tablespoon brown sugar, 2 garlic cloves minced, about one tablespoon of grated ginger and 2 parts soy sauce. Once mixed together, pour it over the top and stir it in to combine. You will smell the flavours releasing and want to eat it ASAP! Turn the heat off, add some finely chopped coriander (stem and leaves) then serve over rice and finish with some fried shallots if you have them.

Really once all your veggies are chopped, and rice is cooked all you have to do is wait for the meat to cook and you'll be feasting before you know it!

March 19, 2009

A New Career

For the past two weeks I have been making career changes and I have to say it is a new and very exciting step for me. I am hanging up my apron in the professional kitchens for a while and taking on a new roll as Food Editor for Australia's number 1 parenting website- It is a very exciting position and will enable me to focus more on cooking for families, making food we can all cook and get excited about. I will be able to rant and rave on my blog and you will be able to go directly to any recipes I create and get cooking with a click of a button. 
Some of the topics I'll talk to you about are different cuts of meat you can buy. Budget cuts for all of us that need to pull in the purse strings just that little bit more. For example the picture above is a delicious meal I made a few weeks ago when I had an abundance of capsicums (peppers). We were all craving red meat but I couldn't go the $10 a kg t-bones for a family of four (that would be my total meat budget!), so I bought some 'tender chuck' and I have to tell you it was one of the most enjoyable cuts of meat I have eaten in a long while.
 Of course I got my char grill pan smoking hot as I always do when cooking meat, then seared the loin off on both sides (first I rubbed oil, salt and pepper onto the meat). Once seared I popped it in a 200 degree oven for 8 minutes, pulled it out, wrapped it in foil and finished plating the rest of the meal. To increase the flavour and texture of any meat you should rest it for a period of 3-5 minutes for the meat to 'relax' and juices to stay put. There is nothing worse than cutting a piece of meat straight out of the oven and you see the juices spilling out every where.
I have a few interesting cuts of meat at my butcher shop that look like a bit of a challenge so I'll be blogging those when push comes to shove. In the mean time, please check out my new recipes at kidspot (starting next week with my Mexican theme), have a look around the website you never know, you might find something other than food that you needed to know.
Ciao for now.....

March 9, 2009

Pork and Pea Burgers

It has been way to long since I wrote on my blog and I apologise to my regulars. Last week I rejoined the work force in a 'full time' capacity and as you can see a few areas slipped! WOW is all I can say. I haven't worked full time in a while and I forgot how busy and organised you have to be when you throw kids into the mix. The fact that I turned up to work on time, got the kids to swimming, homework done and we didn't totally run out of groceries (but it did come EXTREMELY close) is a miracle. It happened and I am astonished yet proud of that fact.

I think it was around Thursday that I was all out of time, the boys were starving and were doing the fake crying to emphasize the fact that they were going to pass out if I didn't feed them dinner within ten minutes of getting in the house from doing the grocery shopping. Thank god it was on the same night as the shopping otherwise I don't know what they would of ended up with. Nic was working late and there was no chance they would hold out an extra hour before dinner so I decided to make a super fast, simple meal. Ingredients I had to work with were pork mince, burger buns, frozen peas (which Max hates) and cheese. 

I found the last of the potato gems in the freezer and thought that was a good place to start. While they were cooking I couldn't think what I was going to do with the mince until I spotted the buns- Burgers, always a favorite in my house. I wanted the boys to have veggies but couldn't stand the scene of them telling me how unacceptable it would be to serve them with a burger (seriously- pick your battles).
In the end I grated carrot, poured in some green peas and added pork mince, a squirt of fish sauce was added for the salty finish and then made them into patties. Once cooked I pared them with cheddar cheese (tomato for MAx) and a good dollop of mayo on the bun. The meal was all done and ready to go in 20 minutes- I was actually waiting on the potato gems!
The verdict "Did you see that, I scoffed that half mum" That was Max referring to half of his burger and it really did disappear with in seconds of it touching his lips.
So the boys ate, the peas weren't detected and I got asked for a repeat performance one day soon. When Nic walked in the door he also hoped that was our dinner too. For a 'on the fly' meal it was a hands down winner. I will be revisiting this again for sure, maybe next time I'll put a little more thought into it........or maybe I shouldn't?

March 4, 2009

Carrot Cupcakes

My mum gave me some silicone cupcake moulds for Christmas last year and I have been dying to use them (Remember we have only just received our furniture, so March feels like January for me). I am always dubious with the 'next latest thang' so I wanted to see how well they worked. I am hear to report that they are fantastic!
 I was going to pop them into a muffin tin for extra hold but decided at the last minute to see how well they really stand up- I've given them full marks.
 Placing them on a baking tray, I filled them with my carrot cake mix and they did not change their shape in the least. What I ended up with were beautiful uniform cupcakes. They were very easy to remove from the cake, you just let them cool slightly and then turn upside down and the muffin falls right out leaving lovely little groves in the sides of the cupcake. When washing these silicone moulds you just fill up the sink with warm soapy water and leave them for a few minutes, rub them over with your fingers or a sponge and then just let them air dry- it couldn't be simpler!
If you see them and are wondering if they really are worth the money I'd defiantly say YES. This weekend I made the carrot cakes and Bonnie's muffins so now I need to start giving them away!

March 2, 2009

Mexican Potato Salad

 I get a little bored of the same lunch day in and out. A regular at our house is a salad sandwich with whatever deli meat I have available. They taste delicious, they are filling and good for you, however on the weekends when we have a bit more time, I like to have something a little more exciting. Something that isn't wrapped in a bun- Salads. The fact that Max ate lettuce from a very early age made is so much easier to be creative with salads. When Alex came around he wasn't so keen on any lettuce, or tomato and now he is adding potato and squash to that list. I figure I'll do the same with him as I did with Max- serve it anyway!

Much to my pleasure Max has decided after years (6 to be exact) of dry reaching whenever he sees it, potato in now OK and he has begun to eat it without complaint- see perseverance does pay off! 
Anyway I decided to make a potato salad for lunch today. I thought about how my Mexican friends use to make it in the kitchen for staff meal (comida) when I worked at Campagnola. They would dice carrot and potato into a small dice, add green peas and then fold it through mayo. A very simple potato salad but it would always be served with tortillas, pulled meat (mostly pork) guacamole and some kind of hot salsa- oh I do miss those meals!

I didn't have all the ingredients to make the grand feast so I thought I'd make a potato salad with a Mexican twist. Knowing Alex doesn't like potato I decided to serve the salad with tortillas stuffed with cheese and then lightly seared to melt the cheese- more like a quesadilla. 
A plate of salami was also added to the lunch which complimented the salad and quesadillas beautifully. 

Mexican Potato Salad

8 'new' potatoes, quartered
1 carrot, peeled and diced (same size as potatoes)
1 corn cob, kernels removed
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs cilantro (coriander), finely shredded
1 tsp salt flakes and a couple good grinds of black pepper
juice of half a lemon

In a large pot add diced potatoes, carrot and corn kernels. Fill with cold water until half an inch over vegetables then turn stove on HIGH and bring to the boil. 
Once boiled reduce temp to MEDIUM and simmer for 8-10 minutes. When potato is tender, drain veggies into a colander and pour cold water over to quickly cool vegetables (once is fine). 
While potatoes, carrot and corn are still warm (but not super hot) add mayonnaise and stir to combine. 
Just before serving add cilantro, salt & pepper- stir to combine. 
To bring back an extra colour burst squeeze the lemon juice over the salad (which will remove some mayo and bring out the color of the actual vegetables). 
Serve warm with tortillas, pita bread or bread rolls and what ever deli meat you like.