May 27, 2009

Kids Cooking- part two

Can three year-olds really cook? and do you really want them in the kitchen at this age?
I know there are a lot of different answers to these questions but all in all I am coming to the conclusion that, yes they can cook and believe it or not, yes we do want them in the kitchen from time to time, learning the art of preparing the family meal. 
Of course you  have to pick your days and NEVER get them in there when they are grumpy, hyper or contrary- so what does that leave me? I hear you ask. Well not much but on that occasional day when the stars have aligned, they have woken up on the right side of bed and they are actually happy and content, this is when I would invite them in to 'help' with food duties.
 Of course cupcakes, cookies, biscuits and slices will always entice the adorable side out of your children, and so it should but I think we should also introduce the day to day meals to kids and show them just how yummy a savory meal can be if we add a few pinches of spice here and whack in a bit of cheese there. After all we do want to encourage healthy eating, don't we?

Based on what Alex, my three year old likes to eat this month (and believe me, it changes on a monthly basis) I decided to make some dishes I knew wouldn't cause a show down at the dinner hour. Every now and again I get sick of being the mean mum who makes her children eat what is in front of them. Occasionally I would like to sit, relax and enjoy my own dinner without having bits of chewed up food thrown onto my plate because it couldn't possibly sit on the side of my child's plate reminding him of the poison I am trying to feed him.
 Beans, legumes and pulses get Alex's taste buds watering. I can even add tomato to beans and he will eat it (as long as it is cooking is some way shape of form). This brought me to the Boys' salad I developed for kidspot. I wanted the recipe to be so easy a three  year old could feel like he/she actually made lunch. It isn't a taste sensation or blow your mind ingredients, just a combination of flavours and textures I know the whole family can enjoy. Mum and dad can happily sit down to the Boy's salad and honestly say what a yummy lunch they have made, while the three year old gets complete satisfaction in saying 'I made lunch today'.
I did use tinned (canned) corn purely so he could see I didn't do a thing to help (the sacrifices we make for our kids!), the other reason I developed this recipe the way I did was to encourage the older sibling to help his brother. Everyone knows 7 year-olds think they can do everything so I encouraged Alex to ask his big brother to cut the tomatoes and measure the dressing ingredients.
The end result was pretty cool, not only did they keep the verbal fighting to a minimum (like I could prevent that from ceasing!) they both were so proud of the fact I didn't have to come into the kitchen and help, and what do you know, they ate every bite on their plate! 
If you are feeling in the mood and need to boost your kids moral or get them interested in a fresher diet, try giving the salad a go, you all could be very impressed with the end result!

May 25, 2009

Working with Preschoolers

If you have been reading my blogs for a while you will know I really do NOT feel comfortable when it comes to cooking with kids. It is not that I am mean and horrible, it simply means I like control and I also like to know that my end result will turn out, instead of being a big blob in the middle of the oven tray.
That is correct- CONTROL FREAK!
It is really quite surprising to me how ridged I am when it comes to cooking and kids because normally I like to think of myself as 'happy go lucky' or 'relaxed and calm'. I can see my husband now, rolling around on the floor with laughter and shaking his head. I mean seriously, he still tells people how 'scary' I was when we worked together in restaurants (before dating) and how I was a force to be reckoned with if anyone dared bring an order back into the kitchen that wasn't correct (I mean come on that was pre-kids, I am so much more relaxed now......).

I was given the assignment from kidspot to do a week on food that kids could cook. I had to breathe into a brown paper bag and wipe the sweat from my brow before even thinking of 8 recipes!
 Once I pulled myself together I started thinking of ideas to keep stress to a minimum just in case there were other parents out there like me- come on I know I am not alone?
I also decided the only way to overcome my fear of kids cooking was to throw myself right in the deep end and see if I sink or swim, after all that is what we do with kitchen staff if we really want to see what they are made of.
I put it to Alex's Preschool teacher to see if I could come and cook with the kids- all 18 of them!! She thought it was a wonderful idea and was all over it. I was organized into a stupor (seriously teachers are so good at moving procrastinators along!) and before I knew it the morning had come when I was faced with 18 kids and a kitchen.
My first choice was Strawberry Pops,  a sweet treat I made up- toothpicks, strawberries, chocolate, marshmallows and sprinkles. I thought the kids could thread, dip and sprinkle all by themselves. How right I was, they were so excited to see the bright colours and soft warm melted chocolate! Once I explained what they needed to do all 18 of them started threading, dipping and sprinkling, it was like magic. I couldn't get over how neat and well behaved they all were. As we were nearing to the end I could see a few of them wanted to start eating so I quickly introduced our second project- Fruit turnovers.
 Puff pastry filled with homemade custard and tinned fruit- folded, and sprinkled with sugar. I figured I'd make the custard at home then they can put it all together. I did a 'show and tell', my expectations were very low so I was pleasantly surprised when I watch all the kids build their own turnovers. We has some triangle shapes, others were rectangles and there were a couple of others I couldn't tell what shape they formed! The most important part was seeing how much fun the kids were having and the stories they were telling of all the cooking things they do with their mums and dads.
Before I popped them in the oven I had to put them in the fridge so the pastry could be revived again (those little kids have hot little hands). I was so happy with the end result I could of dived in there and eaten a couple myself, however I also saw little johnny shove a finger or two up his nose and I wasn't going to risk it!
Alex was delighted to show everyone what his mum does while he is playing with them all at Preschool and I have to say I was so impressed with all 18 of the kids. They were cool, calm and collected, so maybe I am being a little to uptight when it comes to cooking with kids......this could be the case but I am not about to invite 18 kids over to cook in my kitchen anytime soon.
Thanks to all the kids in Alex's class, you did a fabulous job!

May 22, 2009

I've been painted!

I have had a great week....well actually it hasn't been a great week, however I received some very cool news the other day that lifted my spirits and confidence. Lisa Orgler is an artist who's interest and skill is in painting food images.
 A few weeks ago she posted a blog to all (well a lot) of food bloggers asking to submit a blog. She was choosing a few to paint and the one I sent in 'cucumber and melons' was picked- Yeah for me!!
If you'd like to see her fabulous work simply click on her name and take a look around her blog. Her paintings are beautiful, fun and creative. 
Thanks heaps Lisa, I feel honoured!

May 19, 2009

Flakey chicken

This week I have been cooking budget meals for kidspot. When I was going over what to make I asked the kids what types of food they enjoy eating (I don't know why I do this to myself!)
 Max rolls off his ready made list of- hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, mac and cheese with Alex agreeing to everything (Alex hasn't eaten a hot dog for as long as I can remember- trying to feed him a sausage is a struggle!). Seriously Max has said the same food every time I ask him that question in the past 3 years, so now I am convinced he  tells me everything he knows I don't want him to say. I mean come on we haven't had hot dogs since we life the States!
 You know I can't let it go so I pursue:
"But Max what about the grilled fish you  had last week with lemon sauce?" 
"Oh yeah, that was good"
"Or what about the chicken noodles I made this week?"
"Oh yeah, can we have those again?"

Right about now I am rolling my eyes and ask him why he doesn't say yummy meals like the ones I have just mentioned. 
"Mum it is just easier to say the kids stuff- I don't want to get laughed at"
By whom?? I'm thinking, I'm the only one near him. This brings me to my conclusion of seven year old boys. They like a lot more than they lead on, however if they have to choose between a frozen ready cooked meal you pop in the oven, or a delicious home made tasty meal, from what I gather it all comes down to who is around and what everyone else is eating.
 This brings me to flakey chicken.
For budget meals I thought I'd make a seven year old friendly meal. One you could serve to your mate if they happen to come over to dinner and not feel uncool. The combination of Keen's curry powder and cornflakes gives these chicken strips a bit of extra zip. 
I got Max to help me make these and he ended up taking over which was great to see. When I added the curry into the mix Max asked what that was and I told him it was just my 11 herbs and spices- just like KFC.
"Oh cool!" was the response, followed buy "I hope we are having these for dinner".
I have now decided NOT to ask the question of what kids like as their favorite meal as I am pretty sure I won't like the answer. However I will keep introducing the boys to new flavours and maybe the occasional cooking lesson in the kitchen (let's not get ahead of ourselves, Alex will have to wait a few more years until I am this relaxed with his cooking ability). You never know Max may even invite friends over for dinner and be pleased to serve his very own KFC chicken strips or as he likes to call it Flakey chicken!

May 17, 2009

Pork and ginger burgers

Max was having a friend to sleep over last week. He is a lovely little boy, easy, polite and eats well. I say he eats well because as I am finding out- having sleep overs for little 7 year olds can be a bit daunting when it comes to meal time. Another thing I am finding out is there are a lot of kids out there that really don't like (so they say) anything but mum's cooking and not just any mums- theirs! 
For example, we had a sleep over last year and I decided to do the classic mac and cheese. Something I thought would be a no brainer, however when I served it up this kid was looking at his bowl of pasta with revolt and disbelief.
"Whats the matter little Johnny (for name sake)?"
"I thought we were having mac and cheese?"
Where I replied "Yes, this IS mac and cheese, I just put some beans in so you can grow big and strong"
"I don't like beans.......anyway mac and cheese is orange"
OK what do I do?
"Just taste it Johnny and you might even like it"
"I don't like beans"
(deep breath from me) "So don't eat the beans"
I think you get the gist of this conversation- to cut a long story short, he didn't ever try the pasta and I really didn't know what to do as there were Max and Alex watching with total interest as to how this was going to turn out. I couldn't starve the kid (I would my own) and I didn't want to reward him, otherwise the boys would of jumped on board and all my good work would be out the window......... In the end I told him I'd make him some butter and cheese pasta where by I took his pasta into the kitchen washed it off a little, took out the beans and popped extra cheese on top so it looked all new. He ate it!
The next day I told his mum what happened and she rolled her eyes and said at least he ate it.
For me this was challenging and since then sleep overs scare me!

Now back to last week- I asked child A's mum what he did and didn't eat.
"Everything, don't worry and if he doesn't then to bad"
Wow I thought could this be true? Anyway that afternoon the boys were doing laps in the back yard, throwing the football around and generally not stopping until they were exhausted.
Max loves anything burger-ish so I went to work on my pork mince. It was a burger that simply happened due to what was in the fridge. 
I served them up with oven roasted chips, put the plates down in front of the boys and held my breath.
"Cool- chips!" was child A's response, I breathed a little
Within minutes they were all munching into the burgers and not a word was spoken until their tummies were full and plates empty. To tell you the truth I don't think they even stopped to breath let alone wonder what the ginger flavour was. Nic and I on the other hand were hooked and enjoying every last bite!
So next time you have some pork mince in the fridge, why not throw it together with some fresh ginger, corn and a few other bits and bobs, grill it on the barbie and enjoy this little treat.

May 14, 2009

Beef and capsicum casserole

Do you ever get the feeling your meals are getting boring, never anything new? I do. I go on fads where I eat the same ingredient 2-3 times a week and never get sick of it, then all of a sudden I couldn't possibly eat it again for months at a time. I was pouring over old cookbooks, notes I had written to myself regarding recipes and anything else that looked inspiring the other day. Wondering what we could have for dinner, and could I make that with our crazy sporting schedule along with everything else we cram in after school. I came across a recipe Nic use to make when we lived in Edinburgh years ago.
Just after we were married, Nic and I fled Australia to see the delights of Europe (as most 20 something Aussies do these days), find work in the UK and try to stay on that side of the world for as long as we could stretch a pound. We moved up to Edinburgh from London to save a few bob so we could travel-I think Italy and Ireland were on our agenda. 
Scotland is a beautiful place and we had a lot of fun exploring the city of Edinburgh, we also took on jobs that we would of otherwise never come into contact with- for example I worked on the railways cleaning trains for a  while and Nic (now Uni lecturer) was a store man and packer for a few months. It was a time when work wasn't easy to find and you had to grab what was thrown at you. I guess I remember it so well now because these are the times we are falling into as a country. Some of us are in jobs we would otherwise not know existed.
 Being that we were saving for the next cheap flight and working low paying jobs we were always trying to save. We would go and buy whatever veggies were cheap and see what we could produce, the same went for meat. When we did buy meat it was usually of the stewing variety! I found this recipe in one of my many travel journals and thought I'd pull it out, tweak it a bit and see how it went. To my surprise it was a very easy and really tasty. 
When I served it to the kids I didn't put the parsley on top, however I did throw in the lemon zest and that was well received. The other aspect of this was I could pop it in the oven and forget about it, I didn't even have a fight on my hands with the capsicums as they break down beautifully and all you have left is the flavour throughout the dish.
I am going to revisit this dish and play with it a little more seeing as the nights are cooler and my afternoons are busier and I never have to worry about getting tired of beef......we don't eat enough of it for it to get boring!

May 13, 2009

Donuts and Agfest

Day two: As I was saying yesterday the Korean feast was a huge success. Mum and I got home around 11-pm then of course sat around with dad and talked until midnight (as you do when you haven't really seen each other for the past 5 years!). I was told that it was going to be an early start in the morning so we could come back home at a reasonable time after seeing the sights at Agfest. For those of you not in the know, Agfest is a massive yearly farming event in Tasmania. Thousands so people rock up to see the latest farming goods and to my surprise there are now about 1000 other vendors of all things Tasmanian ranging from food and handmade sweets, to sheepskins and motorbikes.

When we arrived, dad popped on his Rotary cap and wondered off to see how the food caravan was fairing. At this stage I had totally forgotten dad was a Rotarian but didn't think anything of it. Mum and I walked around Agfest wondering what we could do with a new hydro lift or how we could justify buying a flashy fluro horse rug when we didn't have a horse- we were fitting in nicely!
Lunch time was approaching and mum was starting to get a bit anxious "lets go and see if they need a hand at the food stall" Hm mm, pardon? "come on Mil, we should help out a bit" What you want ME to work.....AGAIN??? 
There was a skip in her step and as mum pulled me on she looked back to say "Come on it will be fun". As we pulled up to the Rotary tent the line was long, mum spotted dad in the donut van and whipped in before I could say a word.
You know the smell of frying oil, sugar, cinnamon and dough? well it had me hooked! I bumped dad off the donut machine and started rolling the sweet, crisp donuts in cinnamon sugar while salivating in the process. I think I ate about three before I decided it wouldn't be such a good idea to make lunch an all you can eat donut buffet!
Before I knew it we were churning them out in the 100's. I sent dad off to find more dough while I was left manning the machine. Despite my initial surprise that here I was working (again) on my two day holiday, I met all of my parents friends I'd missed while living in the States and found them to be great fun and full of laughs thus- making a day of donuts and farm stuff pretty cool. However next time I'll make sure there are no up and coming Rotary events or catering gigs so maybe, just maybe we can all relax on the deck sipping sparkling vino and cooking fabulous food for us to eat......well we did do that on my last day, just before heading back to Sydney so all was not lost I mean it wasn't crayfish but fresh flathead and Tassie scallops in a light tempura batter is a pretty delicious runner up!

May 12, 2009

Mother's Day Weekend

I hope all the mum's out there had a fabulous weekend and got spoiled rotten!
 I made an executive decision a few weeks ago and booked a trip to Tassie to visit my parents-ALONE.
 I hadn't spent a Mother's Day with mum since I had become a mum myself and thought after seven years I deserved a weekend escape. I decided it was my turn to sit on the deck sipping champers and telling tales with mum and dad and more importantly it was MY turn to send a photograph of ME to my sister instead of the other way round- I would be the one eating crayfish and salad with mum and dad this Mother's Day weekend.

Well the idea and intentions were all there-however, my parents would have to be some of the busiest people I know and to think they would have Mother's Day weekend off to lazy about with me was quite honestly- wishful thinking! It wasn't all bad, if you knew my parents you'd agree that what ever happens there is always laughter and food.
Day one:
I arrive in Tassie, dad picks me up from the airport and whisks me home to sip one of his delicious coffee's before driving me down to mum's work to say a quick G'day before I meet up with her this evening. I was to help her up out with a 7 course Korean feast for some lucky punter. That's correct ladies and gents, I was to work within 6 hours of beginning my 'holiday'. It was the work I was looking forward to, after all I am my mum's daughter and she was my first teacher of all things culinary and I was eager to see what she was up to.
After donning our uniforms we drove off to the catering event. A beautiful kitchen was awaiting us, as was mum's co-worker Marlow. We started the evening with tempura fried prawns stuffed with pork and herbs, Kim chi (fermented cabbage), and steamed vegetable and pork/prawn dumplings, dipped in a mirin and soy dipping sauce (below).

Following these starters was Miso soup lightly flavoured with chicken and spinach- a lovely pallet cleanser.

Once the miso came back next to go were 'roll your own' prawn, cucumber and mushroom pancakes that were so fresh and crunchy you couldn't possibly stop at one (I think I must of eaten 3-4, thank god she made extra!).

I was bursting at the seams by now but we had one more savory dish- the main dish of steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables with a hint of sesame oil and marinated beef topped with a soft poached egg and shavings of seaweed. A delicious combination of textures and flavour I couldn't resist. 
By the time desserts rocked around mum and I were in full swing, the lime semi-fredo were pulled out of the freezer to soften up, mum cut into the yummy strawberry marshmallow she made (it was a much lighter texture than marshmallow but I don't know what else to compare it to?) and topped it all off with a toffee shard.

The night was a complete success. The customer was delighted, I got to spend the night in the kitchen with my mum AND I managed to eat myself into a stupor (I can only do this when I haven't been the one in the kitchen cooking all day so thanks mum).
I think I'll leave you with these tastes and delights and tell you about day two- on the donut machine with dad tomorrow............

May 7, 2009


Vegemite It has to be the number 1 Australian spread and if it isn't then that's not very bloody Australian of us!
 When the boys were born and moving closer to the stage of solid foods I couldn't wait to spread it on thick, warm, fresh loaves of bread with lashings of butter and a scrape of vegemite. I did wonder if perhaps they wouldn't like it- too salty, not sweet enough? To my delight it was a big thumbs up from the get go!
 With both of the boys growing up in America I had to rely on family and friends to bring over jars- there was no way I was going to pay $4-00 for a tiny jar of vegemite when it was my comfort food, not to mention how much we ate as a family. I am happy to say in the six and a half years we were abroad we only ran out once but thanks to a 'grammie visit' we didn't have to wait to long.

Ok so bringing this into the present day, I thought it only appropriate to make some vegemite scrolls for the kid's lunchbox. Alex was delighted to eat them- he was with me in the kitchen and helped scrape on the vegemite and sprinkle on the cheese and to my surprise he managed to sprinkle 60% and only eat 40%- there is a change in the force!
Hot out of the oven they smelled yummy, looked all puffed up and begged to be eaten. The second reason I'll make these again is for the pure fact they stopped them in their hunger tracks for a good solid hour so that is all good in my books.
P.s. If you are a Marmite lover (how could you?) then these will work just as well.

May 3, 2009

A Nepalese Lunch

I am so fat and happy right now. Our friends have just left the dishes are done (not that I did them) and I am sitting back pondering the food I can still taste in my mouth. I wanted to cook a special lunch for our friends seeing as they really helped us out when we first moved to Sydney. 
When our stuff was still on its way over to Australia, we arrived in Sydney with as much as we could shove into four suitcases but I am afraid kitchen ware and blankets took a back seat to the Star War toys and other bits and bobs to keep the boys occupied. When CB offered up blankets, sheets, pots, pans and a billy we thought all our Christmases had come at once- not only did they supply us something to cook with and keep us warm but it also got us through our first camping trip to boot!
As you can see I had to put in a good effort and to tell you the truth I was really looking forward to making something I really wanted to eat. Something I didn't know to much about but eager to learn. I brought 'Mangoes and Curry leaves' By Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid a few years ago and I have to say it is one of my favorite books to flip through when I need inspiration or a pick me up for meal time. The stories and photos tell of a life I wished I could of lived but never did- travelling the world discovering wonderful food and places........actually I have done that but not to the extent of Alford and Duguid.
The recipes are written really well and easy to follow. Most of the  time I don't have all the ingredients called for so I sub a lot and it always works beautifully. I think I have made the Nepali chicken dish 4-5 times due to the fact the kids devour it in seconds and it only takes 5 minutes to throw together. For some reason I didn't have coriander seeds in the house so I swapped them for fennel seeds (Nic thought that a very bad idea as fennel would not be found in Nepal but work with what you've got I say!). The end result once we stopped the Weber smoking itself into a stupor was delicious. I complimented it with Mountain Dal (which has a lovely clove/chilli taste that lingers in your mouth) Nepali sesame seed  & green bean salad (just sensational- again I didn't have the right flavours but managed to create a pretty fab second best) Cauliflower Dum and homemade pita bread (I always make it if I have fired up the grill because it compliments any meal).
We stuffed ourselves, told tales, listened to past and up and coming events and more importantly caught up with each others lives, which I find hard to keep on top of these days.

Finishing the meal with polenta and orange cake (which is due to appear on kidspot next week) and homemade custard was a great way to seal the light, flavoursome feast we devoured.
It probably wont happen again for another 3 months but next time we get together you can bet there will be a feast for all to devour.

May 1, 2009

What's for lunch?

I don't know about you but I get asked on a regular basis "mummmm what's for lunch?"
If it is something the boys don't really want I have the high pitched sigh followed by the "but mum, is there any thing else?" or my favorite "Yuck! I have had that for like the last three days, why is it always the same?" this is followed by heavy stomping around the house ending in their bedroom with a loud 'BORING!'
For a one off this really is quit amusing and at times funny, BUT at the moment it has been far to frequent for me to do anything but take offence. I started thinking about it and wondered why Max was getting so upset with a salad sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch everyday. That's what Nic and I have (Alex in day care so he has the fancy cooked lunch which I believe we would trade for the salad sandwich- without tomato of course!). We change it around some days of course- ham one day, tuna or roast beef the next but still a salad sango is still a salad sango.
I was in Woolworth's buying my weight in bread (seriously how much bread we go through scares me!) when I noticed a packed of mini croissants. They were cute, about 10 in a container and look at that- on special. Ok I thought, I'll give you something different my boy! I finished the rest of my grocery shopping and forgot all about the croissants until I got home at 1pm- starving and looking for a quick fix I scoffed the first one without it touching the sides then thought I'd slow down and put a bit of thought into the second and third (seriously they are very small). Sliced ham, brinjal pickle and fresh tomato does taste yummy wrapped up in a buttery croissant, as does chicken, avocado and mayo.
Max was right, we did need a change. As slight as it was by changing the vehicle of lunch I managed to produce a grin from ear to ear when he came home from school last week "MUM, thanks for lunch, it was great- did you know I had a yummy salad croissant AND one with nutella-cool!"
Hear that ladies and gents, I am now cool again just because I changed the vehicle of lunch, now all I have to do is turn our old Ford into a Subaru and I'll be happy- enjoy lunch!
For more new lunch ideas visit Kidsopt for my latest.