October 26, 2009

Truffled honey

I think I have written this blog at least twice in the past week but each time the photos take so long to download (I am not loving bloggers new layout) so I wonder off to do something else and forget to 'click' and publish. As I am looking through today I am stunned to find almost two weeks have flown by since I posted anything!
In a nut shell my mate Anna gave me a jar of truffle infused honey so I had a play!

I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it but I knew it would have to be with pork because I was having pork cravings. In the end I brought a beautiful piece of pork belly, seasoned it with fennel seeds, pepper, salt and smashed garlic then popped it in the oven to roast. I know you really don't roast pork belly but I have to say I love it roasted. Once it is in the oven you kind of forget about it, let the fat melt away, the skin turns crispy (only if you do a bit of an operation on the the fat directly underneath the skin, otherwise you will NOT get crispy skin- a lesson I learned through trial and error!) and you get time to help the kids with homework- happy days.
While the belly was roasting I managed to get myself some delicious in season broad beans and mixed the beans with cherry tomatoes and your every day garden variety green beans (for bulk). I came up with a tasty little salad where I could incorporate the honey. In the end I poured the truffle infused honey over the warm beans, sprinkled it with Malden sea salt and then pared the dish with a crispy potato rosti.
End result- really yummy! The pork was soft and sweet while the honey was mild yet enhancing the sweet broad beans. The potato rosti added a great texture to the dish.
As for the boys loved the pork, hated the broad beans but liked the regular green beans so I was happy to eat their left overs. The truffle infused honey was quite mild so the boys didn't really notice it- or at least didn't comment on the flavour.
Thanks Anna for the honey and forcing me to do something a little different for dinner, god only knows we all get stuck in the dinner rut, it makes me think I should buy a random ingredient once a week and see what I come up with, however after the week/weekend I have just had with work the only 'surprise' would be actually finding something on your plate!

October 17, 2009

I'm a finalist!

You know I have always been scared to enter competitions. I remember my first culinary comp as an apprentice, I was working for the Sheraton group at the time and they thought apprentices should enter into the up and coming competitions in the culinary world. I decided I would put my best food forward as a 4th year apprentice and go into the Entree section. I was so proud of my dishes. My friend and fellow apprentice, Karena, worked along beside me. We worked solidly through the night to put out our dishes. My biggest mistake was thinking the judges were actually going to taste the food. I put all my efforts into making my dishes taste fantastic when I should of been putting all my efforts into making the dishes look AMAZING! ( the details you learn after the event.....or perhaps I should of read the rules??)- Anyway, I didn't win and not one of the judges tasted any of the four dishes I made. From that day forth I promised myself I would not put myself through the agony of culinary competitions and have stayed true to my word until now.....15 years later.
Pam, my mother-in law came to stay a few weeks ago and encouraged me to enter into Australia's ABC Healthy recipe competition. Now I thought it was a good idea but I really didn't think I'd do it.....thanks to Pam's insistence I entered my roast veggie and goat cheese recipe. Not thinking I'd actually get somewhere but of course secretly hoping I wouldn't fall flat for a second time- I was delighted, no thrilled, to receive a CONGRATULATIONS email from ABC saying I was one of the ten finalists and will now have my recipe rated and trialled by the public.
Thrilled, elated and totally amazed that I had pulled it off, I am now asking my readers to pop over to the site here, perhaps make the recipe and then rate it so I am in for a chance to go to the next level. What ever happens I am happy to have moved on from my fear of failure and excited to be chosen in the top ten.

October 10, 2009

My Little Cupcakes

Ever since I started work at Neutral Bay, I'd drive past the sweetest little shop called 'My Little Cupcakes' on Ben Boyde rd, Neutral Bay. The glimpses I got from the car always had me intrigued as to what was actually in the shop so today when Nic, Alex and I took a cruise around the area looking at houses etc.. we happened to drive by. I saw it was open and swerved off the road into the only parking spot left (must of been a sign!).
"Back in a minute" I shouted to Nic as I jumped out of the car and into the shop before he knew what hit him.
When you first walk into the shop the smell of vanilla hits you and you can't help but crave a little cup cake. At first I wasn't to sure if they were real or not. They looked fantastic and could of easily been a cool money box for a girls room or a toy keep safe box all dressed up to look like a real cupcake. If this had of been the case I would of been sorely disappointed, alas I put in an order for three of their finest and was happy to see they only had their large ones left. The girl behind the counter packaged them beautifully and then sent me off on my merry way.
I was so hoping they would taste good. It reminded me of the time cupcakes were a big deal in Chicago a few years back. I was dirt poor (hubby still a student, me part time chef with two little kids) and cupcake stores were popping up all over the place, the city was a buzz with these amazing little taste sensations. Anyway my very good friend Sara and I would talk about them and wonder what they were like.
Sara being the unbelievably generous person that she is decided we MUST try these cup cakes and see what all the fuss was about. I was so excited and decided I could surly afford one....or maybe half of one. We walked into the store and were giggling with excitement when we saw the rows upon rows of little cupcakes staring at us. Before I knew it Sara had bought 6 or so and paid for them before I had finished checking out the display. She simply looked at me and said something like "we couldn't possibly just eat one!" with that said we marched ourselves back to the car and said we would wait until we got home to try them......that lasted for all of about two seconds.
I have to say the cupcakes on that day did not blow us away. Don't get me wrong, they were very yummy but for the price I was expecting a taste sensation as was Sara. To this day Sara I have never bought another cupcake. So when I paid a fair price for the three above I felt like it was a huge leap of faith on my part. To avoid disappointment I kept the bag tightly wrapped until sleeping beauty in the back seat woke up, wiped the drool from his chin and Nic and I could make a cup of tea at home.

I was happy opening the bag and seeing the three little beauties sitting there. Biting into my cupcake I was delighted with the texture and sweetness.

It did not blow my mind but that is OK, after all it is only a cup cake and a very good one at that, so Sara (and I know your reading), when you finally make it over here to my side of the world I am going to take you to My Little Cakes and repay the favour......just don't leave it to long.

October 9, 2009

Banana Bread

I have had the same 4 bananas sitting patiently in my fruit bowl for the past dare I say it 7 days!!!
Alex spotted them and said "I am NOT eating those mum, no way" then tries to throw them out just in case I sneak one into his food (what kind of person does he think I am?). I quickly jumped in and promised him I'd make some banana bread with them and all would be OK. He gave me a look as if to say- you seriously are going to use them for cooking? your nuts!
As any good banana cake/bread/muffin cook knows, the browner (or in my case blacker) the banana the better. I figure they weren't yet oozing and had no mould so I was good to go.

One of my favorite bloggers is Thekitchwitch and recently she blogged about a white trash cookbook found in the bowels of her cookbook collection. She is a great writer who tells very funny stories about food, life and family. I decided to try out the white trash version of banana bread and see how it worked out. To be fair to the recipe I couldn't get buttermilk, for some reason the local Woolies had run out and an American friend of mine once told me you could substitute natural yogurt and milk if you are without buttermilk, which is what I did.

When I first pulled the bread out of the oven I was really impressed with the delicious sweet smell wafting through the house and couldn't wait to cut off a slice and try it- this is where I learned a valuable lesson......DO NOT DO THIS CAMILLA! It was so hot when I went to eat it I burnt the roof of my mouth and secondly it didn't taste as good as it smelled. I washed my disappointment down with a cuppa tea and then proceeded to follow the rest of the directions and pop it in the fridge.
Day two of the bread I was cutting slabs for afternoon tea for the boys and I, scraped on some butter (because that is what you do diet or not!) and proceeded to munch away. To my delight and surprise I was eating a full flavoured, delicious banana bread. It was perfect- denser than banana cake (as it should be), sweet yet not to sweet and more importantly tasted wonderful!

Thanks TKW for a yummy recipe, I have now learned a valuable lesson and will always keep my banana bread in the fridge and cold before devouring.
Below I have written down my version of the recipe but for the real deal click onto the link above or just click on the link if you want to read a funny well written blog with great recipes.

Banana Bread
1 cup castor sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 large brown (or black) bananas, mashed
1/4 cup natural yogurt
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups + 2 tablespoon plain flour

Combine your yogurt and milk in a bowl and mix well then set aside until needed.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Line a loaf tin with baking paper and spray with cooking spray.
Mix ingredients in the order outlined above.
Pour into loaf tin and bake for 1 hour, remove from oven COOL and store in the fridge until all eaten!

October 6, 2009

Tom Yum

For Nic's first meal back in Australia I thought something Asian and spicy would do the trick. He was tired, jet lagged and not up for much so a quick easy meal was just the ticket. The boys ate earlier (actually Alex ate and Max slept-no fun having tonsilitis!) so I was free to dress it up as much as I liked.
To my delight our seafood shop had a great big sign in the window saying 'fresh squid'. I picked one up along with a few big prawns and headed to my Asian groccer for a bottle of quick and easy tom yum paste, a bag of fish balls, some tofu puffs, and noodles. For me going into this shop is like my kids walking into a toy store. I stroll up and down the aisles for hours and always come out with so much more than I really need (you can never have too many bottles of fish sauce or too many different varities of chilli paste!)
Back at home the water was running for the kids bath while Nic was trying desperately to stay awake, I followed the directions on my bottle of paste (2 spoonfuls of paste to 3 cups of boiling water) of course I always add more and then start adding my frozen fish balls along with the delicious shitaki mushrooms I picked up. I left the stock to simmer for 5 minutes while I cleaned and scored the squid and talked Alex out of the bath and into his P.J's then headed back into the kitchen to finish the meal.
Not much to do really but keep on adding to the broth. Tofu puffs go in so they can soak up the flavour along with some straw mushrooms (I just LOVE the texture of these little ones) and some English spinach leaves ( I know this isn't very Asian but I had a craving and thought it would be totally fine). About 3 minutes before I served the soup I added the squid and prawns, turned the heat off and then went about building my creation......

Noodles get doused in boiling water for a few minutes, strained then popped into serving bowls (I fill and boil the kettle then pour boiling water over the noodles and leave them for 5 minutes before straining).
Once noodles are added I scoop out the bulk ingredients from the broth and divide evenly between bowls (much easier to see we are getting the exact amount of seafood because I hate to miss out!)

Once served and portioned I then pour over the hot and sour broth and finish the meal with sliced scallions and chopped coriander (cilantro).

The Tom Yum was delicious, Nic was excited to have something other than pasta and I was ecstatic it only took me 25 minutes to throw together. I could make this for the kids I guess but I think I will save this one for when they are older and a little more adventurous and able to run their own bath!

October 5, 2009

Eating with a four year old

If it is just you and your four year old eating dinner would you ask them what they would like? I did and with no surprise he simply answered 'pasta'.
Alex's answer for every meal is pasta, whether he really wants it or not he will insist pasta with beans, parmesan and peas is all he ever wants in the world and he will not be happy with anything else.
I took this into consideration but really was looking for something with a little more flavour myself. Max was out of the picture as he wasn't feeling very well- a sore throat. I had no choice but to drag them off to the supermarket to pick something up due to the lack of food in the fridge. If any of you have shopped with kids you'll know my pain and if any of you have shopped with a sick 7 year old in tow you will also no it is impossible to 'quickly' zip up and down the aisles. The moment we walked into Woolies the tears started, Max's temperature soared and Alex pulls away to start munching on the pile of grapes he spotted.
To say it was a disaster would be an understatement. In the end all I managed to grab was a packet of pork and veal mince while dealing with Max's limp body and Alex's wondering mouth!
Back in the car 5 minutes later I was stumped as to what I'd create but one thing was for sure it was not going to be pasta. Back home with Max tucked up in bed, Alex and I headed into the kitchen to make dinner. I poured myself a long awaited glass of wine then laid out my choice of ingredients.

As you can see not a hell of a lot to work with but just enough. I popped some rice on to cook while Alex decides to pull his toy collection out of his room and into the dining room. I was thinking along the lines of a Thai salad, you know wrapped in lettuce leaves then dipped into a spicy dipping sauce. My version was minus lettuce leaves and dipping sauce due to lack of ingredients and present company!
Once I'd chopped the veggies and heated the wok (again I must state cooking on electric with a wok isn't the greatest for browning the meat but you do end up with a wee bit of colour if you leave it on the stove long enough to evaporate all liquid which usually takes about 5-7 minutes) it was only a matter of ten minutes before dinner was on the table. For best results I find if I add fish sauce to my simmering mince I get a deeper flavour with the meat.

Onion, garlic, ginger, frozen peas and capsicum (peppers) then go in and saute until the onion has softened. Just before pulling the meat off the heat I throw in some Chinese black vinegar along with grated carrot (I like it being a bit crunchy and my kids don't like cooked carrot) and chopped coriander (cilantro). Tossing it all through I then add some Kecap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) and rest it while I get the rice. I serve up Alex's then pop a little chilli in mine.

By this stage Alex is gaging at the bit for food, he comes in to investigate and mentions it is not pasta so he will just have plain rice- I then advise him if he wants any chance of getting ice cream (he missed out the night before because he didn't finish his dinner) he would have to eat the works.
Half way into the meal Alex is enjoying the meal and tells me he will finish it all as it isn't that bad- nice! I was thinking I'd save the rest for lunch tomorrow and then I could wrap it in lettuce leaves but Max reappeared and decided it smelt good enough to eat so devoured the lot. In the end dinner with my four year old wasn't half bad, just as long as I don't ask him what's for dinner!

I was however a little concerned about the guy floating in his green cup and what he did to deserve that?

October 4, 2009

Easy Peesie Tomato Soup

We have had beautiful days in Sydney the past month or two, a far cry from the cold and wintry days we experienced in Chicago this time last year. However lately we have had a bit of a cold snap. I don't know if I can really call it a cold snap when you need to kick off your thongs (and I don't mean the American variety, I'm talking flip flops, jandals etc, etc) and throw on a pair of socks or pull on a jumper (sweater) to stop the slight chill you are feeling when out walking.

Whenever I get cold I crave soup and lots of it. I bought a big bag of tomatoes the other day with the intention of making tomato confit. My tomatoes were still sitting on the bench top 4 days later and nowhere near being confied! Pam offered to peel the skin on the tomatoes while I was racing about doing something with the boys so with that offer on the table I thought it a perfect time to whip up a quick and easy tomato soup.
As a lot of you know my youngest Alex wont eat a tomato in a salad no matter what I do to it, however a great big bowl of bright red tomato soup tickles his fancy and will eat it with gusto?? My sister is the same, it must be some king of genetic hiccup that only applies to the blonde's in my family? Anyways once the tomatoes were peeled (thanks Pam) by tossing them in simmering water for a minute or two and then dropping them straight into cold water so they don't go soft, making the soup was a matter of chopping, sauteing, boiling and then blending thus all cooked served and eaten with in 30 minutes. Speed also had something to do with the fact it was gearing on to 1.30pm and we still hadn't eaten!
Tomato soup has 101 different spins on it, this one is a simple version due to me making it the day before my grocery shop with not much in the pantry so feel free to chock it with fresh herbs when blending, adding a dollop of sour cream or cream when serving or do as I do and squeeze in some lemon juice and grind on some chilli flakes to satisfy your hot, sour salty taste buds.

Easy Tomato Soup
50g butter
2 teaspoons ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large onion, roughly diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1.25kg fresh tomatoes (peeled and diced)
2 teaspoons salt (I use Malden sea salt)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup water

Melt butter over medium to high heat.
Add ginger, garlic and onion, saute until onion is transparent (approx 3-5 minutes).
Add tomato paste and fry until colour deepens, approx 3-4 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients, bring to the boil, stir then simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and process until thick and smooth.

Note: I have also been known to use leftover soup for a pasta sauce chocked with bacon, veggies and parmesan cheese- yumm!

October 3, 2009

Friday night dinner

I think I should re name my blog 'weekend blogger' as it seems to be the only time I get to hop online. Welcome to the world of full time work and parenting I hear some of you say, well your right. I am happy to say I have survived my first three weeks of my new world and I must say I couldn't of done it without the help of my mother-in-law, Pam.
Because my hubby had to pop off to Italy in the first week of me taking over the business I thought I should ask Pam if she could come and 'help out' with the kids. I assured her I'd be home in the afternoons to do school pick up and all she would really need to do was drop them off at school......Oh how wrong was I!
Nic has been away for almost 3 weeks and for the past two weeks I don't think I have been home earlier than 6.30 most evenings. Whatever happened to my perfect, child friendly new full time job I cannot say and if I was to be completely honest with you I'd have to say the Charcoal chicken I bought on my way home one night was a life saver, the pasta stores at home have dwindled down to nothing and anything that took more than 30 minutes to whip up was never seeing the light of day.
This is not to say we haven't been eating some yummy meals. Take last nights dinner- fish and chips. I'd come home early from work, Grammie was on her way back to Victoria and I actually felt like a decent meal. Fish was something I had told Pam 'I'll pick up one night', but as things go it never happened!
I asked the boys what they would like for dinner, mentioned the possibility of some fish and they both thought fish and chips an excellent idea. We all packed into the car before I changed my mind and headed for the fish shop. Flathead fillets were looking delicious so I grabbed a few and headed for home, on the way I dropped into the supermarket and picked up a bag of potato gems (something from my childhood I have fond memories of and know Nic would never eat).
By the time we got home time was ticking on, the boys started picking up all the toys they had left about the house (I might of threatened boiled peas and potatoes if they didn't!) while I started dinner. Because flathead is such a delicate fish with a subtle flavour I wanted to grill it and make a quick lemon butter sauce.
Looking into the fridge I discovered I didn't really have a hell of a lot of salad bits and bobs to go with dinner, this is when I had to get creative with the shape of veggies; carrots get turned into sticks, cucumber chopped into quarters and then sliced and tomatoes chopped small with seeds removed (Alex could be tricked into eating the flesh/skin if I am lucky enough). I also found some pickled asparagus lurking in the side door of the fridge so I decided to pop it in and see how it fairs (considering both boys HATE asparagus when it is lush and green I didn't like my chances).
With the potato gems almost golden brown, my salad macerating in a garlic and balsamic vinaigrette it was time to grill the fish. I lightly covered the fillets in seasoned flour then heated my frying pan with a good dollop of butter and a hint of olive oil to stop the butter from burning before the fish was cooked.
When cooking fish fillets like flathead, perch, orange roughy or ling you really only need a medium high heat to brown the fish without burning it. Once the flesh starts to look white gently flip the fillets over and cover the pan for 2-3 minutes to help the cooking process.
Remove from the heat squeeze in half a lemon, pop the lid back on and leave while you serve up your potatoes and salad. The fillets will be well rested and you should have a lovely citrus flavour coating the fish.
The boys and I really enjoyed this quick and simple meal, Alex spotted every bit of tomato and berated me for even thinking he would eat it, however success was had with the pickled asparagus, Max ate every last bit without the slightest idea so I was happy with 1 out of 2 attempts of introducing the boys to food they HATE!