December 7, 2010

My birthday trifle

I was supposed to write this and say, "it was my birthday yesterday....."
That was seven days ago.
What can I say, November/December is the time of year when people like to eat/party/celebrate and generally have fun. This is a good thing seeing as I have built a business around it, however, it also means a lot of early mornings and late nights rolled into one. This is my excuse for having my Thanksgiving turkey post up for over two (or is it three?) weeks.

A tradition in our family for whoever happens to be having a birthday, is for them to choose whatever cake he/she desires. Nic usually goes for gold and I have to spend at least two days in the kitchen putting it all together while I love a good lemon, orange or chocolate cake with rich frosting and not much else.
This year however, was a bit different and I blame it on this months issue of Saveur!
That's right, when you put a photo that yummy and delicious on the front cover I had no other option BUT to say "I want that for my birthday cake".

Nic was taken aback, he could almost have thought I'd been abducted by aliens instead of spending all those hours at work- I NEVER, EVER want whipped cream, chocolate custard (and this sweet, sweet dessert had white AND dark chocolate custard!). I was quite surprised myself but it was my gut feeling and I went with it.

I am happy I gave him a few days notice because it wasn't a day job. The trifle was made over two days and Nic even came home early on my birthday to finish it. To say it was a mission would be an understatement!

I don't think our photos do it justice; we don't own a see through trifle bowl like the one in the photo above, but if the one on the front cover of Saveur tasted anything like the one Nic made then it would of been outstanding.
 Biting into the ginger cake soaked in sherry was pure delight. Adding the blueberry white chocolate custard kicked it into third gear, while the dark chocolate and raspberry custard blew it out of the park!!

We all loved this divine invention, Alex has asked for it next year and we all wrapped our spoons around the final crumbs. Nic had totally out done himself and impressed me to no end.
I am a year old, a little greyer and so, so happy.

November 24, 2010

Early Thanksgiving

Last Friday was the day we celebrated a favourite, adopted holiday of ours- Thanksgiving.
 Our first year back in Australia we didn't do anything. That is not to say we didn't want to, it's just
a) we didn't really know anyone and
b) Our house wasn't exactly the most inviting place. Our dining room was the size of a shoe box and the kitchen wasn't much better.
We decided somethings were better left as memories and toasted all our Thanksgiving memories with a beer and a bag of chips.

This year however was slightly different. Nic and I mentioned to friends (yes, we seemed to have made a few in the past year!) how we loved the American celebration of Thanksgiving and to our surprise we heard echoes of excitement . We compared drools when it came to pecan pies and stuffing so we put it out there to a few people and asked if they would like to join us in the turkey feast? To our excitement we had a few takers so the turkey was booked, brined and slowly cooked last Friday.
The day was set as close to the real Thanksgiving as possible, however, this being November I am booked out at the cooking school with dinners and classes so a week beforehand was as close as I could get!

Sadly we don't know any American folk here, however we have the pleasure of being friends with a wonderful Canadian man who was more than happy to come to dinner. John did educate us in the Thanksgiving celebrations held in Canada- after discussing why they celebrate it in Cananda we decided to forget about it and drink more wine! A great friend of mine, Catherine (a.k.a Schkinny) also jumped at the chance to chow down on turkey, stuffing and pecan pie, after all her twin sister is over in NY waiting her turn to be invited to someones house, living in hope of some turkey. Sadly I didn't give enough notice for other guests, so it was up to the four of us (plus the kids) to get the "meat sweats" and make our American friends proud.

The last time I cooked a whole turkey I brined it, so I followed suit again and wasn't disapointed. The white and dark meat was juicy and succulent while the stuffing was cooked to perfection. I choose to pop the stuffing in my bird and I have to say, it tastes fantastic every time so why have the choice? I say stuff that bird people!!

Perfect roast potatoes were served (soft and fluffy on the inside, while the outside was a golden crunch). Green beans were sauteed in butter with almonds and then finished with a good squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper just before serving.

Our last vegetable was roasted pumpkin that I lightly drizzled in agave syrup just before removing from the oven to give that a natural sweetness which complimented the Italian sausage, walnut and cranberry stuffing. Seriously, after all that food dessert just seems like a joke.....alas when I popped the pecan pie on the table everyone had their forks at the ready and all said yes to servings of double cream.

I am feeling full again just typing this! As you can see by the photos, we had a wonderful feast with wonderful friends. Nic and I are so happy we finally got to enjoy one of our favourite holidays again with new friends and memories of old, wonderful friends we hope to share another Thanksgiving with one day in the not to distant future.

November 18, 2010

Pork ribs- Family favourite

Do I really have to write anything?
 The kids faces say it all really. I could of put chopped liver and raw onion in the salad and I don't think they would of even noticed, just as long as there were enough ribs to go round!

 I can't say enough about how delicious pork ribs are (American style that is, you have to have American style here in Australia otherwise you automatically get Chinese style ribs and they are soooo different). American style have chunks of meat on the bone, you can pick them up like a lamb chop and gnaw until you have sucked that little beauty dry! Chinese style are more like short ribs, they have a lot more fat, you can't pick them up like a chop and the knuckle bone gets a bit chewy after a while but when cooked right, they are also to die for.

I think the reason I love American ribs so much is the fact they are so easy to prepare as a family meal, not to mention there a kick arse crowd pleaser every single time......With the left over sauce I treated the guys at work to ribs for lunch the following day and they were in heaven. As one of my friends said "these are the best meat sweats I've had in ages"- love it!

Ok, so ribs in the oven, happy days, cooking away while I make a yummy shaved fennel and broad (fava) bean salad with a few chunks of cucumber for crunch. Once you peel the beans, it's pretty much 1,2,3 and into the salad bowl. I gave the salad a light lemon dressing, I thought the tang of lemon would go great with the ribs not to mention the oven roasted chips.
All my dressings are the standard measurement of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts extra virgin olive oil and added to it I always smash a garlic clove to slowly release the oils into my vinagrette, add a pinch of salt and pepper then shake and leave to infuse.

I have never seen Alex eat so may ribs in all my life, I think he must of been on a growth spurt or eating for all the days he missed last week when he was sick.
 I did think on my feet however and only let him eat his second lot of ribs if he ate some salad first...this stratigy worked wonders and I don't think he even knew he was eating fennel, or at least he did make his usual noises of  'what is this stuff you are trying to make me eat?'
As for Max....well he was in a meat heaven, we didn't hear much from him.

November 14, 2010

Blueberry pancakes

It was a beautiful, sunny morning here in Sydney this morning. I awoke to a quiet house. The boys were still sleeping and my tummy was grumbling. When I first wake up and the only thing that pops into my mind is food, there is no way I can lounge around and try to go back to sleep.

Pancakes were calling me. Because I have been working the last 3-4 weekends, we haven't been able to have our regular weekend family breakfast where we knock around in our jarmies until mid morning (Nic doesn't, he thinks we are all quite mad and can't understand why we don't want to jump in the shower, dress and then eat). Sunday for me is all about relaxing and part of my relaxing is having a shower when I feel like's not my fault the boys followed suit.

Anyway, back to pancakes. I have a great recipe for fruit pancakes, the mixture is a lot thicker than my regular pancake recipe and I make it with a mixture of Greek style yogurt and milk. Being almost summer, I have blueberries and mangoes greeting me every time I open the fridge, so this morning was time to devour that sweet, succulent fruit.

As you can see the recipe is pretty easy, you just need to fold the mixture instead of stirring, for a lovely fluffy pancake. I add the blueberries to the mixture and then drop them into a frying pan, they explode into the pancake and you end up with lovely bubbling juice sticking to your doesn't get better than that.
Both Alex and Max adore mangoes, whenever I cut one up I always hear one of them slurping away on the stone, sucking every ounce out of it. Waking up to the smell of blueberry pancakes and then seeing it served with mango, I didn't hear any complaints about 'boring old breakfast' this morning. As you can see by the picture, nothing but sweet, sweet happiness on these faces.

Blueberry pancakes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup natural Greek yogurt
1 cup milk (you might need to adjust this, add the milk and yogurt together to get no more than 1 1/4 cup of liquid)
11/2 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon bi-carb
pinch salt
1/4 cup melted butter
1 punnet blueberries

In a medium size bowl, combine the liquids and stir to mix.
Add dry ingredients to above, folding to combine.
Once well combined add butter and blueberries, fold to combine and then begin to cook.
On medium heat, add four spoonfuls to the frying pan and spread out a little with your spoon. Place a lid on and cook until they begin to puff slightly.
Turn over and cook until done.

November 11, 2010

Spring lamb for dinner

I was walking through the fruit and veg shop the other day and put a container of marjoram in my trolley instead of oregano. They do look very similar at a glance and I have to confess I never buy marjoram. I have a problem with the after taste and the bitterness that creeps up on you. Anyway, once I was home it was to late to exchange so I decided to give it one last go.
I love fresh oregano with lamb; a little part of me wishes I grew up on a Greek Island helping Nonna in the kitchen.
In my twenties I toured around Turkey and then Island hopped over to Crete with my last 50 pounds in my pocket. My friend Sophie was a dreamer and insisted we would have a fabulous summer in Greece instead of flying back to wet old London. It was kinda hard to argue the point with the sun shining, a cool drink in my hand and over looking the blue stretch of ocean with Greece just over the horizon.

 Once caution was thrown to the wind and we boarded the ferry, it would be 3 glorious months of summer for the two of us. I have to say, that 50 pounds went a long way, however, my days spent walking along the beaches, scooting up to remote bakery's because we were told they make unbelievable spanakopita, and watching old fisherman smash freshly caught octopus on the jetty 100 times to tenderise it, were coming to an end.
 For us to stay and eat our weight in Greek salads, gyros, lamb and anything else we could afford Soph and I needed a job. My first thought was to scout around the kitchens, but I soon got told women don't work in the kitchens (young women that is) and that we should go and see the man up the street. Well the man (and yes his name was George) owned a club and needed English speaking servers so thus began our life as a server/bar attendant in a club called the Cinema club. I can tell you one thing, I would of preferred the kitchens any old day, however, Sophie was made of the job!

Right, bit if a side track but right back to our spring lamb.......My favourite way to eat lamb is as a chop. They are tender, juicy and succulent. I always do a very basic marinade of smashed garlic, lemon rind, black pepper and fresh oregano with a good drizzle of olive oil. Left to infuse, I find these flavours really compliment the lamb and allow me to make a yummy side dish bursting with flavour. If we had managed to buy a grill yet, then I would of been in complete lamb heaven, however that is a Christmas gift Nic and I are giving each other this year so I need to be patient for a few more months...or should I say weeks!

I served our lamb chops with wholemeal couscous flavoured with orange and lemon rind then complimented it with brocollini and asparagus, steamed and lightly tossed in aioli. For us, a perfect way to welcome spring into our home.
You might be wondering about all the garlic? we have been all suffering the dreaded colds and fevers here so I thought we needed a good dose of natural love.

I didn't really set out to write about 90% of what I have down, but that's OK. I will tell you however that the marjoram wasn't so bad after all and that I could very well finish the remaining leaves off in another dish during the week, so here's to revisiting old dislikes and having a pleasant surprise.

November 4, 2010

Thermomix comes home for the night

I am not to sure if I have blogged about Thermomix before? I'd like to call it my new toy, however,  we have had it at work for a few months now so it doesn't really seem all that new.
For those of you who are asking what the hell am I talking about, this little baby does it all and adds a 'fun' element into the kitchen not to mention speed! We have made loads of sorbet at work, blended beetroots in seconds and then heated and pureed them until the beetroot is as smooth as a baby's bottom. It makes perfect icing sugar from raw sugar in a matter of seconds and last but by no means least, it makes the BEST margaritas this side of Mexico!

The reason I brought it home was to see if it really did make good gluten free bread and also to see how it really did help me when it came to family meal I really need one at home as well as work? (At $2000 a pop, this research was necessary!)

Gluten free bread, why am I making it? well I am starting to know quite a few people who need to restrict their diets, plus we are getting more and more people asking about gluten free classes at the cooking school. It was high time I got my head out of the sand and started to find a good GF bread recipe, because if you've ever eaten GF bread you'll know there are a lot of hideous ones out there.
I had heard the gluten free thermomix cookbook makes one of the best breads, so that was my mission. In true Camilla style I was at the supermarket without the recipe, bought all the wrong flours needed and forgot to get powdered milk!
Feeling a little defeated but still wanting to make it, I decided to make up my own, using the method of another bread recipe from the thermomix book and following half of a recipe from the back of the Xan...... gum packet (I can't remember how to spell it??)


I know it all sounds pretty terrible but I have to say the bread turned out really well. I served it with dinner on the night and it was well received, especially by Alex.
My gluten free staff member seemed to like it the next day when I took it to work and gave it to her toasted, so I think for a first time effort and without a recipe I was very impressed with my effort. Especially when it only took about 5 minutes to throw together, kneed and then left to rise in the traditional way.

With the bread rising in my warm oven, I then set out to make some tomato, basil and garlic Italian beans to go with the chicken schnitzels I had in the fridge. I chopped my onion, garlic and fresh tomatoes in the Thermomix for about 20 seconds, turned on the heat, added a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then left it for 10 minutes to make a sauce while I helped Max with his homework while trying desperately to get Alex in the bath. After ten minutes my sauce was smelling fantastic so I then added a dash of red wine vinegar, reversed the blades so when I added the fat Italian beans they wouldn't be chopped into a million pieces, then left it to cook for a further 15 minutes on 100 degrees while I started cooking the schnitzels.
 I have to tell you by this stage I was feeling very confident indeed. Not only had I made a loaf of bread that was baking in the oven while I was kicking on with dinner, I also found a chocolate cake recipe in my Thermomix booklet that insisted it's the quickest and easiest recipe EVER! Well, I just had to try it... My chicken was just about done, Nic was finally home so I popped the beans into a bowl, gave the TM a quick rinse out and began throwing all the chocolate cake ingredients in, as I wanted it to be cooking while we were having dinner (I was going for the 1950's housewife of the year effect).

Ladies and gentlemen it was achieved!!!

I pulled the bread out of the oven, served up dinner and had dessert cooking as we ate....the kids thought me a saint when I pulled the chocolate cake out of the oven and sweetly yelled 'who wants dessert?'

Oh how I love thee thermomix! I do believe I will get one for the home eventually, I just need to be at home more so I get to use it. I am dying to try the yogurt recipes, steaming fish and couscous while cooking soup.....not to mention perfect steamed puddings and risotto's.
Just before I go, I do need to say that the chocolate cake was moist, rich and superb and very quick to make.....nice one Thermomix.

October 31, 2010

Fennel roasted pork with Italian beans

Summer is trying very hard to rear it's head but every now and again we get a cool evening where you have to put a jumper (sweater) on with your shorts. When these days come about I feel I need to make the most of them and whip up a roast or rague just so I don't forget how to make them in the summer months.
When we lived in Chicago it felt like it was winter for 9 months of the year; I use to roast, bake and slow cook with the best of them.
Moving to Sydney kind of put a stop to all that deep, hearty cooking. It was replaced with salads, stir frys  and bbq's for 9 months of the year. People rub their hands together and wrap themselves in gloves, scarves and knee high boots when a hint of a breeze kicks in off the ocean at the beginning of winter, while the Baker family and 90% of all Scottish and English tourists are still rocking around in short sleeve t-shirts and thongs.
We may not feel the nip in the air and run to the cupboard to throw on a long awaited new jumper (I've actually given up on buying jumpers these days!) but I do run to the kitchen, bang on the oven and get right down to a good roast.

Being spring, we have broad beans, peas and the flat long, green Italian beans in season, so as soon as I have a free hour I slowly cook the Italian beans down with some garlic, fresh tomato, silverbeet and a hint of red wine vinegar. If you turn the temp to medium and pop a lid on, you will be so impressed with this fabulous little side dish. It tastes even better the following day on an antipasto, or as is with fresh bread.
I however, served it up with roast potatoes and a fennel and lemon crusted roast pork. Simple and quick, just the way I like it on a week night.

October 27, 2010

Halloween cupcakes

Yesterday was a day of late orders for me at work. I swear my phone rang more when I was at the swimming pool watching the boys do their lesson than it had all day! I am learning this is the nature of catering and because it is my own business I have a very hard time turning people matter what time they call.

As it happened, I had a client with a last minute request for afternoon tea for the following day and could they please have 30 Halloween themed cupcakes and anything else that is not to hard, like rocky road and caramel pop corn?
My initial thought was -hell! when am I going to find time to decorate cupcakes, as I knew I was already starting early the next morning.

So at 11pm last night while the boys were all tucked up in bed, I was in the kitchen whipping up butter cream, popping corn and colouring icing. At around 10pm Nic had finished grading papers and jumped on to my production line to make spider legs and jack-o-lantern faces- he's the best!
My favourite are the ghosts, I love them so much I have decided to make a batch for our own Halloween party this weekend. They are the least time consuming and look the coolest.

(I love this one, it looks like the ghost at the back is saying "look out, behind you!" while the one in front is hopelessly thinking....'it's to late...')


October 25, 2010

Burgers rock!

I feel I could almost be called a burger fanatic. In the past three years I have blogged about pork and pea burgers, beef burgers that actually turned out to be lamb burgers, pork and ginger burgers, veggie burgers and some more about beef burgers...

What is my obsession? I'll tell you why I love them
a) you can be eating dinner within 20minutes of walking in the door
b) flavour packed meal that can be very healthy if you please
c) I NEVER get any complaints from the kids
d) Instant satisfaction with your first bite
e) 101 different versions

Yep, it is true, I love them! Funny thing is, I never really ate them when I was younger (or was that before I lived in the States?) I'd have a burger if I was hungover and needed a greasy Joe fix but that was about it.
Thank goodness I have seen the light and embraced the burger, not to mention the oven fries that go so superbly with it!
 You guessed it, Monday nights dinner needed to be quick and fabulous so I burgered it!

October 24, 2010

A Sunday at home

When you work 6 days a week (or if I was to be honest it's more like 7 these days) you look forward to that one day when you don't have to set the alarm; you can take a few moments to listen to the rain outside before thinking of getting up and better yet, you have the option to roll over and go back to sleep!

This is what I did this morning folks and I loved every minute of it. I even decided the rain wasn't too heavy so I could have my first run for the week on the last day of the week! It's all about the little things I can achieve outside my working world these days.

What does one do on a day like today?

Sydney was having a wet one and that suited me just fine.  I was in the mood to potter about and do a spot of cooking at home for a change. After my run it was a family affair in the kitchen this morning. Max is now our poached egg man, so while he ordered me around with jobs to do like, heat the baked beans and cook the bacon, he was at Nic to cook the toast and make the coffee (juice for the boys), while Alex informed us all he was our waitress as he set the table and then wondered off until breakfast was ready.

This is about the only time you can get three of us in the kitchen at once without causing a scene. Sunday morning- calm and relaxed, I love it!

With breakfast all done and dusted it was my turn to have a flip through some of my old recipe cards and see what I could make that I hadn't got to in a while.  I'd bought some pistachio nuts on Friday and wanted to do something with them, so when I spotted my recipe for zucchini bread I knew they would be a perfect match.
I have made zucchini bread before this is true but I altered the measurements yet again (after all that was was back in 2008!). I cut the sugar down to 1 cup, cut the oil down to 3/4 of a cup and only put in 1/2 cup of nuts. This recipe seems to be very adaptable and I was not disappointed with the end result. The bread was moist, and soft just as it should be. I really don't like it to taste to sweet, so cutting the sugar by half has finally gotten me to my perfect sweetness, however if you have a rocking sweet tooth then stick with my second recipe!

While the bread was cooling the lunch hour was approaching. Nic was up to his ears marking papers for work and wanted something to warm him up- soup. This is when I O.Ded on zucchini because the only veggies I could see for a quick yummy soup were asparagus, potatoes and zucchini.....I wondered if the kids would notice?

Seriously easy soup
50 grams of butter
1 large brown onion,peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
4 medium zucchini, thickly sliced
1 bunch of asparagus, chopped
300 grams potatoes, chopped (I had leftover chat potatoes and left the skin on)
chicken stock
2 tablespoons light sour cream
lemon and chilli flakes to serve

Melt butter in saucepan on medium heat.
Once melted add onion, saute for a couple minutes then add garlic, zucchini, potatoes and asparagus.
Stir until slightly softened and great smell fills the kitchen.
Add chicken stock (now important info here- only add enough stock to not quite cover veggies, you want to see some still poking out).
Bring to a boil and simmer for about 6-8 minutes.
Once veggies are some, remove from heat, add sour cream and a pinch of salt and pepper then blend until smooth. (I use my stick blender but any blender will do).
Serve soup in bowls, squeeze lemon juice over soup and sprinkle with chilli flakes

The soup is VERY green (picture doesn't do it justice), a fact I couldn't hide. When I was asked what type of soup it was I really didn't want to tell them zucchini and asparagus because they are two veggies the boys struggle with, so I stated it had lemon, potato and 'did you notice I made cheese toasties to dip in your soup?'

Max dipped a little corner of his toasty in the soup and announced he loved it and that was all Alex needed. Seriously yummy soup and the kids were devouring it!
I did tell them what it was made with when they only had a few mouthfuls to go. Max looked at me, thought for a second then said he loved pumpkin soup but hates eating pumpkin, so that's cool(?). I think Alex felt like he had betrayed himself and told me he didn't actually like it after he had eaten 3/4's of it.
No matter, I just told them it was nut bread for afternoon tea and I think Alex was the first to finish.
Cunning mum = happy mum!

October 10, 2010

Poached eggs by Max

We are at the end of term 3 school holidays here in Sydney. For the past two weeks while the catering side of the business goes into hibernation I have been teaching kids how to cook and we aren't just talking cupcakes!
For most parents, school holidays is a bit of a pain in the behind because sadly our working day is the same as ever and no matter how you dress it up, no boss I know would say 'kids are off school? no worries- take the week off and enjoy!' So, like most parents out there I also need to find something for the young Max to do all day (Alex is still in day care so that takes care of that....for a few more months anyway).

The classes were a great success I am happy to report. Ok, if the truth be known, 9am till 3pm is a LONG day when you have 14 kids all wanting to be master chefs ranging in ages from 6 to 13, but we did it and got a lot of repeat business so that in my books is a huge success.

Max did all the classes and I could see a gradual improvement in knife skills, following directions and confidence in the kitchen. So confident in fact he wanted to cook just about every night. This was all well and good but after 6 hours of teaching with 14 kids I really didn't want to have to guide another child through the kitchen when I finally got home (call me a meanie but I was buggered!).

So this morning, after a couple days rest I asked Max if he wanted to make breakfast for the family.
"Oh yes......but will you be there?' Of course I said, and with that he proceeded to pull out his recipe card on how to poach eggs and got to work.

The concentration was intense, but those English muffins we buttered to perfection!

We found that if you crack the egg quickly into a small bowl first, you were more likely to get a better looking poached egg as the end result

The closer the egg is the to water, the less separation you'll have with the white and yolk....he only made that mistake once and will remember this tip forever (with a bit of luck!)

Ok with all 7 eggs poached, plates clean with not a drop of poaching water, he was eager to sit us down for breakfast

End result? fantastic!! Max did a brilliant job of making poached eggs with ham and tomato on an english muffin. Only one egg had a bit of a separation issue, however after sorting out the problem you'd think these poached eggs were cooked by a seasoned professional. It looks like I am one step closer to getting breakfast in bed. 
Well done Max

October 8, 2010

Steak and greens

This may look like an average family meal you wouldn't get excited about but let me tell you, it got us salivating.

Not wanting to veer from my family health kick, I have been dreaming of green veggies tossed in oyster sauce for the last week. A funny thing to dream about I know, but when I start planning meals I sometimes throw my mind into it and the only way for me to move forward is to make the dish.

However, this time around it was just greens and oyster sauce....not much of a meal as such.
I was back late from work and thought I had beef chuck in the fridge so I was all geared up for a beef and pumpkin curry (with a side order of greens), however, when I opened the bag up I found four tender steaks. 
I thought about it for a minute and then decided if I cut it up and stir fried it with the greens it would be totally normal.... but to cut tender steaks into small strips is just not on in my books, so I did what anyone would do and seared my steaks, banged some kipfler potatoes on to roast and tossed my broccolini in a wok with garlic slices, oyster sauce, a splash of fish sauce and water.

I wasn't quite sure how the family would react? Everyone tried the steak first and was excited about it's tenderness; even Alex got excited and said something along the lines of...
'I hate it when steaks takes months to eat.....this is good'
Max ate his broccolini in record time and wondered if there were seconds- who would of thought such a basic meal would be a big hit? 
Let's face it- anything green goes perfectly with oyster sauce AND oyster sauce is so easy to use for first time users, just dilute with some water, add garlic slices, stir fry then serve. I can guarantee you'll be impressed..especially if you serve it with steak!

October 6, 2010

Chicken, lemon and basil pot pies

I have been on a mission this week to feed the family healthy dinners. Still sticking with 'back to basics' cooking, I am seeing what dinners I can pull out of my....hat, so to speak.

Just like my green goddess craving, chicken pies have been right up there with me wanting some of that heart warming comfort.
I find pot pies are a great way for me to fill the boys up on extra veggies. Max isn't really my concern because he is a machine when it comes to dinner these days. Alex is more of a concern for me. He seems to know when I want him to dig in and eat his recommended daily serve of vegetables.
Take last night for example- I made some tasty little chorizo, spinach, ricotta and tomato logs (blog to come) that looked pretty yummy. Alex cut them open, screwed up his nose and began pulling out the filling and replacing it with lettuce and the sour cream and basil dressing.
Don't get me wrong, I am happy this was one of the first times he happily ate lettuce, but his water intake is not the problem and as far as lettuce goes, it isn't topping him up with vitamins and minerals like my good friend spinach and tomato!

Right, rant over....back to pot pies

Max volunteered to help me make dinner (must have something to do with the three day cooking course he did at the cooking school last week during school holidays). While I was cutting up the chicken, he started in on dicing the vegetables.

 I'd love to say I have a recipe for this but it was kind of done in the method of a handful of this and a pinch of that. I can tell you that I did sear off my chicken pieces and then put them to one side while I used the same pan to saute all my vegetables (carrot, corn, zucchini) with a bit of salt and pepper. I then put the sauteed vegetables on top of the seared chicken in a medium bowl while I melted some butter, sauteed some diced onions with a touch of garlic then added a good spoon of flour to make a roux. Once the flour was cooked out a little I added chicken stock to thicken, brought it to the boil and then added extra milk to thin slightly (if I wasn't health consious, that would of been cream!).

When my sauce came to the boil, I added the seared chicken pieces and vegetables, folded it all through then removed it from the heat; added shredded basil leaves and the zest of one lemon for a bit of a zing. It was smelling pretty fabulous, so I ladled the mixture into pie containers, popped on the pastry lids, brushed with egg and put them in the oven while I hung a load of washing on the line, ran the boys bath and answered a few emails.

Nic walked in the door just as I was pulling them out and we all sat down to a delicious pie that didn't take all that long to put together.
I'm sorry to say Alex did not eat all his know the pastry was the first to go, followed by maybe three corn kernals then we got his famous line of  'I'm tired......I'm not hungry'.
We all polished ours off while Alex fed himself yet another meal of thin air!

October 4, 2010

Salad dressing

I was introduced to the green goddess dressing when I worked with chef Vince Battista back at Union pizzeria in Evanston. Vince told me it was an old American classic that he loved and wanted to revive it.

'Sure' I said and then happily grabbed the recipe and began knocking it up for the nights service.
To say I was impressed would be an understatement! That glorious, creamy, herb dressing was sensational and I think I ate a whole bib lettuce on my own that night, drenched in the silky green sauce.

Since leaving the States I have only made it once more. When I made it at work a few months back I think there was a rough and tumble to see who could lick the bowl, it's that good!. The reason I haven't made it on a regular basis is the fact that it is chock-a-blocka full of fat! Don't let the oodles of herbs make you believe it is 'good' for you. We all know mayo mixed with fully loaded sour cream loves to sit on our thighs and stay there!

After craving something smooth and delicious this evening, I decided to see if I could make a yummy low fat version of the goddess, just so I could make it on a regular basis. When I pulled out the container of low fat sour cream (I can't taste the difference to the fully loaded stuff?), Alex was right by my side begging to help with dinner- the kid LOVES sour cream, he'd eat it straight out of the container if he knew I wasn't looking.
Lacking in the herb department this evening I decided to make it completely with basil as I have it in large amounts and there is only so much pesto one family can eat!

 I plonked all the ingredients into a bowl, Alex grabbed the stick blender and giggled with glee as the dressing swirled around- it was yummy! SO yummy in fact that Alex pretty much made a meal of it and ate more lettuce than I have ever seen him devour in one sitting.

If you are looking for a quick, yummy and reasonably healthy alternative to ranch dressing or the goddess itself then do as I did and experiment or just try the one below. If I knew I was going to make it, I would of bought more herbs to mix through (like dill, chives and parsley), but that will have to wait for next time.

Basil and sour cream dressing
3-4 tablespoons light sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon warm water
4 basil leaves, roughly chopped
good pinch of salt and pepper

Place all ingredients into blender and mix until smooth and well combined.
Dressing should be quite runny.

September 29, 2010

Beef Stroganoff

This was one of my all time favourite meals as a kid. I could smell it cooking from the local park and remember rubbing my fingers around the pan to get all the crusty bits off when dinner was all finished (I was one of those kids who ate and ate yet looked like a bean pole....until I hit my teens that is!).
I haven't made beef stroganoff in years, weird really, since I use to love it so much?

I'd been thinking of it this past week and decided to make some soon. As it happens, soon was tonight and surprise, surprise I was short of the most important ingredients- mushrooms and sour cream.
 I often wonder what goes through my head when I go shopping, I mean how can I forget the two main ingredients???......then I remembered, I didn't actually do the shopping this week. Nic and I swapped household duties; he shopped while I cleaned the house, so it all made sense why we didn't have the ingredients- I didn't actually tell him ( I does he live with me, right?).

While I popped on the rice, Nic kindly left for the shops.
 I was telling the boys how I loved this dish when I was a kid and they just looked at me blankly and nodded. Alex couldn't quite believe how anyone could love a dish with mushrooms in it and then declared he couldn't possibly eat them and to please leave it out of his dinner. Like that was going to happen, I continued on and thought I'd hedge my bets that he would love it.

Before I started making dinner I hopped onto the Internet to double check my memory for beef stroganoff. The first recipe I came across sounded more foreign to me than a mushroom passing Alex's lips on purpose!

I don't know about you, but when I have a flavour in mind I HATE getting it wrong. I wasn't going to take any chances and did the next best thing, I called my sister. She was still at work and was quite surprised when I rang asking her for a recipe.
Tarsh was the best person to call because she is so diligent and remembers everything! I knew she had made beef stroganoff recently and I also knew she would only make it the way we use to eat it as kids. She probably wrote down the recipe when she was ten and still uses the original today....I'm talking about a girl who once contacted mintie wrappers (lollie wrappers) because she just couldn't throw them away for god sake!

 I was right, Tarsh rattled off the ingredients to which I was short beef stock. No worries, I am sure mum use to make it with water some days?

My end result was pretty yummy. It still had the richness I remembered when mum made it; the creamy sour cream teamed with fresh parsley finished it off perfectly and I was pretty darn happy.
Alex told me he thought the sauce was very yummy but why did I have to ruin it with all the mushrooms?  Max managed to polish it all off and declared it would be fine if I made it again (thank the stars I got approval!).

 Beef Stroganoff
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
500grams beef strips , like sirloin
1 brown onion, diced (original recipe used green onions)
500grams mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to  taste
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tin whole tomatoes (drained and diced)
1 tin water (or original recipe beef stock)
approx 1/3 cup sour cream
chopped parsley to serve

I used an electric frying pan just to make it all the more like my child hood but a large frying pan is fine.
Heat pan until very hot.
Sprinkle meat with salt and pepper then add oil and beef to pan and sear on both sides until browned.
Remove meat from frying pan and leave to rest.
Add mushrooms and onions to frying pan, then saute for 3-4 minutes.
Add tomato paste and garlic, stirring to combine and cook for 4 minutes.
Add water or stock, bring to a boil then simmer for 5 minutes with a lid on.
Add meat, simmer for another 5 minutes then turn off heat and add sour cream.
Serve on rice with a handful of fresh parsley

September 27, 2010

Super quick green salad

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the best and this is why I share one of my favourite salads with you today. I don't know if you can really call it a recipe?

I make this when I need a heat fix, it's summertime, dinner on the fly, feeling like some veggies, something to go with a curry, peckish yet thinking of my figure........ are you getting my drift?

Sometimes you can over think food. You want to impress and try to find a 'new' dish so you keep plugging away at ideas until you think your on a winner (or is that just super competitive me?). Sometimes it works and other times you just go too far...... this is when I go back to basics and then wonder why I didn't just make this in the first place!

 I am ranting I know, but I thought I needed to share one of my favourites with you. When you next grill on the b.b.q or have a delicious chicken curry that needs an accompaniment I urge you to chop up a cucumber, peel and dice an avocado, slice a fresh jalapeno then throw it all into a bowl and douse with fresh lime juice, extra virgin olive oil and generous pinches of salt and pepper.

Simple, refreshing and very morish.

September 21, 2010

Baked apples with Agave and fennel

My kids love green apples, they'll choose them over golden delicious, pink lady's, galas etc....any day. I think it is the sweet/sour flavour that draws them in. I however am not that much of a fan. For me the pure sweetness of a pink lady is delicious, no to mention the sweet juices of a hand picked gala apple dripping down your face. I tend to reserve the greens for cooking (if the boys haven't eaten them all!).

Last night I pulled some pork chops out for dinner and was trying to think outside the box to make dinner a little more exciting yet healthy. Nic loves fruit with pork, so I started poking through the kitchen to see what I had. Prunes were first to show themselves, I thought about it but then decided against them. Alex and I love prunes and tend to eat most of the packet before they can get into a sauce.

I bought a big bag of Granny Smith apples and thought I'd introduce the boys to baked apples.
When they saw me grilling them in the beginning, they didn't seem to impressed so I decided to sweeten them up a little with agave nectar. I love this stuff, it is totally natural; produced from the blue agave plant. If you have never heard of it before, it is crossed between maple syrup and caramel. It is cheaper than pure maple in Australia and is seriously good.....even better it has fewer calories than sugar. It is really low in G.I. but high in fructose, so I think that means guilt free??

Anyway, once I cut the apples in half, took out the core (but left the bottoms in tact) and lightly grilled them; I then smashed some fennel seeds, sprinkled them on top of the apples along with some salt, then drizzled on some agave and popped them in the oven (temp 180) for about 25 minutes to soften.

I wasn't sure how they were going to work out, but that is half the fun. When I served them with a juicy pork chops smothered in seeded mustard and some greens, I was looking forward to our feast....the boys however were a big dubious!
'What is that?' was their first question, and the look on Max's face was pure disdain.

When I explained it was apple- green none the less, they didn't quite believe me so I had to put on my annoyed and irritated voice and say something like...
'Oh just try it, it is apple for goodness sake! and I baked it with syrup, what is there not to like?'

That seemed to do the trick, Max took the first bite and announced to the table that, actually it was pretty good (however you'd never know from the face he was pulling while swallowing his mouthful, I had to think of bad thoughts to stop myself from laughing!).

 I'm not so sure Max was sold on the baked apple part of his meal but he sure gnawed that pork bone down to splinters!

September 19, 2010

Berry and lemon pound cake

I know it has been an age since I last blogged but to tell you the truth, I haven't really felt like the last dozen meals we've eaten to be blog worthy. I'm in a rut you see. I seem to be on auto pilot making the 'no brainer' family meals and not being to impressed with the out come.

I mean they taste fine, it's just that I think I can do better, what I really need to do is get over this hump and start making interesting and delicious family meals again!

What better way to start my new food week with a delicious family favourite- the pound cake. 
It has been the first Sunday in a very long time that all four of us have been at home together.....for the whole day none the less. A game of Monopoly was on the cards. But before we started playing I decided to bake a cake so there was something to look forward to when the stakes were high and we started bulldozing one another. On this occasion we were all crushed by Nic. Max was the first to bail out while Alex kept on making money hand over fist while running around the lounge room pretending to be  Han Solo in his spare time and screaming at us to 'pay up' when we landed on his property (if he can only keep this skill when he is out in the real world!). 
I managed to hold on for a few more rounds until hotels went up on every corner......he got me bad. We only play Monopoly once in a blue moon and it always ends with one of us destroying the other three, to say we are a little competitive would be putting it mildly! The cake went down a treat and prevented tears of displeasure when knocked off the board.

Anyway here is to a new week with yummy meals and the Monopoly board packed away for another day.

Berry and lemon pound cake
175 grams (6oz) unsalted butter
1 cup castor sugar
3 eggs
1teaspoon vanilla essence
zest of one lemon
2 cups plain flour (all purpose) 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
2 tablespoon milk
1 cup mixed berries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat oven to 180 degree (350)
Cream butter and sugar then add eggs one at a time, beating well between each egg.
Add vanilla essence and lemon zest.
Fold through sifted flour and baking powder, followed by the milk.
Once just combined, place into a cake tin (approx 6 inch tin) and pour on mixed berries, slightly pushing into batter.
Pop in the oven for 45-50 minutes or until skewer comes out clean.
Cool and serve.