February 28, 2010

Friday night's Thai fish cakes with Asian coleslaw

Week one has come to an end with our menu planner and what a delicious way to see in a balmy Friday evening with Thai fish cakes. I know I am a few days late in posting but life kinda got in the way; so posting on a rainy Sunday seems appropriate......at least I got it in before next week's menu planner.

We LOVE fish in our family, yet before I started organising our family meals we rarely ate it. The fish shop was always another block down the road and I never really got there unless it was for a special occasion. Quite pathetic really seeing as every time  I serve it there never seems to be any complaints and dinner is devoured before the hour clicks over, which is more than I can say for other meals!
I know fish cakes can be off-putting to some people but if you have the right equipment, ingredients and a bit of time up your sleeve (let's say and hour while you are having your end of week glass of wine with no sporting activities to rush off to). For Friday nights fish cakes I wasn't able to cook them as I had a late delivery to drop off so Nic was in the throws of Asian coleslaw and pulsing fish when I walked in the door (and yes I did spot his opened bottle of beer!).
Nic being Nic followed the recipe to the T and we were not disappointed....actually that is not quite true. The fish cakes went down a treat and both boys asked for seconds, however the coleslaw wasn't to their liking. I am sure if you had kids that actually like normal coleslaw then they would at least have a go at my version of an Asian slaw where I make a mixture of sugar syrup, garlic (lots of garlic) fish sauce, chillies and coriander then soak the raw cabbage, onion and carrot in it to give it a lovely sweet and spicy flavour. To be fair I didn't put chilli in the family version, I just added it to my plate and with Alex Nic threw in a dollop of mayo with his raw veggies to make a classic slaw but still the nose screwed up and it was declared before even tasting it "not very nice."

So with that said, we all ate our fish cakes and even went back for seconds, however Nic and I were the only ones to get dessert and Max left the table with the comment "great fish cakes dad but don't do that salad again." Honesty stings a bit but I live in hope there are other kids out there who would love the Asian slaw as much as I.

February 25, 2010

Parmesan & rosemary chicken

I can't tell you how excited I was this morning when I looked at the meal chart and saw we were eating parmesan chicken tonight. I love this dish but I have to warn you it is not for the fat-free members of society. Don't get me wrong, I love eating healthy family meals and I must admit we do it on a regular basis, however, I am also up for the decadent delights of cream and no holds barred!!

That old saying of everything in moderation is a good one so I am guilt free when I pour on the cream and pop this little number in the oven. The smell of it cooking just kills me, I want to rip it from the oven and devour it before I get it onto the plate. A very simple recipe this one, so simple in fact I didn't realise it was missing an ingredient until after our meal. Licking my chops and listening to the boys happy noises (one loves to hear these as most evenings it is always a complaint about the lettuce being to sharp, broccoli to bushy or the fact that there are peas on the plate).

 I was going over the recipe in my head and saying to Nic how very easy it is to shake a bag of parmesan and chopped rosemary then add a chicken breast, pop it in a baking dish, pour around some cream then pop it in the oven for 20 minutes. He agreed with me and then proceeded to turn on the telly for a bit of R&R. It wasn't until I was totally relaxed and unfocused that I realised I had forgotten to add the breadcrumbs to my little bag of parmesan and rosemary!! OMG, how could I have done that? The crispy breadcrumbs with the creamy sauce. Of course this is what I had written down in the original recipe, however, I seem to think I remember everything (quite funny if you really knew me) and proceeded on with out even glancing at the recipe....shame on me.

Having said that, I now know it works well for those who need a wheat free diet. Max informed me this was the BEST meal so far and if there were thirds he'd eat them. Alex even used a knife and fork instead of fingers and managed to eat every last bite--yes!
Am I happy with the meal plan thus far? You bet ya....Thai fish cakes tomorrow, so happy.

Bean & Vegetable nachos.....with meat

 Wednesday nights dinner is a win, win in our house. I just have to mention the word nacho and the kids start drooling, I mean what's there not to like about crunchy corn chips drenched in a delicious tomato sauce infused with vegetables, beans and in our case left over minced meat, all smothered with melted tasty cheese?
I do think beans are under rated in Australia and not enough people use them in their everyday cooking, especially families. Whenever I have a friend of Maxes over for dinner and I have some type of bean on the menu it gets met with 'yuck' or 'what is that?'. I really don't understand why you wouldn't introduce beans to kids at a young age. The are packed full of proteins, really easy to chew and swallow and mixed with the right ingredients, taste delicious. Anyhow that is my rant for the humble bean- eat more fellow Australians!
Now, when living in the States I had dried chilies at every port of call, it didn't matter if I walked into a tiny corner store, you'd still find some sort of dried chilli to pop in your tomato sauce and make it a smokey, rich flavour. Sadly I am not having so much luck here in Sydney. I know I can special order them on line or drive 30 minutes away to a specialty shop but let's get real. I am cooking a family meal and not really thinking about it until I get home from work and the last thing I am going to do it drive for 30 minutes to grab some dried chilies on Wednesday.

I have moved back to my favourite spice combo. 1 part turmeric powder, 2 parts paprika (smokey or sweet), 2 parts ground cumin, 1 part ground coriander, salt and pepper. When frying this with a little oil and onions it is the most wonderful smell and always sends the kids into the kitchen asking what's for dinner.
This is pretty much my base flavour for nacho sauce, then I add what ever vegetables are around the house, pop in a tin of tomatoes (drained), add a tin of beans and then leave it to simmer for about 40 minutes.
Once all the liquid has thickened all you are left with is a thick vegetable (and in my case meat) base that gets scattered around some corn chips, cheese on top and then into the oven.

We all love nachos in our house, and it is the perfect way to load the kids up with vegetables they would not usually eat or have a song and dance about eating. For an adults boost I usually have some hot sauce on hand or jalapenos and lets not forget the guacamole (my kids still wont eat avocados!).
I would have to mark this one down as an all time favourite and very little stress in the kitchen, I even managed to help Max with his homework while cooking!

February 23, 2010

Broccoli, pine nut and sultana linguini

When ideas started kicking around about the cookbook, Jessie and I were admit there would not be any pasta recipes "there every where", "who wants yet another recipe for pasta?".
 Now I am reshaping the cookbook I am being realistic, and in real life we eat pasta, actually before I started on this venture we use to eat a lot of pasta. With this in mind and knowing I need a really fast and easy meal for Tuesday nights due to sport commitments (namely my yoga class to de-stress!) I had to have a quick and easy meal we could whip up in no time at all.
This big bowl of linguini is a rip off version from a meal we had in Sicily many moons ago. Using currants, sultanas etc with pine nuts and anchovies is a very Sicilian dish and one that stuck with me years after my first mouthful in a roofless restaurant in Syracuse.

I do have to admit I haven't started adding anchovies when cooking for the family, but I love adding the pine nuts and sultanas as it entices the boys to dig a little further.  As for the broccoli well there is still a fair bit of gagging going on but nothing a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese can't help. Tonight Alex was hungry so 80% of his meal was eaten, he just tried to leave the forest of greenery behind, however when I informed him there was no ice cream for boys who leave all the greens he then began to nibble at the tops of a few before stating he really wasn't very hungry and doesn't care about the ice cream.....
 Well it's late, I have finally pulled the last batch of scones from the oven for my early morning client and  frosted the last of the cup cakes. So with a belly full of pasta, and a delicious taste in my mouth I'll eat my words and say there is never to many good pasta recipes out there in the blog-o-sphere!

February 22, 2010

Family meals week one

I have decided that I need a goal with my blogging. I need something to focus on otherwise I get waylaid with everything else and then I seem to be weeks behind in the blogging world and that just doesn't fly with me. The old saying "give a busy person a job and it will get done" is 100% true where I am concerned!

Since moving back to Australia over a year ago (how time flies) I have kind of let my cookbook go by the wayside. I originally wrote it with my good friend Jessie Knadler for the American market. After all this was the place I raised my kids; Max ate his first meal, bar mushed up fruit, porridge and soggy crackers, in the U.S.A.
America was where I had my first mums' group. Chicago was the first place a group of like minded mums taught me it was OK to feel like I was losing the plot--we all learned the highs and lows of parenting together and it is with these wonderful women that I wanted to share my knowledge of food when it came to feeding our hungry kids.
When I first put my idea out there I was overwhelmed with the positive response and when I asked for testers I was ecstatic to have so many willing volunteers. It also made me think there are other families out there who are sick of doing the double meal deal (one meal for the kids and one for mum and dad) or sick of eating mac and cheese with the kids when they were really dreaming of chicken curry or Thai fish cakes--you get my drift.
It was with this thought in mind that started me down the path of 'Family of foodies'.
To get back on the horse I have decided to re-work the book for an Australian audience and also live in hope I can still sell it to my American moms.
 Part of my efforts will be blogging my meals as I go. I have written out a two month meal plan for Monday through to Friday and I am going to see if-

a) They REALLY are family friendly meals (having a fussy 4 year old and an eat anything 8 year old I think I have a pretty good guide)
b) Does it work with a busy family schedule.

I hope you enjoy the ups and down of my weekday meal routine (I am so not good with routine but thank goodness I have a husband who thrives on it!)  Of course I would LOVE feedback from you all so don't be shy in telling me what you think.

Ok meal plan for this week includes:

Beef and red cabbage stir fry with rice (Monday)
Broccoli, sultana (rasin) tomato and pine nut linguini (Tuesday)
Bean and veggie nachos (Wednesday)
Parmesan and rosemary chicken with green beans (Thursday)
Thai fish cakes with Asian coleslaw (Friday)

The beef and cabbage is a favourite of mine, Nic invented it one night when we were living in Chicago in the early days of living on a shoe string budget. Not a combination I would of automatically thought of, but when coriander (cilantro), oyster sauce and a few other bits and pieces are added it is a really delicious meal.
Because we are cooking for the family we didn't add the chilies until it was cooked and the boys were served. We still add the coriander, not a big hit with the boys, especially Alex however he is slowly coming round. I find the best way to get the kids to try new flavours it to keep introducing it to them little by little and then before you know it they are happily eating it in their meal without to much fuss (I am not 100% there with Alex yet but we are getting so much closer!)
I wish I had a photo to show you but I have to confess the beginning of my monthly dinner schedule started on a really busy day for the Baker family. Max was down for the count with a virus, Alex was well fine just being hungry and four and I came home late so Nic cooked and when dinner was served we were all to hungry to think about a photo.......I am happy to say I DO have one of tonights meal (Tuesday) so stay tuned...

February 13, 2010

Fennel and orange salad for kids

It is a boring kind of family meal I know. Why is she blogging about every day pork sausages and salad you wonder? well let me tell you why.

It was Wednesday of last week, I'd done half the shopping but hadn't managed to get to the fruit and veg shop down the road so when it came to whipping up dinner on Wednesday night after swimming lessons all I had in the fridge was some yummy pork sausages, zucchini, onion and an orange.... or so I thought.
Come on! I thought to myself, if I serve zucchini and onions to the boys I'll hear nothing but complaints (it was a hot and humid day so I was not interested in complaints!). We had got back from swimming late so I knew I didn't have long to whip up dinner, in fact Alex hasn't been able to last long enough to eat with us, so all I managed to give him before he fell a sleep was a sausage, carrot sticks, orange slices and bread- really healthy!
While the sausages were cooking I managed to find a tub of cherry tomatoes and hidden beneath the zucchini was a fennel bulb. Without even thinking about Max and his likes and dislikes of fennel (I knew he disliked cooked fennel) I began to make a salad of cherry tomatoes, orange segments and shaved fennel because that was all I had going, bar a few carrot sticks.
It hadn't even hit me that Max might not like fennel until I was tossing the salad and he came up and asked me what the white stuff was?' Umm, it's.....shaved fennel' I said 'it absorbs the orange flavour, you'll love it'.
Sitting down for dinner I think I was holding my breath waiting to see if he ate his dinner without complaint- VICTORY!
Max devoured the salad and even said he liked it, how cool was that. If I had had a fridge full of other veggie stuff he liked I wouldn't of even given the shaved fennel a second thought so I have taught myself something very valuable- don't get stuck in the family vegetable rut of carrots, corn and beans, lash out a little, try something new a few different ways and if it still gets rejected then perhaps then and only then I will come to the conclusion they really don't like the stuff.
So note to self:
 Max likes fennel raw, hates fennel cooked.
Alex hates fennel raw, cooked or even being in the house.....he has a few years to go before I give up on him completely!

February 11, 2010

Max observes

We were all getting ready to sit down for breakfast the other morning, I got Max to set the table (which consists of him throwing knives and forks in any random order and where his brothers seat is, Max likes to set them up more like weapons!).
Alex was starving hungry due to him being so over tired the night before that he took himself off to bed without any dinner; so with me telling Max off for throwing down the cutlery, Alex dying of starvation and I was moments away from pancakes being cooked- to say it was a little manic would be an understatement.
When we finally sat down at the table there was that split second of silence while everyone was happy knowing they'd be eating within seconds and this was when Max quietly comes out with
"You know what mum, that looks like the perfect photo for your blog"
In stunned amazement (the boys are ALWAYS complaining I take way to many photos before we eat), I ran to get the camera and snapped away. There's 101 recipes for pancakes so I am not going to bore you all with yet another one but I just wanted to share my joy.
Perhaps the boys are finally excepting this as a way of life?

February 8, 2010

Crab and mango salad

On Saturday night we were having dinner guests. Our first dinner guests since we moved into our new apartment back in December. I hate to think we have been here for over 6 weeks and we haven't entertained......then again who am I kidding, days have been running into weeks without me knowing!

When we first moved to Sydney the lovely Nerida took us under her wing; she fed us beautiful dinners at her home, let the boys play with her sons 'transformers' collection for hours on end, she let us borrow chairs so we didn't have to sit on the floor while we were waiting for our furniture to arrive, etc, etc. We were always wanting to invite Nerida around for dinner but a year passed and it still hadn't happened so when Nic told me we were having dinner guests I was delighted to finally have Nerida come to our house.
As you can imagine, I felt I needed to make something delicious, exciting and worth waiting for!

In my mind I had a feast planned however in reality I had just finished a big week. I had to get up and start work at 4.20am on the Friday morning, followed that afternoon with a phone call from Alex's school saying he had a temperature, thus ended up staying up half the night to keep him settled, went to the cafe at 6am the next morning to open for breakfast......yep, the last thing I felt like doing was cooking a feast, BUT there was no way I was going to have a boring meal.
I was always thinking crab- it's summer, hot, humid and what better way to start an evening sucking on a crab claw while drinking a cool glass of vino bianco. Thanks to Brett's wonderful idea of taking home some pre-prepared, slow cooked lamb shank and pesto parcels we had at the cafe for the main meal all I had left to do was make a crab salad and dessert- no worries!

Finishing work early I drove to the fish mongers, picked up three delicious looking blue swimmer crabs then headed to the fruit and veg store to put the final touches together. I knew I desperately needed to sleep so I was thinking quick and simple on the prep front. I boiled my crabs (a sight the boys were delighted with however didn't want anything to do with when it came to trying the meat!) in a lime leaf, chili and garlic infused stock, popped them in the fridge to cool and headed for the bedroom for a quick power nap.

It still impresses me how a 30 minute power nap can stop you looking and feeling like a zombie! I was refreshed and ready to pick at my crabs- probably the hardest part of the whole dish. Anyway once the meat was all picked through I prepped some diced mango, nice and small so it complemented the crab meat. Nic picked the watercress while I made a chili, caramel and citrus dressing where by you heat up some palm sugar in a saucepan until it starts to bubble and go sticky (on a very low heat). Once liquified you add freshly squeezed orange juice and stir over a low flame until sauce is all smooth. Add a couple splashes of fish sauce, chopped Thai chili (green) and then once cooled add chopped coriander (cilantro). It is a flavour sensation and will keep for about 5 days in the fridge.
Ok so all the prep is done, boys have eaten early (thought they were lucky having noodles and chicken rather than crab) and I was feeling almost a million dollars. It was a great night, the salad was the perfect way to start the meal and the best part was I got to sleep in on Sunday morning.....

February 2, 2010

Falafel salad

We've all had it happen, you go to the cupboard- nothing there, you wonder over to the fridge, open the door and look in side for what seems half an hour and still nothing decent for dinner. Nic did this little kitchen tour the other night and walked back out, sat on the couch next to me and declared there was nothing in the kitchen for dinner!
Now I knew we were getting pretty low but I was sure I covered every night until the next shop....did I slip up? Deciding to take a look myself I could understand why Nic thought we were to starve this night. All the family staples were gone, no pasta, rice, beans or meat, all that was left was a box of falafel mix I picked up on a whim and thought 'what a good idea'.
For years I have seen the boxed falafel mixes in stores and for years I have never bought it, why? simple.
I use to live right down the road from a cheap as chips falafel kitchen in my 20's and remember eating my way through the shop, stuffing the pita bread within an inch of it's life with falafel and salad (what do you expect a starving apprentice chef to spend her louse pay on?).
Anyway, on a whim I decided to grab a box and keep it in the back of the cupboard until necessary.......I just didn't realise it was going to be needed so soon!

After closely examining the fridge I found a few things for salad so, once the falafel had soaked and I'd whipped up a quick tzatziki, the rest of the dinner came together while I was frying my falafel balls.
I think I have mentioned the kids detest peas, not to mention radish? Have I also explained Alex HATES lettuce?
Well I am not going to tell you that a miracle happened and we all sat around telling mummy how wonderful she is!
No, after a few huge deep sighs on both ends of the table and "Oh, what's this?" or "Yuck, peasssssss, oh mummmmm again?" We all started to eat our dinner.  Max managed to scoff it all down due to his massive appetite lately (peas and half the radish included...one for me!), while Alex stuck his tongue out at everything and after touching the tip of it to every piece of food, simply declared he didn't like it but managed to eat the peas (again one to me!), licked all the tzatziki off the top of the falafel along with the hummus and then asked what was for desert to which I replied- nothing!
I don't know if I'll be having these for dinner again anytime soon but I was really happy with the end result for something that came out of a box and I just added water. I think we all would of felt a lot happier if I'd managed to pull out some fresh pita breads from the oven but alas we were not that lucky- I can tell you that breakfast the next morning was eaten in record time!