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 away....no 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 dinner...you 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.