Friday, 30 April 2010

Thank God it's Friday!

Friday fills us all with joy! The weekend is here and we can wind down from our daily grind.

We often turn to Pizza on a friday night- usually home made as mostly I can't stand the dial-in variety.

I love making pizza with the kids- they love to make their own and make the dough into all sorts of wierd and wonderful shapes.  I bought myself a Pizza at home pizza maker about 10 years ago which I LOVE!!! It cooks pizza beautifully and until we build our woodfire oven ( a whole 'nother story....) it   has well and truly paid for itself ten times over!  And I do love that it is ready to use in 10 mins as opposed to the three hour prep that a wood oven needs to cook a pizza in 4 minutes!  I love to make things simple as you may have guessed by now!

A Pizza recipe that I love to do with the kids is Middle Eastern Open Pizza.  This one is cooked in the regular oven so you can make it even if you don't have a pizza oven. It is one that we all happily eat- and it SOOO easy.  The kids love making it as it is basically like playing with playdough.  All my boys love to make & eat this dish- as you will see from the pics! And you will see that even Mr.3 is able to help with this one- start them young I say! 

 SO tonight I think that is what's on the menu!

We put it together straight onto the oven dish and in it goes- served with fresh cucumbers and a tomato and basil salad. SCRUMPTIOUS!

What you will need to make GOURMET GIRLFRIEND'S OPEN PIZZA:

  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 onion
  • a bunch of mint
  • a good handful of mint and parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • plain greek yoghurt 
  • pizza dough (see below for a simple and good dough recipe)
  • a good handful of toasted pine nuts
  • olive oil

  • 400g OO Flour (you can now get this at  S/Market)
  • 100g semolina
  • 375g lukewarm water 
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 sachet dried yeast
  • 10g salt.
Combine water, yeast & sugar together and leave for ten minutes or so until the mix is noce and frothy- this lets you know the yeast has activated).

Now add the yeast mix in with all other ingredients and knead unitl it has good stretch- alternately you could put it in a mixer with a dough hook for 10 mins.
Let it prove for at least an hour.

Heat oven to 220C.
In a food processor blitz the parsley, mint, garlic and onion.  Leave a good handful of mint for the topping later.
Mix this herb mix with your hands through the mince.  (The kids LOVE doing this!)
Then place your pizza dough onto an oven tray and tease it out so that it completely covers the base.
Then with your hands place the mince mix so that it covers the pizza dough- leave a 2cm edge of dough.
Sprinkle with pine nuts.
Then put it in oven until meat is cooked through- about 15 minutes or so.
Take out of oven and drizzle with plain yoghurt and a little olive oil (or crumbled fetta- for that salty yumminess!) and load of freshly chopped mint.

How good does that sound (and look!)!
And you can tell from the photos that the kids really can do it!

Today I am listening to the gorgeous Jim White....

Join me on my journey........

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Our family favourite

I'm sure every family has their "family favourite" meal.

In our family it has to be the fabulous Hainan Chicken

It is a dish that originates from Hainan Island in the south of China. It was later taken to Singapore by immigrants and has become a classic there also.

Essentially it is poached chook served with the broth and rice (which MUST be cooked using the stock the chook was cooked in) and some sauce accompaniments.  These vary according to each cook.  I ALWAYS serve it with a spring onion and ginger sauce and some chilli for Hubby G and I (who are chilli tragics from way back!!- our personal fave is Chiu Chow chilli oil). I also like to make a Szechuan cucumber pickle and a really tasty szechuan egpplant dish that I think complements it wonderfully.  When I go "all out" I also serve it with a favourite silken tofu dish and home made dumplings.  Such a lovely mixture of tastes and textures to be enjoyed.  It is starting to sound complicated now but I assure you if you start with just the poached chook- you will be laughing at it's simplicity!

The totally magic thing about this dish is that each person at your dining table can assemble it however they like and still be eating something incredibly nutritious, tasty and fun to eat.  It is definitely one of those dishes that adheres to the "keep the cooking simple" rule!  Gotta love that when you are a busy mama!

How many dishes are there really that can happily cater for a family of seven where everyone can eat and enjoy- I can't think of too many other meals at our place that can cater for all the differing palates from our 1yo all the way to the top!  And as the kids are getting older they are loving the side dishes more and more.

Which is great!  When they were younger it was more like "Oooo what's that- I don't like it, that looks disgusting" as it is served.  And as a mum you do everything in your power not to pour the entire contents over their head before sending them to bed without dinner!  They don't say that anymore.......I am happy to say I have trained (read scared) them out of it!  The statement du jour is - "thanks for making that,  I might try it next time"!!!!  I have to laugh secretly....

Tonight a special friend is joining us for Dinner and I hope that like many others before her it will become a Gourmet Girlfriend favourite! 

I will give you my unique recipe and I hope you try it with your family and it becomes one of your favourites too.

 What you will need to make "GOURMET GIRLFRIEND'S HAINAN CHICKEN":

  • 1 Free range chook
  • 1 bunch spring onions
  • 1 big bulb of ginger
  • Light soy sauce  (*please see note at end of recipe)
  • Sesame Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Salt
  • Jasmine Rice

  •    Slice about 10 x 1cm slices of ginger and take about 3-4 whole spring onions (I tie these in a knot to help extract flavour) and place at bottom of pot.  
  • Place the chook (whole) into a large pot.
  • Add water to cover.
  • Add 1/4 cup of light soy.
  • Turn on and allow to come to the boil.  When boiling turn down to simmer for 30 mins.  Then turn off and allow to stand in pot for another 20 minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt if required.
  • While the chook is standing- cook your rice using the broth that the chicken has been cooked in.  This is ABSOLUTELY necessary to make the dish magic! 
*re Light Soy Sauce- light and dark soy are VERY different! Light soy although lighter in colour is much stronger in salt content as it is not aged as long as Dark soy.   However Dark soy has a more rich flavour which would overpower this dishif you use the same amount. If you have to substitute my advice would be use less Dark soy- as it will colour the broth with a small amount -and add plain salt for the flavour.

And for the Spring Onion & Ginger sauce, it is as simple as blitzing up equal parts Spring onion & ginger and then adding about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Once blitzed add enough Rice Bran Oil (or flavourless oil) so it is well covered. Mix and serve. 

Now remove the chook and cut in to desired pieces. Arrange on a serving platter and rub with sesame oil.

Serve at the table with the rice and the broth in separate bowls.

Now for the best bit- EATING IT!

In our family we all have different ways that we enjoy Hainan Chicken.  My kids like it to be served almost as a soup with broth, rice and chicken all together. 

I like mine with the rice and chicken and PLENTY (read lashings) of spring onion & ginger,  chilli oil and then a little broth.  I then finish the meal with a small bowl of broth on it's own. Being a "greens queen" I MUST have some chinese greens with it that I poach in the chicken broth just before the rice is ready (about 3 minutes) and then drizzle with Oyster sauce and a little sesame oil.

I usually poach some Asian greens in the chicken broth to serve drizzled with a little Oyster sauce as I serve.

Here is a great recipe for Szechuan Pickled Cucumber from the Food of China (published by Murdoch books).

Join me on my journey...........I hope it becomes a fave at your house and  don't forget to let me know how you go!

Listening to this as we eat.....

Friday, 23 April 2010

Kids in the Kitchen

I mentioned in my Family TV post that my boys wanted to book in a regular Thurs evening cooking class.

True to form my lads came home and were very keen to get on to their first cooking class request- Pavlova!

We had spent a bit of time looking at various recipes and came back to one that is in Jamie Oliver's "Jamie at Home" cookbook as our preferred choice- the oven baked meringue.  The lads loved the free form style and also the fact that it is drizzled in chocolate- what is not to love!
The recipe is super simple and doesn't include tricky bits at all- a real kid friendly recipe.  The most difficult thing was separating the eggs.  I remember thinking that was the coolest job in the kitchen when I was a young cook. The miracle of how the yolk would slop from shell to shell and (mostly!) remain in it's perfect circle was just so much fun to watch over and over.  Well Mr. Eleven also thought this was pretty darn cool- he ended up being the only participant in this week's Thursday class.  The others just wanted to eat the finished result- fair enough!  Here he is ever so carefully separating the yolks:
He separated the eggs individually just in case we had a yolk disaster.  He was very careful and had 100% success- not bad for a first effort!
This is how the pav looked before and after baking:

So..... Mr.11 was feeling suitably proud at this time!  Doesn't it look fantastic! And then comes the fun part....inventing ways to dress his work of art.  Mr. 11 subscribes to the keep it simple method of cookery (clever boy!) and just wanted to drizzle melted chocolate and passionfruit pulp on top and get stuck in.
So that is what an eleven year old's first ever pavlova turned out like.  And his comment- "Well I can safely say that is the best Pavlova I have ever cooked!"
His brothers were pretty happy with it too- all of them asked if he could cook it for their next birthday cake.  You can imagine it didn't last long!
It was chewy, crunchy not overly sugary and pure deliciousness!  And I was pleasantly surprised at what a child friendly recipe it was.
It was also a huge amount of fun and a lovely way to get some time together. 
He even cleaned up afterwards!

So I challenge you to get your children in the kitchen and cook a pav and let me know how you get on.

Cooking has to be the best excuse ever to spend some fun time together.

My tips to successful cooking with kids are to let them choose a recipe- spend some time reading through some cookbooks together and chat about what foods you enjoy.  Have a look and see if you can simplify the recipe a little (for both of your sanity!).
I remember when we all started to cook for the family my mum was horrified at some of the choices made (ham steaks and pineapple anyone?? BLAH!) but you will all appreciate that kids won't get excited about cooking things they don't enjoy eating- this applies to adults too!  Lower the bar a little- they are only kids but soon enough they will become capable of cooking fabulous meals that are delicious for grown-ups too!

Also- very young children are capable of cooking, we as parents are just scared to let them.  I guess there is an element of being afraid of them getting hurt but mostly I feel that we are afraid of things like the mess and just generally not having control.  It is such a great way of encouraging your child to become more independent and take risks.   Yes there will be a mess but get them to clean it up!

Best of all I believe that through cooking my children have become much better eaters- they are willing to try things they wouldn't have normally eaten and are now pretty adventurous eaters with a very broad palate.  It demystifies the process.  They are able to see in action that familiar ingredients change in appearance and texture when they are cooked.

My children have also learned to appreciate the work that goes in to their meals every day and since they have started to be cooks themselves they all thank me every night when their meal arrives.  Let's face it - it is always nice to be appreciated.  "Thanks Mum for cooking dinner"...... Ah those words make me so happy!

Once you have chosen a recipe let the child do most of the work- and don't be afraid to let them make mistakes.  We were all beginners once.  It is an important part of their journey to make disastrous mistakes.  And VERY IMPORTANTLY teach them to clean as they go- it is really important that you don't end up being the one cleaning up at the end or you will never want to spend time in the kitchen together ever again!

Good luck!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Desperately seeking motivation!

Today is one of those days where I just can't be fagged. We all have those days. I don't have them very often thankfully. I am very lucky to be doing what I love.

Unfortunate thing is with 5 young lovelies to attend to, I can't really chuck a sickie!

So how do I find motivation on these days? Most often it is by sneeking one of my school boys home for a bit of extra cuddle time. My mum used to keep me home sometimes "just because" - not because I was sick or any other reason except that it is lovely for everyone to have a bit of time together that you wouldn't otherwise have. It's one of many tricks of the trade I learnt from her!

It feels like a treat for my kids to be the chosen one- obviously I do it for all of them at different times and they probably don't realise but most of all it is a treat for me. I get to feel like a naughty girl secreting my child home from school when they should be there! Let's face it they aren't going to have their budding career in astrophysics spoilt by missing one or two days of primary school!

And then we proceed to hit the couch and catch up on some quality cartoons from the good ol' days where the worst thing that happens is that Wylie-E-Coyote is flattened by a tonne of metal and then miraculously gets up all concertinaed and seeing stars or Pepe le Peu is rebuffed again by the feline he adores. We find it is best enjoyed with a generous serve of French toast and a bowl of steaming Hot choccie made with hot milk and real chocolate with a marshmallow or two!

So today that is what I am home with my deliciously snuggly 9yo who's muscles are so sore from giving his utmost best at footy on Sunday in 27 degrees that he can hardly walk! Now you cannot argue with me when I suggest that he needs to be home doing all of the above!

And I need him too........

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Family TV

The mornings in Melbourne are just glorious this week- autumn is so beautiful here.

Sunshine is good for the soul and it is good for inspiration.....being woken up in the middle of the night however kills any chance you had to do anything inspirational! However I have a warm fuzzy feeling in my tummy today......

Last night heralded the re-start of the wonderful family friendly reality TV show Masterchef.

My two older boys (11 & 9) have been counting down the days till it began again. Be warned.....I am a Masterchef tragic! I relish the opportunity to watch a show with my children at night that does not involve people murderising (sic) others. Let's face it- it's been a while since we could sit down with our kids at night to watch anything even closely appropriate for little kids. Remember the good ol' days when we would all rush to the box at 6.30 to watch the Goodies! Family TV just ain't the same....

So when Masterchef came along I was one happy lady. Obviously my boys know well enough by now how much I LOVE to cook and have said to me a thousand times "You would so win Masterchef!"

But really it is the opportunity to have some quality cuddle time on the couch with my brood that I love the most. And then come the benefits of the kids being inspired to bust out some quality cooking that of course puts a smile on anyone's dial!

Child 1 & 2 booked in Thursday evening to have a pavlova cook off this week....should be fun!- and then followed the question from child 1 "Actually Mum can we book in a regular Thursday cooking class with you where we cook dinner or dessert?" Well you can guess my response and the time it took to say it! I resisted saying out loud "Well der- as if I would say NO!" So mature of me!

I love that my kids love cooking already. They are all accomplished cooks in their own right already - well perhaps only 3 of them so far- but we can forgive child 4 & 5 as they are really too little.

Here are the current signature dishes of my big 3 boys:

11y.o.- Beef Bourguignon (this is a great kids dish as it is a one pot wonder- follow link to recipe below) , Beef Rendang and he makes a mean spag bol too!
9y.o.- Thai chicken meatballs, Lebanese Kofta ( a team effort with big bro)
7y.o. makes the creamiest scrambled eggs ever (been his speciality since he was 3)!

So today I feel happy that my children are well on their way to being fabulous cooks. Most of all I would like to think that what they find so enjoyable is the celebration of sharing time together in the process and then the joy of sharing at the table. The flavour of food is very important to me but make no mistake it is the love of sharing that has had me from the start!

Here is the spot in our house where it ALL happens.....
Link to a great Boeuf Bourguignon recipe:

Monday, 19 April 2010

Decisions decisions....

A very special friend coined the term Gourmet Girlfriend for me many many years ago as I was her "go to " for all things to do with cooking and has been bugging me to do something with it or a LONG here goes!

To fill you in so far.....Gourmet Girlfriend is happily espoused to Hubby G for 23 years and now enjoy the company of our fabulous five boys aged 11, 9, 7, 3 & 1. Living out the traditional marriage of man at work and woman at work too but at home tending the flock.

Every week day in our house starts with me making a LARGE bowl of coffee and then onto the daily routine of me trying to get 3 out 5 of my boys off to school -why is it that young children only EVER sleep in on week days?- anyway....once they are all dispatched (hopefully all in one piece) it is on to what is generally the biggest decision of my day- Oh the STRESS!!- what is for dinner?
Stressful because I LOVE cooking and because I score myself as a mother on providing a nutritious and delicious meal to my children and to hubby EVERY day. Yep call me stupid if you like but I just can't help myself!

Since I have become so time poor- having 5 young children would be the cause if you didn't work that one out yourself- I have shifted my creative self from other artistic pursuits to using cooking as my sole creative outlet. Being in the kitchen is my little private idaho- even though it is anything but!- where I am able to fool myself into believing that I am doing something lovely for myself. There a VERY few times this doesn't work and I can safely spend time in my kitchen sanctuary all day long blissfully ignoring the fact that there are four million other chores in the house that require URGENT attention!

There are two important rules that keep me sane in amongst it all- No. 1: ALWAYS maintain a sense of humour and No.2: Embrace chaos.

So while i while away the hours in the kitchen I also love to investigate music and play it VERY loud often! I will share some of my favourites with you over time.

So to tonight's dinner......feeling traditional tonight so Corned beef is on the menu ( I use a fave Karen Martini recipe that comes from this very well worn book of cut-out recipes)
.....but I will serve it with a fresh horseradish sauce for a bit of oomph- freshly plucked from the garden. The horseradish that is....not the cow!

And as I cook today i'm listening to the lovely hubby/Wife duo from NY: Dean & Britta.

Join me on my journey......