Archive for Food experiences

Great ways with… mince (no, truly!)

Great... in so many ways.

Great… in so many ways.

This week’s blog post title is a tribute to one of my favourite cookbooks, “Great ways with steak & chops.” Published in 1974, it has it all – gorgeous layouts and fashionable recipes full of innovative ingredients, like this “Veal Oscar”. Essentially a veal schnitzel, they jazz it up a bit with canned asparagus spears, lobster meat and some bearnaise sauce… mmmmmmmm… I bet your mouth is WATERING right now.

And served with a lovely side of plain iceburg lettuce. Tres gourmet!

And served with a lovely side of plain iceburg lettuce. Tres gourmet!

So why did this cookbook pop into my consciousness as I contemplated a post about mince? Well, hey, mince isn’t a glamorous ingredient and something about it does transport me back to the 1970s. It really is one of the daggier meat options – one that I never bought before having my fussy little precious offspring. These days it ends up in my trolley most weeks since it’s versatile as you like and extremely affordable.

Judging by the size of the mince section, I’m guessing that a lot of you are buying it too, so I thought I’d gather up a bunch of more interesting options for how you might like to cook it this week. Something other than spag bol or tacos. You know… adding in a few schmancy ingredients to jazz it up a little.

And yes, I know, all of you with a thermomix would never dream of buying the disgusting supermarket mince, you all make it in your dream machine. It was one of the things I thought I’d do all the time in mine, too. But I don’t.

Chicken mince in sang choy bow

Chicken mince in sang choy bow

Ma po dofu with tofu & pork mince (trust me on this one!)

Ma po dofu with tofu & pork mince (trust me on this one!)

Beef savoury mince. Good alone, with rice on on baked potatoes.

Beef savoury mince. Good alone, with rice on on baked potatoes.

Lamb and feta meatballs

Lamb mince & feta in meatballs.

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Enjoy dinner-time thrills and empty plates

Mealtime stress often causes us to lose our perspective, doesn’t it? Caught up in the angst of kids rejecting food we’ve slaved over, the misery of power plays over whether or not they are going to EAT THAT PEA or worried sick over whether our child is getting their nutritional needs met from one mouthful of meatloaf last Tuesday, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that food should be nourishing, happy and FUN.

I was reminded of this last week when I had a super-poshy dinner out at Sepia Restaurant. It was one of those Masterchef-y type places with foams and odd concoctions and food bordering on art and theatre. The dish that stands out was the mid-course sorbet, which arrived as a little perfect white globe on a huge dark blue dish scattered with icing sugar. It was the galaxy on a plate. Unsure how to approach it, or even what it was, I pushed my spoon into the sphere and it, like, EXPLODED. Sherbet-like substance in a range of colours sprinkled over the plate in a food event so fun and gorgeous that apparently I squealed. By that stage I was onto wine number 4, so possibly I can’t really tell you what it tasted like (it was citrus, I do recall), but the event was so memorable and damn fun that it was worth every extravagant penny.

And it reminded me, that sometimes it’s good to step back from nutrition and focus instead on food being fun. Make dinner enjoyable and you’ll have a much better chance of success when feeding your kids, too.

Sometimes it’s as simple of giving a slightly ugly dish a fun name, like this witches stew - a green split pea soup that my kids adore. Serve it in a black dish like a cauldron. Or place three of these traffic light swirls on a plate in a row and let them decide which colour they’re going to scoff first.

Simple presentation ideas can help your cause.

With the last of the basil (yes, gorgeously perfect out of my vegepod), I whipped up a pesto. My kids love it and it was even more fun when served through some squid’s ink pasta. Adults might baulk of the look, but the kids thought this was awesome and spent the meal scoffing it while trying to decide if it was monster’s intestines, mermaid hair or giant snot.

Food from Atlantis? Or deep space? Your kids can decide.

Food from Atlantis? Or deep space? Your kids can decide.

Possibly not the most flattering appraisal of my cooking, but a success, nonetheless.

The original pesto recipe is here. I also blitzed in a cup of cooked broccoli florets. It’s a super fantastic addition, an idea I stole from Collette at Cut out the Crap. Works brilliantly.

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What are you cooking this Christmas?

Gloriously home made good cheer.

Gloriously home made good cheer.

How are your kids faring in the lead up to Christmas? Mine are nearly jumping out of their skins with excitement. Me? Not so much. For the grown ups, it’s a bit more stressful, don’t you think? So much to do! So much to remember!

To negotiate it all with the minimum of fuss, I resort to LISTS. And I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’m a chronic planner. Long ago I learned that my brain is unreliable, so don’t be surprised to walk into my kitchen and find I’ve got a running sheet for Christmas day, which starts at the time we want to eat and works backwards all the way to what time I need to preheat the oven. Sure, it’s a bit uptight, but for me it means that I don’t have to think, just do, which I find easier after an early afternoon glass of bubbles!

My menu for Christmas day is nearly set. Is yours? I’ll love to see your recipe links and ideas. Shall we do a bit of recipe sharing? You all pop yours in the comments below and here’s what I’m cooking this year…

Christmas Eve – I get off lightly, just turning up to my side of the family with a green salad and the traditional pudding, which is already in the fridge, ready to go.

This year, the other side of the family is coming to our house for Christmas day. There are only 9 of us, so I can do the traditional lunch without too much trouble. I’ll serve a starter platter of good crackers with smoked salmon, capers, chives, and lemons. Freeform sounds good to me – everyone can compile their own morsels. (If you like these flavours, and want a more formal starter, check out this smoked salmon & cheese tart recipe – it’s REALLY good).

For main, it’s a roast turkey. I’m going to use this recipe from Taste. I tested the stuffing on a roast chook last weekend and it was delicious (I used sourdough breadcrumbs). On the side I’m thinking that this green salad with mango looks good and some hassle back potatoes.

For dessert, I’ll crumble meringues into parfait glasses, along with chunks of Christmas cake, ice cream and some poached cherries (I’ll cook them in a sugar syrup with vanilla & cinnamon).

To nibble afterwards? Well, it’s gotta be rumballs. My gorgeous granny used to make them and as soon as I pop one into my mouth I’m bombarded with happy memories of childhood and love.

A cuddle in a recipe.

A cuddle in a recipe.

Rumballs

1 packet plain biscuits (I like Milk Arrowroot)
395 g can condensed milk
1 cup desiccated coconut, plus ½ cup extra, for rolling
3 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder
3 tbsp rum

Line a plastic container with baking paper. Tear some extra sheets so that you can store layers of the balls easily.

Place the biscuits in a large plastic bag and use a rolling pin or your fist to smash them up into crumbs. Tip into a large mixing bowl.

Add the condensed milk, coconut, cocoa and rum. Stir to combine. Use your hands to roll bite-sized balls. Toss in the extra coconut and place in your container. Seal and refrigerate for 2 hours.

MAKES ABOUT 60

ps….**CHRISTMAS DELIVERIES**

Wanting to buy Vegie Smugglers cookbooks as gifts? Make sure you place orders within the next couple of days – especially if you’re far flung. Of course e-books can be bought anytime – you’ll be sent an automated download link at the time of your purchase.

pps… **I’M ON HOLIDAY!**

After nearly 4 years of regular blogging, I need a break. The shop is still open and I’ll still be checking Facebook & emails, but to replenish my creative juices I’m taking a few weeks off (in the background I’ll be finishing off my new cookbook and Thermomix e-book).

Thanks to all of my regular readers – I hugely appreciate your ongoing support of this blog and my business! So have a wonderful Christmas, happy New Year and I’ll see you at some stage in January. xxx

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How to make friends with salad (& win a BBQ hamper pack!)

Hopefully, over the winter you’ve accumulated a repertoire of accepted (and even enjoyed) meals that contain enough vegies and nutrition to keep you achieving your status as an awesome-parent. But the casseroles and bakes that you’ve come to rely on may hold less appeal as the weather warms up.

It’s time to lighten the menu, and traditionally it’s the time when the BBQ gets trundled out and parents are faced with the screwed up faces of little kids who are not friends with salad.

There’s often not much smuggling potential in salads. They are, after all, full of raw and highly-recognisable ingredients. To get the kids interested in them, they need to be particularly tasty. While a good dressing helps a green salad to be more agreeable, there are a couple of more creative salad recipes that are a good starting point when you’re trying to instil a BBQ & salad culture.

Start simple and convey the whole concept of cold side dishes with a couple of particularly tasty examples that they can’t resist. Our favourite noodle salad works well, luring them in with flavour and crunch. Another sure-fire hit will be this Japanese-style potato salad that uses a mayonnaise-based sauce to entice them.

Dou itashimashite.

Dou itashimashite.

Japanese potato salad

Sauce:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard

4 medium mashing potatoes, peeled, quartered
1 carrot, peeled, grated
4 spring onions, finely sliced
250g corn kernels, drained
1 cucumber, sliced into rounds

Combine the sauce ingredients well and set aside.

Pop the potatoes into a large pot of cold water and bring to the boil (adding them cold stops the edges from disintegrating). Reduce the heat to a strong simmer and leave for 15 minutes until soft enough that you can easily push a skewer through. Drain and add to a large bowl. Use a fork to roughly mash, but leave heaps of texture with lots of large chunks.

Stir the carrot and spring onions through the hot potatoes (this cooks them slightly). Season with plenty of salt & pepper. Pour over the sauce and mix thoroughly.

Leave to cool then combine in the corn and cucumber. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

Serves 2 adults & 3-4 kids as a side dish (leftovers make great lunches).

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I-Love-Peppercorn-Food-150x150

Speaking of BBQ awesome, the peeps at Peppercorn Food Products have a $75 hamper worth of their sausages and burgers as well as a chiller bag, hat, apron and stubby holder to giveaway (you can read all about their fab stuff here). Please note, that since the prize is perishable and needs careful refrigeration, the winner needs to lives in the Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth metro areas.

To enter, like up the Peppercorn Facebook page then pop back here and leave a comment below, with who your ultimate BBQ guest would be and why. They can be historical, current, silly or serious. Entries close 8pm AST, Friday November 15. **CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNER, LISA CALLANAN!

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How to guarantee vegie-smuggling success (and a giveaway)

Some people like to smuggle vegies by cooking them, mashing them and re-adding them to dishes where they get cooked again and served to unwitting children. Have you heard of this method?

Unless your child is severely vegie-resistant and you’re looking for a starting point that guarantees success, I would avoid doing this. Why?…
1. By the end of this process, most of the vegie’s nutritional benefits are gone.
2. It’s too much work for time-poor parents to manage.
3. The kids don’t learn how delicious healthy eating can be.

I prefer a ‘chop chop’ method. Start with gorgeous fresh, raw produce and grate it or chop it into such small pieces that kids can’t easily identify or pick it out of their dinner.

People have complained to me, ‘but you’re not hiding the vegies – I can see them!’ to which I’ll reply, “yes, because you want your kids to realise that vegies are there, but to still eat them anyway’. If the little bits are all cooked together into a delicious and tasty whole meal, the kids will eat it (of course there are exceptions!) Mostly though, if they can’t identify exactly what vegie is what and if they’re enjoying the meal then their motivation to protest will be low.

The aim is to eventually get kids eating the way you do, so you might start off grating everything, but after a while you can move on to chopping and dicing things finely. Then the pieces can get bigger and bigger until you’re just cooking like normal. This process can take a couple of years and possibly you’ll have to backtrack if you push them too far (if you see them crying, with a huge chunk of zucchini on their fork, you’ll know that you need to go back to grating for a while).

So I recommend everyone take the time to buy a good kitchen knife and learn to use it (there’s a stack of videos online showing you how). You don’t need to be a whizz, just competent and safe. Buy yourself a good grater, too.

And also rely on gadgets to do the work for you. I use my mini-stick blender all the time. I use it to make breadcrumbs, chop vegies, whizz up homous and even make banana ice cream.

You can WIN this baby.

You can WIN this baby.

Luckily for one reader, today I’ve got an Avancer food processor to give away. In the larger machine you can make coleslaw, combine meatball mixtures, blend soups – all bound to give you vegie-smuggling success.

This meatball mix will be a doddle in it…

Hidden veg meatballs in an ALL VEG soup. Genius. And delicious.

Hidden veg meatballs in an ALL VEG soup. Genius. And delicious.



Italian meatballs

Make a double batch of these meatballs and freeze. They work great in all kinds of tomato soups and pasta sauces (like this one).

500g pork/veal mince
1 slice stale bread (any type)
2 tsp Italian herbs
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
1/2 red capsicum, roughly chopped
1 egg, lightly whisked

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line your largest baking tray with foil and spray well with olive oil spray.

Use your food processor to make breadcrumbs with the bread. Also add in the garlic and herbs and blitz to get heavenly, fragrant breadcrumbs.

Quickly blitz the carrot, then the capsicum. Pop in the mince; toss the egg on top and pulse to bring the mix together. Pop on some kitchen gloves and roll meatballs and place on the tray. If you have the time and patience, keep them nice and bite-sized (plus they cook faster).

Spray the meatballs with more oil spray and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the tray, carefully turn them over and return to the oven for 10 minutes more until golden outside and fully cooked through.

Makes enough for 2 adults and 2-3 kids, depending on what you add them into.

_____________________________________

WANT TO WIN THE FOOD PROCESSOR? You need to be a Vegie Smugglers subscriber, based in Australia. And since Avancer have given me the prize, you might want to check out all the Avancer products here. Simply enter by commenting below about which vegies you find the hardest to get your kids to eat. Entries close Thursday Oct 24, 8pm AEDT. ****THANKS FOR YOUR ENTRIES! AVANCER HAVE PICKED THE WINNER – CONGRATULATIONS ALISON WHITE, HOPE YOU ENJOY THE FOOD PROCESSOR!

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Holiday treat – rocky road

Last week I promised chocolate. Being a woman of my word, here’s a fab little chocolate treat just in time for the school holidays.

Cooking with the kids can be a fun educational way to spend a couple of hours together. If your kids aren’t naturally inclined towards the kitchen (like mine), then the best way to get them involved is to cook treats. Unlike the marble cake or chocolate slice from previous holiday posts, this recipe has the advantage that it’s a no-oven winner, which means that you’ll have the recipe wrapped up before anyone can stutter “I’m bored” or “what time can I play PS3?”.

And unlike those showy-offy sponges or uber-posh macarons, rocky road’s charm is in it’s randomness. Each piece is special, just a little bit ugly and best of all you can’t really get it wrong, which all appeals to a down-to-earth lass like myself.

Bumpy and imperfect, just like life.

Bumpy and imperfect, just like life.

Rocky Road

4 full cups of chunks –choose any or all of…
Marshmallows, cranberries, goji berries, sultanas, currants, dried strawberries or pears, shredded coconut, nuts (peanuts, pecans, pistachios, macadamias) turkish delight, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas
200g block dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 tbsp golden syrup
25g butter
¾ cup dark chocolate melts (or more dark chocolate, roughly chopped)

Line a 18x28cm slice tray with baking paper.

Mix your choice of chunks in a large bowl. Place the 200g chocolate, syrup and butter into a small saucepan over gentle heat and stir to melt. Remove from heat, tip in the extra chocolate (I like melts, since they quickly stick into the mix, but they’ll stay chunky enough that you’ll get good chocolate chunks through the finished mix). Pour into the dry ingredients. Combine well, tip into the tray and refrigerate.

MAKES 24 SQUARES

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Is your toddler a fussy eater? Here’s how to solve it

Won't eat vegies. Will lick mixing bowls.

Won’t eat vegies. Will lick mixing bowls.

By far the most common email I get is from stressed parents (actually it’s always mothers, but I’m being PC) of toddlers aged 2-3 who refuse to eat anything much and particularly won’t eat vegetables.

Getting the little darlings to put food into their gobs isn’t generally the problem. Ice-creams, lollies and chips usually disappear without any delay whatsoever, but finding a way to get any amount of fresh produce down the hatch is a constant and miserable drama that is starting to impact the family wellbeing (and mum’s sanity).

Does this sounds like you? Have dinners become miserable? Is your toddler holding you to food ransom?

Firstly, let me assure you that I feel your pain. This site exists due to my own experiences dealing with these issues. Back in 2006 when my daughter started causing me these headaches, I looked everywhere and really didn’t find too much helpful information. There were ‘cooking with kids’ books, which focused around getting them to bake treats and top pizzas. And there were ‘healthy kids’ books, written by nutritionists who insisted that all I had to do was serve my kids burgul salad and all would be well. Considering the short list of foods that were acceptable at the time, this idea was beyond laughable.

These days, there are a lot of good resources to help parents out, but I like to think that I’ve got some great ideas and recipes here to help you, in fact enough that I wanted to collate them into one toddler-specific post.

The good news is, that I’m living proof that this toddler behaviour is manageable and that you can overcome it. Now aged 8 and 6, both my fussy eaters are fantastic and will eat most things. It’s been a long but worthwhile road, one I would do all over again to achieve the outcome of healthy kids, without food issues who enjoy flavours and will take a food adventure with me.

I truly believe that if I had indulged them, to keep the peace, and maintained our limited menu, I would still be dealing with children who ‘won’t eat that’. Because one thing is certain, children who aren’t offered healthy food, definitely don’t eat it.

SO LETS’ BEGIN!…

• Why do I create my recipes the way I do? Click here to see a list of ten tips for smuggling vegies.

• Feeling overwhelmed? If this toddler behaviour is all new, read this post “Please help Vegie Smugglers, my child only eats…”

• More specific help. And if you need more help about dealing with toddler food behaviour, read “How to get fussy kids to try new foods.”

• Find inspiration. Click here for more of my personal story, and a great toddler tinned-spaghetti recipe.

• Recipes. Then of course you’ll need more fabulous recipes suitable for toddlers. As with most of my recipes, I aim to make them interesting enough for the whole family (no one wants to cook twice a night). Often I’ll suggest ways to ‘adult up’ a meal, by adding extra ingredients once you’ve served the kids. I’ve got a post about that, and a recipe for tomato & lentil pasta, both for you and your toddlers here.

• Even more recipes! You can see a selection of meal ideas here. Also, browse this entire blog. There are over 150 recipes on here that are all aimed at feeding fussy kids.

If you find all of this info helpful, and want even more recipes, you may want to buy the books or ebooks. Your purchase will benefit your family AND keep me afloat and able to whip up even more great ideas for you in the future.

Good luck and keep me posted on how you go!

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