Posts tagged Chinese

They know a thing or two about food, don’t they, those Chinese…

I can’t help but feel touched by luck this week as the full weight of the auspicious number 8 has come my way. The Chinese love this number, so they’d be happy to see that my Facebook page clicked over 88,888 this week, which was nice. Thanks to all of you who’ve been with me over the past few years! And over on Instagram, my fledgling page hit 888, which seems quite alot, considering I post pictures of the sky, endless shots from my kitchen bench and random stupid things, like tree trunks that look like bums.

To celebrate I’m trawling the blog for some of my favourite Chinese-influenced meals. The salty flavour profile has always been hugely popular with my kids. There’s rarely spice, but always taste – a great combination, for a lucky week ahead.

Click the pics to go to the recipes….

vegie smugglers plum sauce chinese-style meatballs

Kid-friendly meatballs with a Chinese twist.

Vegie Smugglers sang choy bow

Lettuce delights for your munching pleasure

Ma po dofu dish

This kid-friendly ma po dofu smuggles tofu, carrots and capsicum

Get the kids onto wrapping these.

Get the kids onto wrapping these.


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What’s the oldest jar in your pantry?

There was much fanfare and celebration the other day as I finished a jar of Chinese 5-spice powder before the best-before date.

I’d never had that wonderful experience before, instead usually finding it stuck in the back of the pantry along with the Tobasco, curry powder and whole cloves. Usually it’s the section of the kitchen that just gets tipped straight into a garbage bag before I move house. You know, the whole back row of ingredients with the use by date of 2006.

So, ‘smug’ is probably the word I could use to describe my sense of joy as I scraped the dregs of it out from the bottom of the wee glass container. “I am a proper, hardcore COOK.” I thought to myself. Actually I probably said it out loud. I save all my most stunning and witty comments for myself, when I’m alone during the day.

What about you? What’s your ingredient that sits frustratingly forgotten? Do you even own a jar of 5-spice? If I was a proper foodie I’d be whipping up my own batch of it, but I’m a mum and as you all know we’ve got about 8,000 more important things to do rather than concoct our own mix of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel.

Luckily for me, my kids have always devoured all Chinese flavours, loving the salty hook and if your cupboard is bare of this spice mix then I recommend you buy some and try out one of these 5-spice dependent recipes.

I never take an easy, tasty and popular meal for granted!

Pork stir-fry

vegie smugglers plum sauce chinese-style meatballs

Chinese-style meatballs.

Pork & rice balls – recipe in 'Vegie Smugglers 1'.

Pork & rice balls – recipe in ‘Vegie Smugglers 1’.

For more Chinese flavours (without the 5-spice), try the Fish Congee, Ma Po Dofu or Sang Choy Bao.

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What’s your secret?


Do you have a dirty little secret? I’ve got a few. Like this secret pen stash. So sick am I of having my stationery pinched that I’ve had to resort to hiding it away from the prying eyes of my family.

Also, I’m having a bit of a secret EOFYS sale. You can shop at the Vegie Smugglers store and receive 10% off everything before June 28, midnight. Just enter discount code EOFYS10.

What do you think of my girlfriend who has a secret credit card? (Just so that her husband can’t put an exact dollar value onto her personal purchases.) Do you think it’s ok to keep a financial secret from your spouse? I actually think this is a pretty big secret.

Much more innocently, today’s recipe has secret vegetables. As do all my recipes. I like my kids to eat healthy and develop an enjoyment of savoury flavours without too much fuss. Sure, they eat lots of recognisable vegies too, but sometimes a few secrets are ok.

Since these wontons are a bit fiddly to make, they seems like a perfect recipe for the school holidays. Get that dextrous child labour those gorgeous children of yours to help you out.

The kids will have fun wrapping these.

Get the kids onto wrapping these.

Basic Pork Wontons

This recipe uses half a supermarket tray of mince. Feel free to make a double batch and freeze half of the mixture raw, ready to wrap and steam another day.

2 spring onions, roughly chopped
3 button mushrooms
½ carrot, peeled
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sweet chilli sauce
250g pork mince
Packet of 30 gow gee (or wonton) wrappers

Use a food processor or mini food processor to blitz together the vegies, garlic, ginger and sauces.

Add in the mince and blitz to a paste. Scoop heaped teaspoons of mixture into the centre of your wrapper. Use a finger dipped in water to wet half the circle, fold over and press well to form a seal.

Bring a saucepan of water to a strong simmer. Steam dumplings over it in a steamer basket or tray for 8-10 minutes until cooked through.

Serve these as is with soy sauce or in an Asian-style broth with some other vegies.


No food processor? Just finely chop, grate and mix ingredients in a bowl.

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Do your kids take you for granted?

Last year I was working two days a week, but since the closure of that magazine I’ve been home full-time. Luckily I have this business and a bit of freelance design work to keep me afloat.

I’d like to say the extra time at home makes me a better parent, but it doesn’t. I’m still snappy and impatient, although the house IS usually full of baked goods and the lunchboxes are a bit fancier.

Somehow I’m still just as busy, but the tasks I’m caught up in are more mundane. School canteen last Friday, netball gala day on Saturday, play dates over the weekend, parent supervisor at band yesterday and reading groups volunteer today. Apparently, once upon a time, there was a stack of mums to share all these tasks around. But these days we’re a bit slim on the ground, so out of obligation you pick up more and more (although I’m strongly resisting the P&C).

I don’t mind, I quite like it and maybe one day my kids will look back with affection at everything I did for them. It’s fair to say though, right now, they’re pretty comfortable taking me for granted and just expecting the house slave to be at their beck and call.

Being regular kids, they’ve phased in and out of periods of rudeness and have never been particularly thankful for my presence (perhaps that shows what a great job I’m doing at creating a secure environment). In the past I’ve not been bothered about it. When you’re working out of the home you have other stuff to think about. But when you’re parenting full time it’s hard not to take it all bit more personally. Finding job satisfaction at home can be difficult.

It’s the small signifiers that show me when I’m doing well, like when a meal disappears. Which this stir-fry has done every time I’ve made it. It’s really easy too. You can marinade the meat all day and have everything chopped ready to throw together at dinnertime.

Which is good, since we’re out three afternoons a week. The kids having lives and me being their taxi driver and chief spectator. Sigh.

I never take an easy, tasty and popular meal for granted!

I never take an easy, tasty and popular meal for granted!

Pork stir fry

400g pork fillet (you used to have to go to the Chinese butcher for this cut, but I’ve seen it in regular supermarkets now – see here)
1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine)
1-2 tbsp peanut oil
1 red onion, sliced in half moons
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/2 red capsicum, cut into strips
1 carrot, peeled, cut into thin diagonal slices
Handful of green beans, trimmed
Handful of snowpeas, whole or in strips
Splash extra of shaoxing wine

Rice & coriander to serve

Slice the pork into thin, 5mm strips. Toss in a bowl with the 5-spice and sauces. Cover and refrigerate for as long as you’ve got (I do this in the morning and leave it all day)

Prepare all your vegies before you start cooking.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat (as hot as you dare).

Add your oil (do not leave the kitchen!). Cook the pork in batches, stirring often until totally browned but not quite cooked through. This will take 1-2 MINUTES. That’s all! Keep it undercooked. KITCHEN TIP: Do cook the meat in batches – it is so quick to cook that it only takes a jiffie and will be about 10 times yummier than stewed, overcooked pork.

Remove the last of the meat and set aside. Reduce the heat slightly, return the pan and add more oil if needed. Stir fry the onion for a minute or so then add the ginger, capsicum and carrot. Keep it all moving for another minute before adding the beans and returning the meat and all the juices.

Cook everything for another minute, adding the shaoxing if the pan gets too dry.


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You’re vegetarian, but the kids aren’t

So you’ve been a vegetarian for years, happily sitting on the bacon sidelines and letting the world of steaks, mince and roasts pass you by. But then you have a baby, who after a delightful vegetarian life reaches the 8-9 month mark and is ready for a bit more protein. What do you do?

Perhaps your reasons are ethical, environmental or just plain taste-based, you now have a bit of a dilemma about how to feed your family and do the best thing for your kids’ health.

There is no reason why you can’t raise vegetarian children. It does mean that you need to pay special attention to their diet to keep it nutritionally balanced. There’s a good article here and resource here to help guide you.

Kids need much less protein than we often think. Here’s a link to just how much they require. Often you can fill their need for animal protein with milk, cheese and eggs. Ideally though, you should take a visit to a nutritionist or dietician to ensure there is no deficiencies anywhere in your eating plan.

Possibly the biggest battle you’ll face is the opinions of concerned grandparents and friends who really can’t fathom that your little lovelies can survive without the occasional chop. And perhaps they have a point. Unless you’re being really vigilant, then it might be a good idea for the kids to get a little dose of animal protein and iron a couple of times a week. If you’re ok with this, then here are a couple of ways to do it without you having to handle meat too often.

Big batch and freeze it

Make double batches of bolognaise, fajita mince or chilli and freeze them in small portions. These lamb sausage rolls are also good. That night the kids can have their meat fix and you can enjoy your Indian-style tempeh all by yourself.

Versatile dinners

Heaps of dinners can be made to a point, and then modified to suit the meat and non/meat-eating members of your household. Cheesy pots can be customised easily, as can rice paper rolls (cookbook 2) and pasta bake (just make individual ones).

This recipe for Chinese meatballs is perfect too. Make a double batch and freeze them. Then next time you whip up a stir-fry, add a few reheated meatballs on top of the kid’s serve.

Remember, if handling meat is a problem for you, maybe ask the concerned grandparent if they wouldn’t mind whipping up a meatball care parcel for you from time to time. I reckon they’ll be so relieved that they’ll be happy to help.

vegie smugglers plum sauce chinese-style meatballs

Serve meatballs on whatever vegies and noodles you like. Top with another dollop of plum sauce and some coriander.

Chinese-style plum sauce meatballs

Canola oil spray
1 slice bread (any flavour)
1 large clove garlic
½ tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 zucchini
500g veal/pork mince
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp plum sauce
Sprinkle white pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line an oven tray with foil and spray with the oil spray.

Use a food processor (I like my mini-one) to blitz the bread up into breadcrumbs. Add in the garlic and 5-spice and blitz so that all the crumbs are a garlicky-aromatic source of yum. Add to a mixing bowl.

Pulse or grate the zucchini and add the bowl. Also add in the mince and all the flavourings.

Wear kitchen gloves and mix this all together well (or you can do all this in a large food processor if excessive handling of meat makes you queasy). Roll into bite-sized balls and place on the oven tray.

Spray meatballs with oil spray and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, use tongs to carefully turn over, spray again and bake for another 10 minutes until cooked through.

Makes 30ish.

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Strange, funny & healthy: Find out what gets searched for on Vegie Smugglers

The MOST searched for recipe - lentil sausage rolls...

With just over a year’s stats to trawl over, it seems like time for an EXPOSE (News of the World Style) of what does and doesn’t get searched for on the Vegie Smugglers blog.

Despite all the word combinations in the world, there are some definite patterns that emerge every week. Without fail, you are all trying to feed your kids sausage rolls, and preferably with lentils. You also like shepherd’s pie, lamb meatballs and recently there’s been a new wave of beetroot meatloaf fans. They are all great recipes – I hope you’re enjoying them!

...and the most downloaded craft worksheet...

Another search term that comes up regularly are ‘healthy worksheets’ and ‘kid’s shopping lists’ which link through to my visual shopping list. It is downloaded ALL THE TIME along with the plate worksheet. Other craft stuff that does well are the spaceship dashboard, the shoebox dollhouse and all of the loo-roll projects, in particular the snake and pirate Steve and wench Wendy. I promise to get back onto some more craft sheets soon.

...followed closely by pirate Steve and wench Wendy...

More bewildering was the search for ‘puff pastry toilet seat’, which I try not to ponder too long and since my post on wavy chips, I’ve gotten a few hits for ‘wiggly choppers’. You are a strange lot! More hilariously, I get a stack of hits from stoned teens in Mexico wondering how to ‘smuggle shrooms’ back over the US border. I adore the idea of them in their holiday accommodation trying to whip up my vegie slice. Let’s hope they include all of the grated vegetables.

...a dish favoured by stoned teens...

And the things that no one searches for that I wish they would? Well, the Ma Po Dofu probably doesn’t jump immediately to mind as a family classic, but if your kids like Asian flavours, I URGE you to try it. And the vegetable lasagne is truly tastier than any meat version you will try.

... and the dish that doesn't get searched (but really should)...

And what have been my most popular posts? Well, no matter how healthy we are, it seems we all love chocolate. You all visited the chocolate slice post last week, and similarly, the beetroot brownie last year was another crowd pleaser! Everything in moderation afterall!

..and there's always room for chocolate.

Thanks for all of your visits over the past year – and thanks to to my subscribers and those who join in both here and on Facebook. There’s a stack of new recipes around the corner as ‘Vegie Smugglers 2’ hits the streets and I’ll have a new batch of craft ideas too. Stay tuned.

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What the kids eat in… China

Actually, I suspect more folks outside of China might actually eat this dish. But let’s not worry about pesky facts and just enjoy this delicious messy mass of tasty goodness. I did try to research the origins, but perhaps it’s one of those ‘from everywhere’ dishes with no particular source, although I did see claims of origin from Thai to Cantonese to the good ol’ USA. One cute internet fact (and maybe even true) is that the name translates as ‘lettuce delights’, which sounds so lovely!

I got thinking about this dish after my 14-year-old niece whipped up a version at a recent family get-together. At 14 I could melt cheese onto corn chips in the microwave, she can whip up a meal for 12 people. Very impressive stuff. The kids LOVED having her cook for them and ate up every little morsel. So I’m naming this dish in her honour.

Apparently teenagers aren’t necessarily too fussed on vegies either, so I’ve built on her recipe quite a bit, smuggling in a stack load more vegies. Use iceberg lettuce to wrap the mixture up as tightly as possible. The result is hot/cold/crunchy and absolutely delicious. Just keep a washer handy and lettuce delight indeed…

Chicken mince in sang choy bow

Lettuce delights for your munching pleasure

Sarah’s sang choy bao

2 tbsp shao hsing wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn flour

Lettuce leaves (iceberg or cos both work well)
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 onion, finely diced
500g chicken mince
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
4 green onions, finely sliced
225g tin water chestnuts, drained, finely diced
1 cup mushrooms, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
125g can corn kernels

Combine all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside. Carefully remove whole lettuce leaves, wash and drain on clean tea towels.

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium/high heat. Add the onion and stirfry for 3-4 minutes until translucent and turning golden.

Add the chicken mince and stirfry until it changes from pink to white. Break up lumps as you go to ensure there are no hidden raw bits.

Add the garlic, ginger, green onions, water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrot and corn. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the green onions are tender and the mushrooms are nice and soft. Pour the sauce over the top and stir-fry for another minute or two until everything is piping hot and cooked thoroughly. (NOTE: if you are making this to reheat later, leave everything slightly undercooked)

Spoon -1 cup quantities of mixture into the lettuce leaves, wrap up carefully and enjoy!

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Not a pock-marked lady in sight

my happy daughter in a chinese restaurant

So shiney! So sparkly! So top-aussie!

Back in my double-income-no-kids incarnation I lived in a much less salubrious, multicultural part of town. Drunks, 24-hour pubs, lots of dirty surfaces and every outing included some interesting encounter with someone a bit out of the ordinary. It was also a major Shanghai-nese centre, with rows of restaurants with menus only in Mandarin and old men sitting at back tables rolling pork and coriander dumplings…. hmmmm. I salivate at the memory. My first meal in one of these restaurants was a revelation with juicy dumplings and fish in oyster sauce. Then ma-po dofu – a gorgeous combination of minced pork and tofu. Apparently the name translates as ‘pockmarked-face lady’s tofu’. Delicious! The whole meal cost us less than $15.

Since then, of course, a couple of glorious kids have entered our lives and we’ve outgrown the dodgy surrounds and moved to a suburb that’s much shinier. Feeling nostalgic, we packed up the kids and headed off to our local Chinese restaurant. Large clean fishtanks in place of the paper menus sticky-taped to the walls. Fancy mirrored ceilings instead of grime. And the food? Well… it’s about 5 times the price and falls strictly into the Australian/Chinese category. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, actually its good, but very top Aussie – sweet and sour as far as the eye can see. Looking at the patrons I realised the only Asian faces were those of the waistcoat-wearing waiters. All the local Asian residents bother to drive the 3 suburbs to where the pockmarked-face lady still reigns.

Here’s my version, tailored for the kids.  It’s a handy recipe too – all the ingredients can be prepared early in the day, stored in the fridge and thrown together quickly that night.

Ma po dofu dish

This kid-friendly ma po dofu smuggles tofu, carrots, corn and capsicum

Ma po dofu

500g pork mince
1 tbsp dark soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you prefer)
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
(Chinese rice wine) or dry sherry or mirin
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated
125g can corn kernels, drained
1/3 red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
200g packet flavoured tofu (honey/soy), diced (or use plain tofu if you prefer)
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp soy sauce

Marinate the mince in the dark soy and 1 tbsp rice wine for 1 hour (if you have time) in the fridge in a ceramic dish.

Heat the canola oil in a wok or large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook mince until browned, breaking up lumps as you go. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Reheat the pan on high heat, cook all the vegies, tofu, ginger and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Ensure heat stays high to avoid vegetables going soggy.

Return the mince to the pan, along with the stock, soy sauce and the rest of the rice wine. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Serve with rice of your choice and coriander.


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