Posts tagged food

Easy yet indulgent Christmas ideas

There's a tree! It's officially Christmas.

Let’s get the Christmas recipe ball rolling. I mentioned over on Facebook that last year I made this Orange and Marmalade Roast Turkey. It was really fiddly, but I was only cooking for 6 people so it was kind of do-able (especially after an afternoon of bubbles).

This year, I’m focusing on SIMPLE and EASY food that will spoil the loved ones with a minimum of fuss. I’m on the lookout for some yum side dishes that I can take across town to pop on the buffet table at a big Christmas dinner. Do you have any suggestions?

In return, here are a couple of my favourites – quick, yet impressive recipes that I’ve made a few times and guarantee are great…

My favourite from recent years is this dressing, from the Tetsuya Cookbook, which is perfect for drizzling over any seafood.

Tetsuya’s Vinaigrette

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
6 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp lemon juice

Mix it all together and drizzle it over fresh oysters. Top them with chives and a tiny spoonful of ocean trout roe. Delicious, sublime. You’ll be licking the shells, the plates, your fingers, the mixing bowl etc etc.

If you’re sticking to seafood, this decadent tart is unbeatable and can be made the day before…

Smoked salmon & swiss cheese tart

1-2 sheets shortcrust pastry
200g smoked salmon
Egg white (for brushing)
3 eggs, lightly whisked
200ml cream
100g swiss cheese
1-2 tsp fresh dill

Grease a 22cm flan tin with melted butter. Line it with pastry. Cover with baking paper and pastry weights (or rice) and bake at 190C for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights, brush pastry with egg white and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove. Leave to cool.

Scatter salmon evenly around the tart. Mix together eggs, cream, cheese, dill and pepper. Pour over to fill the case. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just set.

You can eat this cold or reheated. It’s rich, just a small slice will do.

If the whole pudding thing seems too hard, try a meringue & cherry parfait. The cherry sauce here is delicious. Pop it in tall glasses layered with thickened cream, brandy sauce and crushed meringue – very festive and looks fancy! You can make mini meringues easily, up to a week before Christmas (they taste HEAPS better than store-bought). I’ve made “Sue’s Meringues” from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion a few times and they’ve always turned out well.

And I hear you shouting – what about the kids?? Mine do join in with Christmas dinner – they will generally eat all sorts of roast vegies so long as they’re smothered in gravy. But let’s face it, after a champers or two I couldn’t really give a stuff about their nutrition. It’s Christmas. They can just eat the entire contents of the Cadbury stocking that Santa brought for all I care.

Now about those side dishes you’re all going to suggest…..

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The best way to smuggle… mushrooms (is with a bit of bacon)

So you’ve got a bag of soggy things in the crisper that used to be mushrooms…and you’re keen to get them into the kids because you know that they’re full of anti-oxidants and minerals including selenium (which fights free radicals and is being studied for its anti-cancer properties), but strangely enough, the kids won’t have a bar of them raw or even fried in a tonne of butter. Hmmm, try this magic vegetable slice, which is actually a fantastic ruse to hide pretty much ANY vegie that is clogging up the fridge.

Vegetable slice

Mushrooms?? What mushrooms!!!

Vegetable slice

Canola oil cooking spray
250g bacon, diced
1½ cups diced mushrooms
4 spring onions, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 zucchini, chopped into chunks
1 carrot, peeled, chopped into chunks
½ cup deseeded, chopped red capsicum
Handful of green beans, sliced finely
½ cup self-raising flour
4 eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup grated cheese
Salt & black pepper

Preheat oven to 180C. Spray a lamington tray with cooking spray and line with baking paper.

Heat a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes until partly cooked. Add the spring onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Don’t overcook the bacon (it bakes later). Place mixture in a large mixing bowl.

Use a stick blender to blitz the zucchini, carrot, capsicum and beans. As always, don’t blitz to a pulp. If you prefer, chop or grate to have control over the texture. Add to the bacon mixture.

Sift the flour over the top and mix through. Add the eggs and cheese and combine. Season. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until set and golden.

Cut into squares. This is delicious with salad and crusty bread.


THE NEXT DAY Serve cold strips of this wrapped in flatbread. Add any leftover meat and extra salad ingredients. Secure the rolled-up wrap with foil.

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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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That’s not a sausage roll Gary, THIS is a sausage roll

Anyone in Australia watching the current series of Masterchef last Friday night (about 1.5 million of us according to might have seen Gary whip up a ‘healthy’ kid’s sausage roll.

Looked gorgeous and apparently tasted ok but I wasn’t impressed. Calling it healthy’ was a bit of a stretch.

True. There were carrots in it. But to get them there, they were grated, slowly sauted, mashed, mixed with the meat and then baked. It’s a pretty popular way to smuggle vegetables into kids and one that I can’t quite get my head around.

According to this method, at some stage during the day when I’m not doing the washing, cleaning, school runs, freelance work, buying the new undies because the old one were pooed in, unstacking the dishwasher, watering the plants that are gasping their last breaths and helping build the lego bird for ‘b’ homework, I’m supposed to cook vegetables to death and mash them.

Some helpful books such as Jessica Seinfield’s ‘Deceptively Delicious’ recommend doing mashed vegies in large batches and freezing them in small portions ready to drop into tasty treats.

So to successfully smuggle vegies I’m supposed to boil, mash, freeze, thaw and cook again. And will there be any ounce of nutrition left at the end of all that? Maybe you’re a nutritionist or food scientist and can let me know, but I’m suspecting not much.

In the mean time, I can’t be bothered with all that. Here’s my sausage roll recipe complete with four vegies and lentils…

Vegie Smuggling chicken sausage rolls

THIS is a sausage roll! Complete with carrots, zucchini and lentils.


5 sheets frozen puff pastry
500g chicken mince
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated
1 onion, grated (or you can whizz these 3 ingredients to save time, but avoid pulping out all the texture)
3 medium mushrooms, finely diced
125g can brown lentils, rinsed, drained
1 egg
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (basil and chives are good)
Salt & black pepper
1 egg, whisked, for glazing

Preheat oven to 200C. Lay out your pastry sheets on a bench. Cut each in half to make 2 rectangles.

Mix together all the remaining ingredients until combined.

Spread the mixture lengthwise along the middle of the rectangles. Ease pastry over from one edge, brush egg along top side then roll other edge over to seal.

If cooking immediately, cut each stick into 4 pieces, place on an oven tray lined with baking paper, brush with egg and cook in middle of the oven for 25 minutes until golden and cooked through.


Sausage rolls and chips

Cut potatoes into fries, toss in oil and cook at the same time.

Prepare these quickly. Wrap uncooked sticks of sausage rolls in plastic wrap. Freeze immediately on oven trays to maintain their shape before transferring to plastic bags for an extra layer of protection. Defrost in the fridge (still wrapped in plastic) for 24 hours before cooking. Ensure they are completely thawed before cooking. Cut into four, brush with egg and cook for 25 minutes until steaming hot in the centre.

Want more?
Also check out these pastry recipes
Beef Triangles…YUM!
And for a sweet pastry idea, try these apple & pear squares.

And try these lentil recipes…
Delicious Lentil Burgers
Pumpkin, corn and lentil soup
Seriously good Beef & lentil fajitas



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The best mother’s day pancakes

It’s Mother’s Day in Australia this Sunday. Time to ooohh and aaaaahhh over colourful bits of cardboard stuck together and a painted footprint trodden on a paper love heart. Time to dig coins out of my purse to give to Miss Fruitarian to spend on pot pouri at the school Mother’s Day stall.

Luckily this year, things are looking up. Miss Fruitarian has won a prize in the local council’s “my mum’s a star…” competition, which means she and I are off to a local playcentre to collect our mystery prize. I’m hoping for a lovely pamper pack, but might have to settle for a free entry voucher at a local ladies gym.

I asked what she had to do for the entry, and wondered if perhaps she had submitted the portrait she did of me a few weeks back which included every single wrinkle. I looked like a cross between a cabbage patch baby and a zebra. It would win the pity vote for sure.

Apparently it was just a 25 words or less thing, and she wrote that “she gives me big squeezy cuddles”. Which is nice, but considering the amount of time I put into catering for the family I would have hoped for more of an ode to my cooking. When I pursued this line of questioning, she looked at me a bit blankly “But Dad’s the good cook”.

Yes. Here’s why… Sunday mornings at our place are Dad’s tribute to all breakfasts sweet and salty. Just saying. Not complaining. At all. Because here’s a good example of something that Dad whips up quite often. And he does the dishes afterwards too, which means that every Sunday is Mother’s Day at our place….

Oaty pancakes with strawberries

Mum will really love you if you whip up a couple of these

Oaty Banana Pancakes

3/4 cup oats
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 small banana, mashed
1 tbsp melted butter
Spray oil

Place the oats in a bowl and pour over the milk. Leave them to soak for 10-15 minutes (up to 30 minutes if you have time).
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.
Mix the sugar, egg, banana and butter through the oat mixture. Pour this mixture into the flour and mix gently. If you have time, leave the mixture to sit for 20-30 minutes, otherwise it can be used straight away.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Spray with oil. Add 1/3 cup amounts to the pan. Turn once bubbles appear and the pancake is golden. Each side takes 2-3 minutes.
Serve them with maple syrup and more fruit – diced rockmelon and strawberries are really fantastic.

Did you try these? How did they taste? I’d love to hear your feedback…

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My top 10 tips to smuggle vegies into kids…

Sadly, I’ve had to spend way too much of my time thinking about this. Miss Fruitarian (age 5) and Mr Meat-&-Potatoes (age 3) used to make most mealtimes about as joyous as stabbing myself in the eye. However after many mealtime disasters and much trial and error, I think I’m almost there with them reasonably able to consume most ingredients in moderate amounts. So I’m in a position to provide a helpful list of ways to get your children eating healthy food without complaint….

TIP 1:
Hiding healthy food in yummy meals

Some people are anti hiding food, thinking kids just need to learn to eat their vegetables. This is true. But my logic also states that once the kids are eating healthy food that’s hidden, their palates become used to the flavours and you can gradually reduce the amount you have to hide things until they will happily munch down anything.

Chop things small

Once food is grated or chopped finely, kids are much less able to identify and pick out foreign items. If it’s all mixed together in a yummy delicious meal that their tastebuds approve of, the battle is won. Use a grater, learn knife skills and invest in a mini food processor to make blitzing food quick and easy.

Keep it colourful

There’s a reason why kid’s toys are all bright. They love it! It attracts them and it looks fun. Use this logic in your mealtimes and you’ll have kids thinking ‘yum’ as soon as the plate is put down.

Kids love flavour

At some point around 8-12 months, both my kids went from loving bland, to needing much more challenging flavours. Don’t dumb food down thinking that they will prefer it. Sure, leave out the chili and olives, but experiment a little and you may be pleasantly surprised by how much the kids like interesting foods.


A British study found that 1 in 4 families ate the same meal on the same night of each week. If this works for you, fine. But my kids get really bored and uncooperative when being fed sausage rolls every Thursday night (I found this out the hard way). They like the surprise of ‘what’s for dinner’. It keeps it interesting and more playful.


Understand the current stage of your kid’s development and realise that it doesn’t matter if they don’t eat every meal. Perhaps it stems from the early frantic days when you shove as much milk into your kiddie as possible in the hope that they will sleep all night, but some days they are not hungry and do not need to eat. Maybe freeze their dinner, to avoid the frustration of scraping a whole bowl of food into the bin.

Plan Ahead

Yes, it’s boring. But it’s also a key to success. Know what’s for dinner before they ask you. It doesn’t mean you have to cook every night. When you do feel like cooking, make double batches and freeze portions so that even on hellish nights you have something good to give them.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset

This wonderful mantra is from Australian chef Bill Grainger. Visit him at It sums up a couple of important things – 1. What you see in front of you is dinner. I WILL NOT go and make you toast or open a tin of beans. 2. You must TRY what is in front of you. You don’t have to like it, but you must try it.

However, if you kids are visibly gagging over something, or even you concede that perhaps things didn’t go so well in the kitchen tonight, then offer them a banana or a bowl of cereal. No interesting specials like spaghetti in the tin or cheese on toast. Please don’t prepare food twice in a night – they will sniff food victory.

Look at your own diet

Kids copy you. Assess what you eat and make modifications so that you are setting a good example. Quit crappy snacks. Start eating fruit again. Include more vegies in your cooking and rediscover how good fresh food can be. Perhaps your mum wasn’t’ so great in the kitchen and perhaps you didn’t have a good introduction, but now is your chance to eat well.

TIP 10:
Distract yourself

I’ve taken up knitting. Truly. So that I can sit at the dinner table, am present and can participate in dinnertime talk without having to actually watch the carnage. I breathe deeply, remember lessons learnt from the Buddhism for Mothers book and remind myself that food flying around everywhere, being smeared on chairs, spat out and pushed aside is part of children being children. If I watch them my blood pressure rises and I start yelling. Knitting seems to be more of a positive activity than guzzling wine which incidentally does also distract me quite nicely.

So there you have it, they’re the top tips that I’ve discovered. But what are yours?…

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