Sunday, April 28, 2013

BBQ Sauce (How to tart things up)

My folks are keen travellers. A less charitable person might say they are madly spending all our inheritance, but I have a grudging respect for their worldliness. Very grudging sometimes, on this next trip they will be missing Dad’s 65th, Mothers’ Day and my daughter’s 6th birthday.

So, two days before they embark on their next big adventure we decided we would meet in the park for a picnic with my sister and her kids.

Picnic food. Hmmm.

I decided that meatballs would be a sufficiently finger friendly food to bring along. I threw some things in the bowl, but when I tasted one after they were cooked I was less than impressed.

These need some serious tarting up, I thought.
The BBQ sauce, image courtesy Jason Thomas

It was then I remember a recipe for BBQ sauce in the cookbook. Its subtitle was that it could be used to ‘dress up dishes that might otherwise be dull.’
My meatballs had dull written all over them. I needed this BBQ sauce.

Turns out BBQ sauce is onions, apple and tomato with a bit of butter and brown sugar for luck. It was easy to make, and even though the dire state of my pantry meant I used tinned tomatoes with basil&oregeno instead of the required passata, and I omitted the chilli because my kids would freak out…
[‘Ahhhhh no, we can’t eat chilli, we might burn up and diiieeee’]
Bung it all in a pot. Easy as
…the resultant sauce was quite tasty.
… so tasty in fact that I gave the leftovers to my sister (after she gave some subtle hints about how fantastic it was).

I made two jars... so I didn't mind giving one away
My thoughts
One of the things I love about my family is that they always make an effort when it comes to food. Sure, there are nights when we pull stuff out of a box or tin, but for big family events (or even small family events) you can see that dishes are made from scratch and with love.  
Cooking for each other is how we show our love: planning a menu, taking the time to make special dishes. We have got to the stage in our lives that we don’t really buy gifts anymore, but it’s not uncommon to make a multiple course dinner. A degustation if you will.

More food=more love.


Happy birthday Dad and Happy Mothers’ Day Mum xxxx

Mum and Dad on their wedding day, 1971

Friday, April 26, 2013

Aussie Pavlova (The Back Seat Chef)

The Australian flag pavlova from the book, image courtesy Jason Thomas

‘Is that what yours is going to look like?’ my husband asked quite seriously, pointing at the picture in the book.

‘Nope,’ I said. ‘But only because blueberries were $7 a punnet and you need two punnets and I couldn’t find strawberries to save my life.’ I was cracking eggs into my KitchenAid. There was no way I would consider this recipe if I had to beat the egg whites by hand. By that I mean, using a hand mixer.

Sidenote: how on earth did they make the first meringues prior to the invention of electric hand mixers. They must have literally whipped them by hand, it would have taken hours. Boring.

It was noon on Anzac Day and since I had already missed my opportunity to make this Australian flag pavlova for Australia Day, I was determined to make it for the next big Aussie holiday. Maybe I could spell ANZAC out in blueberries…

Leaning tower of egg shells

Husband noticed I was separating eggs.

‘Haven’t you made it yet?’ he asked, concerned.

‘No, why?’ I responded completely oblivious.

‘Did you actually read the recipe?’ he said. I finished cracking the last egg. I had made an executive decision to make ¾ of the recipe because I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with eight egg yolks. Six was so much more manageable. Not.

‘Yes,’ I told him. ‘It needs to cook for an hour and a half. It will be out of the oven by two thirty, so there.’ Mature response, Shannon.

‘Yes, but did the read the bit about how it needs to cool. In the oven.’



So I did what any self-respecting home chef did, and I Googled it. According to some baby forum it can take up to two hours for an oven with a pavlova in it to cool. It has to cool slowly or else it cracks.

YummyWebMummy#45 says ‘don’t make pavlova if you have to use the oven for other things, or make it last so it has plenty of time to cool.’

Bugger. I had planned on roasting some vegetables for a salad to serve at my Anzac Day BBQ. Looks like salad was going to be off the menu.

‘You know what I’m going to subtitle this post?’ I asked my husband. ‘The back-seat driver. Or back-seat chef…’ I snarked at him.

‘Did you remember to put the vanilla in?’ he replied.

It’s easy as sin to make a pavlova (provided you have some gadget to beat the egg whites for you). A lot of egg whites, a pinch of salt, an enormous quantity of sugar and then a sprinkle of cornflour and white vinegar.

I scraped the meringue out and was very tempted to leave it in this rather exotic shape.

One day I am determined to make a pav that looks like this

But then I decided it might take even longer to cool, so I carefully sculpted it into something resembling a rectangle (that a toddler might draw).

Into the oven and half the afternoon later, it was done.
I can always blame the dodgy shape on the kids
It wasn’t looking too fancy but then I read in the recipe that you were meant to invert it onto a plate. Whoopee, a cake’s bottom always looks better than the top, so why wouldn’t this rule also apply for a pav?

Except my pav’s bottom seemed to have a case of sugar pimples. I don’t know, maybe I didn’t beat the sugar in properly, but the base was dotted with delicious sticky and sweet (but disturbing looking) brown balls. Crap.

Hmmm don't remember seeing that in the recipe book

Until I read the next step: cover liberally with cream. Yay.

I felt a bit silly turning my pav into an Aussie flag so I decorated it like this instead. Cool huh.

Ta da!

It was a raging success. It was all marshmallowy and soft in the middle. Everyone had at least two helpings. My almost-six year did some Jedi mind-tricks and had three helpings. Possibly four.

My thoughts

It was only the next day that I was thinking about the whole oven-cooling-no-cracking thing.

If you invert it on a plate and/or cover it with cream anyway, who cares if it cracks?

What do you know YummyWebMummy#45 ?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sesame oven-fried chicken (Finger Lickin’ Good)

My kids will eat chicken, ham, fish and sausages. The other white meats. Meat isn’t allowed to be red (or pink or brown) because that’s ‘yucky’.

So my kids eat a lot of “chicken”. Notice the inverted commas… “chiiiicken” which between you and me, can be anything from beef to pork to veal and anything in between. As long as it is disguised, usually by a layer of crispy crumbs.
Hone-made fast food (image courtesy Jason Thomas)
One of their favourites is the crumbed chicken tenderloins that a number of the big chicken companies make, and that the fast food companies also deep-fry lovingly for our youth. So when I came across this recipe in Essence, I thought ‘righto, I am going to make my own ‘fast food’ and they are going to LOVE IT’.

Any dinner that require shaking food around in a snaplock bag has to be a winner

It certainly is quick. Beat an egg with some milk, dip the tenderloin, then throw one at a time into a zip-lock bag which has flour, garlic powder, paprika and sesame seeds.

Is that food Mum? I want it. I don't care if it's raw chicken...

Then I started showing off. Despite the fact that the baby was hollering at the gate (it had been at least ten minutes since she ate and was – apparently –starving) I decided to double-dip my chicken. What? I didn’t want to waste all the leftover egg.

The recipe then suggests tipping half a cup of melted butter over the battered tenderloins. Now I love butter, I’m a great fan, but even I baulked at the thought of half a cup of melted butter on half a kilo of chicken. I opted for the spray oil instead.

By this stage though, all three of the kids were wailing that they were staaaaaarving. I had a banana cake baking in the oven but the prospect of listening to the terrible three moaning about how sore their tummies were for another half an hour was too much. And I had already poured my first glass of champagne.
It's not really that much... it's just the angle of the camera. Right?
So I put the tenderloins into the oven with the banana cake, which subsequently ended up with a lovely savoury garlicky flavour.

In 15 minutes they were done.

This was how they turned out.
Just like the book!
Well, if I must be honest, those were the three best ones that I served up for my husband. This is how the rest of them turned out.
Not quite so much like the book
Maybe I should have opted for the butter, then they might not have stuck quite so much when I turned them over.

Regardless, I really thought I was onto a winner with this one. They looked like they might have come out of a fast food box, but they were 100% home made.

This was the verdict:

Miss almost-six: What’s this crunchy stuff? There are bits in it? Are they nuts, I don’t like nuts. What’s this red dot? Is that chilli. I don’t like chilli.

Miss three: where’s the tomato sauce? Can I take the crunchy skin off?

Miss one: gronf gronf, nope, I’m going to chuck it on the floor

Husband: needs sauce

Me: you people suck, I’m going eat your leftovers

And so I did.


My thoughts

My kids are spoiled and it is entirely my own fault.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Oyako Donburi (Stone Age Chicken)

This little beauty is the ultimate in one-dish cooking, which was lucky, because most of our kitchen utensils and dishes were dirty and piled high on the sink.
This is what it looks like when you use the correct ingredients (image courtesy Jason Thomas)
It was just one of those days. Collect one kid from school, try and spend some ‘quality time’, then get to daycare to collect the other two, then start the mother juggling act:

-          Hungry screaming baby who wants food, no I want to be picked up, no I want food, dirty nappy, where’s my food, she stepped on meeeeeee

-          Hungry six year old who swears she’s ‘staaaaarving’

-          Homework requirements, ‘how do you spell rhinoceros’

-          Accompanying three year old to toilet, ‘why are wees yellow?’

-          Breaking up fights

-          Feed the baby

-          Bath the baby

-          Convincing the other kids to keep their clothes on

-          And try and cook dinner for four people all with different preferences and requirements.

And I managed this without a glass of wine. No seriously.

Chicken donburi is the classic chicken and egg dish. In a saucepan you bring dashi stock, soy sauce, sugar and mirin to a boil. Then you add sliced onion and boil a bit. Then you add chopped chicken thigh and simmer. When the chicken is done and the stock has reduced, you throw in some beaten eggs, which cook in the heat, setting everything like a big chicken-and-egg existential omelette, which you serve with steamed rice.

Sounds gross? It’s really really not.

Ok, maybe a little gross

Except in my kitchen things never seem to go smoothly, especially at 5pm when I have three feral kids all dying of something or other.

The recipe requires mirin. Mirin is a rice wine, a bit like sake but with less booze.  Personally I don’t know why you’d bother, which is probably why when I looked in the cupboard we didn’t have mirin. We had sushi rice seasoning and rice wine vinegar. Crap.

AND they were both out of date. Double crap.
2010? Man, that was three years ago!
But I had passed the point of no return with this dinner. My limited remaining brain capacity could not comprehend another dish made with chicken thigh and beaten eggs, so I was forging ahead, regardless of having the wrong ingredients that would probably give us all food poisoning.

I didn’t know which of the alternative ingredients to use, so I used a bit of both. I also threw in some Swiss Brown mushrooms because I had found another donburi recipe which called for them, and I thought it would be a great way to up the veggie quota of dinner, especially since there was no chance in hell I was making any sides tonight.
Sorry, wrong eggs
When my husband finally stepped through the door, he was greeted by two naked little girls playing Barbie dolls and one rather grumpy wife. We threw the kids in the bath, begging them to play quietly and not wake the baby up while I finished making dinner.

It smelled great.

It's one of those dishes that taste better than it looks

We sat down to eat.

And we both choked on the first mouthful. It wasn’t the out of date seasonings – it was the rice. I had cooked basmati and it was so very very wrong for this Japanese dish.

‘Don’t we have sushi rice,’ he asked bravely. I ignored him.

‘I appreciate you cooking dinner every night,’ he continued. ‘But you don’t have to. We can have sandwiches,’ he said.

I ignored him.

I wish I’d had that glass of wine.


My thoughts

What thoughts? I told you my brain capacity is severely limited.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fish with Star Anise (I Think I Made a Moon-Rock)

They say a cook should never blame their tools when things go wrong.

They don’t say you should never blame your husband though.

Tonight’s dinner was meant to be a nod to his healthy eating. Maybe not the rice part, or the half cup of brown sugar. But certainly the fish part was meant to be healthy.
It's safe to say that mine did NOT end up looking like this (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

Snapper fillets are lightly dusted with cornflour, pan-fried and then steamed in a fragrant sauce made with sesame oil, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, five spice and star anise.

The recipe promised a sticky sweet sauce.

I left my husband in charge and what we ended up with was a burnt disk of aniseed caramel. Except even that sounds so much nicer than it actually was.

It solidfied to the density of a volcanic moon-rock and smelled AWFUL
It’s not really his fault. I had been dragging my feet, as I am wont to do at the end of the weekend. I didn’t really feel like cooking so when he started getting the ingredients out and began mixing the sauce, I was hardly inclined to step in and take over.

I did remember that according to the rules of the Project I was meant to be making the recipes. But I made the damn rules so I feel justified in breaking them. As long as I am present in the room when the recipe is being made, then surely that must count.

He put the sauce on to reduce as I tended to a one year old with a broken leg, a three year old with a grazed knee and a five year old with a sore foot that "was probably broken and so Daddy must X-ray it and make me a cast."

Uh. No.

At this point I realised I had neglected to mention to him that I had only bought half as much fish as the recipe required, therefore the sauce he was simmering was twice as much as we needed. He didn’t dignify my declaration with a response.

The sauce is bubbling merrily away while the kids complain loudly in the background

The sauce had reduced to a thin syrup and was smelling pretty good. At this point he put the fish into the pan, seared it quickly, tipped the sauce in, and turned down the heat.

Except he didn’t turn down the heat.

He turned it up full and began boiling the fish into the same sticky black consistency they make roads with.

What do you mean it doesn't look like the picture in the book?
"The burning smell is just caramelisation," he told me.

"I think it’s just a burning smell," I told him, taking the lid off.

We stared into the pan at our $30 a kilo fish. As soon as the lid came off the syrupy sauce which had been bubbling away merrily only moments before, suddenly began to solidify.

"Quick, grab a bowl and line it with paper towel," he hissed at me. He is remarkably good in a crisis.

We took the fish out and began scraping the sludge out of the pan into the bowl. It was hardening so quickly the spoon almost stuck to pot, and long shards of black savoury sugar set as I tried to scrape it onto the paper towel.

Luckily the stir fried vegetables with pine nuts he had made as a side (and had been tending to lovingly while he was wilfully neglecting the fish) was both delicious and not burned.

Now fish is supposed to flake. It is supposed to melt in the mouth.

I had to get a steak knife for mine. It was a little tough.

This is not the first time this has happened.

My thoughts:

I imagine in the hands of someone more competent with fish than we, this would be a beautiful dish.

Today was not that day.