Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Indonesian Style Chicken (But why?)

I’m always a bit suspicious when something is a ‘style’ of something. Indonesian ‘style’ chicken? Why isn’t it just ‘Indonesian chicken’?

Maybe because I was cooking it and didn’t have half the ingredients and – as usual - didn’t actually follow the recipe. But still, the questions stands.

When is something a ‘real’ thing, and when is it just ‘in the style of…’
This is what it's meant to look like (courtesy Jason Thomas)

We had been invited to my in-laws house to celebrate a birthday. So while my husband did two gym classes and a swimming lesson, I marinated and cooked a kilo and half of chicken and baked and decorated a chocolate mousse birthday cake. With a baby and a three year old trying to ‘help’.

Hardly seems fair, does it. But that’s really a story for another blog….

Indonesian style chicken involves marinating chicken pieces in garlic, buttermilk, soy sauce and sambal oelek. Except I didn’t use the sambal oelek because the kids would freak out. First gong.
On no planet does this buttermilk and soy marinade look delicious

Then I read that you were meant to take the skin off the chicken pieces. I hate skinning chicken, partly because I love eating chicken skin, so taking it off before it’s roasted just seems cruel and unusual. Also because skinning chicken is messy and disgusting. So I ignored that part. Second gong.

The 3 year old was very proud of her cake decorating skills

After three hours (during which I made a layer cake and chocolate mousse) I mixed together self-raising flour, lemon pepper and chicken salt in a bowl.

I was meant to be mixing plain flour, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper and celery salt. Third gong.

Would someone explain what celery salt is?
Too early for wine unfortunately...
Then the wet soggy chicken goes into the flour making a huge mess on your hands just at the exact time the baby starts eating power cords. At this point, KFC was looking very appealing but I persisted.

The recipe told me to put the chicken on a wire rack and bake for 30-40 minutes. So for some reason I did this, but I put the wire rack over a water bath. The recipe didn’t tell me to, and I’m not sure why I would want nice crispy roast chicken to be steamed over hot water. Let’s just say, it took a bit longer than 40 minutes to cook, but gee it was moist inside.
Mine didn't turn out as orange-looking, must be the absence of chilli
And the three year ate two drumsticks before I dragged her away protesting.

My thoughts

The cookbook says this is a great alternative to fast food and is perfect cold for picnics. I don’t doubt this for a second, but there is also a reason why they call KFC ‘fast’ food.

Just saying…
They were finally done around half past twelve

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Steak and Guinness Pie (Preparing for the Worst)

I was preparing for the worst.

I had prepared for the fact that I would probably have to take three children to the bottle shop to buy my can of Guinness. It’s always a good look to have as many children as possible with you when you are buying booze.

Anything topped with pastry is my friend (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

I had also prepared for the fact that I would spend hours cooking and that no one under the age of ten would look twice at dinner. It would be brown and chunky. It would have obvious chunks of mushroom. It would be difficult to convince them that the meat was ‘chicken’.

Imagine my surprise that neither of these worst case scenarios came to pass.

First I got to pop into the Bottle-O on my own (where I had a lovely chat with the bloke who runs it, with whom I am practically on a first name basis. Cough. He asked me where my kids were.)

Since it was a single can of Guinness, I simply stuck it in my handbag. I realised afterwards that it looked a bit suss, either that I pinched it, or that I was a bit of a drunk. Only one of those is true.
Actually... yuck
I also bought a great hunk of chuck steak, perfect for slow cooking, some perky button mushrooms and some fresh rosemary.

I remember having Guinness Pie almost two decades ago, with a good friend who frequented his local Irish pub with gusto. He introduced me to Guinness Pie that night, but I actually think that what I made was even better. I just wish I could have shared it with him.

However, I am pleased to say that my children ate this pie with gusto. Surprisingly so, since it’s not really a good looking pie: brown, with brown lumps and brown gravy.

But there are some surprise ingredients: red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, seeded mustard, tomato paste and best of all: cranberry sauce.

Ok, I didn’t actually have cranberry sauce, but I had been to Ikea so I had an almost full jar of Lingonberry jelly. Same thing, right?

Oh, and did I mention the bacon? This is how I got my kids to eat the pie in the first place. I told them it was bacon pie.
Is there any better way to start a meal than with bacon and onion?
There were a few hairy moments when I opened the can of beer and the whole thing practically exploded and I lost half of it (I forgot about it rolling around in my handbag for an hour). But for some reason I had the forethought of putting the can in the sink so it mostly just went in there, where it conveniently softened up a half-eaten bowl of Weetbix from breakfast that had hardened into concrete.

Then when I tipped the requisite 300ml into the frypan with the bacon and chuck steak it fizzed up rather alarmingly and I thought I would be cleaning it off the floor, but it subsided.
This was the last photo in the sequence, the others were blurry and steamy as the beer threaten to takeover the entire kitchen
The recipe suggests simmering everything over a low heat for an hour and a half, but I have trust issues. Not sure if it’s my stovetop I don’t trust or me I have problems with. I felt more secure popping the whole thing into a casserole and letting it cook in the oven for a couple of hours.

When the pie was safely cooking in the oven I glanced over at the almost empty can of beer. It would be a shame to waste it I thought, and it was after twelve o’clock. I took a small sip.

Bleugh. I hoped the pie doesn’t actually taste of Guinness, I thought.

I briefly considered using a mashed potato topping instead of puff pastry (for ‘health reasons’), but then I remembered who I was. I topped it with pastry and had the mash on the side.

This was my finished pie. Doesn’t look too bad, does it.
Would have been even better if the pastry overlapped the sides

My thoughts

It was a winner. All those interesting flavours luckily combined to make a slightly sweet genuinely moreish pie, that everyone ate and thank god, didn’t actually taste of Guinness.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Where's the Beef? (If Beef Were Words)

People have been asking lately why I haven't been posting here.

The answer is simple: I got sick of cooking for kids who did not appreciate my culinary efforts.

To be fair, I seem to have had more disasters than successes when it came to replicating the recipes in this book, but even when I was dishing up alleged favourites the finicky three would inevitably complain about something.

So every now and then I have been serving them cereal at dinner time, and even though it was meant to be a punishment, they were quite ecstatic about the arrangement.

It's one of those rare parenting win/win situations.

My main concern has been the lack of vegetables the fussy niblets would consume on breakfast night, but ever since a friend pointed out the quintessential Aussie cereal cornflakes, I feel much better.

I will make a concerted effort to get my project up and running again soon. After all, there is an entire breakfast section.

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.