Book review with Yangzhou Fried Rice

A week or so ago I finished another foodie memoir, Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper, written by an English lady by the name of Fuschia Dunlop (as the owner of a flowery name, I appreciate other floral first names and I love hers more than mine!). At the time I was struggling with the decision to add more meat to my diet, and I found the text quite heavy going at times for my still-vegetarian stomach. I’m glad I persevered – I really enjoyed her travel stories and she brought not only China but the Chinese people to life for me in ways I couldn’t previously imagine.

There were several reasons I was interested in this book; apart from the fact I love food memoirs, I’m also keen to expand my Asian cooking repertoire, and learn a little more about the kinds of foods my dad is eating. He’s been living in and around Shanghai for the past 12 months with his wife Jin, and often recounts his dining experiences. Here’s an excerpt from my dad’s recent email:

We recently visited some of Jin’s relatives in a Central China. You can see from this photo we are all sitting at a big round table – this seems to be standard at restaurants when more than about 6 people get together. One interesting thing about this is that all the dishes are on a central ‘lazy susan’, everyone uses their own chopsticks to help themselves from the centre. So, anyone with some lovely germs can spread them to all at the table, from their own mouth to their chopsticks to the central dish where everyone can get as many germs as they like. The food on the table is a variety of meats and vegetables, some soup and tofu. There will always be some sort of soup and always fish, always rice.

I sometimes go with Jin to the local food market, it is very interesting walking around there. The prices are quite cheap and the vegetables appear to be very fresh. The meats are interesting – Jin usually gets a couple of chickens, the chickens are chosen when they are alive, the man will then slit their throats, then give them a quick pluck and gutting before cutting them into small pieces for us to take home – everything goes into the pot at home including the head and feet. We also sometimes buy eels, they are also bought live and killed and cut up in front of us. Also at the market we can buy live turtles, live bullfrogs, etc – I don’t go much on them. Sometimes I see someone serving food with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth. I remember at a small cafe recently we were sitting outside, our order included fish which we chose live from a tank – the chef took the live fish from the tank and beat it to death on the pavement beside our table!

Can you spot my dad?!

I’m sure this is nothing new for millions (or gazillions) of people, but it’s very different to our style of eating. I grew up in a traditional Aussie home with Spaghetti bolognaise on the table – never an animal in sight!

Fuschia Dunlop first visited China in 1992 as an Asia-Pacific news editor, and chronicled her experiences over the next 15 years – upon arriving, she made the decision to “eat whatever the Chinese might put in front of me”. She not only recounts her amazing travel adventures and provides detailed historical anecdotes, but tantalises us with the flavours and textures she experienced whilst there.

Read this excerpt, from p.138.

Chinese chefs and gourmets talk often about ou gan, or ‘mouthfeel’. Certain textures are especially prized. Cui, for example, denotes a particular quality of crispness that is found in fresh crunchy vegetables, blanched pig’s kidneys, and goose intenstines, not to mention sea cucumbers that have been properly cooked. Cui crispeness offers resistance to the teeth, but finally yields, clearly, with a pleasant snappy feeling. It is distinct from su, which is the dry, fragile, fall-apart crispeness of deep-fried duck skin or taro dumplings. Some foods, like the skin of a barbecued suckling pig, can be described as su cui because they offer both types of crispness, simultaneously. … In the English language, with all its expressive beauty and startling diversity, it is hard to describe the appeal of a braised sea cucumber. Try as you might, you end up sounding comical, or revolting. A Chinese gourmet will distinguish between the bouncy gelatinous quality of sea cucumbers, the more sticky, slimy gelatinousness of reconstituted dried squid, and the chewy gelationousness of reconstituted pig’s foot tendons. In English, it all sounds like a dog’s dinner.

Dunlop not only wheedled her way into the kitchens of the eateries she favoured to take her own notes, but she became the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. She subsequently published two Chinese cookbooks which you can read more about on her website.

There are many descriptions of her favourite street-snack noodles, the meals she shared with villagers, and sumptious banquets, but the lengthy list of animals she devoured lingered the most in my kind… preserved duck eggs feature early on, and are swiftly followed by dog, cat, rabbit tongue, deer tail, chicken feet, goat testicles and rat brains, to name just a few. She also spoke about her feelings towards the use of MSG, and her last few chapters dealt with many ethical and legal issues facing the Chinese way of eating. Each chapter finishes with either a recipe or foodie notes, including a recipe for ‘Stewed Bear’s Paw’, for ‘illustrative purposes only’ she states!

Her Yangzhou Fried Rice sounded so different to the fried rice I’ve been making for years, so I naturally had to make it to see how it compared! I doubled her recipe because there was no way I was not getting leftovers out of this, but otherwise the ingredients are pretty much the same.

Yangzhou Fried Riceadapted from Shark’s fin & Sichuan Pepper, Fuschia Dunlop

  • 2 1/2 cups uncooked Jasmine rice (around 250g)
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 50g pork
  • 50g frozen or fresh prawns
  • 50g cooked ham or bacon
  • 50g cooked chicken
  • 50g frozen peas or soybeans (shelled edamame)
  • 50g bamboo shoots
  • 4 spring onions, green parts only
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 200 ml Chicken stock
  • 6 Tablespoon peanut oil

  1. Cook the rice using your preferred method (I use a rice cooker) and allow to cool.
  2. Soak the shiitake mushrooms for 30 minutes in hot water, then drain, remove stems and finely slice.
  3. Finely dice the pork, prawns, bacon, chicken and bamboo shoots, and finely slice the spring onions. Beat the egg and season with salt & pepper.
  4. Heat 3 Tablespoons oil in a hot wok, then add pork and prawns, stir-frying briefly until pork is just cooked. Add the bacon, chicken, and bamboo shoots and stir-fry until sizzling. Add the mushrooms and soybeans, then the Shaoxing wine and stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Season with salt and then remove to a separate bowl.
  6. Clean, dry and re-oil wok, add remaining oil and once heated, add beaten egg. Swirl around wok until half-cooked, then add rice and mix through. After a minute or two, add the cooked ingredients in their broth and mix well until combined. Add spring onions, season to taste with salt & pepper, and serve whilst hot.

Notes

* These quantities make around 6 serves as a main dish, or 10-12 as a side. Mr B. and I ate a big bowl each for dinner and have 4 tupperware containers in the freezer waiting for another meal – yippee!

My ‘normal’ fried rice, made almost weekly here because I love it so much, features a predictable mix of garlic, ginger, celery, spring onions and a good dash of soy and oyster sauce. I also load my version up with vegies, usually carrot, peas, capsicum, broccoli, mushrooms and corn spears. My version is much drier than this one.

This flavoursome rice is much more reminiscent of the Chinese take-away fried rice I remember from my childhood. I loved the softness and the variety of meaty flavours it contained, but I missed my vegies! I think in future I’ll meld this recipe with my own to try and come up with the ultimate fried rice recipe – any excuse to keep eating it!

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Fish & Cauliflower Pie with nutty carrots

My birth date is in March, and my star sign is Pisces – I’m a ‘mutable’ water sign, and I do truly follow the flow wherever it takes me. Ironically though, when it comes to cooking and eating fish, my experiences are fairly basic. After seeing Nami’s very impressive  Cantonese steamed Fish I’ve been thinking about fish an awful lot.

My experiences with fish to date include:

  • battered fish & chips being the takeaway of choice up and down the Eastern seaboard of Australia – I love those memories of the torn, greasy paper holding a piece of fish, a wedge of lemon and some soggy chips. I can remember not only where I’ve eaten the crunchiest chips (Burleigh Heads), the best calamari (our local – Mooloolaba Spit) and the tastiest fish (Watson’s Bay, Sydney), but the people I’ve shared those experiences with.
  • a few attempts at grilled fish during my uni days, using lemony & chilli foil parcels in a crappy oven in our share house.
  • eating tuna and onion sandwiches in a roadside park whilst on a road trip with my nan – oh my, how I despise tuna! Seriously, is it not the same as cat food?
  • Oktoberfest 2002 – watching a German man with a very long moustache eat a herring and onion roll. I had taken a pregnancy test that day in the hotel (I was about 10 weeks pregnant with Alex) and was feeling particularly squeamish. I still remember that fish head sitting alongside his moustache.

Random herring eating pic, thanks George – picture this man with a mo!

I ate fish as a vegetarian (pescatarian, whatever) but never made much effort to cook with it. Growing up, my dad wasn’t a big fish fan because he disliked getting the bones out. Funnily enough, Mr B’s dad is not a big seafood fan either because of a bone-stuck-in-the-throat experience, so it was never on the menu very often at home for me as a child or adult.

Whilst I would love to cook with fresh seafood more often, it’s ridiculously expensive. Our fabulous local fish catches are exported overseas and we either pay $10-$20 per kilo for inferior imported products of dubious origin, or $30+ per kilo for local options, not all of which are fresh.

I lashed out today and bought a big piece of perch – but not big enough to feed the whole family. I comprised and did what frugal mothers everywhere resort to – I made it stretch further. I knew I wanted to turn it into a pie of some description but needed more inspiration, so I turned to my new favourite ‘healthy’ cookbook, OMG! I can eat that?

Remember the zucchini pizza crust? It’s a firm favourite here now, and one of many recipes from Jane Kennedy’s second book that I’m certain I’ll be making a lot. Whilst I really loved her debut cookbook Fabulous Food, Minus the Boombah (reviewed here), her second book has won me over so much that I made encouraged my children to buy it for me for Mother’s Day. There are so many recipes that have grabbed my attention, and her fish ‘piemakin’ was one of them. She defines her ‘piemakins’ as pies served in ramekins without the boombah pastry. Perfect!

I adapted Jane’s recipe a little as I only had one piece of fish, and added some chopped prawns and peas to bulk out the seafood component.

Fish & Cauliflower Pies

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
  • 250ml (1 cup) fish or vegetable stock
  • 400g firm white fish fillets, cubed
  • 1/2 cup baby peas
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • tablespoon of chopped tarragon
  • tablespoon of chopped flat-leaf parsley

Topping

  • 1 cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish
  • 50g grated parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute onion and garlic until soft. Add wine and let it simmer for a few minutes. Stir in the wholegrain mustard, and season with salt & pepper.
  2. Add stock, stir through and let it bubble for a few minutes. Add fish (and prawns if desired), lemon juice, lemon zest, tarragon and parsley, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Cook cauliflower with milk in a saucepan or microwave until tender. Add yoghurt, horseradish, and season with salt & pepper. Process in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth – it should look like mashed potato.
  4. Transfer fish mixture to desired serving dish – use a shallow casserole dish, or 4 ramekins or pie tins. Top with cauliflower mix, sprinkle with parmesan and bake in oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden.

I served the individual fish pies with a carrot recipe I discovered in a hefty tome I borrowed from the library called Home Cooking. I gather it’s author, Rachel Allen, might be a bit of a big shot somewhere but I’ve never heard of her. Her fab carrots really called out to me from the pages though…

Buttered Carrots with a nutty crumble topping – serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 4 medium-large carrots
  • 60g butter
  • 30g flaked almonds
  • 60g breadcrumbs
  • 30g grated parmesan
  1. Peel carrots, slice into desired thicknesses and cook in saucepan or microwave until just tender.
  2. Melt butter in a frying pan until frothy, then pour 1/3 into a bowl for later.
  3. Add almonds to frying pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until golden, then add breadcrumbs and season with salt & pepper. Cook for another 2-3 minutes then stir through parmesan.
  4. Drain carrots and mix reserved melted butter throughout. Serve immediately as a side dish, with sprinkled crumble on top.

Notes

  • Rachel’s original recipe uses 15g of finely chopped hazelnuts and 15g of flaked almonds – I stuck with almonds this time. I also used parmesan instead of Gruyere, and omitted the chopped parsley she used, mostly because it was dark and I didn’t want to go out to the garden to get some!

These carrots were seriously good, although far too much crumble to carrot ratio – I have a whole container of it leftover, and hopefully it will still be crisp enough to use tomorrow. This photo doesn’t do justice to the nuttiness at work here, and it’s a big improvement on the fancy sesame honey carrots I learnt to make in  high school home ec classes.

The fish pie was a light and fulfilling meal – I was feeling particularly virtuous after eating such a healthy & satisfying dinner! I felt the tarragon was a little overwhelming so would cut back on that next time, but otherwise I really enjoyed the flavour, and the cauliflower mash is just genius.

Now if Mr B. and the kids could catch some more fresh fish, we’d be enjoying these dishes more often…no pressure honey!

Choc-Banana Ice-Cream Cake

A few days ago Alex celebrated his 9th birthday. We’ve stumbled upon a plan in our family that the kids get a big birthday party hoo-ha every second year, and on the alternate years we have a family dinner AND they get to choose the cake they want.

In past years the older kids have pored over my birthday cake books to choose things like blue dinosaurs or cupcakes ‘posies’.

This year when I asked Alex what kind of cake he wanted, there was no reaching for a cake book, no umming and ahhing, no hesitation whatsoever.

“A chocolate banana ice cream cake please”.

Okay mate, no worries. Such a specific request needs the utmost commitment and careful research, so I was on the case quick smart. Thanks to Mr Google I stumbled across this magnificent creation at Sweetapolita and decided to use it as my inspiration.

This cake had a chocolate biscuit base, a chocolate glaze, and two layers of banana ice cream with a brownie layer in the middle. Oh.Em.Gee. That’s a whole lotta chocolate and icecream for one little family dinner!

I modified it, spent quite a few hours on each step, and somehow got it all together in the end. It was actually quite an unattractive cake – but it’s all about what’s on the inside, right!

It’s quite a time consuming cake – there are lots of ‘waiting periods’ in between steps. I was in the kitchen making a ton of other things the day I made it so it didn’t bother me, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re pushed for time.

Choc-Banana Ice Cream Cake

Adapted from Sweetapolita‘s recipe here

Chocolate Crust

  • 115g butter
  • 220g dark chocolate
  • 380g chocolate cookie (eg Oreo) crumbs

Ice-Cream filling

  • 7 cups vanilla ice-cream (just under 2L)
  • 3 large frozen bananas

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup thickened cream
  • 1/4 cup liquid glucose
  • 170g dark chocolate
  1. Crust: Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave if you feel game. Stir until smooth.
  2. Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until they are reduced to fine crumbs, then gently mix them with the chocolate mixture until just combined. Put 1 cup aside for later. Press remaining crumbs onto base and sides of a round springform pan (mine is 23cm across & 6cm deep), and place in freezer until firm.
  3. Glaze: Melt cream and glucose in a small saucepan over medium heat until just bubbling, then add chopped chocolate and stir through until smooth. Allow to cool fr around 45 minutes.
  4. Ice-Cream filling: Wait for your ice-cream to soften slightly, then add to a large bowl. Allow frozen bananas to thaw on the bench for around 30 minutes, then process in food processor until smooth. Mix banana puree into ice-cream.
  5. Assembly: Spoon half of your ice-cream over the frozen crust and spread out evenly. Gently press your reserved crumb mixture over the ice-cream, then pour on the cup of cooled chocolate glaze. Level gently with a palette knife, then return to freezer for around an hour.
  6. Spread remaining ice-cream over glaze, then freeze again – for 4 hours at the least.
  7. Warm glaze gently over simmering water until slightly runny, then spread over top of ice-cream (I spread mine over the sides in lieu of the crumb crust, but this was difficult and didn’t look too pretty!).
  8. Sprinkle with decorations, then freeze overnight.
  9. When ready to serve, remove gently from springform pan then carefully transfer to serving plate. Use a large knife rinsed under hot water to slice.

Notes

  • This American recipe uses wafer biscuits for the crust…I’m only now realising that US wafer biscuits must differ from Aussie ones. The ones I bought were ‘Chocolte Cream Wafers’ and when mixed as directed, resulted in a thick and sludgy mixture quite unlike the biscuit crumb bases that I make for cheesecakes (which is what I’m assuming was required here!). There was no way my sludge was going to stick all the way up the sides of my springform pan, but I didn’t realise this until too late! I made the decision to use the entire mixture on the base and coat the sides with the glaze at the end. Not a good move – the base was very thick and although tasty, was just too overpowering. I would suggest using oreo cookies for the base to get the crumb consistency.
  • My springform pan has a slight incontinence problem, so I line it with baking paper to prevent leaks. Because I didn’t have a nice crumbed side, my ice-cream set straight into the folds of the baking paper leaving uneven surfaces. This made it even harder to frost – now I have a really good excuse to buy a new springform pan!
  • I omitted the brownie layer that featured in Sweetapolita’s cake, and just used a thin layer of chocolate crumb and then glaze instead. This gave a nice crunchy layer inside the ice-cream, but a soft brownie layer would have been nice too.
  • I had to put the chocolate glaze on over several sessions, freezing in between. I did this on a mild Autumn day, and still found melting was a problem – I wouldn’t attempt this on a QLD Summer day unless I had fantastic Air-Conditioning!

I was so glad this cake was all prepared the day before Alex’s birthday. It meant I could serve up dinner (Enchilada’s, as requested!), take it out of the freezer as we cleared the table, then it was ready for candles and singing.

There was some assistance needed with cutting – that centre layer slows you down, then you really need to put in some elbow grease when you get to the bottom crust – but once those slices hit the plates it was every man & child for themselves. Nom nom nom…

Banana ice-cream is amazing on it’s own…if I never bother doing this layered baby again, I will definitely be doing banana ice-cream in the future…a lot.

I tried to sway Alex into a caramel glaze…I was envisioning a banoffee pie flavour, and think the caramel would work fantastically with the banana…but he was adamant it had to be chocolate. He knows what he wants!

Zucchini Crust Pizza

Saturday nights are Pizza nights. We’re not terribly predictable people but come Saturday night, there is ALWAYS pizza for dinner, and probably a glass of wine or two.

I’m sure we used to do a lot of barbecues on the weekends, but as the child numbers grew homemade pizza’s became an appealing (and cheaper!) option, and it somehow ended up a regular event. The toppings can be adapted easily, they are cooked quickly, make great leftovers, can be made in advance and frozen, and because we frequently have visitors dropping by for dinner (lots of kids!) it’s no trouble to make a few extra to feed everyone.

And let’s face it – with 3 young kids we don’t get any better offers so eating pizza on a Saturday night is often the highlight of the week!

We used to think we were terribly clever, buying pre-made pizza bases or using pita or turkish bread, then making our elaborate tandoori chicken, pumpkin spinach & feta or potato & rosemary toppings. The kids ALWAYS just have cheese & ham, with salami if we have any.

A few years ago our friends Hayley & Damian came to stay for a few days with their son Luke, and Damian taught us how easy homemade pizza dough is to make… the recipe is still hastily scrawled in my recipe binder as ‘Damian’s pizza dough’, and the dough hook on the stand mixer makes it so easy & quick to make. Here’s the clincher though- I am absolutely useless at making the bases! I just don’t have a knack with bread…but Mr B. makes a ripper pizza base. Saturday nights are now as follows…

5pm – Mr B. works his pizza dough magic, lets it rise, then rolls out to size and puts on trays.

5.30pm – Bases get pre-cooked for a few minutes, then Mr B. yells out “Your turn” and disappears with his glass of wine.

5.35pm – I cut, dice, smear, drizzle & spread our favourite toppings, add mozzarella then bake for 10-12 minutes. Think about cleaning up kitchen but decide glass of wine is a better option.

6pm-ish – Dinner is on the table, bellies are happy with that floury, greasy familiarity and all is good in the world. Until a few glasses of wine hours later when we realise kitchen is still a mess.

So…Mr B. flew back to work this morning for a 2.5 week stint. It’s Saturday, and pizza’s are mandatory – it’s all on me. I spectacularly destroy the kids pizza base (not really, but mine really isn’t as good as Mr B’s!), and decide that I will make a zucchini pizza crust for myself because:

a. I’ve eaten far too many mocha brownies this past week and need a carb intervention.

b. I’ve read Jane Kennedy’s second cookbook OMG! I Can Eat That? (See her first cookbook reviewed here, this book reviewed soon) and her zucchini pizza crust recipe looked super easy & delish.

c. I’ve seen the cauliflower pizza crust recipe on pinterest repinned a gazillion times but I never have cauliflower in my fridge (I’ve tried…mine goes brown and gross within a day or two so I don’t bother with it very often…oh, and it gives me gas!) BUT I always have zucchini – bingo!

I adapted my zucchini crust recipe slightly from the original, here’s my version:

Zucchini Pizza Crust

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 egg
  • 50g mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 50g parmesan cheese, grated
  • passata, tomato paste, or pizza sauce
  • pizza toppings of choice
  • extra mozzarella
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C, and line your baking tray with a piece of baking paper (this is important, it will stick otherwise!).
  2. Grate the zucchini into a mixing bowl and squeeze out excess moisture, then whisk egg into the zucchini. Add grated cheeses and mix to combine.
  3. Heap the mixture onto the middle of the tray and shape into a circle.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden around the edges. Once out of oven, remove from tray but leave on baking paper to cool whilst you prepare your desired toppings. Turn oven up to 220°C.
  5. Spread gently with passata, tomato paste or pizza sauce. I topped mine with a little bacon, spinach, basil, mushrooms, red capsicum and sun dried tomato, then finished with mozzarella.
  6. Bake for another 10-12 minutes or until cheese is bubbling, cut and serve!

Verdict – really good. So good that I ate half the pizza. Then I ate the other half, kind of defeating the purpose of a healthier pizza huh? It was a small pizza though, really…

It was definitely much floppier than a dough base – maybe mine had so many toppings and was too top heavy, but it was a 2-hand deal. The zucchini has such a subtle flavour that it allows the toppings to really steal the show, and OMG no guilt! (Except if you eat the whole thing yourself – don’t do that).

I’m not sure it would win over die-hard pizza fans, but it would definitely win over low-carb folks who still want a tasty pizza…I’m a convert.

And did anyone notice the bacon? As in, I’ve decided I need to add a little meat to my diet, ever so slowly though – I feel like being vegetarian has been part of my ‘identity’ for so long (only 3 years in reality!) I’m feeling quite nervous about it. Like coming out of the meat closet maybe. I’ve been so low in energy levels for ages, and the feta and pine nuts for protein just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’m finding the transition quite difficult so far, but Mr B. keeps telling me it’s all in the head! Baby steps for now…

Anyone else become un-vegetarian lately?

What’s for dinner mum? Making food fun (so they’ll want to eat it!)

Years ago Jessica Seinfeld’s first cookbook Deceptively Delicious was released – I succumbed to the hysteria and bought a copy (and I’ve been trying to sell it on fishpond ever since!). Her recipes were touted as the answer to those meal-time nightmares where fussy children won’t touch their vegies so that frustrated mama’s give in and feed them rubbish. It involved lots of ‘normal’ things that kids love, with stealthily-hidden healthy stuff thrown in. Think Macaroni Cheese with added cauliflower puree, mini pizza’s with a layer of spinach under the toppings, and muffins with carrot puree.

Her recipes involved lots of pureeing bulk amounts of vegetables, and to be perfectly honest Jessica, your brownies did not fool me OR my kids…they were gross.

I can understand how cookbooks like these might be an absolute lifesaver for frazzled mothers everywhere, and if that’s what works for you, go for it. But really, as Mr B. likes to say “it’s not rocket science people”.

Firstly, mothers everywhere have been grating carrot & zucchini into their spag bol for decades…any dish involving any kind of mince can be bulked out with a combination of vegies and/or beans or pulses to not only make it healthier but make it go further.

Secondly, why do we have to always ‘hide’ the vegies?

Yes yes, I know what it’s like, I have a fussy child too…a non-vegie eater. Guess what? The vegies get served up to her every night – she is not forced to eat them, but if she doesn’t, there’s nothing else. We’ve tried every form of bribery encouragement under the sun, and nothing works. But we persist, and we model good eating in front of her. The boys are both great vegie eaters so we’ll let her develop a taste for vegetables in her own time. As an adult I certainly don’t like every vegetable out there so it would be slightly hypocritical for me to force those on my children.

I’d love to be able to dish up a stir fry or vegie stack every night and expect everyone to eat it without complaint, but it’s not going to happen yet. I try to keep dinner times interesting for everyone by making meal times fun – I don’t want my kids to be making waffle houses like Drew Barrymore (50 First Dates) every morning, but I’m quite okay with them enjoying the dinner experience by becoming involved in it.

Tonight I decided to make a trio of dips (I’ve heard these are terribly naff now, but my kids don’t know what that word means so it doesn’t matter!) with some vegetable crudités and mini chicken-ball dippers.

I was in the kitchen making a birthday cake most of the day so I made the dips whilst I was waiting for cake parts to set, and the chicken balls before the kids got home from school. Half an hour before dinner time I put the chilled chicken balls in the oven, sliced and toasted some Turkish bread, and cut up the vegetables.

I got terribly creative and called my dip trio Traffic Light dips, because they vaguely resembled a red/orange/green combination. Obviously my ‘red’ dip is more of a magenta but I knew the beetroot would be better received than a red capsicum or tomato-based dip. Dips are one of those fantastic things that are so easy to whip up and any leftovers are great for snacking on the next day, spreading on a sandwich or even as a pizza spread.

Traffic Light Dips

I made a beetroot & feta dip, carrot & chickpea dip, and an edamame dip, and served them with celery, capsicum and carrot sticks, toasted turkish bread and my mini chicken balls as dippers. I only used ingredients I already had in the pantry, fridge or freezer so I made some adaptations along the way…

Beetroot & Feta dip – I basically googled beetroot dips and came up with my own version, throwing things into the food processor willy nilly. Not really, but I probably couldn’t recreate the same dip again if I tried! I’d love to tell you I found some lovely fresh beetroot at the local farmers market this morning, roasted it, lovingly peeled it and then whizzed it up…the truth is I used my foraging skills to deftly prise a tin of baby beets from the pantry, put my technical skills to work on the can-opener, then used my magnificent fine motor skills to drain the liquid into the sink. Then I literally dumped the beets into the food processor…look, I was in the middle of making a cake and I didn’t want bits of fresh beetroot flung all over the kitchen, I’m a messy cook and the tinned version was really the best option for everyone, trust me! I added 200g of feta, some crushed garlic, thyme and coriander, and salt & pepper. This was the clear winner – very tasty.

Carrot & Chickpea dip – adapted from eat, taste, nourish. One tin of drained chickpeas in the food processor along with a grated carrot, drizzle of olive oil and seasoned with paprika, cumin, lemon juice and honey. We found this a little thick which made it hard for dipping, but was delicious.

Edamame dip – I shelled a bag of frozen edamame (very therapeutic, popping them all into the bowl!) and combined in the food processor with the juice of 1 lime and seasoned with salt, toasted sesame oil, canola oil and rice wine vinegar. This had a fantastic bright colour and a very distinct asian flavour, but I think I still prefer steamed edamame fresh out of the pods.

The Mini Chicken ball dippers are basically a variation on a standard recipe I also use to make chicken rissoles and wrap in puff pastry to make chicken rolls. This recipe made 45 golf-ball sized chicken balls which I cooked in the oven, but you could pan fry them if you prefer.

Mini Chicken balls

  • 500g chicken mince
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 medium sweet potato, grated
  • coriander and soy sauce to season
  • plain flour, for coating
  1. Place all ingredients except flour in a food processor and mix until combined. Use desired amounts of coriander and soy sauce to taste.
  2. Roll into golf-ball sized balls with the palms of your hand, then roll gently in flour to coat.
  3. Spread on a baking tray, baste with a little olive oil, and bake at 180°C for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve hot with little picks and dips or dipping sauce.

This was a really cute meal to serve, and the possibilities for variations are endless. The chicken balls are also a great party-food, and there’s enough left over to put in lunchboxes tomorrow. Alex has already requested his on a sandwich with some mayo! Personally I’m looking forward to more of that beetroot dip….mmmmmmm.

* Edited to add…seriously freaky coincidence occurred literally minutes after publishing this post. After saying no to waffle houses, guess what I just stumbled upon via pinterest?

Waffle furniture would sure make breakfast fun, but I’d never get my kids to leave the table and actually get ready for school!

Mocha Brownies..not to be neglected!

Those who know me well know that I’m a serial coffee neglecter.

It’s nothing against coffee – I neglect my tea too. I take care to store coffee the ‘correct’ way, and I have a lovely segregated tea box complete with labels for all the different varieties. I can even make tea relatively well – as much as dunking the tea bag and adding a splash of milk is considered praisable. Coffee is Mr B’s forte though – coffee is his thing.

The problems arise for me once the hot drink is made and placed on the bench/coffee table/desk. I start off with good intentions, sipping my way through the first few hot mouthfuls, and then without fail, I’m distracted…

The washing machine beeps, the phone rings, the children start bickering, the dishwasher beeps, the doorbell rings…or I just get up to do something I’ve suddenly remembered, and completely forget to get back to my tea or coffee in a timely fashion.

I’m constantly being reminded by someone ‘Your coffee is getting cold”. “Yes, I know, I’ll get back to it” I reply. And when I do, it’s always cold, or lukewarm at the very least.

It’s ironic because I’ve only been a coffee drinker for the past 5 years or so, and before that I despised iced coffee. I can’t tell if I’ve become accustomed to it cold now, or I’m just so addicted to caffeine that my taste buds don’t care what the temperature is!

Last night I made mocha brownies – partly because I was looking for a caffeine hit that didn’t mind sitting on the bench waiting for me to remember it (hardly a problem in this case!), but also because I wanted to try a ‘Pioneer Woman’ recipe.

Being Australian, I grew up with Margaret Fulton and Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks. As the years went on I discovered Stephanie Alexander, Donna Hay and now a whole host of ‘home cook tried their hand on tv and produces cookbook’ cooks, but there are still so many cookbooks out there whose authors are completely unknown to me.

One name I see popping up all over the place is The Pioneer Woman. Everyone seems to be raving about PW recipes, so I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I have to admit, I was expecting a demure Little House on the Prairie bonnet-wearing type, so after I borrowed one cookbook from the library and had a little squiz at her website, I’d changed my tune.

Ree Drummond is not only hilarious, but leads a pretty full-on ranching life in Oklahoma, home-schooling her four kids and being a pretty impressive baker/photographer/blogger.

Her recipes feature step-by-step instructions with plenty of photographs along the way, and her cookbooks show a glossy ranching life, her family, dogs, horses, and the cattle, of course.

Obviously many of her recipes are heavy on the meat…no problem, I’ll make something sweet. What’s that I see, mocha brownies? Sweet and caffeine in one go? I’m onto it.

The brownies were quick to whip up, but need time to chill completely before topping with the mocha icing. If you’ve got a morning tea deadline, make them the night before. I’d also recommend inviting around your neighbours, postman and long-lost cousins to help you eat them, or take a very large plateful to your workplace, otherwise you’ll be buying bigger sized jeans next week – they are sinfully delicious and contain a truckload of sugar and butter!

I also halved the icing recipe because I literally felt ill looking at the quantities of icing sugar & butter in that alone – it still provided a very thick layer of icing so I’ll stick to my quantities in future too.

Mocha Brownies

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Ingredients

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 115g unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1 ¼ cups plain flour

Mocha Icing

  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 ½ cups icing sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 to ½ cup coffee, cooled to room temp
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  2. In a medium bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, then drop mixer to low speed and add melted chocolate. Add vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Add the flour and mix until just combined.
  4. Pour brownie batter into a greased or lined baking pan* , even out the surface with a spatula, and bake in oven for 40-45 minutes. The centre should be just firm.
  5. Set aside to cool – at least an hour.
  6. Icing – Combine butter, icing sugar, cocoa, salt and vanilla, and mix until just combined. Add 1/3 cup cooled coffee and whip until it reaches a light, fluffy consistency. If it’s too thick, add more coffee.
  7. Spread icing over brownies – it should result in a very thick layer! Refrigerate until firm, then cut into slices.

Notes

* Original recipe uses an 8-inch square baking pan…I used my 32 x 22.5cm deep pan lined with baking paper and it was the perfect size.

* PW recommends a slice of this with ice-cream and hot fudge sauce for dessert – agahhhh I’m drooling already….

Any other notable caffeine recipes I should know about?

Coconut Lime Cupcakes

What happens when you are given a huge bag of limes from a friend’s backyard? You start looking for every lime recipe known to man (or woman, more likely) and you get baking.

You decide on the tropical-sounding Coconut Lime Cupcakes first because it’s a miserable, rainy day and you’d like to imagine you’re on a sunny Caribbean Island soaking up some rays…and then you get that song stuck in your head. You know what I’m talking about, and now it’s stuck in your head, isn’t it!

You put the lime in the coconut,
You drank them both up

You put the lime in the coconut,
You drank them both up…

repeat over and over until you drive everybody crazy, basically. Thank you Harry Nilsson (and The Baha Men, Dannii Minogue and Jimmy Buffet, amongst others who’ve covered it…I think even Kermit the Frog did a version?) for recording such a catchy Calypso number that has stood the test of time.

So you really do put the lime in the coconut in this recipe…let me elaborate:

Coconut Lime Cupcakes – makes 12

Adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarb soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut

Frosting

  • 125g butter
  • 1 ½ cups icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 1 ½ cups coconut flakes
  • sliced or candied limes, to decorate
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line 12-hole muffin tin with cupcake cases.
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Once melted remove from heat but allow to stay warm in saucepan.
  3. In medium bowl, mix together melted coconut oil and sugar, then stir through coconut milk, milk, vanilla and lime zest until combined.
  4. Add flour, baking soda and bicarb soda and salt. Mix until smooth then add coconut and stir until combined.
  5. Distribute amongst cupcake cases, and bake for 23-25 minutes until the top has some springiness. Allow to cool completely.
  6. Beat butter in stand mixer (or by hand) for 6-8 minutes until pale and creamy, then add sifted icing sugar and lime juice and beat for a further 10-15 minutes until light and fluffy. Stir through lime zest.
  7. Spread frosting onto cupcakes, and roll in coconut flakes until covered. Decorate with lime slices or candied lime slices as desired.

I’d recommend not making a double batch like I did today, because even though we each had one for morning and afternoon tea, gave away a plateful to the lime-tree owner as thanks, and squirelled some away for tomorrow, you’ll get to 9pm and realise you’re up to #3 for the day…oops.

This was a seriously delectable way to use up…3 limes. So stay tuned for another 17 lime recipes over the next week…unless I just buy a case of Corona’s and call it a day!