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!

I feel like Chicken Tonight, like Chicken Tonight…or maybe soup?

Last week I picked up a cookbook from the library called Fabulous Food, Minus the Boombah – it wasn’t just the catchy title that grabbed my attention but that the author is none other than Jane Kennedy, a comedic heroine from my teenage days.

Anyone over the age of 30 who has grown up in Australia surely remembers either the D-Generation, The Late Show, or has at least seen The Castle (classic Australian film, please watch it if you haven’t yet!) or The Dish. I remember rushing home most Saturday nights in the mid 90’s from my part time job at a take-away Pizza shop so that I could watch The Late Show on the ABC – their skits were corny and mostly send-ups of TV shows, celebrities, politicians and sportspeople, and were absolutely hilarious…this was before political correctness went crazy mind you!

So after hearing Jane had put out not just one cookbook, but has a second called OMG! I Can Eat That?, I knew I had to take a look. In my search to find a copy I discovered that Jane is not only married to one of my other comedic heroes, Rob Sitch (yes, from The Late Show!), but that they have 5 young children together! (Throw Uncle Santo Cilauro in and I’m hooked).

Here’s a classic Jane & Rob skit I found on you-tube…it’s fairly harmless but probably not suitable for kids to watch unless you want them singing it for the next week – catchy!

Jane is introduced as someone who loves to cook and eat, but as someone who can’t eat anything she wants to because she gets FAT. She defines Boombah as food that makes your arse huge – Jane, I hear you!

Her recipes are mostly low-carb and low in sugar and added fats, with the usual breakfast, starters, dinner & dessert categories. She also has some interesting ideas for entertaining, and a great chapter on Takeaway substitutes such as a low-fat Beef Vindaloo. Her personal anecdotes (she has tried seriously weird diets that are alarmingly familiar to me!) and refreshingly honest quips make this cookbook a delight to read. There’s lots of lovely clean photography, minimum-fuss recipes, and Jane looking gorgeous and totally real.

On the downside, It’s not particularly vegetarian-friendly. One of the recipes that did jump out at me was the Creamy broccoli and leek soup.

After a particularly chilly night here last night (we’re Queenslanders, we don’t deal well with anything under 20 °C !) and a cool morning, soup sounded perfect.

Truth be told, upon reading the ingredients this recipe sounded terrible. Broccoli, Leek & mustard…in soup? I’d already decided on a quick and easy chicken dish for Mr B. and the kids, so whilst it was in the oven baking I decided I’d give the soup a go.

Creamy broccoli and leek soup with feta

Adapted from Fabulous Food, minus the boombah

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 375g broccoli florets
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon wholegrain mustard
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 Tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon natural yoghurt
  • firm feta, to crumble
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and saute garlic, broccoli, leek and mustard for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  2. Add the stock and oregano and bring to the boil, then cover and reduce heat to allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then blend or process to a smooth puree. Season with salt/pepper then stir through yoghurt.
  4. Crumble feta over soup and serve hot.

Notes

* Jane’s original recipe uses chicken stock and Greek yoghurt – I wanted to keep mine vegetarian, and I only had natural yoghurt, but I thought the feta was a nice compromise – it probably increased the fat content though!

The verdict? amazing and no boombah! The wholegrain mustard definitely adds the lift, and I will absolutely be making this delicious soup again.

And the others? They really did have chicken tonight…Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and potatoes.

They feasted on Nigella’s recipe which can be found here, but seriously, its so easy I can probably describe it in a few sentences. I reduced Nigella’s proportions to make use of what I had in the fridge…bung a few chicken thighs in a well oiled baking tray, add some chopped potatoes and sliced chorizo. Sprinkle over oregano and red onions (no onion fans in this house so I omitted this), then zest an orange over the top.

Bake for 50 -60 minutes…I pulled mine out after 40 minutes to add some sun-dried tomatoes. Plate up and drizzle pan juices over the top…there is a LOT of boombah in this dish!

It was very well received…kids went gaga over the sausage so next time I’ll remember to add more of that…they can handle a bit of boombah every now and again!