Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Smart Summer Cooking

Summer is here and with the great outdoors beckoning we want to spend as little time as possible slaving over a hot stove. Saving time in the kitchen is always a priority when the mercury soars! Simple, nutritious meals that are a snap to prepare are the answer – to keep us cool and the kids happy and healthy! Here are 9 quick tips to staying cool and keeping smart over summer as well as some simple summer recipes.

1.Use the freshest ingredients possible as that heat will render fruits and vegetables limp and lifeless very quickly. The fresher they are, the better they taste.

2.Make use of sensational seasonal ingredients, such as tomatoes, basil, mangoes, eggplant and asparagus to prepare delicious salads.

3.Dinner doesn’t have to be a large cooked meal. A huge platter of summer fruits served with some cheese and nuts can be a wonderful evening meal on a hot day.

4.Keep cooking to a minimum and aim to prepare as many raw foods as possible.

5.If possible do some simple preparation early in the day to avoid cooking in the heat of the evening.

6.Barbeque as often as possible. Fresh fish or chicken with simple salads, barbequed vegetables with haloumi cheese and dips. Try corn fritters and vegetable kebabs. Even some BBQ'd bananas with chocolate! Throw on some capsicums and potatoes for use the next day in pasta or salads.

7.When you are cooking, double the recipe and freeze half for another day and use leftovers as often as possible. Barbecued vegetables, and cold chicken are great the next day.

8.Summer makes us naturally want to eat less so take it easy and keeps meals small and light.

9.Remember to keep it simple, fresh and light and be lazy this summer!

These burgers are so easy to throw together and are perfect for a summer barbeque. I have kept them quite plain for young taste buds but can easily be jazzed up for adults. Try adding chilli or fresh coriander, or some grain mustard. Serve in a crusty brown roll with salad for a simple meal that the kids will love. These are also wonderful with tzatziki or hommos.

Makes 12

500g chicken mince
1 carrot, grated
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g fresh breadcrumbs
½ tsp lemon zest
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Olive oil

Step 1: Combine all ingredients except flour
Step 2: Using wet hands shape into 10 patties
Step 3: Roll in a little flour and cook on the barbeque in a little olive oil
Step 4: Serve in a wholegrain roll with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise or chutney

Monday, November 16, 2009

Frozen Summer

Summer school holidays – kids, fun, laughter and relaxed lazy days. Oh, and endless demands for ice creams! I’m sure we would all be happier giving in to the demands if ice creams were only made like they used to be. Cream, milk, eggs and sugar and maybe some fresh strawberries or a handful of nuts thrown in. Kids are so used to modern ice cream with all the colours of the rainbow, available anywhere and everywhere, that it is a real treat to have the home made stuff. In fact, in a kids world frozen treats in any form are a delight and at any time of the year! My mother used to make a divine lemon sorbet from lemon juice, egg whites and sugar. I can still bring to mind the excitement we felt when she would pull it from the freezer and scoop it into cones for us. She sometimes simply froze giant blocks of cordial and we ate those from square cones, too and thought we were in heaven. I always tell my kids that the best freezer is at home and so we freeze mango pips, grapes, orange quarters, bananas and fresh pineapple. Even bowls of frozen blueberries or raspberries are greeted with glee on a hot day! It is simple to make ice cream even without an ice cream maker and homemade icy poles take minutes. Even the kids can do it. Here is one our favourites – kids love these as much as anything you can buy.


Warm water
Shredded coconut

Icy pole sticks
Freezer or cellophane bags and ties

Soften the honey by adding a little warm water and mix through. Peel the bananas and cut in half. Carefully insert an icy pole stick through the cut end. Using a pastry brush, brush warm honey over the banana. Quickly roll in the coconut, covering completely. Place on a waxed paper lined tray and freeze until firm. Once frozen place in cellophane bags and secure tightly.

Try rolling them in crushed nuts or melted chocolate or both!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Smoothie Heaven

Who loves smoothies? Kids sure do! The blender is never put away in our house and is often grabbed for breakfast, after school or even after dinner! Milk, fruit juice, vegetable juice, yoghurt, ice, fresh fruit, frozen fruit, wheat germ, ice cream, honey, vanilla, maple syrup, cocoa, carob, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg........the list goes on.

Great for kids to experiment with new and exciting flavour combinations - brilliant for value adding all sorts of healthy treats no-one knows about - ideal for using ripe fruit - perfect for a fast and healthy breakfast - terrific for an after school 'I'm starving!' snack.......

Here are my hints for making great smoothies:

Use frozen fruit for a creamier, thicker and colder smoothie.

Add the liquid to the blender first as this prevents the fruit from sticking to the blades.

The riper the fruit the sweeter the smoothie.

Freeze freshly squeezed juice in ice cube trays and add to smoothies. Try watermelon, orange, lime, apple or even carrot.

Freeze yoghurt and add to smoothie for a colder and thicker drink.

Serve smoothie immediately as it will separate on standing.

To make it more appealing to kids, serve in a tall glass and add a straw and some garnish.

Give the kids free reign!

1½ cups freshly squeezed orange juice
500g frozen berries
½ cup natural yoghurt

Pour the juice into the blender and add berries and yoghurt. Blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses to serve.

¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
½ cup natural yoghurt
6 strawberries
1 banana, frozen and chopped

Pour the juice and yoghurt into blender and blend gently. Add the strawberries and banana and blend until combined. Pour into tall glasses and top with a strawberry.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Your Little Foodie

Several years ago my husband and I stayed at a little boutique hotel with our 2 children, then aged 10 and 7. It was a wonderful place and we expected no less than the menu that was offered to us at breakfast next morning. Bircher muesli, porridge with banana and honey, poached eggs and sourdough toast, home made jams……..you know the sort of thing! However my blood boiled when the waiter offered our children the ‘kids menu’ - coco pops, rice bubbles, white toast and vegemite!

My kids are more than happy to sample the offerings on the ‘adults’ menu and in fact are quite at home ordering from a whole range of culinary delights. Kids are more sophisticated than we give them credit for and restaurants need to know they are insulting the foodies of tomorrow by offering them the cheap and tasteless fodder of the typical kids menu.

Or will there be any foodies? How can children ever learn to value and appreciate good food if they are only ever treated as an afterthought? If they are time and again offered the oh-so-exotic fare of chips, sausages, nuggets, pizza and burgers and the bonus of ice cream for dessert!!(or coco pops instead of Bircher muesli!) A foray into the world of cheap fats, sugars, high salt and inferior flavours. All this while their parents are offered the pleasures and enjoyment of a cordon bleu meal at the same time.

To understand and appreciate good food now and for the rest of their lives, children need to be exposed to the genuine article as much as possible. That is, food that is fresh, delicious, appetizing and exciting to their taste buds. It is often wondered why kids don’t recognize, let alone want to eat, fresh food, or why they assume there is ‘grown up food’ and ‘kid’s food’. Yet given what is on offer most of the time it is totally understandable.

When I compare Australia with Europe, and their customs and traditions of unquestioningly including children at the meal table, I can’t help wondering why we are so inadequate at catering for kids. In France, for example, children just eat smaller serves of what the adults do - a ‘portion enfant’ of anything from terrine of rabbit, boeuf Bourguignon and exotic vegetables to pate de foie gras and a dozen varieties of cheeses. In Italy, the dining table simply would not be complete without the children.

We need to give kids the respect they deserve and acknowledge that even the most intractable junk food eaters can learn to dine well if given the chance. One of the suggestions I offer to families who want to stake their children’s claim for good food is, if you’ve never tried ‘real’ dining with the kids, start out slowly. Avoid sophisticated restaurants and try local cafes first. Many Asian restaurants - the local Thai, Japanese or Chinese for example - are often a good starting point, as they rarely if ever will offer ‘kids menus’ and have a wide variety of flavours and tastes to try. They are also less likely to frown or fret when they spy your children in tow.
Another good idea is to leave the ‘family’ restaurants, where children are usually offered cheap and flavourless meals, out of the picture altogether. Search for restaurants that offer ‘tasting plates,’ such as Middle Eastern, Spanish, Turkish and Greek. This is a great way to introduce new foods and flavours to kids and everyone sampling a little of everything is always fun.

Trying different cuisines can be enjoyable for kids and adults alike and a quick flick through restaurant guides in our major Australian cities produces an extensive list featuring a diversity of fare from around the globe. On offer is an A to Z of anything and everything from Afghan and African to Vietnamese and Sri Lankan. Recently we took our children to an Ethiopian restaurant where they were licking their fingers, and almost their plates, in delight! We shared an incredible platter of vegetable curry, creamy spinach, pumpkin, spicy chickpeas and lentils with steaming bowls of rice and heavenly bread and the kids loved it. No such thing as a kids menu here!

Taking the kids to ‘real’ restaurants, where they are acknowledged and respected and their palates given as much attention as an adults, can be the beginning of a life long love affair with real food and what better way to get the kids to eat their veggies!!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Roll Out The Red Carpet - It's Birthday Time!

I don’t know about everyone else, but I have a real aversion to kids’ birthday party tables groaning with frankfurts, party pies, lollies, chips and cordial. I think the kids must get a bit tired of it too sometimes. When we were kids, birthday parties were rare so ‘party fare’ was very exciting – a real treat. We didn’t often get to eat sausage rolls and lollies and drink soft drink. These days kids are heading off to birthday parties every weekend and every birthday party is the same. Fast food, fast food and more fast food. For various reasons parents are now seeking alternatives to the home party and the standard of fare in many of these kids party venues is outrageous. A friend recently held her son’s birthday party at a well known sports venue and the menu read like a fast food restaurant. When asked if they could provide a healthy menu, there was much consternation and discussion. Eventually a ‘healthy’ menu was provided which was barely a notch above the standard menu. And this from a sports venue!

I often wonder who is getting it wrong. Is this really what kids want? Are we harking back to own childhoods and thinking how much we loved party food? Are we obsessed with over indulging our kids? Or do we not know what else to give them? I suspect it is a combination of all these.
Kids today are a different generation and a different breed. They often have more sophistication than we give them credit for, so instead of insulting their taste buds, why can’t we pay tribute to kids and put a different perspective on the birthday bash? Why can’t we think about what kids really like to eat and give them the good food they love…?
They adore strawberries (especially if dipped in chocolate) and huge chunks of watermelon, grapes and freshly popped popcorn. They love chicken drumsticks and little pizzas, little pikelets, and cheese and tomato toothpicks, and mini muffins. Kids also love fruit kebabs
with sweet dipping sauce, and will eat anything frozen - so little bundles or bags of frozen grapes, frozen bananas on a stick, quartered oranges or home made icy poles are a huge hit! And instead of cordial, grab their fancy with an old fashioned punch bowl, complete with cups and ladle, and brimming with fruit punch.
Who remembers lolly gobble bliss bombs? That amazing name really sold them back then (what kid could resist?) For those who don’t remember, they were toffee coated popcorn. Here is my version which I made for my daughter’s birthday party a few years ago - the kids thought they were brilliant!

Popcorn Balls

½ cup popping corn
60g butter
3 tblsp barley malt
1 tblsp honey

Make popcorn in popcorn maker or saucepan and set aside.
Melt butter in large saucepan and add malt and honey. Mix well.
Toss through the popcorn a little at a time until it is all thoroughly coated with butter mixture. You may not need all the popcorn.
Using wet hands, quickly shape into golf ball sized balls, squeezing and moulding the mixture together.
Place on a tray and refrigerate until firm.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breaking the Lentil Barrier

I recently consulted to a retirement home where I was asked to implement a new menu. One elderly lady took issue with a lentil dish I had suggested. “When you’re old like me you won’t want to eat these new fangled foods either!” she told me witheringly. I forbore to tell her that not only have lentils been around longer than she has, but they date back to the ancient Egyptians. Lentils are often looked upon with suspicion or considered the preserve of vegetarians, so many kids miss out on their wonderful earthy flavours and distinctive textures.
Apart from being packed full of goodness, they are incredibly versatile. They can be thrown into soups and stews, made into great burgers and dips, and puy lentils, which hold their shape during cooking, are fantastic for salads. Lentils are perfect for busy parents as, unlike other legumes, they need no soaking.
If your kids have never tried them, start by simply adding a handful of red lentils to pumpkin or vegetable soup or using them in a tomato based pasta sauce. Then move onto the stronger flavoured brown lentils and add some to casseroles or stews, use them in place of beef in spaghetti bolognaise or make lentil and vegetable pies. When the brood is ready, try offering dahl or even lentil burgers. I created a pumpkin dahl recipe one night when I was in the mood for something warm and nourishing, and deliberately kept it light on the spices. It’s been a big hit with my kids – who love it - and me - it is so easy!

Pumpkin Dahl

Serve with basmati rice, a dollop of yoghurt and pappadums.

Serves 4

2 tblsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g pumpkin, diced
¾ cup red lentils
100g spinach, chopped
¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped
3 cups water
½ tsp sea salt

Sauté onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin seeds in oil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add pumpkin, lentils, spinach, coriander, salt and water.
Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring regularly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Seriously Cereal

Isn’t it interesting the way we have developed an entire love affair with breakfast cereals in this country? The cereal section in the supermarket probably takes up more space than soft drink and that's saying something! For many Australians it is the only way to start the day. Travelling in France one year, after weeks of feasting on croissants, breads, cheeses and cafĂ© au lait every morning, I couldn’t believe it when I began craving a good old bowl of cereal and milk. But then, I almost had to hire a detective to find me some! The French aren't particularly fond of starting the day with cereal.

But if you or your kids like the munch and crunch of cereal the best sort to eat is your own. Muesli is so ridiculously easy to make and you can do it just as your kids like it. Some will like lots of dried fruit and not so many nuts, some may like the unusual dried fruits such as cranberries, paw paw and figs, and some may prefer it toasted and really crunchy. So experiment with the ingredients. Try adding toasted coconut, grating in some fresh nutmeg or lightly toasting the sesame seeds, or throwing in a handful of puffed rice or corn for extra crunch.
My quick Bircher muesli (who ever remembers to soak the oats overnight?) is to simply mix the muesli with grated apple, sliced banana, some yoghurt and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Sometimes I blend cream or ricotta cheese with the yoghurt too. Kids love this version because it is so sweet and needs no milk – a sort of wet muesli bar!

MUMS MAGICAL MUESLI - so named by my son!


6 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup linseeds
1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamias etc)
1 cup chopped dried fruit (sultanas, dried apricots, peaches, currants, figs, cranberries etc)


In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients well.
Store in an airtight container.
For toasted muesli, warm ½ cup olive oil and ½ cup honey together.
Stir into the oat and seed mixture (add the dried fruit later) and lay in a thin layer on baking trays.
Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes or until golden.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cooking for Pleasure

So many children are missing out on the simple pleasures of good home cooking. Many of the new generation don't even know how to cook as they have been brought up on the quick and easy option of convenience foods, take away or fast food dining. As they in turn become parents their children are subjected to the same food values and have little or no experience of fresh, home made food. They also miss out on the special childhood experiences associated with a warm, cosy, centre-of-the-family kitchen filled with the wonderful aromas of good food. What better way to be greeted after school than with a fresh batch of cookies or muffins? Or to sit down to a bowl of hot soup on a winters evening or enjoy the tantalizing appeal of a roasting Sunday joint? I am not by any means suggesting that we all need to don our aprons and be tied to the kitchen, lost amidst piles of dirty dishes and a throng of hungry kids. We lead our lives very differently from even a generation ago and values, beliefs and expectations have changed enormously. However, there is much to be gained for ourselves and our children in getting back to basics and enjoying the simple pleasures associated with home cooking. It is time-consuming and at times tedious, but ultimately satisfying and rewarding. Yes, there are occasions when cooking means throwing together whatever we can find in the fridge and getting it on the table in 20 minutes just to feed a hungry and tired family. There are also occasions when we can allow ourselves (and our kids!) the time to really enjoy the experience. Shopping for the right ingredients and planning a special meal, or trying out that recipe someone was raving about, or even experimenting with bread making! A friend recently gave me a 150 year old!!! sourdough culture and I have been having a wonderful time baking the most amazing breads. It is the most enjoyable and the simplest bread making I have ever done. I prepare it in the evening, leave it in the oven overnight to prove and set it on automatic so that in the morning we are greeted by the fantastic aroma of newly baked bread! And my kids love it! My 11 year old son is a true little gourmet and we are planning a special dinner this weekend, tossing around ideas about what we will cook, anything from sushi and dolmades to curry and home made ravioli. Yet for many children, these simple pleasures are missing. Home and hearth is an essential ingredient in raising children and I fully believe that the hearth needs to be warm and welcoming. Sorry, but a microwave just doesn't cut it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Kids Won't Eat Salad!

How often I have heard this from parents! Do your kids say that too? Let’s look at why! and how we can change that to “Can I please have some more salad?”

Salad for many kids (and many adults) means iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber and bottled dressing. How many times, when eating out, have we been faced with a plate of unappetising greens, a wedge of tomato, a pile of onion and a vinegary dressing, all under the guise of salad? It is enough to turn anyone’s palate away from the thought of greens.
The thing to remember about salad is that it can be awful and it can be wonderful. If kids get to know the awful version, they’ll probably refuse to eat it. On the other hand, if they get to taste the wonderful version, they’ll gobble it up and ask for seconds! If we can think of salad as a wonderful array of flavours and textures instead of a little bit of green next to something else it opens up a whole world of potential easy meals.

Let’s lift those salads out of the doldrums!

10 ways to get our kids to say ‘yes’ to salad!
If we want our kids not only to eat salad but to really enjoy it and even ask for it, we need to

1. Ditch the iceberg lettuce, or at the very least sideline it! It has too little flavour and not much visual appeal. Start with some beautifully coloured and flavoured leaves like baby spinach, rocket, cos and radicchio. These will give zing and dazzle to any salad but remember to use the freshest available.

2. Wash them really well. (Bugs and dirt often delight kids but not on their plate!) Then dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner and refrigerate them uncovered for 15 minutes to let crisp them up. There is nothing worse than limp lettuce!

3. Work out what your kids like and add it to the greens. Salad can be so much more than tomato and cucumber. Do they like roast chicken, baked pumpkin, cheese, bacon, mango, cashews, tuna, carrots, hard boiled egg? Then toss them in the salad and call it a chicken/mango/egg/tuna or my favourite salad.

4. Throw in some grains. Pasta, couscous, rice, noodles, and bourghal (cracked wheat) are the foundation of brilliant salads and give them more staying power. Kids who love pasta will go for a pasta salad too!

5. Make the salad interesting and give it texture by using a combination of tempting ingredients – baby potatoes, tinned beans or chickpeas, roasted garlic, baked beetroot (forget the canned stuff!), toasted sesame seeds, roast chicken, poached egg….

6. Try salad as a main course too. Centre the salad on a protein ingredient such as chicken, tuna, tofu, chickpeas, or egg, add lots of greens and something to give it extra zest such as avocado, feta cheese or mango…

7. Know that salad doesn’t have to mean greens. It can be baked vegetables with couscous, tomato and onion, tuna and beans, chicken and mango..…

8. Always have something on hand to complete the salad. A handful of crumbled feta cheese, a scattering of olives, a sprinkling of parmesan, some chopped nuts…….

9. Dress it in its finest and leave the bottled dressing on the shelf! Lots of kids don’t like salad because it is often either swamped in cheap, bottled dressing or has no dressing at all. Kids will devour salad that is dressed properly and looks and tastes good. Use good quality olive oil and lemon juice or a little balsamic vinegar. And to change the flavour – fresh garlic, mustard, fresh herbs, spices, chilli… Remember not to use too much on the salad but make sure each leaf gets a thorough coating.

10. Know that if you use your kids favourite things and stick to the tips above you can lift your salads out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary and the kids will love it!