Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Wonders of Mince (Part 1): Sang Choy Bao Salad

Whenever I watch Huey's Cooking Adventures, I always have a bit of a chuckle at how he always uses the same base ingredients: crushed garlic, one onion, one large carrot and a stick or two of celery, all finely diced.

As I was preparing dinner last night, though, I realised that my most successful meals for Master W usually contain these same ingredients - and mince.  I also add whatever other vegies I have in the fridge at the time, and he eats them all!  

I know - it's not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but this is why I love mince.  All the meat and vegies are a similar size and all in the sauce together, so it's difficult for the kiddies to pick and choose what they will and won't eat. So I thought I'd do a series of my favourite mince recipes that are also popular with my toddler, and hopefully they will be with yours too!

First up: a twist on the classic Sang Choy Bao for those who are feeling too lazy to eat it the traditional way (which is me, most of the time!) and for toddlers who don't yet have the coordination to keep the filling in the lettuce cup while they munch on it.

What I love most about this dish is the variety of textures in each mouthful - the chewiness of the mince, the crunch of the water chestnuts, the mushiness of the rice and the crispness of the lettuce - not to mention the mouth-wateringly tasty sauce.

Sang Choy Bao Salad (serves 4)

1.5 cups raw basmati or jasmine rice
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
500g minced meat (beef, chicken or pork)
2 cups finely diced vegetables (e.g. carrot, celery, zucchini, beans... whatever is in the fridge)
230g water chestnuts, finely diced
100g char sui sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsbp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

To serve
1/2 head of Cos or Iceberg lettuce, shredded
2 spring onions, finely choppped
2 tbsp char sui sauce (extra)
1 tbsp oyster sauce (extra)

1. Cook rice as you would normally (personally, I love my rice cooker).  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large wok on medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic until onion is translucent.

2. Add meat to the wok and stir to break up the lumps. Cook until browned.

3. Add the vegetables and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, then add sauces and sesame oil. Cook for an additional minute.

4.  Combine the extra char sui and oyster sauces in a small container.

5. To serve, combine the meat mix, rice and lettuce in a bowl, then drizzle with the extra sauce and spring onions.

I hope you like it as much as we do!  Coming up in parts 2 & 3 of my mince series: Shepherd's Pie and Low-Guilt Lasagne.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Things I Wish I Knew

Time is going so quickly, and my Little Miss Sunshine has already been on solids for a couple of months!  As all the memories are flooding back (well, not all - there are some important things I just can't recall), I'm reminded of a whole lot of things I wish I knew earlier as a new mum.

1.  Stick with your Mothers' Group.
When I first walked into my MG, I thought I didn't have anything in common with all the others.  I was the youngest mum there (by up to 20 years) and I thought there was no way I would be able to make friends here.  I had only just fully recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and was still feeling very socially awkward from all that time on my own.  I told my mum I didn't think I would go back next time. 

She advised me to venture out of my comfort zone and continue going.  I missed a few weeks because I was such a coward, but I ended up listening to my mum and I'm so glad I did.  I have made some really good friends and so had Master W.  It goes to show that, in the end, age doesn't really matter.

2.  About allergens
One of my MG friends is an academic and always keeps us up-to-date on the latest research.  One of her gems of information was that recent research has shown that it is a good idea to introduce egg products (e.g. egg custard, scrambled eggs, etc) to your bub before they reach 6 months to reduce the risk of egg allergies developing.

3.  A good recipe book can be an invaluable resource

When a friend gave me this recipe book when Master W was born, my first thought was, "How hard can it be to make baby food?"  But she certainly knew what she was doing when she gave it to me!  

Making baby food isn't particularly difficult, but knowing where to start, when to introduce new foods and what not to do - these are a bit trickier, especially with your first baby.  This book has been my go-to guide and I love it!  I rarely use any of the recipes, but all the extra tid-bits of information are very handy.

4.  Keep a record
My dear Nanna is always telling me that I should be keeping a record of all the funny things that my kids do, because these special memories are so easily forgotten.  I have a friend who has been keeping track of her baby's vocab development by simply jotting his new words on the appropriate day on a calendar, which I thought was a good idea.

I am now wishing that I kept a record of what I fed Master W and when.  I've started Miss E on solids a bit earlier than him (she just seemed hungrier and ready for it), and I've found it difficult to remember when to add lumps, introduce more foods and flavours, etc., so I'm getting confused.

5.  Go with your gut
Even if I did have a record of these things, I know that every child is different, so in the end I need to trust my instincts.  All the baby foods, sippy cups and utensils that you can buy have to have their age recommendations, but they're not always accurate.  For sure, be guided by the recommendations, but ultimately you know your child's abilities best.

6.  Pear stains
I was told fairly early on in the piece that banana is particularly difficult to get out of clothes, but nobody ever told me about pear!  Master W has always loved to munch on a pear and, to start with, I never put bibs on him when he ate them - it just didn't look like something that would stain!  Now I have lots of little tops with brown stains around the neck...

7.  The varied uses for ice cube trays
In all honesty, starting your baby on solids can be annoying, especially if you've only ever breastfed.  Suddenly you have to prepare food for another little person and it can be pretty inconvenient if you're in a hurry.

A well-known trick that I love is to cook up a whole lot of a food at a time (e.g. purees of individual vegies, fruit, cheese sauce) and divide it between ice cube trays to freeze.  Once frozen, store in a labelled snap-lock bag. That way, you always have some food prepared and it's easy to control the portion sizes as your baby grows.  You can even mix it up by combining a few cubes of different foods.

8. Some convenience foods are particularly convenient

For those days when you really need to use prepackaged baby foods, these pouches are amazing!  I have just discovered them, and I love them!  It's so easy to feed your baby with as little mess and paraphernalia as possible when you're out.  Plus, I've heard that babies eventually learn to feed themselves with them - I'm looking forward to that!

The Baby Mum-Mum Rice Rusks are really good for a snack food, because they don't crumble when they're eaten (they sort of just dissolve, which also makes them really good for younger babies) and they won't fill bub up too much.  Cruskits are also great for this.

Nature also provides us with some great convenience foods for babies.  Avocados and bananas are always popular with the little'ns and all you need to prepare them is a bowl and a fork - no cooking or refrigeration required!

I'm sure there are plenty more lessons I will learn, that I could add to this list, but these are just a few I've learned so far on this adventure that is motherhood.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Creamy Sweet Potato Dip

On gloomy days like today, I love looking out the window at the rain-drenched garden.  It reminds me of our honeymoon at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat.  It's not such great weather for playing outside though, so we had our picnic lunch in the lounge room today.

One of my most successful ways to get Master W to eat his veggies is to give him something to dip them in.  Whether it's tomato sauce, cream cheese or a tasty tzaziki, Will loves 'dips', especially if he can double dip.

I made this dip for our picnic today because it's good for the whole family - even Miss E can have a bit.  If you wanted to make it for more adult tastes, you could add a bit more cumin and garlic and some cashews.

Creamy Sweet Potato Dip
250g cooked sweet potato
120g cream cheese
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of half a lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.  Too easy!

If you don't have a food processor, it would be easy enough to mash the ingredients together with a potato masher or even a fork.

**Side Note**
Sorry I've been out of blogging action for so long! I actually wrote this post about 6 weeks ago, it's just taken me ages to publish it!  So the pictures are a bit out of date and it wasn't today that we had an indoor picnic (although we do that quite regularly).  Posts will become a bit more regular in the near future!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Toddler Eating What...?

I've always admired how well my brother's children eat their vegetables.  Actually, they don't just eat them, they enjoy them (much to the credit of their mother)!  From the time Master W started solids, I have made it my goal for him to enjoy vegetables too.

Like most toddlers though, he does have his fussy days and this has been a frequent topic at our mothers' group recently - how do you get your little one to eat at least some vegetables?

When Master W is being particularly fussy, I hide the vegetables in recipes such as my Fruit & Oat Snack Bars (in particular the variation with carrot and zucchini) or my Cheesy Vegeful Muffins.  But I also think it is important to teach him to enjoy the taste of plain vegetables without hiding them, otherwise good eating habits will never last. 

When he's not so fussy, I often give him a grazing plate for lunch with some raw vegetables for lunch (he's particularly fond of red capsicum, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green beans and avocado).  He also enjoys a tub of frozen peas for a snack!  Other favourites include corn on the cob and steamed asparagus.

As with most things, I also find the example set by significant others to be important.  Master W wouldn't eat broccoli until Poppy showed him how yummy it is!  And on desperate days, I resort to feeding him his vegies bird-style - i.e. I'll hold a bean or carrot stick by one end in my mouth and he'll come and take it from me with his mouth and eat it!  It sounds a bit weird, but hey, if it works, why not?!

These are some of the things that work for us.  How do you get your little ones to eat their vegies?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chewy Gooey Chocolate Sauce

When Miss E goes through a bad sleep stage, I go through a bad food stage.  I know it's not going to help me lose my flab, but when I'm so tired, it's too difficult to concentrate on controlling my cravings as well as my temper!

Sometimes nothing beats a last minute dessert, and growing up, that was always banana splits.  Mum would whip up a chocolate sauce from pantry items and a few minutes later we'd be enjoying one of our favourite treats.

This recipe is a result of trying to figure out how Mum makes her sauce. It's not quite the same, but it's still pretty fab! Mum actually gets me to make it for her now.

There are so many things I love about this sauce: the fact that it's cheap and quick to make is always a plus, and I like that it is lower in fat than other recipes I've seen. But its fudginess that turns to chewiness when it hits the icecream - that's what gets me making it over and over (and making extra so I can lick the saucepan while I'm doing the dishes)!

Chewy Gooey Chocolate Sauce (serves 3-4)

30g butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tbsp milk

1. Place butter in a small saucepan over low to medium heat. Once butter has started to melt, add the cocoa and sugar. Mix to combine.

2. Add milk and stir continuously until sauce starts to boil.

3. Keep stirring while boiling for 1-2 minutes, or until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and serve immediately over icecream and fruit.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Banana & Blueberry Pancakes

Today Brise & I celebrated having been together for 7 years (boy, that's gone fast!), so while he slept in, Master W & I made breakfast.

Pancakes are the perfect breakfast for a lazy Saturday morning, especially if you can sit in a sunny spot to devour them. And this fruity variety has so much flavour, you don't need to add loads of maple syrup to enjoy them.

Banana & Blueberry Pancakes (makes 8)

3 bananas, mashed
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 3/4 cups milk
1 cup frozen blueberries

1. Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add banana.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and butter. Add to dry ingredients and whisk till smooth. Gently stir in blueberries.

3. Spray a non-stick frying pan with a bit of cooking oil and heat over medium heat. Once hot, spread a cup-full of mixture in the pan.

4. When bubbles start to form on the surface, flip the pancake and cook for another minute before removing from pan.

5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 until all mixture is used. Serve hot with some vanilla or mixed berry yoghurt.

6. For something different for the little'ns, try making their pancakes in their favourite shapes.  Simply grease some metal cookie cutters before placing in the greased frying pan, then fill with a thin layer of mixture.  Keep the cookie cutters around the pancakes while you flip them to be sure they keep their shape. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Baked Risotto with Chicken, Mushroom & Pumpkin

It might not quite be to masterchef standards, but for something so easy, it's pretty delish!

Baked risottos are another of my favourite hands-free dinners. I got the idea from one of my many Donna Hay recipe books and I'm so glad I did! I just adapt the recipes to what I feel like and what's in the pantry.

It's been a while since I'd made a baked risotto, but I made this one last week and, for the first time in ages, Master W actually ate all of his dinner! I'd forgotten how much he liked it.

Baked Risotto with Chicken, Mushroom & Pumpkin

3 slices shortcut bacon, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced or minced
1 large chicken breast, diced into 2cm cubes
2 leeks, halved length-ways and finely sliced

200g butternut pumpkin, diced
6 button mushrooms, finely sliced
2 cups arborio rice
5 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 180°C.

2. Heat a splash of olive oil in a stovetop to oven casserole dish. Fry the bacon until browned. Remove from heat.

3. Place all remaining ingredients in the dish, other than the parmesan. Stir briefly to combine. Cover tightly and place in the oven.

4. Cook for approximately 40 minutes, but it may take a bit longer, as the shape of the dish will affect the cooking time. There should still be some liquid but the rice should be tender (but not mushy).

5. Stir the risotto for 5 minutes or until creamy. Add the parmesan and stir gently through. Season to taste.


I find that I need something refreshing with this, so I serve it with a salad in summer or steamed greens in winter.

I ran out of arborio rice last time I made it, so I used half sushi rice and it worked fine.

If you don't have a casserole dish that can go on the stovetop, fry the bacon in a frying pan and add 1/4 cup of the stock to the hot pan before adding to the risotto.  That way you won't miss out on that extra flavour stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cheesy Vegeful Muffins

These muffins are a great, tasty way of boosting your children's vegie intake!

Master W isn't a big fan of eating dinner, so I try to get as many nutrients into him as possible during the day. As he's a lover of all things cake-related, my muffins go down a treat!  Plus they're packed with vegies, dairy and a bit of protein too.

I have been asked for this recipe several times, so I thought I'd share it on the blog in case anyone else is interested.

Cheesy Vegeful Muffins (makes 12)

"This is how you grate"
"Can I help?"
2 cups self-raising flour (you can use wholemeal if you're feeling particularly virtuous!)
1 cup grated cheese
2 slices shortcut bacon, finely diced (equates to about half a cup)
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 small zucchini, grated
1 carrot, finely grated
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/4 capsicum (red or green), finely chopped
1 cup milk
1 egg

25ml extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 190°C and grease a muffin tray.

2. Fry the bacon in a non-stick pan until browned and crispy. If the corn kernels are frozen, put them in the frying pan to defrost briefly before turning off the heat. Allow to cool.

3. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the cheese, bacon and corn.
4. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil, carrot, zucchini, capsicum and onion, until well combined.

5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined. If you mix too much at this stage, the muffins will not be as fluffy and moist.
6. Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin holes and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before removing from tray and cooling on a rack.

To get the muffins out of the tray more easily, loosen the sides with a knife, then gently twist the muffin - it should just slide out then.

These are especially nice straight from the oven with a little bit of butter. They can also be kept for 2-3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

Another little budget and time-friendly tip: I like to buy shortcut bacon, because it has much less fat on it.  I buy a kilo of it when it's on special and freeze it so there's always some there if I need it.  I'll lay half of it flat in a single layer in a large snaplock bag, and dice the other half finely and put it in containers.  That way, it's easy to get to and ready to use for a last-minute meal! (You can cook it straight from frozen.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta

Anyone who's had a baby knows about "witching hour": that time of the day (usually somewhere around 5pm) when bub just won't settle!  This makes it particularly difficult for a new mum to prepare dinner, especially if it involves lots of chopping, stirring and other hands-on steps.

Mum has told me several times about how her solution to this problem when we were young was to do all the preparation for dinner first thing in the morning when we were all happy.  That way, no matter what else happened in the day, at least we'd be able to eat at a reasonable hour.

I sometimes follow Mum's advice; other times I stick Master W in front of Playschool (I always think that's on at a brilliant time!) and Miss E in the Baby Bjorn and hope for the best.  Whether you're a morning person or a last-minute type, this dish is great!  You can do the prep work (which isn't that much) whenever you have the chance, and chuck it in the oven just before everyone gets hungry.

It's actually one of my favourite recipes, not just because of its simplicity, but because it's just so tasty!  And because you don't need to saute anything before putting it in the oven, you don't need to add any oil, which makes it that bit healthier.  Master W (age 2) loves olives and feta (and slurping up pasta) so he'll usually eat this quite happily.  If he's having a fussy day though, he just eats the plain pasta (it could be worse!).

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta (serves 4)

1 chicken breast (you can add another one if you like more meat in your sauce)
2 tsp/4 cloves crushed garlic
4 spring onions
6 button mushrooms
1 small zucchini
100g mixed marinated olives
100g marinated artichokes
100g marinated feta
700g jar tomato passata or plain pasta sauce (I like to use Bertolli Provista Sugo Classica)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
salt & pepper to taste
Your favourite pasta variety, to serve

1. Cut the chicken, zucchini and mushrooms into 2cm cubes (approx.) and chop the spring onions as finely as you can be bothered.  If the feta is not yet in cubes, chop it into 1cm cubes; halve the olives and the artichoke pieces (but only if they're too big).

2.  Place all sauce ingredients in a casserole dish.  If you're not too worried about the fat content, put in some of the marinating oil from the olives & feta for a bit of extra flavour.

3. Cover and bake in a moderate oven for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

I like to serve this with a bit of parmesan and, if I have time, a green leafy salad or steamed green beans.  And, of course, a bit of garlic bread will never go astray!

On the topic of garlic bread - in my opinion, the store-bought stuff is not very good for the waistline: it's far too oily and there is more than is really needed for 2 adults and a toddler (of course, we'd eat it all, but don't need to!).

I like to make my own, of course!  I buy the packets of 6 crusty long rolls (I think they call them Vietnamese Rolls) from the supermarket when they are on special.  I make up a batch of garlic butter using 1 tsp crushed garlic, 100g butter and about a tablespoon of chopped parsley.  I cut the rolls into 6-8 pieces, spread with the butter and wrap them individually in foil ready for the oven.  Then I chuck them in the freezer ready for whenever we have pasta!  That way, we only have the option of having a couple of pieces each, I can control how much butter is on them, and it's a much more budget-friendly option.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fruit & Oat Snack Bars

I thought I'd start the recipe blogging with something I know at least some people like, because I sold lots of them at the last Barn Market we went to.

When Master W started eating finger food, I discovered the world of expensive and messy kid's snacks.  Sure, those little fruit bars that cost almost $1 each from the supermarket are convenient (and I will admit to buying them occasionally when I'm desperate), but what is even in them, anyway?  Surely I could make something similar myself?

So I did some research and experimenting and developed this recipe.  It's one of my favourites because it's so flexible and serves so many purposes.  W and I both have a severe weakness for "cake" (that's anything sweet in W's language), and this satisfies our cravings.  Even better, I know exactly what is in it:  it's all healthy and all natural.  Plus, it is soft (so suitable for littl'nes) and doesn't crumble easily.

I like to have a batch of these in the fridge as often as possible so that I can just grab a bar whenever someone wants a snack.  And because there's no added sugar or fat, I don't have to feel bad about giving it to my son or eating it myself (especially when I'm trying to lose my baby belly)!

I'll start with my favourite version, the Hummingbird Fruit & Oat Bars, but I'll put recipes for the other variations at the bottom of the post.

Hummingbird Fruit & Oat Snack Bars  (makes 36 bars)
1½ cups  quick oats (or rolled oats blitzed in the food processor)
1 cup wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon*
½ tsp ground ginger
½ cup dessicated coconut (optional)
1 whole ripe pineapple, core removed, or 1 tin crushed pineapple in juice
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup dried or frozen berries

1. Preheat oven to 200°C.  Grease & line a lamington or slice tray (approx. 20cm x 30cm). Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. 
2. If using fresh pineapple, cut into chunks and place in a food processor.  Blitz until it resembles crushed pineapple.
3. Combine pineapple, banana, eggs and vanilla, then add to the dry ingredients.  Mix until smooth.
4.  Gently stir through the berries, then pour mixture into prepared tray (and let the kids lick the bowl!).
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until slightly browned and set.
6.  Allow to cool in tray before slicing into bars suitable for little hands to hold.

The bars last 5-7 days in the fridge. 

*The potency of ground cinnamon will diminish over time, so if it's been in your cupboard for years, you might want to add a bit more.  Conversely, if you have ground the cinnamon recently yourself, you may find 1 teaspoon is too much in this recipe.


Apple, Orange & Apricot
Replace the ground ginger with ground nutmeg; replace the banana with 1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed, if possible); replace the pineapple with 2 whole, unpeeled red apples, cores removed; replace berries with 1 cup chopped dried apricots; and omit the coconut.  At step 2, blitz the apples in the food processor until the pieces are around the same size as crushed pineapple.

Zucchini, Carrot & Sultana
This is a great one for getting extra vegetables into your little one! Follow the recipe for the Apple, Orange & Apricot bars, replacing the dried apricots with sultanas and adding 1 grated carrot and 1 small grated zucchini with the wet ingredients.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A New Venture

When I encounter a problem, I'm the sort of person who (after complaining about it for a while) likes to find a solution to the problem.  This is how Mum & I came to develop the Original NomNom bibs, and the Super Absorbent dribble bibs. 

I'm also the sort of person who loves to cook!  Combining these two traits, I like to make up new recipes to suit the needs of my family, including taste, health & convenience.

I've decided to start sharing these recipes as part of the NomNom blog, just in case they suit the needs of other young families too!  So, starting next week, I will be posting new recipe ideas as regularly as I can, and as I come up with them.

Stay tuned!

P.S. NomNom bibs and other clothing and accessories will still be available from our Etsy store, which you can access from the link on the right.