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!