Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SLAM DUNK


Some have been asking how the great slam cook-off went on Sunday...Very well thanks. Reports have all been positive.

Hard work though - might stick to catering for families rather than festivals. Had to make an extra spinach torte. Didn't have enough beetroot for 24 rice cakes so we made a batch of pumpkin and feta to make up the numbers. It's all in the planning...

There were a few oh-my-gawd-I-forgot-the....moments. But we got there in the end.

Twenty spoken word artists and crew were well fed, ready to hit the Sydney Theatre Company's main stage on Sunday evening for the Australian Poetry Slam National Final.
Thanks Annie

Special thanks to Annie (for being a fabulous sous chef) and Bravo for keeping Billie busy. Annie was very good at calming my nerves when I forgot to put the pumpkin in the muffins.

"That's strange, why is there not enough mixture to fill 24 muffin tins?"

"Oh my gawd I forgot the pumpkin - there it is sitting on the bench".

Luckily the muffins were not yet in the oven. Out the came from the 21 tins, and back in. But they tasted great - recipe to come.

20 food parcels almost ready to go






And a big congratulations to the 2010 Slam winner - the Northern Territory's Kelly-Lee Hickey.

Well done Miles Merrill and Word Travels for putting it all together.










Friday, December 3, 2010

THE GREAT SLAM COOK- OFF

billie bites is the official catering sponsor of the Australian Poetry Slam National Final, held this Sunday on the main stage at the  Sydney Theatre Company.Yes, the one Cate Blanchett runs.

Word Travels is bringing two poetry slam finalists from each state and territory to compete for the coveted title.

The spoken word artists will be fueled by billie bites fodder.

Which means, I have a very busy Sunday. I don't want to pre-cook anything, so everything will be made fresh on Sunday morning.

The brief is extra challenging because not only does it all have to be finger-food suitable to be eaten at room temperature, but it must be presented as 20 individual lunch-box-style meals.

HERE'S THE PLAN:

24 x beetroot and feta rice cakes (see below)
24 x pumpkin, cheddar and walnut muffins (a new recipe still to come)
1 infamous spinach torte (see September post)
20 bananas
20 pears

Very healthy, plenty for anyone with a gluten intolerance, and vegetarian. Nothing sweet I know, but pears are...

Stay tuned for the results.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

SPINACH AND CHEESE STUFFED POTATOES and A SPECIAL REQUEST


One of my fondest memories of intermediate school (junior high, year 6) is learning to make stuffed potatoes. I then made them for my family a few times as I progressed from baking to cooking actual meals.

But stuffed potatoes have been left behind in my culinary adventures of late. Until last week when I was a little, ahem, in need of stodge after too much fun at the work Christmas party.

And actually, with the addition of plenty of spinach, these potatoes are not just tasty but nutritionally sound.

I can't report back on how Billie fared as Miles and I didn't manage to save her any. But I'm sure she would approve.




 
CHEESY SPINACH STUFFED POTATOES

1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch spinach
1 cup grated cheddar
butter
5 medium potatoes
salt and black pepper

Bake potatoes in a preheated moderate to hot oven until done - about 30 minutes for medium potatoes  or 1 hour for large potatoes. Pierce skin with fork or knife before placing in oven.

Meanwhile, wash and drain spinach and place in large pot with a knob of butter on medium heat. Shake or stir every minute for five minutes, or until just wilted. Place on board to cool and then chop.
 
Carefully slice tops off potatoes and scoop flesh out into a large mixing bowl. Take care not to pierce skins - better to leave a bit of potato in bottom to be safe. 

Mix potato flesh with grated cheese, a few knobs of butter, spring onions, spinach and pepper. Add a little more salt if necessary. 
 
Spoon mixture into potato skins, packing it in and over filling a little until all mixture used up. If you have any leftovers, spoon onto the little potato lids and place on tray next to stuffed potatoes.
Bake in oven until browned on top - about 10 minutes. Check heated through before removing and serving.

FOR BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Mash up some potato and pureed cooked spinach
FOR BABIES 9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Reserve some of the stuffing before butter and salt added
FOR TODDLERS 12 MONTHS AND OLDER: Serve whole stuffed potato
 


And now for something completely different...
I do love a request. So despite there being no photographic evidence, and despite this being similar to other dishes I have presented on these pages, I can't resist. I took this salad to a lovely lazy Sunday BBQ at Cath's place the other week. I didn't record the measurements so I hope I get this right. Here you go Cath:


BEETROOT AND LENTIL SALAD WITH GOATS CHEESE

 Bunch baby beet root, or couple of large ones
1 cup French Puy lentils (those small black ones), or regular brown ones
Handful of spinach leaves, washed and drained and torn if large
Dressing:
3 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
Juice of a lime
salt and black pepper
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

First cook the beets. Steam or roast whole. DON'T remove the skins or tails, just chop off the stalks, but leave a bit on as you will remove them later with the skins. This stops the beets bleeding. If you have a pressure cooker, cover about half the beets with water and cook once at pressure for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils. Rinse first then place in small pot with a cup of cold water. Bring to gentle simmer with lid on, and cook gently until just soft. Check during cooking and add more water if needed. Particularly if using the Puy lentils, be careful not to overcook until mushy. The beauty of these lentils is their texture.

Prepare dressing. When lentils are cooked place in large bowl and gently stir dressing through.

Cool cooked beets and remove skins and tails etc. Chop into large chunks and add to lentils. Add walnuts.

When ready to serve, add spinach and then gently combine sliced goats cheese.

 



Sunday, November 21, 2010

BEETROOT AND FETA RICE CAKES

Where there are risks there are often rewards - and the kitchen is no exception.


This was one of those creations where going into the oven a few deep breaths were taken. And there was no opportunity to taste test when they were removed - the pink and white savories had to be immediately bundled into a container and whisked into the stroller for a run to the train at Bondi Junction.

Thankfully they were the hit of the picnic. Until we got to dessert. Well, there were only three of us, counting Billie, so I confess there wasn't much competition. But Jodie is a fine cook with fine tastes, so her opinion is probably worth five.

Now you might say, well you've done rice cakes before (pumpkin), and beetroot and feta are such good team mates that there's hardly a surprise that this concoction worked. All true. But still, these tasty and nutritious vegetarian picnic fodder don't just work. They are fabulous.

A NOTE ON RICE CAKES: I have had a couple of complaints from readers who made the pumpkin rice cakes a few months back - yes, they got stuck in the tin. 
 Well, I am very happy to share with you all my recent innovation for cooking all things involving muffin tins: baking paper. 

Simply cut small squares/rectangles of paper and line muffin tins. Lightly oil tins first so paper sticks. Will look messy and have lots of folds and creases, but the muffins/rice cakes come out easy as pie, and your tins are left clean as a baby's bottom. And you avoid soaking up chemicals from the Teflon coating.


BEETROOT AND FETA RICE CAKES


Bunch baby beetroots - about 4-5, or 2-3 regular beets
1 cup arborio rice, or other Italian
1 block feta, chopped into small pieces
5 eggs
handful fresh oregano, finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
butter

First prepare beets: Wash and cut leaves off but make sure you leave some of the stalk on, and all of the tail. This prevents the juice leaking during cooking. The best was to cook beets is in a pressure cooker - half cover beets with water and cook for 20 minutes once at pressure. Otherwise steam them, or roast in oven until very tender. Remove and set aside to cool for few minutes. Gently remove skins by slicing off stem ends and tails - the skin should then slip off easily. Chop into small pieces, about one inch.

 Meanwhile, place rice in small pot filled with water and a dash or two of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook with lid off for a further 10-12 minutes, or until just soft to the bite. Strain and stir through a knob of butter.

Heat oven to medium-hot. Prepare muffin tins as above. Chop feta into tiny cubes. Beat eggs in large bowl and add rice, oregano, feta and freshly ground pepper. Gently stir through beets. Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Remove from tins by holding onto corners of baking paper - another reason not to bother with perfect circles - and place on wire rack to cool briefly. Serve hot, or luke warm at a picnic in the park. Cold will pass too, Billie assures me after she ate one later for dinner on Saturday.

BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Set aside some cooked beetroot and rice and blend.
BABIES  9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Serve chunks of beetroot and feta, or rice cakes as is.
TODDLERS ONE YEAR AND OLDER: Serve beetroot and feta rice cakes as they come.



Our Botanic Gardens picnic was a special event - Billie's first outing of a dress complete with matching hat and HANDBAG given to her by Jodie when she was just one week old. Don't you wish you had such an outfit...

I had been delaying introducing the handbag but Billie has independently developed a love of all things handbag-like, to the point where we were concerned she would strangle herself wrapping the long straps around her neck. So out came her own little bag with its much shorter strap.

But Jodie turned up with another present for Billie - this time a hungry caterpillar bag. Of course the pretty ribbon wrapping was the instant hit.




Thursday, November 18, 2010

BLACK BEANS AND SWEET CORN WITH POLENTA MASH

I'm wary of announcing it for fear of jinxing, but vegetables have been making a come-back in the Billie arena.

And this delicious dish was no exception - she ate it in its entirety on three separate sittings. That's the true test, we know it wasn't just a passing whim.

Now you may question my teaming of fresh sweet corn with polenta. Kinda nutritionally unnecessary, I agree. But it works. Tastes fabulous and proves a hearty, healthy meal that is hopefully as popular around your house as mine.

I have experimented with various versions of polenta and beans, usually preparing the polenta in a sort of slab/slice form. But this dish shows polenta mash-style works very well. And it's much quicker and easier.






BLACK BEANS AND CORN WITH POLENTA MASH

First prepare the beans:
Soak 1 cup dried black beans, in 3 cups of water for about 7 hours. Drain and cook in three cups of fresh water. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. If using a pressure cooker, use just 2 cups of water and cook for 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 stick celery (optional)
2 t ground cumin
salt
1 green pepper/capsicum, finely chopped
1 fresh corn cob
handful fresh coriander, chopped finely
handful fresh oregano, chopped (optional)
1 cup strained tomato sauce/puree (not ketchup) or tinned will do

1 cup polenta
3 cups water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
butter
salt
sour cream (optional but very good)

Steam or boil corn cob and set aside to cool. Hold horizontally on chopping board and use large sharp knife to slice off kernels.

When beans are nearly done, heat oil in fry pan. Saute onion and celery, then add garlic and salt. Next add pepper/capsicum, corn and cumin. Saute a few more minute before adding cooked beans and tomatoes. Check seasoning. 

Bring the polenta water to boil in large deep pot with a dash or two of salt. As soon as boiling sprinkle in polenta from a height, stirring as you go. Turn heat to very low and keep stirring until it thickens into a porridge-like substance. Remove from heat and whip in a 1 T butter followed by the cheese.

Place a large dollop of polenta on each plate. Ladle the bean stew on top, followed by a teaspoon or two of sour cream. Finish off with the coriander on top. Yum.

BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OVER: Set aside a bit of the polenta before you add butter and cheese.
BABIES AND TODDLERS 9 MONTHS AND OVER: Set aside some of the black beans before you add to stew. Serve whole as finger food, or slightly mashed. Also offer some polenta and sour cream.
TODDLERS 1 YEAR AND OVER: Serve dish in its entirety

Monday, November 8, 2010

DILLED DOUBLE PEA SOUP

I had a strange experience on Saturday night. We were sitting around the table with some dinner guests and I noticed something odd.

While we shared funny stories of fussy family members that only ate chicken nuggets , one of our guests appeared to not have touched her meal. Or rather, her soup. She was chomping back on sour dough toast okay.

A shiver ran down my spine. I had cooked a bad meal for our guests.

Now if the conversation had been hovering around a topic unrelated to food and eating and fussiness, I may have sat there uncomfortably all night wondering whether I had over-dilled the pea soup.

"Um, you having trouble with that soup there?!" I chimed in. Thankfully, plenty of laughs. "Oh yeah I just don't do soup. I don't like liquid food".

Now this is a particularly chunky soup. It ain't the blended type. Vegetables bob about quite obviously. Then came the confessions of 'oh well I actually mainly eat burgers and pizza and all that'.

But here's the twist: I can comprehend a non-cook person with no interest or knowledge of food taking such an attitude to my soup. But she went on to explain she normally cooks southern-style fish and seafood dishes, and a great vegetarian lasagna I must drop by for...

Well, despite this soup being rejected, I can heartily recommend it. The DILL IS ESSENTIAL, so don't be tempted to omit it. No pictures sorry, but it's a lovely light green base with flashes of orange, white and green from the chunky vegetables.

I slightly adapted this from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family.


DILLED DOUBLE PEA SOUP

 Serves 6-8.

2 cups green split peas
2 T olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 t salt
2 large carrots, chopped
3 potatoes, diced
2 t ground cumin
black pepper
8 cups water
1 vegetable stock cube
2 large bay leaf
1 cup frozen peas
2 T snipped fresh dill

Soak split peas for about five hours in eight cups of water. Discard soaking water.

Heat oil in a pressure cooker or large pot. Add onion and salt and saute until golden. Add carrot, potatoes, cumin and pepper and saute few more minutes. Boil water and add a small amount to chopped stock cube and mix to dissolve. Add to pot with rest of water, split peas and bay leaves.

If pressure cooking: Bring up to pressure on high heat then lower and cook for 40 minutes.

If using a regular pot: Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 60-90 minutes. (Yes, it's worth finding that pressure cooker down the op shop).

Once split peas have softened and the soup has become creamy, add dill and frozen peas. Check seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed. Cook a few more minutes (don't over-do as peas will go mushy).

FOR BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Reserve some frozen peas/carrot/potato and steam until soft. Blend/mash and serve with no salt.
FOR BABIES 9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Serve soup as is, but cut back on salt.
FOR BABIES/TODDLERS ONE YEAR AND OLDER: Serve soup just the way it comes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

SLURPING NOODLE SALAD WITH SESAME DRESSING

It may be bad manners to suck and slurp on spaghetti, but with noodles it's the only way.


And Billie has become a pro noodle-sucker. At times tonight she seemed to be competing with me for how fast she could slurp them back. While she managed to dodge any actual vegetables, she at least sucked back a fair few sesame seeds and bits of fresh coriander.

This is a delicious meal that's quick and easy to prepare, and is designed to be eaten cold (perfect for feeding the whole family).

Note that I've used honey - so best avoided if you're feeding an under-one-year-old. Substitute with maple syrup, which is what the original recipe calls for (yes, it's American).

You may have already guessed where this salad came from - Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family. I've just made a couple of changes.

 Lair suggests serving this tasty vegetarian dish with salmon. However, it's served us well twice this week as a main - just add a vegetable or two.

Feeding the family



NOODLE SALAD WITH SESAME DRESSING

Salad: 
1 pack of soba noodles (225g/8oz)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped coriander/cilantro leaves

Dressing:
2 T sesame oil (Lair suggests toasted, but I just used plain)
3 T tamari or shoyu
3 T balsamic vinegar
1 T honey/maple syrup
1 T olive oil
fresh cracked pepper

Optional extras:
I used broccoli florets on Saturday and both broccoli and thinly sliced carrots tonight.
Lair suggests chives, red cabbage, radishes and scallions.


Toast sesame seeds in dry cast iron fry-pan/skillet on medium heat for about five minutes.  Stir frequently and remove when browning and crackling. Don't over-do them.

Cook soba noodles in medium-sized pot of boiling water for a few minutes (check package). Drain and rinse under cold tap immediately. 

Steam any vegetables, such as broccoli and carrot.

Whisk together dressing ingredients. Combine with noodles, coriander and sesame seeds. Gently stir through any vegetables.



Billie masters the art of noodle-eating

Monday, October 18, 2010

FOOD THAT MAKES YOU HUM


I warned you a few posts ago that I was busy stocking the kitchen with Japanese ingredients.

Triple A Salad - Arame, Almond and Avocado Green Salad
So here comes the Japanese-inspired dishes, or at least Japanese ingredient-inspired. I strongly recommend you make a note to grab the bits and pieces for this delicious salad next time you're wandering the aisles of a well-stocked supermarket or little Japanese/Asian grocer.

This is food that makes you hum. Tonight after Miles and I devoured the whole salad bowl we almost bounded around the house, both eager and energetic to take on the Billie-bath-bed routine - rather than sluggish and impatient to crash on the couch.

Okay, I admit Billie didn't eat this one, but then she wasn't actually offered it. Instead I was very happy she chowed down the spinach dahl left-overs, mixed with brown rice, yoghurt and mango chutney. Very happy, because lately vegetables have not been winning the popularity contest at Billie's end of the table. Here's the dahl - I just swapped the red lentils for brown this time: billie bites lentil dahl recipe

This is a superb salad. Extremely tasty and satisfying. It does need to be served with some protein and carbohydrates - we just had a small amount of dahl and brown rice, which obviously isn't the best team mate, but it worked as two courses. Tofu, tempeh, fish, soba noodles, potato...any of these would work well. But you don't need anything with much flavor.

This is just slightly adapted from a Mary Shaw recipe. Mary taught at Bastyr University and ran a cooking program for the Ashland Food Co-Op in Oregon. Another credit goes here to my recent wonderful kitchen companion, Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family, which published the recipe.


TRIPLE A SALAD - ARAME, ALMOND AND AVOCADO

Arame, Almond and Avocado Green Salad
Salad:
1/4 cup raw almonds
4 cups salad greens - try spinach, rocket/arugular, and lettuce
1/8-1/4 cup arame, soaked in 1 cup cold water
1 ripe avocado, sliced into long strips

Dressing:
3 Tablespoons sesame oil
3 Tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons runny honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons poppy seeds


Heat oven to 180C/350F. Roast almonds on dry, flat tray for about 7 minutes or until giving off that nice almond smell. Set aside to cool and then coarsely chop. 

Wash the salad greens and spin or pat dry with tea towel.

Combine all dressing ingredients in large deep salad bowl and whisk. Drain arame (don't need the water) and add to dressing with salad greens. Toss well, gently fold through avocado, and sprinkle cooled almonds on top. 

FOR BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Mash avocado or offer slices. 
FOR BABIES 9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Offer salad, minus the almonds (for choking purposes)
FOR BABIES/TODDLERS 12 MONTHS AND OLDER: Offer the whole salad (good luck)


Thursday, October 14, 2010

SAUCE-LESS CHUNKY PASTA

Black bean pasta with pumpkin, mushrooms and feta
 Saucy pasta can be a bit messy with toddlers and babies. Especially while they insist on eating with their hands.

An Auckland restaurant I worked in when I was 17 made these chunky-style sauce-less pasta dishes. Sometimes the chefs at Sour Dough used to whip up some for the kitchen-hands, and I'm still trying to mimic those tasty lunches.

The great thing about this way of serving pasta is that anything goes. Almost.
Here's the version I made the other night, but I've also added a list of good vegetarian alternatives at the bottom.


SPAGHETTI WITH ROAST PUMPKIN, FETA, BROCCOLI, MUSHROOMS AND PESTO

I used a black bean spaghetti for a healthier, more interesting dish but any will do. The black noodles didn't score so well in the office lunch-envy stakes. But Billie sucked them up with gusto.


Packet of spaghetti or other pasta
1/4 pumpkin, skinned and chopped into bite sized chunks
1 broccoli head, washed and chopped into chunks
3-4 spring onions
garlic
handful of mushrooms - large brown ones better but button will do
half block feta, chopped/crumbled
fresh pesto

Roast pumpkin in olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Before adding pasta, get broccoli and mushrooms cooking. Saute mushrooms in hot cast-iron pan with a little olive oil and butter. You'll need to cook in several lots in a single layer. Cook on medium-high until just browned. Cook broccoli in little bit of water or in steamer until tender. Fry up spring onions and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic in some oil, or add to mushrooms.

While all this is going on, cook pasta. Drain and stir few generous tablespoons of pesto through. Pour into large serving bowl and gently stir through cooked vegetables and feta.


Chunky pasta dishes also work well: cherry tomatoes, red onions, olives, artichokes, capers, ricotta, courgette/zucchini, red pepper/capsicum, aubergine/eggplant, walnuts, English spinach, asparagus, rocket, fresh herbs, blue cheese, peas, sun-dried tomatoes etc etc.


If you've been missing your billie bites of culinary inspiration the past few weeks, I do have a good explanation for my absence. The first program I was assigned upon my return to the office was food-related...'Organic Food'. Check out the link below:
  
http://news.sbs.com.au/insight/episode/index/id/322

Friday, October 1, 2010

THREE SISTERS STEW

While Billie has taken to throwing the vegetables out of the highchair, she still devours beans like they're almost as good as sliced bread. She also still appreciates vegetables if they're mingling with beans in a stew or casserole. Not sure on the logic here, but we are dealing with a toddler.

Three Sisters Stew
Three Sisters Stew is a marvelous all-in-one dish which teams well with whatever grain you have to hand. We tried a whole wheat cous cous the first time I made it, and then quinoa this week. However, because corn is a whole grain it doesn't need the grain for nutrition purposes.

I doubled the recipe this week, which was great to keep us in lunch for several days - Billie and I had it four days running. However, I wouldn't recommend doing this unless you have a party to feed, as I reckon a bit of the flavour was lost.

This hearty vegetarian stew comes courtesy of my latest culinary find. Feeding the Whole Family By Cynthia Lair is a fantastic cook book I stumbled across in a second hand shop a few weeks ago. It's all about using whole foods to create meals suitable for a range of ages. Sound familiar? Yes, there goes my book idea...

Anyway, expect to see a few more recipes where this goody came from. The core ingredients diverge a little from my kitchen shelves, so I need to do a re-stock before I can approach many of the others. She uses lots of Japanese ingredients.

Cynthia Lair credits author Jackie Williams with this stew. "Native Americans grew corn and planted the beans at the base. The corn stalks served as a bean pole. The ground space between the stalks was used to grow squash. The three sisters (corn, beans and squash) lived harmoniously," writes Lair.

I have made a couple of little adaptations to the original.

THREE SISTERS STEW

1 cup dried black beans (Lair suggests Christmas lima beans but any dark beans will do)
3 cups stock
2 tspn ground cumin
1 T extra virgin olive oil or ghee
2 tsp dried oregano or 1 T fresh, chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamin
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 cups pumpkin (Lair uses squash), peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tin tomatoes (400g)
1 tsp chilli powder or paste
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn (I used fresh)
1 cup grated cheddar
sour cream (optional)
 Cous cous, quinoa or rice 
Seasonal greens - bok choy, broccoli, or asparagus work well

Soak beans for 6-8 hours, or less is fine if using pressure cooker. Place soaked beans with 2 cups of stock and 1 tsp cumin in pot or pressure cooker. Bring to boil and then simmer on low, covered, until tender. Takes about 50-60 mins or 45 mins in pressure cooker.

Heat oil in large pot on medium and saute the onion and garlic in the remaining spices and salt. Cook until onion is soft (about 5 mins) and then add pumpkin/squash, tomatoes, oregano and chili. Add 1 cup of stock, bring to a simmer and cook with LID OFF until pumpkin is soft (about 20 mins). If getting dry replace lid. Add corn and cooked beans, simmer until corn tender (won't take long). Season to taste and serve over a bed of grains with a generous side of cooked greens. Sprinkle with grated cheddar, and sour cream works well on the side if there's some about.

I SUGGEST FOR BABIES 6 MONTHS: Put aside some pumpkin chunks, steam and puree.
FOR 8 MONTHS: Put aside some cooked beans and puree with pumpkin.
FOR 10 MONTHS: Offer some cooked beans and pumpkin, not pureed
FOR 12 MONTHS AND UP: Offer complete Three Sisters Stew. Billie loved!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

HIDING THE VEGETABLES - ASPARAGUS AND PUMPKIN RICE CAKES

Apparently you're not supposed to 'hide' vegetables from fussy toddlers. Well, how about just offering them mixed into plenty of carbohydrates and cheese?
Asparagus and Pumpkin Rice Cakes

 Billie wasn't fooled anyway, or perhaps she just chose not to dig into these today. Maybe tomorrow.


Our one-year-old has dropped her all-devouring love of vegetables and began toddling down the path to fussy-dom. My idealistic plans to not tolerate a fussy eater don't work when you're dealing with a little person that can't speak, let alone reason.

Pumpkin and spinach have so far remained firmly on Billie's menu, so I was a little taken-aback when the chunks of roast pumpkin landed on the floor, with a smirk. Especially since she devoured a similar dish only a few weeks back.

I made these for lunch today, served with a spinach and tomato salad dressed with balsamic and olive oil. When dinner-time came round Billie did manage to get half of one of these tasty vegetarian cakes down, so this recipe still earns an entry.

And anything with asparagus is worth making during spring.



ASPARAGUS AND PUMPKIN RICE CAKES


1 cup rice (I used brown but any will do)
1/4 pumpkin
1 bunch asparagus
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
fine dry bread crumbs
olive oil

Place rice with 2 cups cold water in pot on high with lid on. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer on very low with lid on until water evaporated. Don't stir - you will be able to see/hear when water gone.

Chop pumpkin into small bite-sized chunks and rub with olive oil. Roast in hot oven until soft and crispy.

Oil 12 muffin tins and line with breadcrumbs. 
Chop asparagus into small chunks and steam lightly with little water and butter. Remove from pot.

Whisk eggs lightly with milk and freshly ground black pepper. Stir through grated cheese, rice and pumpkin and asparagus. Check seasoning and spoon into muffin tins. Bake in hot oven for 25-35 mins.

Leave in tins for 5 minutes. Remove and cool on wire rack. Eat warm or refrigerate for later.

BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Depending on where you're at, reserve some cooked pumpkin chunks and some asparagus. Blend for younger baby or offer as finger food for older baby.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BACK TO THE OFFICE - ITALIAN MANASTA AND MORE

One of the most scary things about returning to the office this week was FOOD.


How was our family going to eat? I refuse to go back to paid work so I can spend my part-time wage on lunches and takeaway dinners.

So billie bites may be about to become a whole lot more useful for some readers. I've often been told the recipes look good, but there's just not time...

Eating well is all about time management, organisation, planning, budgeting, and shopping. If the cupboards are well-stocked you're more than half-way there.

Now I have a huge disclaimer to announce: A BIG thank you and congratulations has to go to Miles for taking the reins of part-time house-husband. So actually, Miles did most of the cooking. And very well. Especially considering he had to work any minute Billie slept.

However, essential to this successful changeover was a big, well-planned shop on Sunday. As much as we wanted to get out in the sunshine and take a much-needed walk to the beach, to the shops we all went.



EATING WELL IN A BUSY HOUSEHOLD


PLAN JUST A FEW MEALS: 
I used to head to the shops with a strict list after planning the weeks' meals. But this leaves you stuck with overpriced spinach and skipping past the bargains.  So write a list, perhaps after flipping through a few cookbooks or blogs, with several meal options. That way when you discover fresh peas are expensive this week and the store doesn't stock frozen ones, you can throw that idea to the wind. 

KEEP AN EYE ON SEASONS:
Asparagus is in now because it's spring in the southern hemisphere, so take advantage. Avoid it for the rest of the year. It's tricky keeping up with appropriate prices for fruit and vegetables and I'm definitely still learning, but the more you browse the green grocers the better you'll get at eating well on a budget.

COOK IN BULK:
I screwed this up on Sunday night when I cooked one of Billie's favourites - her Italian great grandfather's manasta. I only made enough of this simple nourishing spinach and white bean dish for one dinner and a too-small office lunch for me and a little for Billie. However, when Miles took over on Monday he cooked an entire bag of black beans in the pressure cooker, froze half of them and turned the rest into delicious chili beans. These stretched over two Mexican burrito dinners, a hearty lunch for me and also for Billie.

STORE CUPBOARD STUFF:
Sorry to trundle out that old dogma, but it's true. If you always have most of these in store you'll never have to reach for the takeaway menu (unless you want to treat yourself). Off the top of my head I suggest: Rice, flour, oats, polenta, cous cous, quinoa, dried beans - black, kidney, chickpea, great northern etc- and some tinned beans for emergencies, lentils, tin tomatoes, nuts - almond, brazil, walnut etc, nut butters, dates, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, and the list can go on...I know they're not technically store cupboard, but I reckon keeping eggs, milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt around can make your life that much easier too.


Manasta is one of those dishes that makes you feel good just preparing it. On the eve of my return to paid work I was quite anxious, but once I started cooking this tasty, healthy and very easy dish I felt relaxed and calm.

This Italian stable comes from Billie's Great Grandpa Lou whose family hails from Naples. His wife Eve taught me to make it when we visited their Baraboo, Wisconsin home during the fourth of July holiday weekend. Eve is one of the most amazing home cooks I have ever met - we dined on blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, pumpkin pudding, Mexican egg salad, spinach and ricotta lasagne, chili beans, and this Manasta. Technically a soup, and I recommend serving it with good bread, but it's more the consistency of a stew/casserole. I recommend doubling this recipe.




GREAT GRANDPA LOU'S  MANASTA

1 cup dried great northern beans (white beans)
1 large bag English spinach
1/2 cup olive oil (yes, you need this much - it is Italian after all)
6 large cloves garlic 
1 t fennel seed
   
Soak beans in four cups of water for several hours of overnight. Drain and place in pot with another four cups of water and bring to the boil before simmering for a couple of hours. If you have a pressure cooker use that instead - much quicker and you don't need to soak for as long. Or you could use canned beans but then you don't get the soupy stuff.

Wash spinach and leave a little of the water on the leaves. Place in large pot with lid and cook on medium for about five mins. Shake and stir every minute until just wilted. Remove from pot to cool before chopping.

Heat oil in large pot and cook garlic gently for few minutes. Add fennel seed and cook for just one minute. Add beans, cooking water and spinach. Salt to taste (just a little if serving to baby/toddler and then re-salt adults' later. Simmer for few minutes to blend flavours.

Serve in bowls with good, thickly-sliced bread. Works well as a side dish too, which is what Eve did.

Squeeze a very small amount of lemon juice over just before serving - the vitamin C is needed to absorb the iron from the spinach. Or serve with a tomato salad, fruit etc.


PS Miles also made sushi while he was on. But that's just showing off...
So then I had to catch up, and made this batch the following evening.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

SPINACH RICE TORTE

 At last, the recipe many have been waiting for. Some have been waiting for years.

This spinach torte went down a treat at Billie's first birthday party on the weekend. Her friend Marilla, just one day younger, couldn't get enough.

Now when I say spinach, I mean spinach. I'm afraid silverbeet - often called spinach in Australia - just doesn't cut it in this dish.

I make a hunza pie - yet to make an appearance here - which is very well suited to silverbeet. But please only make this torte with 'English' spinach - and fresh is always best.

This Italian dish is perfect picnic fodder, travels well, lasts a few days in the fridge, is delicious at room temperature and has been the star of many shared buffets.

I have adapted this from Julie Biuso's Italian Cooking - a great New Zealand classic.

SPINACH RICE TORTE

1 large bunch of spinach
1 T butter
1 cup arborio rice, or another Italian rissotto variety
3 T olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
fresh ground black pepper
fresh ground nutmeg
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 T extra butter, melted

Preheat oven to 200c. Butter or oil a flan dish - ceramic is best as doesn't stick. If you don't have either use a cake tin with a removable base.

Place rice in a small pot filled with water and a bit of salt. Bring to boil, then simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes or until just cooked. Drain and set aside to cool.

Pick and wash spinach leaves. Flick dry but leave a little water on leaves. Place butter in a large pot with spinach and cook on a medium heat. Shake/stir every minute or so. Once wilted, but not too cooked, remove from pot and leave to cool. 

Saute onions for a few minutes in oil before adding garlic. When very soft and a little browned add to rice. Chop spinach and add to rice with eggs, 3/4 cup of the cheese, nutmeg, and pepper. Combine with a large fork. Taste and add salt if needed. 

Pour into flan dish and drizzle top with melted butter and rest of parmesan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is crisp.

Serve hot, warm or room temperature.



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

PARTY FOOD - PUMPKIN AND BANANA LOAF

Billie tries her cake and eyes up a second helping
I used to be suspicious of cakes boasting of their low-sugar low-fat credentials. What's the point?

Well, this pumpkin and banana loaf passed the first test immediately - it tasted GOOD.

And when you're trying to keep your baby/toddler/child/self away from sugar, suddenly recipes like these are winners.

If you're hosting a one-year-old's birthday, this cake has the added bonus of being the right shape. No need for fancy sculpting with lots of sweet sticky icing.

And the babies, toddlers and kids all came back for more. Especially Billie.

I have only slightly adapted this from a recipe courtesy of Cherie at our ante-natal mother's group.


Billie's First Birthday Cake
PUMPKIN AND BANANA LOAF

1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup wholemeal self raising flour
1/4 t baking soda
1 t ground ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups grated pumpkin
1 large banana, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sultanas
 2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt


Preheat oven to 180c. Oil a loaf tin and dust with flour or else line with paper. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl and stir through sugar. In a separate small bowl mix walnuts, sultanas, pumpkin and banana together. In another bowl whisk eggs, oil and yoghurt together. Add wet to dry and blend well with electric mixer, or else use wooden spoon. Stir through pumpkin mixture and pour into tin. Place on low-middle shelf of oven and cook for about an hour or when skewer comes out clean. Check after 50 minutes. I had to cover with foil towards the end as browned quickly on top and still wet at bottom, but will depend on your oven.

Leave for ten minutes in tin before turning out on wire rack to cool. Dust lightly with icing sugar before serving.

Training back from Melbourne



Monday, September 6, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BILLIE

Billie's First Birthday Party

Billie Miro Mystic Merrill turns one today.
Pumpkin and Banana Loaf Birthday Cake

I've just popped a very healthy and delicious cake in the oven to take down to Bronte to share with her little friends born from our ante-natal classes. I grabbed the recipe for this wonderful low-sugar, low-fat pumpkin and banana loaf from Cherie, mother of Ty. Check recipe tomorrow.

But yesterday was the real party. I prepared this tasty menu of finger foods suitable for toddlers, which could all be pre-prepared and would travel well to the park. However, gale-force winds provoked a change of venue and instead our home was taken over by babies, toddlers and kids old enough to kick soccer balls around in the shared backyard.


FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY MENU: (Recipes below or to follow this week)

Pumpkin Feta Rice Cakes
Pumpkin Feta Rice Cakes and Spinach Tort
Spinach Rice Torte
Hummus
Corn Chips
Carrot Sticks
Fresh Dates
Brazil Nuts
Camembert cheese and crackers
Pumpkin and Banana Loaf Birthday Cake

(And thanks to Toni for the egg sandwiches - courtesy of her backyard chooks - and Amanda for her mum's fruitcake.)








Train trip to Melbourne
The Spinach Rice Torte is adapted from a Julie Biuso recipe that has been my go-to for picnics and parties for years. But I'm most excited about the pumpkin and feta rice cakes, which I invented the previous week in preparation for a big train trip to Melbourne - just me and Billie. These eggy, cheesy little numbers travel well, are fine at room temperature and last for a few days refrigerated (but not in our house as they just get eaten).





These two rice-based recipes lend themselves well to being prepared semi-simultaneously, necessary when you have limited time to cook for a child's party. Thanks to Emily and Linton for taking care of Billie on Saturday afternoon while I did the great cook-off (Miles was away at the Brisbane Writers' Festival).

PUMPKIN AND FETA RICE CAKES

1 cup arborio rice, or other risotto rice
1/4-1/3 pumpkin, skinned and chopped into small pieces
one small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
dried, fine breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
6 eggs, lightly beaten
Block feta, chopped into very small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200c.

Place rice in medium-small pot with plenty of water and a little salt. Bring to boil and then simmer gently for 12 minutes. Drain and leave to cool.

Place pumpkin on oiled oven tray. Cook until soft and browned - it won't take long as small pieces.

Saute onion for few minutes in frying pan with olive oil, add garlic and cook a few more minutes.

Oil 12 muffin tins and then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Combine eggs, milk and cheese and then mix together with rice and onions and garlic. Season with pepper but salt is not necessary due to the feta and Parmesan.

Gently stir through pumpkin and distribute to muffin tins. Bake for about 40 minutes or until cooked right through and nicely browned. Turn onto wire rack to cool. Eat warm or refrigerate for later.



Billie enjoys her (second) birthday cake 06/09/10

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

STINGING NETTLE SOUP

Preparing the stinging nettles
 When Billie and I arrived to stay with friends in Melbourne on Saturday I admit I wasn't too excited when they announced what was for dinner. So I opted for the alternative of eating out - we were in Melbourne after all. But when Sunday evening rolled round I decided to take the plunge. I even offered to make it. Stinging Nettle Soup anyone?

Well, I'm now a covert to this fabulous SUPER VEGETABLE, which tastes like spinach and boasts a load of minerals and vitamins, including iron. In fact it's more than that. Stinging nettle has been used for many medicinal purposes by many different peoples for many, many years. To learn more, check out this Canadian article: WONDER PLANT . Or for some quick facts: stinging nettle on wikipedia

Stinging nettle of course stings when fresh and raw (soaking, cooking or drying remove the stings) so please note the rubber gloves.

Billie and Emily chat while waiting lunch at the Ceres' cafe


Sourcing this hardy weed may require a rummage in your local forest or garden. If you're in Melbourne, head to Ceres  -  Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies

It was by accident that Emily and Andrew wound up with an armful. Blame 6-week-old baby Oscar. By the time the new little family made it to Ceres Saturday organic markets, the cupboards were bare. Except for some lonely stinging nettle.

Billie enjoys the cafe at Ceres


When Billie, Emily, Oscar and I walked back to Ceres on Sunday for lunch at The Merri Table and Bar, serving delights straight from this urban farm, we suddenly saw stinging nettles everywhere along the Merri Creek route. But we're sure Ceres grows its own.

 This easy, yummy soup was adapted from one sourced online, Stinging Nettles Soup, but there is another version that looks pretty good included on the Wonder Plant link above which I may try next time we stumble across some stinging nettle.


STINGING NETTLE SOUP

 2 T butter
1 onion, chopped
1 pound of potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1 large bunch of stinging nettles (handle with gloves)
5 cups vegetable stock (homemade better obviously but we used 2 cubes dissolved)
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t salt
generous amount freshly ground black pepper
cream (optional)
yoghurt (optional but encouraged - we only had yoghurt in stock)


Chop and peel potatoes. Chop onion. Melt one tablespoon of the butter in large saucepan with heaby base. Saute onion until soft. Meanwhile, get hot stock ready. Add to pot with potatoes and bring to boil. Turn down and simmer WITHOUT LID for 15 minutes. Meanwhile wash and trim nettle (with  gloves). We used stalks and all but I would suggest removing most of the stalks to avoid a stringy soup. Add nettle to pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Blend well and reheat with cream, if using. Serve with generous dollop of yoghurt and some decent bread/toast. And yes, Billie liked it - with plenty of toast of course.



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