Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Great Pandan Hunt

Sometimes when a recipe calls for an unusual ingredient, finding it can be an adventure in itself. I missed Kaya toast, a Singaporean speciality so much that I googled a recipe for it.
Kaya recipe
All of them required Pandan leaves, not something your local New World carries. In fact I had not come across it at any Chinese grocers. Then driving down New North road I saw a shop called Thai food importers its no 849 New North Road. They have a handy carpark at the back and I thought I might go sneak a peak. Needless to say I found Pandan leaves, I also found galangal, pad thai sauce, massaman curry paste, Laksa paste and Panko bread crumbs all at great prices.

I couldn't wait to take my goodie bag home and try the Kaya recipe. There is a reason I do not make custard at home from scratch. I am an impatient cook. The Kaya split! I have a jar of jam that is now lying neglected in the fridge and I am still drooling with the memory of beautiful Kaya toast with a blob of butter we devoured in Singapore. So what is the point of my post you ask?

Well I made a quick Massaman curry yesterday using the single sachet paste I bought at the Thai shop.
I made a version with prawns as they cook quickly and Hospobaby loves prawns. This is of course not very traditional as Massaman curry is usually made with Beef or Lamb.
The curry is a perfect way to introduce spices to the little ones. By spices I do not mean hot chillies. Zoya loved this curry as it was a perfect balance of sweet from the sugar, salty from the fish sauce and sour from the tamarind.

Here is my recipe

1 sachet Massaman curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1 red onion roughly diced
3 teaspoons of fish sauce
4 teaspoons of tamarind paste
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar or palm sugar
potatoes or butternut pumpkin/squash diced into cubes
1/2 cup peas
prawns/lamb/beef/chicken diced
Green chill sliced or chilli oil for adults
Roasted peanuts to garnish

Hot Fluffy rice to serve

Add a tablespoon of oil into a pan and saute the paste for a couple of minutes. Add the red onion and cook. Now add the can of coconut milk (use 2 cans if using meat), fish sauce, sugar and tamarind paste. Add the vegetables and meat if using (do not add the prawns at this stage if you are using prawns in this recipe instead of meat). Bring to a boil and simmer down until sauce thickens and vegetables are cooked. Add the prawns if using and cook for a further 4-5 minutes. Garnish with roasted peanuts and serve on rice. I provided chilli oil for the adults to add heat to the dish.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Hospobaby and Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals

I have been inspired by our experience of My Food Bag to try to experiment more in the kitchen. This week I am trying 4 new recipes from the Jamie Oliver 15 minute meals. I know Jamie is coming up with another book that has more economical recipes called "Save with Jamie". I will have to wait to try those on Hospobaby and Chef Sid.

Meanwhile here are links to what we are cooking this week in case you don't own the book. The recipes take me longer than 15 minutes for sure so that is not what I am testing this week, but seeing if Hospobaby loves the different tastes and textures.
We usually eat out on our days off - Sunday and Monday hence our week starts on a Tuesday

Tuesday - Chicken Dim Sum
Chicken dim sum with coconut buns

Wednesday- Pork Belly Tacos
Pork tacos with Spicy black beans and avocado green salad

Thursday- Prawn linguine with Sicilian Shaved fennel
Prawn Linguine with Silican Shaved Fennel

Friday- Grilled steak, ratatouille and saffron rice
Grilled steak, ratatouille and saffron rice

Saturday- Mexican BLT
Mexican BLT, Chillies, Guacamole and Salad

I will update our reactions at the end of the week. Good luck trying the recipes in your own kitchen.


Making the coconut buns was a bit messy, Zoya helped me shape them and stick them into the muffin wrappers. She stole cucumber ribbons as I was busy getting them pickled. I had to do batches of the chicken and buns as I have small steamers. I didnt give Hospobaby the pickled ginger but the grown ups loved it and I also added some chilli oil to the hoisin for the adults to dip into.
Hospobaby loves Broccoli (shes strange) so she had a few broccolini stems. She remarked that this meal reminded her of Yum Char!
Personally I found the coconut buns to be a bit doughy and I could only eat a couple. Will definitely try the chicken again with some rice next time as the mushrooms and broccolini make it super healthy.


Pork Tacos with black beans and avocado salad.
Zoya loves tacos, period. I found the pork a bit tough. It was a bit funny as the recipe asks you to use skinless pork belly. I bought pork belly with skin on and had to skin it myself. Ended up cutting my finger in the process. It went against my instincts to do this as the skin and fat are the best part in the pork belly. The meal was saved by the yummy black beans and salad that Hospobaby loved.

Prawn linguine with Silican shaved Fennel.
This was one of our favorite meals of the week. Here is a cool tip I learnt from my husband. After you spoon the spaghetti in the bowl for the little ones use a kitchen scissors to cut up the spaghetti/linguine so that it is easier for the kids to eat.
Fennel and parmesan make an amazing salad for grown ups.

Friday: Steak, Ratatouille and Saffron rice

Hospobaby enjoyed this meal a lot. The adults ummm we loved the steak but not the Ratatouille.
I substituted the eggplant in the ratatouille for carrots. The harrissa didnt work in the ratatouille and  tomatoes passata somehow gave it a funny sweetish taste. It works for kids palates but not so much for adults.
Sid refused the ratatouille but the steak with mustard and parsley was a hit with him. Saffron rice with lemon was delicious.

Saturday: Mexican BLT

This was by far my favourite for the week as it actually took 15 minutes to make. The guacamole tasted fresh and bashing the chicken was a real stress buster, LOL. The bread was a bit tough for Hospobaby so I gave her chicken and guacamole with bread on the side. Will be making this one again

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to avoid doing the groceries and still eat well!

Have you ever been ”that” parent in the supermarket? You know, the one whose kid is not doing the right thing and you feel like all eyes are on you? My problem with taking Hospobaby for grocery shopping is that she has a list of ingredients of her own that is quite different from mine. She will add mandarins, ice cream, yogurt or anything else that catches her fancy into our trolley. Not to mention the L word (lollies). So in order to avoid doing a big shop with the 2 year old food-shopping expert, I decided to try Nadia Lim’s My Food Bag. We ordered the gourmet bag for two, that comes with four meals for the week and enough left over ingredients to whizz something up for the weekend.  

Hospobaby was delighted to see the van deliver our produce and helped me put everything away. It was a big relief to not have to think about what we were going to eat that week and not have to shop or run back to the shop for a forgotten ingredient. The first week we had fish, brocollini and walnut stir-fry, then parmesan, ricotta, silverbeet and eggplant involtini, followed by roast chicken with Indian pickle, peanut salad and naan and finally steak sandwiches with carmelized onions and horseradish crème fraiche. Zoya loved the involtini and the roast chicken most of all. The following week we cooked Baked duck legs with winter remoulade, a caramelized baby leek and butternut tart, Turkish lamb kofte with tabouleh and tahini yogurt and finally smoked salmon, butternut and cavolo nero pasta. Hospobaby helped me shape the kofte and couldn’t wait to get into them at dinner-time. For a family that usually doesn’t cook fish at home, as I always worry about over cooking it, hospobaby couldn’t get enough of the salmon and butternut pasta. I enjoyed the duck legs the most.

Often people ponder that being married to a chef I must eat fancy meals each night. Reality is quite different, Sid cooks maybe once a month at home, he comes home at 1 am most nights and so obviously doesn’t make dinner, I do.  My food bag made me feel like I had something more interesting to eat as I often get stuck into a rut with cooking the same recipes. I have been inspired to make the steak sandwiches and roast chicken again this week.
Here is a link to My Food Bag if you wish to try it for yourself.

 If you don’t mind someone deciding what you eat and if you are keen to try anything this is the answer to your time issues and supermarket phobias.
After eating healthy with Nadia’s help all week we decided that we could reward ourselves and made mac and cheese on Sunday. With winter here it is really comforting and very indulgent. Skip it if you count your calories, as it is not as healthy as any of Nadia Lim’s My food bag recipes.

Hospobaby’s favourite Mac and Cheese
1 pack of dry macaroni
1 teaspoon olive oil
Smoked pancetta (leave out if you are vegetarian)
500mls cream
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons English or French mustard
Hand full of breadcrumbs
Half a cup grated cheddar
Half a cup grated parmesan and a little more for sprinkling
Salt and pepper
Truffle oil
Boil water in a pan and cook macaroni as per packet instructions. Drain and set aside
Dice the pancetta if using and add to the pan with some olive oil.
Once the pancetta is cooked take it out and set aside. Turn off the heat on the pan.
In a saucepan slowly heat the cream, be sure not to boil it.
Finely chop the garlic cloves and put into a small bowl. To this bowl add the paprika and mustard and mix
When you see small bubbles appearing in your cream turn it off and take it off the heat. Stir in the garlic, paprika and mustard mix into the cream. Now add your grated cheese into the cream to make a cheesy sauce. Season to taste.
In an oven proof dish mix your macaroni and cheese sauce. Top with a handful of breadcrumbs and grate some Parmesan on top. Grill in the oven till the top is crusty and serve with a generous lashing of truffle oil.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Cooking under pressure

Cooking and feeding a child can be even more taxing when you are displaced, like us. We have been in temporary accommodation while our new house is finished. For the last three weeks I have had a two-burner hotplate on a tiny kitchen counter to cook. I have had to be resilient and find recipes that would be quick to make, healthy and tasty. We have tried to eat out whenever the thought of being, let alone cooking in a cramped apartment has got the better of us.

On a Monday night we decided to try The Blue Breeze Inn, the new venture of Mark Wahlbank and Che Barrington of Moo Chow Chow. We went as a big group of ten and were seated on a large round private table. We had the banquet menu to try a good selection of everything on offer. Hospobaby loved the Bang Bang chicken that had smoked bacon that she loves. Zoya is partial to dumplings so the pork and prawn Shumai and prawn Har Gau were her favourites. After having seven dishes and sides each of us found it terribly hard to reach the door. We would definitely take Hospobaby back there.

I have had to contend with having a two year old on my hands 24/7, with all our moving we have had to pull Hospobaby out of daycare. In order to preserve my sanity as well as Zoya’s we have enrolled in activities to keep us busy. After our first Jumping Beans session we headed to the Lucky Taco truck in Ponsonby.

I am crazy for Mexican food and her dad Sid loves Asian cuisine, hence it comes as no surprise that whenever you ask Zoya what she would like for her next meal she will reply with either “tacos” or “dumplings”. Hospobaby was so excited to have her wish come true. I ordered the pulled pork taco for Zoya and a chipotle prawn one for me. We got Horchata, a traditional milky drink. We waited by the back of the truck so Hospobaby could see her tacos being made. She couldn’t understand why the tacos were being made in a truck. She kept calling the Lucky taco truck, a fire truck so loudly, that she managed to distract Otis Frizzell who was busy dishing out tacos at a hundred an hour. Zoya loved her pulled pork taco and made it disappear in no time. I had to fend her off my spicy prawn taco for the risk to setting her mouth on fire. The sweet Horchata was the perfect finish to our tacos. Hospobaby’s satiated smile made me feel like a champion mom.

It is hard feeling like champion when you cant get a meal on the table because you are running out of time or in my case are cooking in an alien and limited kitchenette. This quesadilla recipe that I have adapted from Nigella Lawson’s, Nigella Express has saved me on a couple of nights. It takes minimal kitchen equipment and is ready in literally 5 minutes. Some times cooking is not hard as we think it is…


30g thinly sliced cured ham (I use parma ham or prosciutto)
3- 4 slices of pickled green jalapeno chilli peppers cut up finely
50 g grated cheese
100 g queso fresco or goat’s cheese
1 spring onion finely sliced
small bunch of coriander
olive oil
Soft flour tortillas
Shop bought salsa


Heat a pan and drizzle with olive oil.
Place some ham on the tortilla and then on one half pile up all the ingredients (leave out the jalapenos for the little people)
Fold the tortilla into half and grill in the pan
Take off the heat once light brown in colour and slice into 3 wedges
Serve with salsa or ketchup for the hungry little mouths.

Hospobaby's 2nd birthday

Hospobaby’s second birthday fell on a Tuesday this year so we decided to give her a weekend birthday bash. Instead of a grand party we thought we would buy her a bike and spend as much time with her as we could, doing things that she enjoys.
We started on Saturday evening with staff dinner at our restaurant Sidart followed by cake pops covered in hundreds and thousands from Whoopie pie. Sunday morning we grabbed a quick bite at Toru café in Ponsonby Central. Hospobaby got her favourite gingerbread man and stole crinkle chips from each of our plates. She tucked into my soft shell crab sandwich and her dad’s Serrano ham and truffle toastie.
Tummies full we headed off to Butterfly creek. Hospobaby fed the Billy goat and alpacas, got scared of the crocs and was in awe of the butterflies. On our way home we made a stop at the supermarket. One of Hospobaby’s presents was to help her dad cook whatever she liked for dinner. In theory this sounded like a great idea at the time, which was much harder to execute. Zoya couldn’t move past blueberries and corn in the produce section. She had a tough time deciding between making pasta or tacos. We settled on the pasta, we had basil growing in the vege garden to make a pesto sauce.

At 5 pm the father and daughter chefs donned their aprons and set to work. Hospobaby counted the garlic cloves and put them in the liquidizer, along with the basil and pinenuts. She learnt how to use a microplane to grate the Parmesan. She helped her dad put the orecchiette into the boiling water.
Corn kernels kept disappearing from the chopping board and into Hospobaby’s mouth. Sid showed her how to use a whisk and beat the eggs for our mini pavlovas, they whipped cream together and added passionfruit. Finally she got to decorate the mini pavlovas with blueberries, feijoas and strawberry ice cream.
As I sat across the table enjoying the beautiful meal cooked by my two beloved chefs, I couldn’t help but feel proud of Zoya as she kept basking in the glory of the fact that she had helped make this meal.  A weekend with the family doing what we love best, I wonder how many more birthdays we can get away with preserving the happiness and innocence and celebrating just being together.

Hospobaby’s birthday Orecchiette pesto pasta- Serves 4

For the pasta
2 corns on the cob
350 gms Orecchiette pasta (dry shell)
2 chicken thighs (boneless and skinless)
olive oil

For the pesto
100gms pinenuts
bunch of basil
5 cloves garlic
olive oil
50g grated Grana Padano parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Boil the orecchiette as per packet instructions and drain. Cut the chicken thighs into 1 cm pieces and sauté in a pan with some olive oil. Using a knife slice the kernels off the cob and add into the pan to sauté. Put all the ingredients for the pesto into a liquidizer and add olive oil as required till it blends into a smooth paste. Once the chicken is cooked add the pasta to the pan and the pesto. Toss quickly and turn the flame off, as further cooking will split the pesto. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Orecchiette is easily found in gourmet shops like Farro fresh

Hospobaby's sweet adventure

Oh I know we are saying a very reluctant goodbye to summer, but I couldn’t, just couldn’t keep Hospobaby from trying the decadent gelatos on a stick at Milse in Britomart.
On a previous visit to Ortolana and Milse without our little foodie both Sid and I missed Zoya so terribly we had to repeat the experience with her again.
So on Anzac day we went to Ortolana for brunch. Everything tastes fresh and beautiful at Ortolana, this is perhaps the one restaurant that I enjoy the “garden to table” experience. We ordered the pork Piadina, an unleavened flatbread stuffed with soft cheese, sliced air-dried pork and mustard leaves.
Hospobaby devoured half of the Piadina by herself, though she picked the mustard leaves out. As she was merrily drinking her orange juice, we ordered our mains. 

Sid ordered the chicken that was crumbed in Parmesan and I ordered the beetroot lasagnotte that came with hazelnuts. Hospobaby had a few bites from each of us; she favoured her dad’s dish, which she believed was chicken nuggets. Hospobaby loved catching the last dregs of sunshine in Ortolana’s courtyard looking at patron’s dogs.
After our meal at Ortolana we swung around to the back and caught chef Brian Campbell at work in his temple of desserts. Milse makes me think I am in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I want to eat everything and I am not even the child in the room. Hospobaby chose the chocolate gelato, while having tried the salted caramel on our last visit Sid and I settled on a chocolate dessert instead. Zoya refused to share her dessert with us and I completely empathize, I had to share half of my square chocolate dessert topped with a chocolate truffle that hid under it the most sensational salted caramel with Sid. Girls should never have to share chocolate with anyone, ever.

As we started to pack up to move to our brand new house we got informed that the compliance certificate was still about 2 weeks away, as a result we are now living in a serviced apartment in the city. Oscar the dog is in the kennel. I cant go back to the student flat days and so refuse to cook in a tiny kitchenette. After a quick and delicious meal at Mexico we decided to treat ourselves at Milse again this time for dessert. Sid ordered apple, salted caramel, feijoa and thyme, I ordered Gianduja (chocolate) banana and hazelnut. As we waited for our deserts to be made, hospobaby made the staff run around. She got a mint and chocolate macaroon to start, followed by another trip to the display that yielded a chocolate lavender truffle. Finally she persuaded the waitress to give her an orange and passion fruit gelato on a stick. We have decided to pretend that we are on holiday rather than wallowing in self-pity about being homeless; Milse made us all forget our sorrows and carried us into the land of sweet sweet dreams.