New babies, tricky toddlers, and hungry adults: Yummy scrummy muesli cookies…

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my parents in the ‘country’. I say ‘country’ and not country because they aren’t really anywhere really rural, but rather they live in a small town on the beach – but it’s hours (and hours… and hours, if you ask my kids) of driving away. Because it’s so far away, we only get down there a few times a year (it is hard to deal with seven hours of ‘how many minutes til we are at Nan’s?’ ‘I’m bored/tired/my legs are sore’ or general ‘waaaaaahhhhh’. This means that when we are there, I try to catch up with lots of people – even though I moved out of home over 20 years ago (gulp!), I still have friends in my home town; my siblings also all live nearby. This last visit, I was lucky to meet a brand new baby; he was actually 2 or 3 weeks old, but had been born a few weeks early, so it was near enough to brand new in my estimation. Of course, the Bubaloo doesn’t like me even touching other babies, so I just got to admire from afar, but the new one was delicious anyway. My youngest sister, TK, got a group of our friends with little ones together for a play (toddlers and preschoolers) and chitty chat (mums and dads) over morning tea.

One of the things with brand new babies is that they don’t sleep much – or at least, they don’t sleep much when they are meant to (like in the night) but then sleep lots when you want them awake. So mummies and daddies end up pretty tired, and therefore a pick-me-up is in order. If you’re breastfeeding, like TK, the new mum and I, the challenge is finding something that’s going to do the trick and give you a little energy boost, without being terribly bad for you or the baby. While coke or coffee might help with the energy spurt for mum, the same energy boost isn’t great for baby. I’m not sure about other breastfeeding mums but I have found that, when I’m nursing, I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, even more than at other times. As sugar isn’t really that great for you, I try to find other ways to satisfy the sugar craving without having a ton of the white stuff. That’s where these cookies come in.

This recipe is a true adaptation of one in a Woman’s Weekly cookbook. Many things have been substituted – I’ve included the original ingredients in parentheses in case you prefer that – as I was trying to ensure that it was low sugar, nut free, and that they would use everyday ingredients that I could find in my mum’s pantry. Since we got home, I’ve made them about once a week; they never last very long. As soon as my partner sees them, his eyes light up and he chomps down about six of them without drawing breath. I hope you find them as good as he does!

Yum Scrum Muesli Cookies

You will need:

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup gluten-free plain flour (you can use any sort of flour you have)

1/3 cup caster sugar (the original recipe uses 1 cup)

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup sultanas or mixed dried fruit (or dried cranberries)

2/3 cup shredded coconut (I used this in place of most of the sugar)

1/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup pepitas / pumpkin seeds (or slivered almonds)

125g butter

2 tbsp pure maple syrup (or golden syrup)

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 150C. Line oven trays with baking paper.

2. Combine oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, dried fruit, coconut and pepitas in a large bowl.

3. Melt butter with maple syrup over low heat. In a small cup, combine bicarb soda and boiling water, then add to the butter mix. It will go a little bubbly. Next stir this into the dry ingredients (it should still be warm).

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4. Roll tablespoons of mixture into balls (don’t be too fussy about making them perfect), place on trays about 5 cm apart and flatten slightly with your fingers.

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5. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool on trays before you eat them – if you try to eat them while they are warm, they’ll just fall apart in your hands (trust me on this!)

Then let Mr Kookaburra watch you all gobble them up 😉Image

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Seasonal pizza topping: fig and caramelised onion

Sometimes it’s nice to do things a bit differently! This weekend, I used the last of the figs and put them on a pizza. The result? Sweet bursts of flavour! An experimental success. To make them, I used the pizza bases from my January post and topped it as follows:

1 large onion, sliced finely and fried slowly until it became caramelised
5 (or more) figs, trimmed and cut into quarters
Sprig of rosemary
A good handful of mozzarella, grated

Note: this is for a half batch of pizza. You may need to double the quantities here if you are using a full batch of pizza dough

First, you make the pizza base and roll it out
Next, spread the onion out over the base
Place the fig pieces all over the base, then sprinkle with the rosemary (leaves removed from stem)
Lastly, sprinkle cheese over the top.
Cook in a hot oven (~220c) for 15-20 mins or until browned

Enjoy!

PS. You’ll notice that I did a half-half pizza. Good way to keep everyone smiling!

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A short meal for a long day: bul go gi (Korean BBQ beef)

Today was the first day of non-daylight savings time here in Melbourne. I always find it the longest day of the year: sure, some people get an extra hour of sleep (not me, as my kids were up at 5 rather than their usual 6 am-ish) but by the time 7 pm rolls around, you’re ready to hit the hay. Or maybe that’s just me…

Regardless, on a day that seems interminably long, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend hours cooking a meal that no one’s really going to want much of because – you guessed it – they’re too tired! This is where today’s little gem of a recipe comes in. But of course, there’s a history to it…

Back when I was an undergrad, I lived on campus in a self-catering college. In second year, a Korean exchange student, Kim, moved in. As we both studied sociology, we became pretty good friends. Anyway, the absolute best thing about self-catering colleges are the massive kitchens where you learn oh-so-much about food, particularly food from other places! To this day, I can’t see roti without being transported back to Canberra… But I digress: Kim and I (with a bunch of friends) often shared dinners, cooking together and learning recipes. We’ve since lost touch, but I wonder if she makes spaghetti bolognese back in Seoul, the same way I make her beef dish.

In teaching me how to make bul go gi, Kim emphasised that this is a recipe of tastes: the exact proportions of ingredients vary depending on what you like. She also used scotch fillet steak, but I have used oyster blade, rump steak, chicken fillets and tofu in its place, all with great success. Usually, it’s rump steak for reasons of economy.

In order to boost the vegetable component, I serve it with salad or add in yummy green vegetables, sliced finely. Broccoli, asparagus and zucchini tend not to take anything away from the taste but add lots of nutrients.

A parental note: For my kids, I serve this with soba noodles instead of rice and cut all of the vegies up very small. Before serving, I give it a good stir through and they generally attack it with gusto…

Bul go gi (Korean BBQ beef)

Serves 2 hungry adults or a family of 4

You will need:
500g rump steak (or other protein, see my note above), sliced into thin strips
2-3 spring onions, sliced, including right up to the end of the green bit
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 button mushrooms, sliced
Other green vegetables, sliced finely (optional – these weren’t in Kim’s original recipe): no more than 3/4 cup worth
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra
3 tbsp – 1/3 c tamari or soy sauce (start lightly and add more if you want)
Pepper, to taste

1. Place all ingredients into a plastic container or bowl. Mix together. It’s easy if you use a container with a lid because you just put the lid on, shake and, hey presto, it’s mixed!
2. If you have time, let the flavours mix for half hour or so. I never do this and it still tastes delicious.
3. Heat a wok or frypan over high heat. Add the extra olive oil. When it’s hot, add the meat mix in small batches and stir until its browned. Tip that batch out and repeat the process til it’s all cooked.
4. Serve with rice or noodles!

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Finding favour with the family: a pilaf and yoghurt salad

Do you have a recipe that is ‘yours’, at least within your family? Previously, I have written about aunty Ruby’s sponge cake (pure deliciousness!)… As far as my family is concerned (the adult members at least), ‘my’ specialty is a very simple yoghurt ‘salad’ and pilaf. The only catch is that the recipes are actually not mine, insofar as I adapted one from bill granger (pilaf) and was taught the other by a Lebanese friend, G, who learned it from his mum.

The first time I ever tried this yoghurt salad was when G invited us over for an impromptu dinner, about six years ago. One bite and I was done; I think my partner literally licked the bowl clean. It was that good! Fortunately, G is very un-precious when it comes to sharing recipes and so I have been happily making this yoghurt salad, with or without the pilaf, for BBQ dinners, parties, lazy days and picnics ever since.

I’m posting this recipe today specially for my sister, Kristy (of the pesto) and her sister-in-law, Kristal. Both of them love it and so here it is! I hope you and yours love it as much as we do!

Lentil rice pilaf
You will need:
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup du Poy (French green) lentils
1/2 lemon
Water
1 small onion, sliced finely
A good bunch continental (flat leaf) parsley (you will notice that my pilaf is a bit light on green in the photo – it used to be feral in the garden but I think mr whipper snipper got to it 😉

1. In a medium saucepan, place lentils. Cover well with water. Place over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil, and cook for 10-12 mins. Add rice and the lemon. Stir occasionally. You may need to add more water. When it returns to the boil, cook for 12-15 mins or til the lentils are done (not too hard nor too soft; they should be the texture of cooked cashews).
2. In the meantime, fry onions in a touch of olive oil over low heat until the are caramelised (soft and browned but not burnt). Chop the parsley up well – you want a good handful or two-worth.
3. When rice and lentils are cooked, strain and rinse using cool water. Shake off excess water and place in a bowl. Add the onions, parsley and squeeze out the cooked lemon. Stir it well then serve.

This actually makes a huge dish and I find that a half serve is enough for about 5 people. But one of my friends loves this so much, she could possibly eat a half serve in one sitting…

G’s yoghurt salad

Please note that all of the quantities here can easily been adjusted to suit your tastes; these are just guides only.

You will need:
300g Greek yoghurt (I use low fat not no fat; sometimes I use a whole tub of yogurt, other times a half)
1 tsp good quality salt
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of paprika or cumin, ground (we like sweet paprika)
4 tbsp – 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 or so cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp honey
I cucumber, finely chopped (optional – I usually leave it out as my partner doesn’t like it for some strange reason…)

1. In a bowl, mix yoghurt and salt. Add the cucumber here too if you are using it. Smooth over the top.
2. Sprinkle over the paprika or cumin.
3. In a separate bowl or jar, mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and garlic. Stir together to combine. The honey and garlic usually stick together…
4. Spoon the dressing over the top – use as much as you like. Any extra is nice on salad.
Now it’s ready to go! Yummy with meat, vegetables, bread… as well as with the pilaf!

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Fussy is as fussy does: hedgehog meatballs

Last night, my 4 year old (H) told me two things: 1. He hates tomatoes, which is such a pity as we planted about 15 tomato seedlings last year, mostly cherry and baby Roma, and have picked at least a bowlful each day for the past month or so; and 2. Tomato sauce, one of his favourite things, does not have tomatoes in it, despite the name. So I thought it was time to remind him that he does, actually, like tomatoes, just not fresh ones.

I guess, like lots of other kids, he is a fussy eater, but not always. There are a wide range of things he does eat, but equally there are things he ‘doesn’t’ – the reason for the inverted commas is that he generally does eat them, they are just hidden when he does. I aim to always put at least six vegetables in everything I make (before kids, this was ten types of vegies, but I’ve since reduced the self-pressure) – so when he eats the same foods elsewhere, he thinks they taste funny if there isn’t the same veg quotient… So ‘fussy’ is contextual. It’s also semantic: fussy might be the same as particular, dogmatic, demanding… but sometimes it’s just downright annoying.

A few years back, I came across a recipe that promised to be adored by children. It was in a slow cooking book by Sally Wise; I’ve adapted it a bit (to incorporate my magic 6) and usually do it on the stove. But, after days of fussiness (ie demanding), H ate a huge bowl of the meatballs and the bubaloo had two small serves.

She aims, she kicks, she scores!!!

Unfortunately, I didn’t score on the photos – apologies. They may not look so pretty but they taste good 🙂

Hedgehog meatballs

You will need:
For the meatballs:
1 kg minced beef
1/2 cup uncooked rice
2 small or 1 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
1 tbsp mixed herbs
2 tbsp tomato paste + 1/4 cup of condensed tomato soup (just open a 420g tin, I use salt reduced) OR equivalent tomato sauce
2 tbsp barbecue sauce
Salt and pepper

1. Combine all together in a bowl and mix well. Your hands are the best way to do this. Make into balls around 3 cm round.
2. Heat a splash of olive oil in a fry pan. Add 1 crushed clove of garlic (optional). Add the meatballs and brown.
3. Blend together (nb. new ingredients) the rest of the can of soup, 400ml water, and 1.5 cups (ish) tomato passata. Pour over the meatballs.
4. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the rice is cooked. Stir occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn but do this carefully! The meatballs can fall apart if you are too rough.
5. Serve with steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or just plain. This makes enough for a few dinners.

As an aside, my partner told me that his mum used to make this when they were kids. So it’s not a new recipe idea, but it’s clearly a resurgent one 🙂

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Midweek dinner: Chinese chicken omelette

We’re coming out of a bout of gastro at our place (is it distasteful to mention that when I’m writing about food? If so, apologies); well, the bubaloo had it and the rest of us fasted in unrealised anticipation. At the same time, the heat wave is continuing, with no end forecast for over a week. When these factors come together on a busy Wednesday evening, finding something for dinner can be challenging. So I turned to an old favourite, Chinese chicken omelette with some wilted vegies on the side. It’s lovely with chicken but that can be replaced by prawns, mushrooms or whatever you feel like.

But first, a bit of reminiscence… When I was doing my phd, there was nothing I liked more than, after a long day in the library or on my computer, hitting the cheap little Asian restaurants in the city. This usually meant Vietnamese pho or today’s recipe. I could walk in, order, and it would be ready within 3 minutes. What more could a tired gal want?

When I finished my studies and had kids, going into the city for quick cheap meals seemed like too much effort; I moved universities and suburbs. So I learned how to make it myself; the pho is still a memory but the omelette gets whipped up from time to time. If you don’t like the idea of this, but like eggs, be adventurous and give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised!

Chinese chicken omelette

Serves 2-3

You will need:
6 small or 4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1.5 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
Sprinkle of pepper
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (left over BBQ chicken is ideal)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp coriander, chopped
Olive oil
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp sesame oil

1 cup rice and 1.5 cups water: use together to cook rice using the absorption method (or use a rice cooker!).

1. Beat eggs until combined. Add pepper, soy sauce, most of the spring onions and most of the coriander, leaving a little for garnish. Using a fork, beat together well.
2. Place olive oil in frypan and heat. When it’s hot, pour in egg mix. As the edges become cooked, use a fork to draw the cooked edges toward the middle of the pan and swirl the uncooked egg mix to cover the base if the pan.
3. Sprinkle shredded chicken over the top. Repeat the process to draw the uncooked egg towards the middle until the egg is mostly cooked. When it reaches this point, use an egg flip to fold the omelette in half.
4. Use the egg flip to cut the omelette into parts (one per person), then put it on rice on a plate.
5. In a small bowl, combine sesame oil and oyster sauce. Spoon this over the omelette and garnish with extra coriander. The sauce is really great, so don’t omit it!

wilted vegies
In a heated frypan, add a small amount of olive oil. Add whatever vegetables you like: I used mushroom, rocket, crushed garlic, broccoli and coriander. Stir to cook. If it needs more moisture, add a few tbsp water. When vegies are nearly cooked, stir in 1 tbsp soy sauce and some pepper. Cook for 2 mins then serve.

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Saturday n breakfast! Quick crepes

There are certain foods that can be had at any time of the day- morning, noon, or night. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes savoury. Sometimes it depends on where you are (I’m big on the influence of context). After years of loving Nasi Lemak (rice, curry, and condiments) for lunch or dinner at our local curry place, I was awed by the fact you can have it for breakfast, yes breakfast!, in Malaysia. Too good. I went curry-crazy that trip 😉

But I digress… An even more special category of foods includes those that can be eaten any time of day, regardless of context, and can be savoury or sweet. Pancakes, crepes and pikelets fall into this category – and are so simple to make. Here I share my basic pancake batter with you. Want crepes? Add more milk. Want pikelets? More flour. Fritters? Add grated or finely cut vegetables (eg zucchini, corn), cheese (feta is nice), herbs… Whatever you fancy. Flip em out of the pan onto a plate and eat them before they cool!

An out and about suggestion: once you’ve poured your batter into the pan (small disks), sprinkle over some sultanas. When the bubbles appear, flip the pancake til it’s cooked, then take the lot down to the playground for morning tea!

Basic Pancakes
You will need:
1 cup self-raising flour or 1 c plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
1 cup milk (vary depending on what you are hoping to make: pancakes, crepes or pikelets)

1. Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well.
2. Tip into a jug.
3. Over low-medium heat, heat a frypan. Add a small tsp butter or a spray of oil. Non stick pans don’t really need anything.
4. Pour in the desired amount of batter then lift the pan by the handle, moving the batter around until you have the ideal shape.
5. When bubbles appear on the batter surface and break, it’s time to flip your pancake.
6. Give the second side enough cooking time to brown, then lift into plate. Repeat til the batter has gone.

Sweet topping ideas: lemon and sugar, jam, Nutella, golden or maple syrup, strawberries, any combination of these

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