Cooking with kids is such a fun and memorable experience. Safety is one of the top priorities in any kitchen and using a knife safely is essential. Kids can learn kitchen confidence and become a willing helper in the kitchen with these safe tips to get them chopping, slicing and dicing with ease. Feel free to print my info graphic for easy reference when cooking with kids!
Tip One – Keep it sharp
I can’t stress enough how much safer a sharp knife is. I know it can seem counterintuitive but a sharp knife does the job properly – accidents can happen when blunt knives need too much pressure to slice or chop through your ingredients. Small hands already grapple with a knife, adding pressure to their chop can create an unstable technique.
Tip Two – The right knife does the right job
Knives come in all shapes and sizes and each knife has a specific job and adds to the ease in which a task is completed. A small knife is easy for small hands to handle in the initial stages of learning how to cut. That being said ensure the small knife is used for small tasks – topping and tailing beans, cutting up soft meats like chicken, slicing herbs and cutting smaller sized potatoes. When your kid/s becomes more confident and able to complete harder cutting techniques a cooks knife is recommended for chopping, slicing and dicing. These larger knives are made to complete specific tasks – the front for precision slicing and the heel or back for rocking chopping and cutting hard vegetables.
Tip Three – Practice with plastic
To get your kid/s used to chopping use a plastic or lettuce knife and practice with soft foods such as bananas, grapes and hard boiled eggs. Even play-dough or salt dough can work a treat to create knife confidence.
Tip Four – Secure the board
On some surfaces a chopping board can slip and slide creating an unstable surface and accidents to follow. To secure your board just dampen a dishcloth or paper towel placing it underneath the chopping board then checking for any wobble.
Tip Five – Get a grip
Securely gripping the knife can make a difference in technique confidence – try and mirror the following pictures to get a grip and become confident
Tip Six – Use the claw
Wayward fingers are like targets for a slipping knife. Tucking fingers away prevents dangerous slips cutting into fleshy fingers. The claw can feel uncomfortable at first but it is the best way to control the item you are cutting and keep fingers cut free. To get little hands used to the claw, teach them to cut smaller items they can grip easily. I halve large onions for them to practice on, cut down large carrots into more manageable pieces and halve potatoes. They still get to practice but in a more manageable manner.
Tip Seven – Keep it cool
Watching anyone learn to cut with a sharp knife be they kid or adult can be stressful. Accidents do happen and cuts are distressing but hovering anxiously adds to the pressure to get it right. I always keep a watchful eye on the chopping but with enough distance they feel they are in charge of their skill. Speaking calmly and reminding them to hold their knife properly and use the claw will keep them on track and cuts out of the picture. In the learning stages the technique is more important than the outcome. So some of the onion is a little chunky or the dices a little wonky. These outcomes are arbitrary when cooking at home. Even as an apprentice my cutting technique needed constant revision and honing. I was taught to cut on items that were either going into a soup or stock or being blended so the final outcome was reliant on my technique. As my confidence grew and technique refined I was able to complete more precision cuts. For now, just keep it cool and allow your kid/s to hone their technique one chop at a time.
Becoming an apprentice chef – the list of working conditions doesn’t exactly read like a career you would want to pursue – hot, busy, high pressure, antisocial long hours, standing all day, minimal pay. You must be crazy to go ahead on this path. My Dad certainly thought so – for him education was currency, himself having not had the chance to be educated beyond primary school in rural Italy.
I couldn’t be convinced otherwise though. I had completed some work experience both through school and on school holidays and something about being a chef just felt right. So post school, 2002 I started to look for my first place of employment.
I had a few misses from job trials, my confidence waning as I heard nothing from yet another employer. I did start to question if this career path was perhaps the best choice for me. The tables turned though in my new approach of sending out resumes to city restaurants and just seeing what happened. They didn’t have jobs advertised but I figured it couldn’t hurt.
So began the job offer that shaped who I am as a chef. I still remember my interview – I wasn’t sure if this chef game was for me just yet and I spoke of possibly giving it a year and then looking into study again if it didn’t work out. Here I am over fifteen years later and yes I have done further study but not in the pathway I had envisaged.
The head chef offered me a trial – Monday to Friday 9-5. He was also going to pay me. This was certainly a different trial to the others I had been on. I didn’t realise he was hedging his bets and not signing me up straight away but also giving me the chance to see if I liked it as well. After the first week I was offered an apprenticeship at Il Centro Restaurant and Bar – an Italian restaurant that sat 120 guests and served fine dining Italian cuisine.
At the time my head chef was a formidable French man. Equal parts passionate, talented and intimidating he introduced me to life in professional kitchens. I don’t remember too much of my very early days, I dare say I was too scared to do anything but focus on what I was told!
Stepping into this world was like a baptism of fire. Professional kitchens are hot, busy, exhausting and exhilarating. You are constantly pushed to deliver right now. Time is measured in seconds and minutes not hours and days. You need that eye fillet? Two minutes chef. Risotto? Yours in thirty seconds.
At the beginning I couldn’t imagine getting the hang of any of it let alone being as confident as the older apprentices and chefs. I was lucky though in that my Head Chef saw something in me. He nurtured my interest and guided me to the shortcuts to success. I say shortcuts in that my notebook became my best friend. Garnishes for the plates? Write it down. How many portions I need? Write it down. Running out of an item? Write it down. So all of a sudden it began to make sense. I could do this. I don’t know if it was protocol but I asked him for feedback. How did service go? What did I do wrong? What mistakes did I make? How could I make it better? I don’t know if he knew what to think but he took it in his stride and helped develop my training and skills guiding me – sometimes via a stern word (yelling) and sometimes just with patience and care.
I’m not going to lie, there were moments when I cried. There were moments when I wondered what on earth I was doing becoming a chef. Learning how to cook cuts of meat that customers are paying $35+ for is intimidating. We had three different steaks, three different types of fish and usually 2-3 other meats cook on the menu and they all had to be delivered at the same time for the docket at the right amount of cooking. I never thought I would succeed. Sometimes my chef would swap around what I had put down on his board and ask me to tell him again what was what to test me. You had to be confident in your food. You had to not hesitate in what you were capable of.
My skills though started to flourish. I learnt how to back myself and trust my instincts. There we times though I stumbled and put up items I knew weren’t the best but I was in a hurry, time was ticking and the tables were waiting. Those were the times when I was inevitably pulled up in spectacular fashion. It was nothing to have your meal thrown in the bin told to start again. If I wouldn’t pay for it or wouldn’t be impressed with it why was I putting in front of a customer?
Harsh though these lessons were they taught me so much about myself and what I was capable of. If I could handle this level of pressure everything from here would surely be just another moment in my life. This is not to say it didn’t take its toll. It was hard work; many times I wondered what the hell I was doing. But being a chef is a funny roll of the dice – you almost hate that you love how much you thrive in this environment.
Learning how to transform raw ingredients into beautiful dishes was my passion realised. Service in a busy city restaurant pumps your adrenalin. The docket machines sound indicates another set of dishes is required despite the full docket rack in front of you. Waiters come and collect dishes almost as fast as you can present them. Working in a large team meant communicating in direct, short sharp instructions. Yes Chef is out of your mouth more often than any other sentence during the day.
In kitchens you start your career peeling the potatoes and vegetables, washing lettuces and oysters, portioning pastas and packing away sauces. After three to four years you’re cooking the prime cuts of meat and fish, you’re finishing the sauces, you’re guiding others with your knowledge. You have graduated from the simplest skills to cooking some of the most delicious meals you have ever tried.
(Proud to be a Chef Competition Sydney)
Then there are the culinary competitions. My head chef was a part of the competition scene and took great pride in entering us into these and testing our skills against other establishments. Days off and mornings or afternoons before out shifts became dedicated to perfecting our dishes. Imagine cooking two courses, four plates of each, in an allocated time, by yourself, with the public able to walk past and look and comment. It is intimidating enough being in the kitchen you work in let alone on a public stage. Time and again though I entered competitions and improved my results. I zoned out those looking at me and focused on the dishes I was making. It taught me how to stay calm despite the pressures and how to believe in what I was doing.
The culmination of these experiences was realised in two large competitions. One was a national competition for a chance at a spot in the international competition Bocuse D’Or. The other was a three course, 12 portion competition completed in a pair with a waiter to serve and a table set and decorated. Both had high stakes as the other entrants were from well-established restaurants. Both had different skills at stake. For Bocuse we had to make two dishes – one fish and one meat. The fish required three traditional garnishes for a mirror platter as with the meat. The fish and meats were my Sous Chefs part I was the garnishes. I was fortunate enough to learn how to work with sea urchin and abalone, to be able to cut delicate shapes and learn how to progressively set a jelly. Hours and hours of time went into perfecting these dishes. It was intense, creative and amazing. We didn’t make it past the national level but we certainly did our best.
(Bocuse D’or practice)
The second competition marked the end of my apprenticeship. Newly qualified and only 20 I entered this last competition with another newly qualified chef and we created a delicious three course meal. Our upper hand was that we thought we had three hours to complete the courses so had been training on this time frame. On the competition day we discovered it was actually four. We could breathe. We made sure not to become complacent in this new time frame and used it to execute the dishes with more finesse and attention to detail. Our efforts paid off as we took the trophy and the prize money. What better way to herald the end of my training as an apprentice and transition to qualified chef than to hold that trophy with pride.
(Jimmy Sawyer Trophy Competition)
When I started as a chef I knew how to cook at home. I used to make family meals and it was nothing to bake and create. Becoming an apprentice took me back to the basics and building blocks of cooking. For four years I tested my knowledge, honing the basic cuts to neat perfection, learning how to balance and season dishes, becoming addicted to seeing the glossy shine of a well made sauce. My hands started to produce all manner of dishes and items as if they always knew what to do. Soon it became second nature to cut, whisk, fry and grill. I had done my time. I was truly a chef no longer an apprentice.
Following my nearly four years at Il Centro it was time for a break. I wanted to see the world and relax for a little bit. I was nearly 21 and had spent the last few years working, working and more working. So I packed my backpack and embarked on a Contiki tour which evolved into side countries and a month in Italy with my Dad. In this time I could reflect of all I had achieved, embrace international cuisines and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Life as a chef was just beginning.
When moving out of home for the first time or even just working out whether to update you current kitchen kit, the assortment of gadgets and do dads on the market can leave you feeling overwhelmed and scared of the monetary commitment to cooking. Fear not though, cooking delicious and interesting food doesn’t require a commercial kitchen or the utensils found in one. With my list of top ten kitchen instruments most if not all recipes can be made from scratch. I will also list my top ten appliances that can make tasks easier and quicker which are great when you’ve learnt the basics. So where do you start?
1. A cook’s knife.
A good quality, sharp knife will make short work of any task in the kitchen. The key note here is sharp – there is no point in spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy knife if you don’t know how to keep it sharp. Check out my post here on what type of knife to buy when you’re just starting out. Not sure how to keep your knife sharp? Check out my hints in this video here. No knife is worth it’s salt if the blade is blunt. All you will do is bruise herbs, mangle produce and butcher meat in the most unfortunate way. Have a sharp knife if you hand? Cutting onions will be a breeze and you’ll be slicing your way to success in no time.
2. A chopping board.
A large, sturdy and high quality plastic cutting board will allow you to prep what you need safely, easily and hygienically. Wooden boards are beautiful but for items other than bread, fruit and vegetables I wouldn’t use anything other than plastic. Meats, chicken and fish all belong on a non porous board you can clean and scrub. Many hospitality stores supply to the public and you can pick up a commercial grade board from there or other quality department stores.
3. Measuring cups
Measuring cups are essential for accuracy when following a recipe. After many years cooking in a kitchen I do have a good eye to gauge approximates for items such as herbs, vegetables, and fruit but when cooking pastry items I always measure accurately to ensure success every time. You don’t need to spend a lot on these – if you like novelty styles by all means enjoy but your basic supermarket variety will do the job just fine
4. Measuring spoons
These are essential. The difference in too much and too little baking powder, salt and spices can make or break many a recipe. Have you ever seen a cake explode from too much baking powder? or been a little overwhelmed by the amount of spices in a curry? I have and all from misreading and mis-measuring the ingredients. Using the spoons even for the most seemingly insignificant detail will eliminate the chances of these sorts of disasters happening to you.
5. Digital scales
Again for accuracy’s sake digital scales can be a must – many scales these days also have a ml measurement which means you don’t need to change bowls or grab the cups or jug to measure out multiple ingredients – you can just tare to zero, change to ml and off you go. Time saving and accurate? Who doesn’t love that in the kitchen!
6. Whisk, spoon and ladle
Now I know this is technically a threesome but when it comes to these sorts of utensils they tend to come as a group. Whisks are great for sorting out lumps, whipping cream and mixing cakes. The ladle will serve up soups, strain sauces and dish out casseroles. Spoons will stir, allow you to taste and even serve depending on the dish. High quality plastic ones will do a great job and if you feel like splashing out silicone versions are also melt proof and won’t scratch so are great to use on all your pots and pans.
Now I know you’re wondering why this is on the top ten list – but let me tell you the humble colander can do a lot more than strain pasta and rice. Canned beans/legumes? Check. Storing fruits such as raspberries and strawberries in the fridge? Check. Strain yoghurt to make cheese? Check. (Just place a new kitchen wipe over a larger hole colander to strain). Keep flies away? Check. (Just turn it upside down over your food). Have one of those lovely enamel ones? They are great as a fruit bowl allowing air to circulate and keep your produce fresh. Convinced a colander is a good idea? Check.
8. Thick tea towels/oven mitts
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to take a hot tray out of the oven or take a pot off the stove and the thin tea towel allows the heat to come through creating a dangerous situation. Good quality thick tea towels can also do double duty ensuring your plates and cutlery are wiped dry not leaving half the water droplets behind. Stylish vintage tea towels also do double duty as a great prop for foodie photos celebrating you culinary masterpieces. You don’t need to spend a fortune on designer tea towels for quality – again most hospitality stores should stock the quality that chefs use – and we handle hot items all day.
9. Mixing bowls
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a recipe and running out of bowls. Nesting sets are usually easy to come by in most shops and even dollar shops can be a great place to find both metal and plastic bowls. Metal bowls are great for making sauces, melting chocolate or scrambling eggs over boiling water whilst plastic ones are great for everyday cooking. Glass bowls are stain proof and durable but avoid placing boiling water or soups etc in them in case they are not tempered and can crack. Glass bowls can also do double duty as for fruit, desserts and salads.
A mandolin is one of the contraptions you see that can slice matchsticks, thicker batons, ribbons and scallops out of potato. Whilst a knife will do the trick when you are in a rush a mandolin can make short work of these tasks. Shredding cabbage for coleslaw is a breeze with a mandolin. A grate can also do the same making short work of carrots and cabbage. Pre-grated cheese can have anti-caking chemicals which can be avoided by grating your own. Make matchsticks out of raw beetroots for a nice change to a salad. Slicing your own vegetable chips or fruit to dry is also a snap with a mandolin.
Summer days are meant for ice-cream. Cool taste sensations and flavours that delight the tongue, what could be more exciting?
Sometimes though, store bought ice-cream can reveal a whole lot of interesting additives, flavours, extenders (water, vegetable shortening, wheat starch) which I prefer to leave on the shelves, not in my stomach. So how you get your ice-cream fix without the stress? The joy that is no-churn ice-cream!
That’s right, no longer do you need to pull your mix out of the freezer and bend your beaters (a lesson I learnt all too well…use the heavy duty paddle next time Luisa…). With this recipe you just mix, whip, fold and freeze. Easy. I will include the traditional recipe as well if you do own a churner as these are also fabulous and a churner does make life a lot easier when creating fantastic ice-cream creations!
So why use sweetened condensed milk in these recipes? The ingredients of condensed milk are just milk, milk solids and sugar. When making traditional ice-cream you use milk, cream, sugar and eggs so this is great for those with egg allergies and there are no thickeners, additives, colours or preservatives. The condensed milk stabilises the ice-cream mix the way eggs do in the traditional recipes allowing you to have the same smooth texture without the fuss. The only difference for me was it is quite rich so a couple of spoons will do.
When creating your own mix, don’t be afraid to get creative with flavours for exciting combinations. Here are some of my favourites:
Hazlenut and chocolate – add a generous scoop of nutella to the mix. If making no churn stir into the condensed milk, if making custard add to the milk and cream mix
White chocolate and passionfruit – for no churn add 100g melted white chocolate and 100ml of passionfruit puree. For the churn, double the amount and add the chocolate to the milk when heating and passionfruit at end.
Strawberry – to make puree blend 150g strawberries with 2 tbsp of icing sugar and strain – add to mix
Malt – for the no churn dissolve 2 tbsp malt in 5tbsp of the pure cream warmed and add to the condensed milk. For the churned add the malt powder to the milk and cream mix when heating
Stay tuned for further recipes teaching you how to make praline mix in’s, fun serving ideas and home made toppings. Yum!
So without further ado, the no-churn ice-cream:
No Churn Vanilla Ice-Cream
1 can condensed milk (340g)
300ml pure cream
Splash of vanilla essence
Combine vanilla and condensed milk
Whip cream to soft peaks
Fold through cream and milk mixture softly until well combined
And if you’d like to churn your own vanilla ice-cream?
6 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
Bring the cream, milk, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer
Whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy
Mix through the cream and milk with the yolks
Place back on stove in clean pot over low heat and stir until mixture thickens
Strain and allow to cool and chill
Place into churner and follow your machines instructions
Cooking out custard can be a bit tricky so here are some troubleshooting tips
1. It looks like scrambled eggs – your stove was too hot and the egg yolks cooked too quickly. Never fear, the solution is to allow the mix to cool a little, then add it to a blender and whiz until smooth and strain through a fine sieve. Make sure the mixture is cooled before blending otherwise it can overflow and cause burns
2. It looks watery and you’ve been stirring for quite a long time – you may need to increase the heat of your stove – a low to medium heat works well for induction and electric, gas should work quickly on low
3. I need to churn the ice-cream in a hurry – To cool the custard quickly, place the bowl of custard over another bowl filled with ice and water and stir the custard mix until cooled and churn
Besides what is is my favourite food to cook, what type of knife do I use is another question I am often asked.
So how do you know what type of knife to invest in, what to look for and where to save your dollars?
Let’s start with some basic points to consider:
1. What is the knife for and how often will you use it?
Knives whose job entails boning, filleting or cleaving may not be used very often unless they are a tool of the trade. Even as a chef I don’t often bone or fillet as the cuts we that come in in certain establishments sometimes don’t require too much further preparation. In other jobs though I might have to bone quails, fillet some fish and break down some chickens but for the most part the knife I use the most is my general chef knife.
So what is a chef knife exactly? It is usually a 20cm blade knife with a larger heel and fine point for chopping, dicing, slicing. It is almost an extension of a chef’s hand and is their best friend.
For home cooks? This can be the weapon of choice when whipping up a fabulous meal. Having a comfortable, sharp, chef’s knife can make short work of hard task’s.
So for the knives you use most often it is worth the investment versus the little used knives that you can save your pennies on.
2. Is the handle comfortable to hold?
If you’re going to be holding the knife and chopping a storm the handle has to be comfortable. So how do you know? Grip it as if you were going to chop on a board and get a feel for it. Does it fit comfortably in your hand? What may fit well for someone else may not work for you.
3. Is it the right weight for you?
I prefer somewhat lighter knives as after a long day chopping more weight can create unnecessary strain. But if a knife is too light it can make heavy duty chopping such as through root vegetables or meat a strain. Find the right balance and you’ll be chopping with ease in no time.
4. What is the handle made of?
Quality knives either consist of one piece of steel from blade to handle or heavy duty plastic. The most important thing to consider with the handle is the ease of cleaning i.e one piece of steel or clean plastic handle as opposed to wood that can be porous and harbour germs. Quality knives also have secure joins between knife and handle that won’t crack or break which can cause injury if they break.
5. What is the blade made of?
Most modern knives are made of stainless steel with the better quality ones made of a higher grade composition. Some older knives may be made of carbon steel which is a great metal but is prone to rusting thus is often not found in many commercial knives as vigilance is required to prevent the rust.
6. What is the blade edge like?
A quality knife will have a blade edge from tip to hilt. Cheap knives will feature a thick edge that doesn’t extend to the hilt which can make it useless for chopping carrots and other harder vegetables. A fine edge will allow for precision cutting wheres a thick edge makes for clunky, difficult cutting.
7. Can you keep it sharp?
If you are going to invest in a quality knife make sure you can keep it sharp to prong its use. This is where you either need to also invest in a quality knife steel and stone or a quality sharpener. Cheap sharpeners will just shave too much of the blade off at too big an angle. A knife steel keeps an edge sharp whilst a stone hones the edge when it becomes too dull. Both are a great addition to your tool kit to keep your knives if top shape.
So taking this into consideration the short of it all is:
– Look for a comfortable knife that has a fine even blade, quality plastic or steel handle and is made of quality stainless steel.
– Spend your money on the knives you use the most
– Invest in a knife steel and learn how to use it to keep your knives honed and sharp
Stuck for last minute Christmas idea? Know someone that loves to cook or you wish they did? Never fear, I offer gift vouchers that can be purchased as either a dollar amount ($50 etc) or class bookings ($150+) which you can provide as either valid for one two hours class or speak to me and we can create a specific class i.e Italian, Cooking with Herbs, Dessert etc
How do you organise a voucher? Just email me at [email protected], I can invoice you for a credit card payment or direct debit and the gift voucher will be in your inbox within 24 hours. How does it get any better than that? 😀 If you’d like to chat about options just gie me a call on 0423 450 363 and we can discuss your options.
Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and all the best for the New Year
What if creating in the kitchen could be fun and easy?
What if you could go from this:
Any of these scenarios familiar? A whole lot of ingredients and no idea what to do? A mix that just hasn’t worked? Empty fridge and it’s dinner time? What if all these problems could be solved with ease?
After nearly 14 years as a chef and many more cooking at home, I have seen all sorts of interesting disasters and had to handle plenty of my own. But still cooking has been one of the most interesting and fun contributions to my life. What if the mistakes I have made and learnt from could be the key to showing you how fun and easy food can be?
I have worked in kitchens all over the world from here in Brisbane to London and Canada. I have cooked functions for 100+ people and worked services where we served over 180 people a la carte and enjoyed every moment. Trust me, I’ve had my share of cooking disasters from burnt food to dropped food and everything in between. But still I have come back for more and kept creating delicious meals.
So what is the magic element to not losing your cool when things go a little haywire? No it’s not a zen meditation and it’s not reality tv drama. It’s knowing what can be done, what can’t be saved and where to head to next. It has taken time and practice and now I am sharing these skills with you.
How do you learn these skills to create ease in your kitchen? Coming in 2015 is my series of classes, “Cook your best without the stress”.
What is cooking your best I hear you ask? It’s creating dishes you love with your own flair and flavour. This is not about following a recipe to the gram nor is it about flying by the seat of your pants when you are not ready to go solo just yet.
These classes are all about discovering your culinary talents and strengths and building on them. Love desserts? Let’s explore that. Can’t get enough of making pasta from scratch? Let’s see what else you can do with flavours and shapes. With a chef at your side guiding you, encouraging you and showing you the ropes cooking your best will be achieved in no time.
I know that busy schedules, long work days and budgets can all contribute to stress at meal time. With planning, confidence in your skills and menu ideas the stress can disappear with ease. I would like to introduce you to a new way of creating in your kitchen; join me in having some fun, joy and ease in your kitchen today.
So how do you start? Just register your interest by filling in the contact form with the subject “Cooking your best” and I’ll add you to the list.
The fine print:
Classes are based on individual lessons created in your home with a private facebook group you are invited to join to share your progress, recipes and successes
You will receive a bespoke lesson plan based on what you would like to cook and learn
The minimum commitment is three classes at $400 total for 2 hours per lesson. Ingredients and travel time (if applicable) are not included. For full terms and conditions please see the FAQ page
Full recipes, workbooks, notes and photos of your lessons and meals will be included emailed each week following the classes.
Classes can be booked and started from January 2015
If you would like to book a group class please add this to the contact form and we can arrange a suitable package for group lesson.
Hello Sunshine! You could be forgiven for thinking it’s Summer all year round here in Queensland with the weather at the moment. So what adult treat can you whip up to keep it cool and classy? Champagne pops of course!
Now I am not suggesting you have to use Champagne for this recipe, good quality sparkling wine works great too. I say good quality as you will be able to taste the wine with the pops so any corked or old wines can ruin the light fruity taste of the pops.
So what’s involved? It’s pretty simple really – all you need is some sparkling wine or champagne, fruit puree or juice and mint.
Now I know you’ll love these popsicles, it will be the most sophisticated version of a zooper dooper you’ve ever seen! ;D Enjoy!
Cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming when you need to consider different dietary needs, possible allergies and personal preferences. It’s enough to make anyone just order takeaway and not bother!
Seriously though. how do you cook for friends, your family and everyone in between and ensure that all tastes can be met?
1. Ask some questions – if it is a dinner party and there are guests coming you don’t know very well (extended family perhaps or new partners, friends of friends) don’t be afraid to ask if there are any intolerance or allergies. Sometimes people don’t eat seafood but aren’t necessarily allergic so a little investigation can ensure a lot less embarrassment when the meal is served.
2. Do some research – with the rise in preferences for low sugar and gluten free intolerance’s there are many meals and combinations that can cater to these needs without excluding these guests from the main meal everyone else is having. Gluten free pastas, breads and dessert ingredients are now readily available, the nutritional content of many recipes are also easy to find and even vegan recipes can be a great change from the meat eating norm for a dinner party. Have a browse through recipe books in a library, check out dishes online or ask friends their favourite techniques for inspiration.
3. Have fun making variations – what if you didn’t need to make a whole new meal, what if you just changed one thing for one person? Now I know not everyone is keen on catering to meal time whimsy’s and who won’t eat what and how but you can allow personal choices with minimal effort with a little planning. How on earth I hear you say? Well here’s the clincher of this blog – how to cook pasta for two who love fettucine cabonara and two that really don’t like cream pasta. Read on and learn.
Cooking for one of my couple friends each week (we take turns doing dinner or dessert – kinda neat) has brought about some great creativity – they have different tastes, dishes, personal favourites to me and my partner. So what do you do when one of the asks for fettucine cabonara which my partner loves and myself and her partner really don’t like? You diversify – I like pasta and so does he – so solution? Just different sauces. Dinner is at their place to allow their child to have his usual bedtime which means I have the opportunity to explore my planning skills.
Cabonara in advance? Pasta in advance? How? I hear you ask. Well you can cut the onion, bacon and in our case mushroom (they like it that way) and have it ready to pan fry and add the cream too, almost like a cooking show where the bowls are convinelty at arms reach! Even better, if you want to do dinner in a hurry, you can panfry the ingredients and have them ready along with the pasta pre-cooked and cooled so if it is for a dinner party you just need to warm the mix in a pan, add the cream, dunk the pasta in boiling water and they will all come together ready in 2-3 minutes. Easy! So what are myself and her partner having? Fettucine as well but our sauce is just a simple combination of the same onion base with the addition of cherry tomatoes, spinach and olives. Cutting the tomatoes and squishing them a little in the pan with some olive oil creates a light sauce together with the salty yum of the olives and spinach creates a simple and tasty dish without a lot of effort so everyone can eat well but eat what they want.
Of course, this sort of effort is completely up to you. For me I was chopping up the onion, bacon and mushrooms anyway so a little slice of tomatoes and shred of spinach wasn’t anymore effort really. When the pasta is cooked I just divided it in two and one went in with the cream, the other the tomato and dinner was served. Easy peasy 🙂
So what other variations can you make:
1. No seafood – divide sauces (pasta or curry) in two and one half can have prawns for seafood lovers and the other chicken. Same sauce, different protein. Same with salads or sides. Same same but different protein.
2. Crumbles/tarts/pies – make individual ones so gf can have their variation without fuss
3. Vegetarian/vegan – have a meat protein on the side to add to the dishes for the hardcore meat eaters i.e grilled chicken, fish or a steak can be added to a salad, pasta or casserole
4. Sugar free or low sugar – check what they can have and create accordingly either for them or for all i.e sweet potato mash instead of plain potato, wholemeal flour for pasta etc etc
It does take a little planning but that planning means a lot less frustration and effort later and then you will create you own repertoire to have on hand when the moment arises if you least expect it. Let me know what variations you have discovered and how you cater for different tastes or food requirements in you household. Happy cooking!
Wobbly chopping boards – the bane and danger of any kitchen be it household or commercial. Nothing is worse than trying to run your knife over some herbs and the board slips and slides. Or how about when you are trying to dice some meat for a casserole and each slice of the blade sends the board this way and that? Solution -wet a cloth or some paper towel, sit your board on top and chop away! Never risk cutting your fingers again