how to cook at home

Cooking with kids – knife safety

   

Seven Tips for Knife Safety with Kids

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.

 

Easy ways to cook well, eat well and have fun doing it

Friends cooking together the veagetarian dinner in kitchen

An interesting revelation has come to come me lately. I always had this preconception that as a chef just because I know how to cook I must know how to eat. Let me explain my logic here – when you can cook and anything and enjoy cooking surely you must only eat the very best and cook the very best? Well, yes and no. Yes I do love cooking delicious and beautiful meals but do I always choose them? No. The usual excuses come into play here. Not enough time to cook when I get home from work, not bothered cooking once again or just plain sick of the sight of food and having to decide what to cook for dinner.

Meal plans, frozen meals, ready meals I hear you exclaim! I totally get the logic of this but there is also the friend that goes hand in hand with excuses – habit. It was never a habit of mine to make and freeze meals. It has never been a habit of mine to right a menu for the week. So what do you do when you are not eating well and don’t know where to start.

Learn what foods work for you and your body

  1. What is eating well and what does it mean to you?

Everyone has their definitions of eating well. For some it’s a calorie controlled meal plan, for others it’s a vegetarian diet, other’s it paleo. At the heart of eating well for me is choosing certain non-negotiable items:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season – buying seasonal and local means that not only are you getting the best version of your produce, you are also buying at the best value. Fruits and vegetables have seasons for a reason – this is when they grow best. When fruits are in season they are priced to match – there may be a glut from ideal weather so they are able to be sold off at a great price.
  • Quality meat, fish and poultry. If you choose to eat animal products ensure they are the best quality you can afford. To me respecting the animal source is paramount – free range or organic where possible and from reputable sources.
  • Full fat everything – now I know this seems in opposition to eating well but by eating full fat you aren’t compromising on flavour which can be compensated with added sugar or salt in low fat products. Fat satiates whereas sugar can trick your mind into thinking it hasn’t eaten as many calories as it has. Instead of having a small spoon of mayo you may find yourself using 3-4 to create the desired taste.
  • Make from scratch where you can – I am all for eating the foods you enjoy. Biscuits, cakes and muffins are all ok but I prefer that they be made from scratch. Packet mixes are usually just your dried ingredients plus stabilisers and emulsifiers added in. When you make your own foods you can adjust to taste and ensure the ingredients you love are in them. Baking muffins with oats and whole fruits makes for a sweet treat with added nutrients, cakes that can be made grain free without compromising flavour are possible. The same applies to dressings, sauces and marinades. Instead of just buying a sugar syrup with spices you can make robust and interesting combinations that suit your tastes.

Ok so now we have my rules for eating well. What is the next step?

schedule

  1. Create the habit and pay attention to your schedule.

There is no point planning a 7 day meal plan if you know you will be out or working for 3 of those days. Just the same as buying items that will go off quickly if you don’t use them with a plan. Plan for last minute catch-ups, outings or late shifts and what you can do with the food in your fridge if you don’t get to it straight away. Having your vegetables chopped ready for the week can mean that if you find yourself not home for dinner two nights in a row you can just blanch (steam/boil then cool in ice water) them for 2 minutes and then freeze to use when you can. The same applies to fruits. Having them diced up can make them more appealing to grab and if you find you’re just not getting to them pop them in the freezer for baking or smoothies.

 

frustrated cooking

  1. Explore your excuses and reluctance.

The reasons we don’t eat well, move our bodies or take care of ourselves can be varied and many. Family habits, projections and expectations can all create stories in our heads as to why we can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, it’s too hard. So how do we create new positive habits and let go of the stories? Start to question them – Are they yours? Have you been listening to other people’s stories? Are you repeating habits of family members? Are you projecting ideas onto yourself from what you think is required? All these stories and ideas can lock yourself into thinking nothing can change or will change. By exploring limiting beliefs you can choose new ways of being. Being in allowance of what works for you can be the first step in choosing different. Instead of judging the choices you have made to this point you can allow yourself to choose something new.

I am the first to admit that my clothes have gotten considerably tighter due to my excuses. I wasn’t willing to look at the changes in my lifestyle and the effects they would have. I went from working full time as a chef on my feet all day and doing outdoor activities 3-4 times a week to working part time and sporting a foot injury that dramatically reduced my activity levels. All of this can be compensated for but there needs to be no excuses and stories. If I had paid attention to my body, my eating plans and movement I would have identified the need to adjust my lifestyle. Notice I don’t say “go on a diet” or “exercise more”.

It is important to care for yourself without creating unrealistic goals and ideas that just serve to cement us in place versus allowing us to move forward. As the majority of my clothes got tighter I finally stopped, sat down and asked myself some questions. What has changed? What is different? Where am I not paying attention to my body and its care? This is where I came to realise I was eating energy dense foods in quantities I didn’t require. On days when you are moving around a lot and being very active more food may be required. Low key days at home may see you eating less. Or maybe neither of these apply to you but for me this reflection was key to getting my health and well being back on track.

Previous to my foot injury I was easily active. I enjoyed being outdoors and being active. The pain and frustration of my injury had my become all or nothing. Either I could be active or I wasn’t bothered. You can see how this isn’t conducive to good health and well being. So what could I have chosen?

  • Low impact movement: Yoga, pilates, boxing without the running components, using a small trampoline, swimming, bike riding, all these activities are low impact on my feet and could assist in keeping my body moving, vital and healthy
  • Planning meals: Having favourite recipes and meal ideas I know I enjoy and can create easily can take away the what to cook for dinner frustration
  • Proper rehabilitation of the muscles: This was the biggest issue. I refused to see a doctor or podiatrist for my foot pain for months. Not days or weeks, months. Even then I was reluctant to change my work shoes, do the rehabilitation of the muscles and seek other opinions and options. I didn’t want to admit that my body had changed and what may have been a minor issue I allowed to become a major one.
  • Checking in: Instead of just assuming that everything was too hard or too painful I could have checked in daily with what movements were comfortable for that day. Your body is ever changing and ever moving. Some days we are flexible and supple, some days we might be a little stiff and sore but it is changeable with some care and attention

So what did I choose? Only some of the above sometimes. As mentioned, the pain and frustration of my injury had me shutting down any awareness of the change required. I didn’t want to know what I could do I just wanted to mourn what I was no longer capable of. Sound familiar?

So what now?

time to change

  1. The time has come

For me now the time has come to start choosing different and enjoying my body, eating and movement once more. I starting seeing a different chiropractor, I went back to the podiatrist and said my orthotics weren’t working, I saw a physio to release the muscles and it worked. My feet are actually feeling better. I was also unsure that my hormones were in check so I went to a doctor. There is no shame in asking questions of health professionals. Sometimes they may have a key piece of information that you require. Of course no one knows your body like you do but if you don’t ask you can’t change anything.

It can take time to change habits as well. Some may disappear just by acknowledging them and some may take a little more processing but just being willing to choose is the first step.

I am excited at the new changes I know will be possible for me and my body and if you would like some further advice on eating well, cooking delicious foods or choosing supportive and fun movements and activities for your body please feel free to be in touch. I love to share my experience and offer ideas and support for you and your body. If you would like a more in-depth program I have fantastic packages available. Let me know what’s cooking in your kitchen and what has helped you create fabulous health and wellbeing J

What is creating Christmas Magic with Luisa and Jennie?

xmas collage

 

Christmas can be an interesting time of year. People are either stressed out shopping for the “perfect” gift or looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the break. Sometimes you may be like me for the last 14 years in the hospitality industry and you are dreading the onslaught of Christmas parties that bring long lunches, busy shifts and not a lot of holiday cheer.

So what if we could change this? What if we could create some Christmas magic that brings joy, happiness and sparkle back into your life? Regardless of your religious beliefs about this season, the universal desire to be with family, celebrate love and cheer and create a special time to come together and take a moment to appreciate all that we have has no boundaries. 

This year I am looking forward to Christmas as a time to stop, reflect and appreciate this year, my family, my partner, friends and my job. Christmas magic for me is also about taking the time to create gifts from the heart for those around us to show our love and appreciation for them. Simple gestures that reflect the recipients taste, likes and hobbies can go a long way to creating a gesture of love. 

When I was younger my mother always helped me create birthday cards for my classmates. At the time I found this horribly embarrassing and wondered why I couldn’t just buy birthday cards like everyone else but as time has passed and I have found the cards I made for my parents I can’t  help but smile at the memories and creativity that has gone into each one. 

Tapping into our creativity in a supportive and fun environment goes beyond that which we are making in front of us. This space can allow us to nurture our skills and the pleasures we take in forming beautiful foods, objects and decorations. In my busy weeks at work I lost sight of the pleasure of doing something different and creating something beautiful. I started to come back to the simple childhood pleasure of colouring in and this joy and fun has led me to creating a Christmas class with my friend Jennie. We would like to invite you to come play with us, taking time to nurture your creativity and explore what else you could make and have fun with. We come with many years’ experience playing with recipes, creating sewing or craft projects and delighting in homemade objects with a recipient in mind. 

What if you and your body are yearning for a space to come play with beautiful ribbons, sweet smelling spices and fun to play with salt dough? What if it didn’t matter what you created but just that you allowed yourself to create and just choose to have some fun with it? Interested? Yearning to join? For more info on the class click here for the nitty gritty and to book. We hope to have you join us for some Christmas magic soon.

 

Got your cooking L-plates? Now check out my top utensils for success in the kitchen

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.

7. Strainer/colander 

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.

10. Mandolin/grater

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.

We all scream for ice-cream

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

Ingredients
  1. 1 can condensed milk (340g)
  2. 300ml pure cream
  3. Splash of vanilla essence
Instructions
  1. Combine vanilla and condensed milk
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks
  3. Fold through cream and milk mixture softly until well combined

And if you’d like to churn your own vanilla ice-cream?

Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 560ml cream
  2. 188ml milk
  3. 210g sugar
  4. 6 egg yolks
  5. 1 vanilla pod
Instructions
  1. Bring the cream, milk, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer
  2. Whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Mix through the cream and milk with the yolks
  4. Place back on stove in clean pot over low heat and stir until mixture thickens
  5. Strain and allow to cool and chill
  6. Place into churner and follow your machines instructions
Cooking out custard can be a bit tricky so here are some troubleshooting tips
  1. 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. 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. 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

The knives are out – how to choose a kitchen knife that works for you

 a chef's hands with creaning fish | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | location: Tokyo Japan | location: Tokyo Japan | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | location: Tokyo Japan | location: Tokyo Japan knife with food a knife and food

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. 

knives

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. 

hand with knife

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.

knife holding

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. 

knife handles

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. 

knife blade

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. 

knife edge

 

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. 

knife steel

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Undercover Chef Tip – Saving the Herbs

Fresh herbs are great when you are making a salad or cooking and sprinkling them in. But what do you do with them when no further recipe ideas call for them later in the week? A great way to preserve herbs is to freeze them in olive oil or stock for later use. You can just pop a stock cube into a casserole, stew or curry and your herby burst of flavour will cook into the mix.

Defrost the olive oil frozen herbs for dressings or stir into pan when cooking onions and garlic for a recipe. Not only do you get to use up your herbs but you then have some stock and oil ready to go when you need it.

Sad wilted bunches of leftover herbs in the crisper be gone. You’re welcome.

Ask Luisa – have a cooking question? Just Ask!

Apologies for the bad ghost busters reference, it almost had to be done. The inspiration for this blog is thanks for a lovely friend asking about what to cook for dinner based on the ingredients she had. I realised that this is not uncommon for me as I have family often calling for a quick chef questions – i.e. How long should this take to cook? When would I know if this is ready? What cut of meat would suit this? And my favourite, It has turned a funny colour but smells ok, should I cook it?

I love these sorts of questions. It stimulates my cooking brain and allows me to delve into my knowledge to produce my version of what I would do in these circumstances. Just as I call my builder brother for advice on what to do when my shower screen comes off or a tap is leaking, so too do I give the cooking solutions.

So what was the prompt for the initial cooking question? Well J and I have been taking turns making dinner for each other each Monday and I had whipped up the fresh pasta with tomatoes and olives and other goodies as found in my cooking for a crowd blog. J wanted to replicate a similar dinner with a slight variation on ingredients that she either had on hand or had picked up from the supermarket.

My Advice?

1. Don’t bother with the bottled tomato sauce – if you have delicious fresh tomatoes on hand, don’t bother with bottled sauces – whilst they can seem like an easy and simple option they totally kill the freshness of the other ingredients

2. Forget the carrot – I only use carrot and celery when making bolognaise – i saute this off before adding the mince and allow it to cook out. If you’re not using mince, don’t bother with carrot – it won’t add anything

3. Grill the eggplant and zucchini – pan fried eggplant can be a bit, well blah. To me the smokiness of a bbq or even a grill caramelising it brings out the sweetness and subtlety of it. Same with the zucchini. Technically they are fruits so applying that sort of heat allows for a lovely golden caramel which creates gorgeous flavours. I would do the same when making a vegetable lasagna instead of just layering the raw vegetables.

4.  Use the oil from the semi dried tomatoes to coat the vegetables before grilling if you’d like some extra herby punch. I always keep those sorts of oils at they have infused with the tomato and generally have a herb mix in them so creates all sorts of delicious.

5. Saute the onion and add the tomato – by caramelising the onion and adding the tomato you get that brilliant sweetness and tartness together. Good balance means you don’t need to add sugar as some sauce recipes do. Allow the tomato to saute a little and bring out it’s own juices. Help it along a little with some water and you have a fresh yummy sauce.

6. To finish, add the grill vegetables to the tomato mix, stir in the olives and semi-dried tomatoes, top with torn up bocconcini and fresh basil if on hand. Buon appetito!

So who do you call when you don’t have a chef as your sister/friend/partner? Well, me. I am more than happy to answer any and all cooking queries be it simple or complex. If I don’t know the answer then I will try and find out for you. After all I have many chef friends on call too so if I can’t help, I’ll test their skills to see if they can.

So how can you enlist my help? Just ask: on my facebook page or email me at [email protected]

What sort of questions can I answer? Hopefully anything. If you have baked a cake that hasn’t quite worked let me know what ingredients you used, the pan size and oven temp and we can nut it out. Something too salty, sweet or spicy? Check the forum for reference material.

Not sure what to do for dinner with what you bought? Either check my recipes page for inspiration or upload a pic of the ingredients to the facebook page or email me, I’ll give you a recipe if you’ll let me share the yummy finished product. How easy right?

So what’s the catch? I hear you say. None at all. I love to share my foodie knowledge and stretch my chef brain. If you’d like me to come to you and hash out a variety of recipes or recreate some of your more epic disasters to see where you went wrong then we can arrange for a lesson at cost. But the simple questions and advice? Happy to help.

Love to enlist my help with some cooking lessons? Check out my services page to see if we can find a match to fit.

Happy cooking!

Cooking for a fussy crowd – dinner made easy

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!

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Undercover Chef – Top and Tails

The last thing you want to do sometimes after a busy day is to prepare your vegetables for dinner – so how do you get your greens without having to stand in the kitchen for even longer? When you get them home from the market or shops top and tail them so they are ready to go. That way you can grab them for a snack, chop them roughly for a salad or steam them up for a side dish. Easy!