Summer Tapioca Pudding

Ah summer. How I wished for your visit the minute winter reared it’s chilly head…

Summer. When the washing dries to a crisp after only 2 hours. When it’s already 25 degrees by the time we finish breakfast. When it’s all dim inside the house because we close the blinds and curtains to keep out the sneaky glare of the hot sun. When it’s even too hot to wear a singlet and shorts to bed.

When it’s MANGO season! Mangoes here in my cereal, mangoes there in little cubes in a bowl – mangoes everywhere in my smoothie!

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Summer brings a plethora of yummy tropical fruits – watermelon, lychees, cherries, strawberries and blueberries. And mangoes.

Ah mangoes, how I miss you when all I have during dreary winter is apples and oranges and pears.

But enough of dreariness! Winter is a distant 5 and a half months away, and summer is everywhere NOW! Let us revel in the fruits that summer has to bear…and make tapioca pudding topped with my favourite coloured tropical fruits – and that includes MANGO!

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What an amazing colour combination!

I chanced upon a tapioca pudding recipe in the newspaper a while ago and it brought back memories of my childhood when my mum used to make it for us. The childhood version I had didn’t have any tasty fruit on top, even though we always only seemed to have it in summer, and it was a lot runnier than how I make it. But I still remember it being yummy and sweet and full of summeriness!

My take on the pudding has a lot less sugar, but I still have to confess that it’s a pure carb-fest (tapioca is made from the starch of the cassava plant, a root vegetable)… but sometimes a carb-ie detour is just what one needs when one decides to indulge : )

Tapioca Pudding with Summer Fruits

Gluten free

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tins of coconut milk
  • 500 ml of milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup small tapioca pearls
  • Mango, watermelon and blueberries – or whatever fruit you like.

Let’s make pudding!

  • Mix all the ingredients except the fruit together in a pot and soak for about 20 minutes
  • Turn the heat onto a medium heat and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the pearls become soft and translucent

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  • Make sure you stir every few minutes, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot and move the pearls around otherwise the pearls will stick to the bottom and burn
  • Take the pot off the heat and let it cool and then chill in the fridge
  • Chop the larger fruit into little cubes so all the fruit are basically the same size
  • Spoon the tapioca into bowls and top them with the fruit
  • Garnish with a mint leaf if you’re so inclined!

Notes:

  • The pudding can also be eaten warm, in which case you can enjoy it during winter
  • The pudding will become gluggy after you’ve chilled it, but it’s still very yummy! If you don’t want to eat it warm but not keen on glugginess, you could add a little bit of water or more coconut milk to make it runnier.
  • Also, if you’re not keen on milk, just substitute the milk for water instead. This does mean that you’ll get a thinner consistency, but I think it’ll be just as good.

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Fund-Raiser Biscuits

The call’s out. It’s the annual Christmas-Twilight-Market-fund-raising event for the Cherub’s school.They’re asking for volunteers to help out at a food stall, sell tickets, set up or pack up.

This is probably going to get me into some trouble, but I never volunteer to do any of that. I don’t want to set up or pack up and I don’t want to stand for 2 hours cooking and serving dumplings (especially since at the last fund-raiser, they ran out of dumplings by the time I got to the front of the queue. I’m not bitter about it though).

I’m exhausted by the end of each day without having to do extra work as it is. I like to browse the stalls at my leisure, sit down when I want and eat when I want. Besides, they need people to give their funds, so they can actually raise funds right? But kudos and thank you to the amazing parents and teachers who do volunteer their time and energy, I absolutely admire their generosity : )

However, the beauty of fund-raisers is that there’s always a cake stall! And I’ll happily bake something that I would love to eat for the stall. In the last few years, I’ve baked things like oatmeal and raisin cookies, banana muffins, chocolate crackles… all sugar reduced, whole-meal flour and with 70% chocolate where applicable.

It’s not a competition, but why do I always only see the school kids running around with biscuits laden with sprinkles from an unnatural origin and cupcakes piled 3 cms high with garish coloured icing sugar. Bless my little Panda, she always dutifully buys one of my ‘natural’ looking creations and eats it quietly next to me.

Again, it’s not a competition, but this time round, I’m gonna join ’em (ok, so the Cherubs pleaded with me to make something yummy AND fun – but don’t I always??). This year, I’m going to try to make plain WHITE flour  butter cookies dipped in chocolate (Panda’s request) and HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS (Soccer Boy’s request)… Ok, I still reduced the sugar (but not to Sally standards, promise it’s just a small reduction) and the chocolate is a mix of milk and 50% dark chocolate. Did you know milk chocolate has 3 times more sugar than 70% dark chocolate?!?

And if I don’t see cute little kids with butter cookie, chocolate and hundreds and thousands smears on their faces at the markets, I have 2 kgs of icing sugar at home and I’m (sort of) not afraid to use it for the next fund-raiser.

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Butter biscuits dipped in chocolate and sprinkles

Makes: 50

Egg free

Ingredients:

  • 250g softened butter
  • 120g (3/4 cup) sifted icing sugar
  • 375g (2 1/2 cups) sifted plain flour
  • 200g chocolate of your choice
  • Sprinkles (OPTIONAL!!)

Let’s bake!

  • Beat butter and icing sugar  with electric mixer until light and fluffy
  • Stir the flour into the mix in two batches until just combined
  • Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth
  • Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 25 cm log
  • Cover each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about one hour or until firm
  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • Line a baking tray with baking paper
  • Cut the logs into 1 cm slices and place them 2.5 cm apart on the baking tray
  • Bake for about 10 mins
  • Let the biscuits cool on the trays
  • Boil water in a pot
  • Pour the sprinkles (if using) into a small bowl
  • Break the chocolate up into pieces and put into a metal heat proof bowl
  • Put the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water
  • Mix the chocolate occasionally until the chocolate has melted
  • Dip the biscuits into the chocolate
  • Dip the biscuits into the sprinkles bowl
  • Leave to set on a tray lined with baking paper or if it’s a warm day, just pop it into the fridge to set.

Notes:

  • When you’re creaming the butter and sugar, you can add the grated rind of a lemon or lime, vanilla essence or any essence you prefer. You can also add nuts to the biscuits before you bake them. I just made plain biscuits this time because the Cherubs asked me not to try anything fancy : (
  • In case you’re wondering – I didn’t buy the 2 kg of icing sugar. My sister A’s neighbour had a lot of it and gave it to AA doesn’t use icing sugar, so she gave it all to me : )

 

My foodie friend, the freezer.

As much as I would love to make totally amazing, fresh and inspired meals from scratch every night of the week with a wide smile and sparkle in my eye… when I’ve been out all day, just had a hard week, or my day involves the Cherubs trying to maim each other because he/she is staring at me well only because she/he said I was a bum but it’s because he/she said I was a custard… I just prefer to hide in my favourite corner of the family room with my mug of ginger tea, some nuts and the Food Channel.

But when the darlings eventually hunt me down for some sustenance because they couldn’t find custard anywhere, even with half an hour to go until dinner, I still feel the need to feed on something with reasonably complex flavours. And bread with peanut butter doesn’t come anywhere near complex. Ever.

And that’s where my large upright freezer with the 3 drawers and 3 shelves rescues me from my distress.

I freeze raw, marinated and cooked food, so in the afternoon, morning (or the night before if I’m unusually organised) I just take out a protein/pre-cooked meal of choice to defrost and I’m ready to cook or reheat at the end of the day. Perfect for those times when someone gets hurt because he/she said there’s a chicken on my head.

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So here’s a rundown of what’s in my freezer-for-those-rainy-days.

  1. Frozen meat

Portions of meat are handy when I haven’t had the chance or energy to go to the shops. Just defrost, marinate (or not) and cook.

Lamb cutlets or steak are a great standby because they don’t take too long to defrost.

2. Frozen meals

If I’m already crushing the garlic or mincing onions for 4 people, it won’t take that much extra time to crush or mince and cook for more. So when I make teriyaki chicken (a firm favourite with the Cherubs) or pretty much any dish, I cook 2 kgs of it, put the excess into large glass containers, let them cool down and then freeze.

If you’re more organized than I am, label the containers so you know what’s in them. Otherwise, I’ve never had too much trouble identifying what’s in the containers and I’m also pretty flexible. If I’ve taken out spaghetti bolognaise and it turns out to be burrito mince, I just pack the pasta and parmesan away in the fridge for another day, pull out the tortillas and grate some colby cheese. No sweat.

The meals I find perfect for freezing, especially because they taste better the day or week later are: butter chicken, burrito mince, spag bol and soups.

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3. Marinated meat

I get fresh meat, marinate it and pop into the freezer. This is for the meals which once cooked, I don’t think really stands up to freezing and reheating. Or when I’ve got a rare burst of energy, I just get some meat and marinate it. I then just have to cook it when I need it.

The meals I marinate and freeze are: honey soy chicken mid-wings, lemon garlic chicken mid-wings and lemon grass pork or beef.

4. Frozen veges and herbs

I always keep a pack each of frozen peas and corn. They’re yummy, healthy and cook in a flash. Sometimes if I’ve forgotten to cook rice, or we’ve just got enough left over rice for 3 people, Panda will happily have peas and corn as a substitute. Also in there is ginger, galangal and lemongrass, so I have access to them when they’re not in season.

I admit I’ve got a whole freezer to play with, but that’s only been a recent occurrence. Previously I had a normal fridge with a little freezer section. I’ve never played tetris, but Daddyken thinks I’d be amazing at it considering how I was able to pack a few week’s worth of frozen meals into that little freezer. But back then I also just made less ‘extra’ portions for freezing.

So while I’ll never be able to manage a wide smile or sparkle every night of the week, or ever, at least someone’s got a chicken on your head doing a poo, employees at American restaurants are still being caught doing every dodgy thing they’ve ever done exactly on the one night that the surveillance cameras are on, care of Food Network’s Mystery Diners, and I still get to eat food I love.

Beef Noodles With Gravy

When we’re on our way back home from a holiday, whether it’s been 2 nights or a week, I invariably say I want something wet when the subject of dinner pops up. Something soupy or something sauce-ie. Something noodlie.

No matter how fantastic the holiday was – whether we’ve been dining fine or fast, I always want something wet upon my return. It’s like the wonderfully comforting feeling of sleeping in your own bed again. It’s like a welcome home hug… for my taste buds.

This dish is similar to something I would order after a trip away – with the inevitable pain of holiday unpacking and washing to do, you didn’t think I’d say ‘cook’ would you?! It’s crammed full of flavour, slippery chewy noodles, tender, juicy beef and vegetables to help that holiday digestion.

The Cherubs are picky with the type of vegetables they eat, so I just put everything in separate bowls on the table and they just pick what they want and put it together themselves. It also means I don’t have to get the timing right with when to add the vegetables and beef together, so I won’t have a mix of over and under cooked food. Less stress, more happy. But most importantly of all – that gravy’s wet. Home Sweet Home!

Beef Noodles With Gravy

Ingredients

  • 250g noodles of your choice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 350g rump steak, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 garlic clove finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
  • 1 bunch bok choy (or green vegetable of your choice)
  • 1/2 bag bean sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Fried shallots (you can get these from any Chinese grocery store or fry your own), coriander and lemon, to serve
Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1 spring onion finely chopped
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornflour

Let’s cook!

1. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions

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2. Drain the noodles and mix in 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, transfer to a bowl

3. Combine the beef, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, garlic cornflour and the remaining sesame oil and mix. Marinate in the fridge for an hour.

4. Blanch the vegetables in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, drain well and transfer to a bowl.

5. Heat a wok or deep fry pan over high heat and add the oil (make sure the oil is very hot).

6. Drain the beef and stir-fry in 2 batches for 1 minute or until it changes colour. Remove the beef into a bowl.

7. For the gravy: In the same pan, stir-fry the ginger and spring onion until fragrant.

8. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients (except the corn flour) and bring to the boil.

9. Combine the cornflour with some water to make a paste, add to the sauce and simmer until thickened.

10. Add the beef back into the wok or pan and toss quickly to coat with the gravy. Transfer to a bowl.

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To serve

Put the bowls of noodles, blanched vegetables, beef and gravy, fried onions, coriander and lemon at the table. Let everyone serve themselves with what they want. The usual process is to put the noodles at the bottom, then the vegetables, beef and sauce, fried shallots, coriander and a squeeze of lemon. Mix and enjoy!

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Bo Luc Lac (Shaking Beef)

It’s always good to have a few recipes where you’re guaranteed a favourable reception when you take the plate to the table. No one wants to bring a dish out after all that effort in the kitchen just to get heart-felt exclamations of Oh not this! or I don’t want to eat it. I want a cheese sandwich or worse still – stoned silence.

Soccer Boy isn’t too keen on eating meat, but will always ask for seconds when I serve bo luc lac. It’s a Vietnamese dish and translates to ‘shaking beef’ – not because the beef’s scared of being eaten, the crazy amount of garlic will make anyone scared of opening their mouths again, or the eaters are scared to actually eat it, but because you’re supposed to shake the wok to sear the sides of the beef.

For some reason, the transition from cold Winter to warm Spring weather always reminds me to make this dish. And the beauty of bo luc lac? The combination of the fish sauce and garlic is an amazingly strong flavour combination, resulting in a very yummy and moreish meal. Yay! We’re having ‘look luck’ for dinner! It’s fresh and light. It’s quick to prepare and cook. Bring it on!

Vietnamese Shaking Beef

Serves 4

Gluten Free

Ingredients

  • 400g beef sirloin or rump cut into 2cm cubes
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • ¾ tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Lemon wedges and coriander, to serve

Let’s get shaking!

  • Combine all the ingredients (except lemon and coriander) and coat the beef well with the marinade. Let it stand for at least 1/2 an hour, or in the fridge for about 2 hours.
  • Preheat a wok over high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil to coat the pan
  • When the oil is hot, add the beef in a single layer (there should be a sizzling sound – if there isn’t, take the meat out and wait a little longer). Don’t move the beef around – let it sear for about 1 minute
  • Grab the wok by the handle and give it a quick shake to flip the meat to sear the other side for another minute
  • Shake the wok again and check to see that the sides of the beef are seared and even a little charred and the meat is medium rare – this should only take another 3 minutes.
  • Take the beef out and serve with the lemon wedges, coriander, fresh vegies and rice.

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Notes:

  • I always cook 2 kgs of this dish (!) and so prefer to cook on the bbq because I can do a large amount at once on the hotplate, with the heat at super high to get that spectacular char on the meat that I think is an absolute must for this dish.
  • My mum sometimes forgoes the rice and just wraps the beef in a piece of lettuce with a squeeze of lemon and coriander. Yummy!

Message Of A Thousand Thoughts

A friend of mine sent the following message:

“Come over for lunch one day before we move back, the renos are almost finished. We can have a swim and eat at the Country Club so I can get the most value out of this mind-numbingly exorbitant rent I’ve been paying these last few months.

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After you wrangle the kids to finish their breakfast, threaten to cut their screen time if they don’t stop fighting and raise your blood pressure trying to get them to school on time, meet me at my apartment after school drop off. It shouldn’t take you long since you won’t have the kids whining at you or fighting each other because someone took their red Lego piece which they absolutely need right NOW and no other red Lego piece will do, while you pack their drinks, snacks, swimmers and towels. You’ll just have to get your own stuff. You’ll just have one little bag. Remember those days?

But wait! There’s more! We’ll get to swim BY OURSELVES. Remember how that feels? No? I didn’t think so. Let me remind you – you get into your swimmers and then get into the water! Get it? You won’t have to wrestle with the kids while you pull their rashies over their heads as they protest that it’s too tight. You won’t have to bribe them to go to the toilet beforehand and then risk a melt-down as you stretch their goggles onto their heads and readjust for 20 mins until the goggles are just right. You won’t have to think about all that for one day. Imagine that!

It’s lovely to see the kids having fun, but this time you won’t have to stand in the water shivering while the kids jump and splash at you. You won’t have to piggy back them around the pool. You won’t have to have a heart attack if they go under water and not surface after 2 seconds. No readjusting their goggles because it’s too tight or the water’s going into them or it’s gone foggy.

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We can just swim how we want, when we want and for as long as we want. Breaststroke, freestyle or no style, it doesn’t matter. No interruptions! Except of course when we feel hungry. Not when they’re hungry and need a snack and it won’t be the snack you’ve packed and then – well, there won’t be ‘and then’ because that won’t happen on this day. Then let’s have a hot shower. Straight away. No shivering as we rinse the kids. No fights to dry and clothe them. No wet feet, no wet hair to dry. No Mum, why are you taking so long in the shower? I want to go. Hurry up I’m bored.

Oohh, the menu will be fantastic. We can order ANYTHING we want. It can be spicy, it’ll be non-kid friendly, it can be ANYTHING. Duck and fig salad. NZ snapper with mussel cream sauce. Confit duck with creamy potato mash. We won’t have to share. Any of it. What’s more, we can eat when the food’s still hot. No cutting up their food, no picking out green bits and no scraping sauce off. We don’t have to order chips. Unless we want to. And we won’t have to pay crazy money just so the kids can order deep fried chicken nuggets out of a packet straight from the freezer to you for $15.

Ahhh. Can things get any better? How about dessert? Not just vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. How about a lemon curd tart? Coconut and passionfruit slice? A macaron? Maybe even a flourless orange cake. With cream. All for ourselves with a quiet cup of tea. No Mum, I’m bored. I want to go home. Can we go home now? We won’t have to leave until we want to. Well, until it’s time for school pick up.”

Ok, the actual message read:

“Come over for lunch one day before we move back – the renos are almost finished.”

But I think the person who said “A picture says a thousand words” was limiting themselves to only one side of life.

Top 8 Tips for a Happy Garden

I love the visual boost to the senses that plants give me. I love their different shapes, astounding array of colours, the smell of (some of) them and their captivating flowers. I also love their versatility and resilience – it’s amazing how they can grow in a crack in the footpath and even sideways off a rock. And their seeds do amazing things – some stick to animal fur (or your socks) or are light enough to be blown by the wind and hence catch a free ride to distant suburbs or the next street to set up home in new place.

Plants are reassuring – there’s life and it’s continuing!

Our backyard is rimmed with lovely greenery of different shapes and sizes, with no big thanks to me. Daddyken loves nothing more than planting, watering and tending to the plant’s needs, which works really well for us.

He doesn’t even mind touching worms and grubs, and he’s kindly passed that endearing trait on to the Cherubs. In theory I don’t have a problem with this, as long as they wash their hands twice with soap immediately after. However, my little darling Cherubs like to share every one of their grub findings with me. Look what I’ve got mum! A baby caterpillar! Look at the long fat worm! This grub is blue and white!

But after a few episodes of Er, maybe we’ll move that worm away from the pot of spaghetti Or Ohh that’s great! … but best take that lizard away from the frypan in case… Or Ah! AHHHH! Take it away! Take it away! AHHHHH! we now have an unspoken understanding that they will call from the back door and wait for me to come to them.

Our vegie patch is a thin strip of land along the side of our fence where it basks in the northern sun all year round. We won’t ever  be able to live off our little patch of land, but it does supply us with seasonal vegies like spinach, bok choy, beans, snow peas, lettuce, beetroot, coriander and parsley, along with the year round rosemary and chives.

We don’t use chemicals on the plants, so it’s a bit of extra work for Daddyken to look after them. And it’s not fool proof, but we’re happy with being able to harvest without worrying about pesticide residue and not too fussed about a few pre-eaten leaves. We’ve only had this vegie patch for a few years, but we’ve learnt a few things along the way which helps make life a little easier for us, the plants and the insects.

This is our (yes, I’m involved, albeit indirectly!) list of the Top 8 things we do to help our garden grow and thrive:

1. Keep eggshells: We crumble them up and scatter in the garden bed because slugs and snails don’t like the sharp edges of the egg shells. If you can, leave the eggs to dry in a bowl for a day or two first – it makes it easier to crumble up and won’t stick to your hand.

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2. Sow seeds at different times: Daddyken staggers his seed sowing so we can harvest the crop throughout the season. That way, we avoid getting a glut of them for a week and then nothing for the rest of the time.

3. Mix it up: Daddyken sows his seeds in random places and plants a variety of vegies. This helps to confuse the bugs if there’s an assortment of leaves, sizes and colours. Orderly rows of the same plant would help the bugs to remember where our juicy sweet peas are and it’ll be party season for them night after night.

4. Let the plants go to flower and seed: Firstly, we’re helping the bees with their pollen collection and it looks pretty. Secondly, we let the flowers go to seed so we don’t need to sow the following year – the seeds will just germinate when the weather’s right. We always get lots of tomato seedlings each spring without doing anything at all.

5. Keep a few weeds in winter: Leave them to grow and flower because sometimes it’s all the bees have access to in the colder months, and bees aren’t too fussy about whose pollen it is.

6. Keep pruned bits: after Daddyken prunes our hedge or other large plants, he cuts them up and uses them as mulch in the garden.

7.  Grow bottoms! When I buy coriander, leeks or chives, they come with their roots, which I cut off and Daddyken puts them into the dirt. More often than not, they’ll grow from those roots and we get free plants. If they don’t, they’ll just rot and feed the soil. If I have to buy basil or other herbs, I’m never able to use the whole bunch, which I then forget about and find them black and slimy in the fridge a few weeks later. I now put the left overs into water and leave them in a sunny spot. They’ll then usually grow roots for Daddyken to plant in the garden.

8. Worm farm: we have an agreement with our worms – we give them our food scraps and they give us worm juice (aka worm wee), which is a fantastic fertilizer for our plants – it does have a slightly fishy smell, but luckily it doesn’t linger. We also have less rubbish in the bin as a result.

At the moment, we have bees buzzing, spinach thriving, coriander everywhere, beans pushing their shoots out and the occasional grub which adores our bok choy (but everyone has to eat don’t they?). We also have cute little lizards sunning themselves on the low brick wall ready for the Cherubs to catch. Eeek.

img_2619Notes:

Thanks to S from down the road and Cousin M for introducing Daddyken to gardening based on the Permaculture model (Permanent Agriculture and Permanent Culture). The intention of this type of gardening is for sustainability and self-sufficiency.