Saturday, October 2, 2010

The family that cooks together ...

Seems my little great nephews and niece are budding MasterChefs too.
On the first Sunday evening of the school holidays, and in celebration of the second episode of Junior MasterChef, the tasty trio cooked up a storm for other members of the family, including their Great Grandma and Pa-Pa.
The tables were set with placecards, the diners were seated, and napkins ceremoniously laid upon their laps.  
I’m told that pink bubbly was poured into glasses for the ladies, and beers set in front of the men.
Then a feast began: Bruschetta, garlic bread, chicken, vegies,  and several choices of dessert.
The adults then delivered their judgement to the mini-chefs: Outstanding! (Seriously! Could they have said anything else?)
I love how Junior MasterChef is bringing kids – and their families – not only into the kitchen, but into supermarkets, fishmongers, markets.
They are slicing and dicing, melting and simmering, and plating up wonderful meals for their loved ones.
Kids are back in the kitchen, cooking alongside the adults in their lives. It’s pretty special.
I still have an issue with the timing of the show. 7.30 pm is a bit late for young kids, and if you don’t have one of those magical recorder thingies, it means they miss out on most of the show. But then my lovely twitter pal @Motorbikes_Lady told me that through the magic of the internet, you can watch episodes online. Who knew? (Everyone but me, apparently!)

But even then, my current laptop isn't quite powerful enough to watch television shows in comfort ... mainly due to the fact that the Dell computer I bought at the start of the year died within a couple of months and they refused to fix it under warranty or supply a new one. So I have to use an old laptop, which apparently isn't powerful enough to do all the stuff I want it too. But that's another story ...
Anyway, the other night my foodie nephew and his wife decided to do their own Masterchef-inspired cook-off.
Having dined recently at one of MasterChef judge George Calombaris’s  Melbourne restaurants, my niece had also splashed out on his beautiful book Greek Cookery from the Hellenic Heart.
The pair then spent a good part of their Sunday preparing a Greek feast for us.
For starters, there was home-made tzatziki; as well as eggplant and red onion dip. These were accompanied by perfectly toasted pita bread triangles, and warmed olives.
The main course was a favourite of mine, moussaka.
I lived on tzatziki and moussaka back in simpler times when I backpacked around the Greek Island with little more than a couple of sarongs, sunscreen and swimwear.  (Wow, that’s  lot of S-words, and I haven’t even started with the sun, sea, sand and sunsets...)
On a backpackers’ budget, the staple diet included meals like moussaka, pastitssio, gyros, and seafood.  Oh and Greek Salad. Naturally.
On a few memorable occasions, I even drank the complementary ouzo that often accompanied a meal.  I tried to like retsina, but it was an acquired taste, and I never quite acquired it!
Instead, we often drank local beer with our meals, because believe it or not, it was usually cheaper than soft drink or juice.
I love Greece, and a real tzatziki instantly transports me to those heady days under the Hellenic sun.
My own version is a little bit more rustic than my niece and nephew's version though, which like George’s, is restaurant quality. Generally I grate some cucumber, squeeze out the excess water, and mix it with plain Greek yoghurt, a little lemon, garlic and mint. George's recipe has a few extra flourishes.
As with the moussaka. This version is more complicated than my own and much more delicious as a result. (Again, mine uses just lamb mince, tomatoes, onion, eggplant and a few extras, with bechamel sauce and cheese. George's recipe used lamb AND beef, and the bechamel is so rich it's almost like a savoury custard. Sublime.)
Afterwards, the kids tucked into ice-cream and sprinkles, while the rest of us enjoyed my nephew's signature cappacinos.

And it occured to me that creating and enjoying delicious food for and/or with loved ones, is one of the most intimate things we can do for each other.
We make it, we put it inside ourselves, it nurtures and feeds us. We share it, and add conversation, and laughter, and fun.
And it brings families and friends together.

When was your most recent memorable meal ... and did you give or receive it?
A beautifully-set table
Pita bread with tzatziki and eggplant and red onion dip.

Sorry for the blurry close-up - my camera isn't the best! 

And to end, the perfect coffee!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Two little cooks? Or just right?

So where do you stand on Junior MasterChef?
I'm unsure whether it's a good thing to be featured on national television, which results in all the participants - and their families - getting the kind of attention reality TV contestants attract.
As an example, here is a selection of comments that were tweeted during and after the second episode. Most are positive and/or funny, but there are some nasty tweets out there too.
Which is one thing for adults to cop, but pretty hard on kids. Yes, I know, the kids shouldn't be on twitter, but I'm pretty sure they will find out about it at some time, even if it's when they're back at school.
  • Every kid on Junior MasterChef gets good reviews, the judges must have disliked at least ONE?
  • Junior Masterchef is just a way to exploit children for television ratings
  • Some douchbag kid made a sandwich on junior masterchef
  • Not enough kids dropping things and throwing tantrums on junior masterchef. Not a good portrayal of that age group at all!
  • Whenever i watch junior masterchef i feel bad for not being able to cook as good as them The kids on Junior Masterchef should be put straight into Australia's leading kitchens. Only If they can reach over the bench.
  • After watching Junior MasterChef, I think it may also be time for Junior Biggest Loser
  • Also, if you want to feel incompetent as a cook... watch Junior Masterchef Australia. 8-12 year olds put ya to shame.
See what I mean? Some comments are great, but there are some nasty meanie pooheads out there picking on our junior chefs.
What I do love about Junior MasterChef is that it showcases what kids can do if they are given the right tools and encouragement.
These kids are so composed, and clever, and honest, and brave ... they are a credit to their parents. And yeah, one of two of them might think they're pretty good, but maybe that's because they are!
I love that the judges are encouraging and funny and caring. Yes, so they don't put the kids down and they find positive things to say about each of them. But that is because it is the right thing to do. These are kids after all!
Child psychologists are on hand for the kids, families, judges and whoever to talk to and seek guidance where necessary. So I think the producers have taken a responsible approach. And if Junior MasterChef gets more kids in the kitchen, creating and eating good food rather than craving takeaway and junk food, that can only be a good thing.
Junior MasterChef should be watched by all education professionals because it shows what children can achieve, even if they don't fit into a neat little box.
Blogger and twitterer Ben Jones says it all here:
What do others think?
In the meantime, here are a few photos of my own Junior MasterChefs at work in the kitchen:
Mr 9 picked out this wild barramundi after a quick chat with the fishmonger at our local Coles.

"Oh, that's disgusting," he says. Though he took ghoulish delight at showing Miss 7 and I the heart and lungs and other gross things ...
Mr 7 plated up barra with rice, smashed potatoes, rocket, mayo, and a little bbq sauce. A weird combination I know, but he liked it.
Miss 7 added a little more rocket, lemon and Japanese mayo to hers

She was also proud of her efforts!
And in case you're interested, we stuffed the fish with garlic, lemon, and fresh dill supplied by one of the Mums at school. Then we put it in a oven bag and cooked it. The rocket came out of our herb garden.
It was delicious!
Disclaimer: We all had upset tummies the next day so we're not sure if it was a bug - as the kids also had fever and sore throats - or the fish. I'm hoping it wasn't the fish!
What do your kids get up to in the kitchen?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ding dong ...

So, while we were petsitting for my brother and his family recently, the door bell rang.
It was The Avon Lady.
In the flesh.
Now, I haven't had an Avon Lady for years.
There was a Mum at school who used to sell it, and then we moved to NZ, and I didn't get to know one there.
And since moving back to Brisbane, I haven't come across another one.
With my sister-in-law's order, The Friendly Local Avon Lady kindly left a couple of brochures.
The kids enjoyed going through them with me.
Now we didn't order any of the items here - hey, I'm a woman, I needed make-up! I had to get my priorities right.
However, we did enjoy browsing through the health and lifestyle brochure.
And boy, they didn't sell these kind of things when I last ordered Avon!

A mango slicer. Okay, it may have its uses, but doesn't that kind of negate the pleasure of slicing a mango and sucking the flesh off the seeds and cheeks? Or maybe that's just me ...

A strawberry slicer. Again, I guess it would be useful, but slicing strawberries keeps the ruggies quiet for at least a few minutes usually.

If you're pitting the cherries, you can't spit out the seeds. That is all.

Ice-cream holders. Erm, what happened to cups, cones, or sticks? Or are we breeding a generation of lazy ice-creamer lickers? Gasp! It's UnAustralian!

Erm, guess these are like wine charms for grown-ups. Drink charms for kids.

A cake slicer. Now this, in my opinion, is pure evil. There is no fun at all in cake-slicing if one child is not convinced that another received a bigger slice as him/her.

A handy, key-holding rock. Genius, except that anyone who buys Avon will know your secret!
So, would you order any of these wonderful new kitchen gadgets? Or have you used them, and can you share a review?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Breakfast burritos

I knew Mr 9 was feeling better yesterday, when around mid-morning he announced he was suddenly starving.
Both kids have been off their food lately, having had a virus off and on which has caused sore throats, aches and pain, upset tummies, and coughs. It's been hard enough getting fluids into them, let alone food, but I always try not to panic if they don't eat. Most times, kids don't starve.
Anyway, having missed dinner the previous night, and breakfast the next day, Mr 9 discovered his appetite was back.
Like Miss 7, Mr 9 loves a cooked breakfast, though we usually do it only on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
C. decided that since he was home from school anyway, he may as well make something delicious.
And so he did.

Chase's Breakfast Burritos

Grab a couple of good quality meat patties from the freezer.
If possible, cook in a non-stick pan. You may need to add a little oil.
Cook eggs to your liking.
Heat tortillas in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
Assemble burritos:
Put cheese on the base, add meat and egg.
I add barbecue sauce and mayonaise for extra taste, then fold the tortilla/burrito.
Toast lightly in a sandwich maker if you like the cheese to get all melty.

Breakfast Burrito - the breakfast of champions!

Mmm, burritos ...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Puppy love

So, who caught the first episode of Junior MasterChef?
The kids really wanted to watch it, but Mr 9 was in bed and asleep before the show even began, and Miss 7 only made it to the first ad break. Next morning was school, so it was probably just as well.
I wish I could tape it for them, because both C. and H. love to cook, to eat, and to watch television (well, they are kids!) They're obviously really interested in Junior MasterChef because there are kids on it doing exactly what they would love to do.
Miss 7 loved the parts she saw, but had one criticism: 'Where's the fat one?' she said. "Matt. Matt Preston."
(Sorry Matt ... but at least she likes you!)
Apparently Matt and his cravats are taking a smaller role in the kiddie version of the show.
No matter. We saw a playful side to George and Gary, and Anna Gare is just lovely.
And the kids. The kids! What a fantastic group of budding chefs, and how brave were the ones who sadly had to leave?
In other news, the kids and I did a bit of pet-sitting on the weekend, which we all loved. We popped into feed and play with a friend's dog while she was away, before popping across to my brother's home to pamper their elderly and slightly grumpy mini-daschund, young and excited poodle, and somewhat aloof British Shorthair cat. 
It's always a treat to have some puppy (and kitty) love.

Teddy, the cat, another one who will only eat Whiskas wet food

Wilbur the sausage dog. Sorry for blurry photo, he refused to look at me and kept moving because he was sulky and missing his humans. He later grudgingly allowed us to pat him and cuddle him.

Pippa the poodle. Kids wanted to take her home with us.

How did you spend your weekend?