Monday, March 9, 2020

gado gado

An Indonesian dish that is widely open to interpretation and adaptation, gado-gado is a winner dinner for our family. Nic had been requesting it, so it was about time we had it for dinner again. This version was vegetarian, making it a great meatless Monday meal. It can easily become a vegan meal too.

Loosely translated as 'mix-mix', gado-gado is a good way to use up vegetables that might be loitering in the crisper drawers and/or to get rid of leftovers. It could easily be described as a pantry meal, as it uses whatever foods might be at hand.

Quite simply, it is a spicy peanut sauce over... ingredients. Vegetables used in the dish can be raw, lightly blanched or steamed. Nic's preference is to have it over noodles, I prefer brown rice. It would also be great with quinoa for an added source of protein.  
a mixed plate of foods - to which peanut sauce is added
This particular meal included: egg noodles, shredded lettuce, boiled eggs, sliced cucumber, grated carrot, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, boiled potatoes, sliced green onions.

Traditional foods to serve in gado-gado also include: tofu, tempeh, mung bean sprouts, green beans, shredded green cabbage, lontong (rice cake), prawn/shrimp crackers (krupuk)... Other possible additions might include: baby corn or corn kernels, asparagus, snap peas, zucchini, spinach, grilled eggplant, broad beans, edamame, cauliflower, broccoli, red cabbage, spiralized beets, pumpkin, sliced mushrooms, radishes, red or green peppers, shredded chicken, fish, shrimp... The possibilities are vast and combinations endless.

This is a fantastic dish to introduce new foods to children. It is colorfully appealing, can incorporate a variety of tastes and textures, and portions of new foods need only be small. 
Allergic reactions to peanuts may be avoided by substituting almonds in the sauce, like the recipe found here

This recipe is for the spicy sauce to put atop whatever ingredients one wishes to use. 

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp ginger root, grated
1 TB peanut oil (or substitute other vegetable oil)
5 TB peanut butter
 cup coconut milk
½ tsp shrimp paste (or fish sauce)
1 tsp lime juice (or lemon juice)
½ tsp palm sugar (or dark brown sugar)
1 TB soy sauce / Tamari
¼ tsp chili paste / Sambal Oelek

Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat.
Fry onion, garlic, and ginger until onion is soft.
Stir in the peanut butter and coconut milk.
Add other ingredients to taste.
Blend ingredients with an immersion blender for a smooth sauce. 
Cook for a further 5 minutes for flavors to develop.
  • This sauce is lovely served with satay or added to stir-fried vegetables.
  • I like to make sufficient sauce to ensure we have left-overs. I typically scale-up the quantities of all ingredients so I can use a full can of coconut milk.
  • Ingredients and ratios/quantities are easily altered depending on taste or availability (or even substituted or omitted). Traditional versions of the sauce include tamarind. The sauce can be made with unsalted peanuts instead of peanut butter. 
  • Shrimp paste (Mam ruocis fermented shrimp. It is extremely strong in smell and taste, and cooking with it may offend young noses (I have always make sure to cook with it when the kids are not in the room!) It is easily substituted with fish sauce
  • If I don't have time, I make a cheat version of this sauce by adding some Sambal Oelek to peanut butter and thinning it to sauce consistency with orange juice. 

Saturday, March 7, 2020

butternut soup with a Thai twist

Always a great soup for a chilly evening. 
This is a definite family favorite. It is made with Butternut squash/pumpkin, chicken broth, onions, flavored with lemongrass, shrimp paste, chilies, lime, coconut milk. I added a few kaffir lime leaves too.

I didn’t have fresh birds eye chilies, so I substituted red pepper flakes (sambal oelek is also a good substitute). Spiciness can be adjusted to kid-friendly levels.

When our children were very young, they were able to withstand spicier foods. After the age of about two, they all became a little timid when it came to spiciness. Over time (and with insistence), they are all now accustomed to and enjoy spicy foods from a variety of cultures: Thai, Indian, Mexican, Cajun...

Original recipe found here

Thursday, February 27, 2020


Pesto is such great food. Easy enough to make, the only hardship is the price of pine nuts! I had found my local Mediterranean market to stock pine nuts at a good price, but during my last visit, they only had pine nuts still in the shella fresher product for eating, but way too much work for cooking. I have made pesto with walnuts in the past, but the resultant color is brighter and more appealing with pine nuts. 

A recent trip to Baltimore, saw us make a diversion to Trader Joe's, simply to avoid sitting standstill in traffic. I was able to buy a good quantity of pine nuts (Pignolias) there for around $10.
I have involved the kids in pesto making, from picking the basil from the garden, pushing the button on the blender, and tasting the pesto at regular intervals to test it. It is one of those foods made without too much care for exact quantities, but the following is a rough guide: 

1 big bunch of fresh basil (maybe 2 to 3 cups of leaves and soft stems)
3 cloves of chopped garlic
½ cup pine nuts
Juice of half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil - ½ cup to start (more as required) 
Parmesan cheese - freshly grated - around 30oz/85gms
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (if desired)

Place basil leaves, pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic and ¼ cup of the olive oil into a blender. Pulse blend until chopped and combined. Add the grated cheese and remaining oil and blend, adding more oil if necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place pesto in a sterilized jar, smooth the top of the pesto and pour over a small amount of olive oil to cover the surfaceto prevent the pesto from oxidizing and turning brown. 

Keep the pesto refrigerated and use it within a week or two. Extra light Olive Oil may be substituted as this gives a milder flavor that is often preferred by younger children. 
Pesto is great on pasta, zucchini noodles, pizza, a rub for baked chicken breasts or tenders, a salad dressing or topping for boiled potatoes (diluted with olive oil), spread for sandwich wraps or toasted paninis, spread on mini toasts with a slice of tomato and/or some mozzarella or goats cheese as an appetizer... The kids love taking pesto pasta to school for lunch. Pesto penne has proved to be a great side dish to serve at kids' parties. 
Cherry tomatoes, halved and tossed with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted in the oven 180ºC/350ºF for 30 minutes.
For a firmer, less juicy tomato, bake in a colder oven for a longer time.
Fresh mozzarella pearls.
Toss hot spaghetti with pesto and top with mozzarella pearls and roasted tomatoes for a fast and easy meal that appeals to kids. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Favourite Toy - Allbedeut-Greiflinge

Kugel ball (rattle)
I really love the simplicity and form of the Allbedeut-Greiflinge dexterity toys designed by Hugo Kükelhaus. The concept is roughly translated as 'grasping anything/everything'.
Working as a furniture designer, illustrator, glass artist and sculptor, Kükelhaus was heavily influenced by the theories of Friedrich Fröbel, the German educator responsible for the creation of the 'kindergarten' for early childhood education. Kükelhaus became interested in the play of very young children and began designing toys for infants in the late 1930s.
He designed his toys to appeal to the senses and to encourage each individual sense to work in coordination, organically. This was achieved by avoiding artificial overstimulation or excess ornamentation, incorporating movement and sound, and creating toys from wooda natural and warm medium that encourages touch and has an intrinsic and timeless beauty. Kükelhaus's toys aimed to develop the skills and abilities of young children, including the powers of observation
range of toys
His toys are harmonious, well-proportioned, mainly figurative in nature and have an enduring appeal. I truly admire the longevity of these toys which are still available for sale and look as fresh today as they did some 80 years ago.

In fact, the Kugel rattlepictured at the top of this posthas been in our family for almost 50 years.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

apricot puree

Food memories. *Sigh*
As I ate a bowl of yoghurt with a great dollop of apricot puree, I experienced one of those momentslike Anton Ego from the Pixar movie, when he has his first taste of the 'peasant dish' Ratatouille and was immediately transported back to his childhood.

Apricot puree is a very simple condiment my mother prepared for us, using dried apricots. We'd have it on ice cream, or in crepes. Mum combined the puree into bavarois or fools. Perhaps a 'snow' would be fun to try. 
I was trawling the shelves in our local eastern/Mediterranean market Sedaqhat, looking for pine nuts to use in a pesto. The pine nuts were still in their shellstoo fiddly. As I was looking, I found some rolled dried apricots. I hadn't encountered these before, so I bought some to try. These have a much firmer and drier texture than the Turkish dried apricots, and not nearly as vivid an orange-color. These apricots are a product of Afghanistan.

I used the same technique as Mum, covering the apricots in water, bringing the water to a boil and then turning off the heat and letting the apricots soak until very soft. I blended the apricots with the soaking water until smooth, adding some more water as required to make a 'spoonable' texture. 
As apricot nectar is difficult to find in these parts of the US, I'll try making the puree a little more liquid and use it in the apricot ginger chicken recipe we loved as kids. 
I'd also like to try chunks of the apricots in a tagine. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

mum of 16 years

Today marks the day that our lovely Luc has made the journey around the sun 16 times. It also marks the day that I have been a mother for 16 years. Wow!

I rediscovered the egg image today, and it seemed somehow appropriate. Eggs and motherhood. I love the simple perfection and sense of calm that this image conjures. Mother nature has a habit of evoking these feelings. With all my eggs off the boil and no longer being able to have babies, it makes my lovely three all the more precious. 

The eggs pictured were purchased from a local farm that raised free-range chickens of several varieties. The resultant eggs were a mix of subtly different shades and sizes. I had hardboiled the eggs for one of the kid's birthday parties, and they were simply coexisting in a bowl together. 
Despite Luc towering over me now (at a stately 6'2"), he has a lovely gentle nature, is a deep thinker, and a truly wonderful soul to be around. I'm in deep admiration of his motivation and tenacity to not only writebut also illustrate and promotehis own cyberpunk novel. I only aspire to the levels of procrastination that can take someone to 150,000 words! 😜
Birthdays on school days, when one has to be out the door at just after 6:30am, mean celebrations have to be delayed. Oh well. A slice of carrot cake and a nice cup of chai with the family after school will have to suffice. Happy birthday my cheeky monkey—your Nanma and Grumpy would be so proud.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Secrets to raising non-picky eaters

top: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, wholegrain toasted cheese, celery, olives
bottom: grapes, cucumber, carrots, cheese, ham, kiwi fruit, red pepper
As the main food provider in our household, I decided early on that I would never cook meals specifically for the children. I expected that they would eat the same thing we ate. Call it foresight or pure laziness, it has served us well. When the children were young, I would serve them a meal reserved from a dish I had prepared the previous night (before I added extra spices and seasoning). This ensured an earlier and less-stress mealtime for them. It also meant I didn't need to cook during 'arsenic-hour' and could wait until the children were in bed.
goldfish, cantaloupe, olives, cherry tomatoes, raisins, prosciutto, cheese, strawberry, rice cake
Developing a non-fussy eater is not an easy undertaking. This is something we realized when one of our children developed strong aversions to some foods. Sometimes an aversion can be an indication of an allergy or intolerance (similarly, so can a food obsession). We countered aversions with an insistence that the children take at least one bite/taste of each 'offending' foodwe didn't insist that they finish the portion provided, they just needed to try the food.
cheese, carrots, celery, grapes, pear, mini toasts with liverwurst and olives, salami, cherry tomatoes, cantaloupe
The key to encouraging adventurous eaters? Varietycolor, flavor, textureand intrigue. All. The. Time. Small tastes of lots of different things. Unusual things. Different things. It is not so hard to try something new when it is a mere bite. Sometimes we would end up with incongruous mixes of foods when I raided the fridge searching for foods I could serve quickly. A bit of whimsy or fun always took the emphasis away from the ingredients... and the kids would eat different things without noticing. This post is peppered with some of the snack or lunch plates I served to the children. 
cantaloupe, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, grapes, salami, goldfish, cheese, orange slices
rainbow plate: strawberries, orange, cheese, veggie sticks, avocado, blueberries, ham, red pepper, carrots, lettuce, grapes
hummus, carrots, celery, grapes, ham, cheese, avocado, orange slices
pesto pasta, meatloaf, avocado, red pepper, celery, carrots, olive, cantaloupe
Stephanie Alexander, observes that fast food can't always be avoided (when on the road, ravenous children, after events, feeding several children) but she contends that fast food should never be a staple and that one should always serve a better, tastier, healthier version of fast food at home. This makes it abundantly clear that there is no substitute for fantastic home-prepared meals, and one can know exactly what the ingredients are. At home, we always made sure to make better burgers, better hotdogs, better pasta, better pizza, better anything... than we could get elsewhere.
hard-boiled eggs, cheese, ham, strawberries, grapes, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, nori wrapped rice crackers, olives
Another really important aspect is to involve kids in the food-making process. I was astounded at how 2-year old Luc would turn his nose up at a salad sandwich I had prepared for himbut placing the ingredients on the counter and letting him assemble exactly the same sandwich himself, he would eat it with gusto!

Perseverance paid off, as we now have three very adventurous eaters (and cooks)albeit with somewhat expensive and exotic tastes! 😮