Sunday, November 21, 2010


Where there are risks there are often rewards - and the kitchen is no exception.

This was one of those creations where going into the oven a few deep breaths were taken. And there was no opportunity to taste test when they were removed - the pink and white savories had to be immediately bundled into a container and whisked into the stroller for a run to the train at Bondi Junction.

Thankfully they were the hit of the picnic. Until we got to dessert. Well, there were only three of us, counting Billie, so I confess there wasn't much competition. But Jodie is a fine cook with fine tastes, so her opinion is probably worth five.

Now you might say, well you've done rice cakes before (pumpkin), and beetroot and feta are such good team mates that there's hardly a surprise that this concoction worked. All true. But still, these tasty and nutritious vegetarian picnic fodder don't just work. They are fabulous.

A NOTE ON RICE CAKES: I have had a couple of complaints from readers who made the pumpkin rice cakes a few months back - yes, they got stuck in the tin. 
 Well, I am very happy to share with you all my recent innovation for cooking all things involving muffin tins: baking paper. 

Simply cut small squares/rectangles of paper and line muffin tins. Lightly oil tins first so paper sticks. Will look messy and have lots of folds and creases, but the muffins/rice cakes come out easy as pie, and your tins are left clean as a baby's bottom. And you avoid soaking up chemicals from the Teflon coating.


Bunch baby beetroots - about 4-5, or 2-3 regular beets
1 cup arborio rice, or other Italian
1 block feta, chopped into small pieces
5 eggs
handful fresh oregano, finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper

First prepare beets: Wash and cut leaves off but make sure you leave some of the stalk on, and all of the tail. This prevents the juice leaking during cooking. The best was to cook beets is in a pressure cooker - half cover beets with water and cook for 20 minutes once at pressure. Otherwise steam them, or roast in oven until very tender. Remove and set aside to cool for few minutes. Gently remove skins by slicing off stem ends and tails - the skin should then slip off easily. Chop into small pieces, about one inch.

 Meanwhile, place rice in small pot filled with water and a dash or two of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook with lid off for a further 10-12 minutes, or until just soft to the bite. Strain and stir through a knob of butter.

Heat oven to medium-hot. Prepare muffin tins as above. Chop feta into tiny cubes. Beat eggs in large bowl and add rice, oregano, feta and freshly ground pepper. Gently stir through beets. Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Remove from tins by holding onto corners of baking paper - another reason not to bother with perfect circles - and place on wire rack to cool briefly. Serve hot, or luke warm at a picnic in the park. Cold will pass too, Billie assures me after she ate one later for dinner on Saturday.

BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Set aside some cooked beetroot and rice and blend.
BABIES  9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Serve chunks of beetroot and feta, or rice cakes as is.
TODDLERS ONE YEAR AND OLDER: Serve beetroot and feta rice cakes as they come.

Our Botanic Gardens picnic was a special event - Billie's first outing of a dress complete with matching hat and HANDBAG given to her by Jodie when she was just one week old. Don't you wish you had such an outfit...

I had been delaying introducing the handbag but Billie has independently developed a love of all things handbag-like, to the point where we were concerned she would strangle herself wrapping the long straps around her neck. So out came her own little bag with its much shorter strap.

But Jodie turned up with another present for Billie - this time a hungry caterpillar bag. Of course the pretty ribbon wrapping was the instant hit.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I'm wary of announcing it for fear of jinxing, but vegetables have been making a come-back in the Billie arena.

And this delicious dish was no exception - she ate it in its entirety on three separate sittings. That's the true test, we know it wasn't just a passing whim.

Now you may question my teaming of fresh sweet corn with polenta. Kinda nutritionally unnecessary, I agree. But it works. Tastes fabulous and proves a hearty, healthy meal that is hopefully as popular around your house as mine.

I have experimented with various versions of polenta and beans, usually preparing the polenta in a sort of slab/slice form. But this dish shows polenta mash-style works very well. And it's much quicker and easier.


First prepare the beans:
Soak 1 cup dried black beans, in 3 cups of water for about 7 hours. Drain and cook in three cups of fresh water. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. If using a pressure cooker, use just 2 cups of water and cook for 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 stick celery (optional)
2 t ground cumin
1 green pepper/capsicum, finely chopped
1 fresh corn cob
handful fresh coriander, chopped finely
handful fresh oregano, chopped (optional)
1 cup strained tomato sauce/puree (not ketchup) or tinned will do

1 cup polenta
3 cups water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
sour cream (optional but very good)

Steam or boil corn cob and set aside to cool. Hold horizontally on chopping board and use large sharp knife to slice off kernels.

When beans are nearly done, heat oil in fry pan. Saute onion and celery, then add garlic and salt. Next add pepper/capsicum, corn and cumin. Saute a few more minute before adding cooked beans and tomatoes. Check seasoning. 

Bring the polenta water to boil in large deep pot with a dash or two of salt. As soon as boiling sprinkle in polenta from a height, stirring as you go. Turn heat to very low and keep stirring until it thickens into a porridge-like substance. Remove from heat and whip in a 1 T butter followed by the cheese.

Place a large dollop of polenta on each plate. Ladle the bean stew on top, followed by a teaspoon or two of sour cream. Finish off with the coriander on top. Yum.

BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OVER: Set aside a bit of the polenta before you add butter and cheese.
BABIES AND TODDLERS 9 MONTHS AND OVER: Set aside some of the black beans before you add to stew. Serve whole as finger food, or slightly mashed. Also offer some polenta and sour cream.
TODDLERS 1 YEAR AND OVER: Serve dish in its entirety

Monday, November 8, 2010


I had a strange experience on Saturday night. We were sitting around the table with some dinner guests and I noticed something odd.

While we shared funny stories of fussy family members that only ate chicken nuggets , one of our guests appeared to not have touched her meal. Or rather, her soup. She was chomping back on sour dough toast okay.

A shiver ran down my spine. I had cooked a bad meal for our guests.

Now if the conversation had been hovering around a topic unrelated to food and eating and fussiness, I may have sat there uncomfortably all night wondering whether I had over-dilled the pea soup.

"Um, you having trouble with that soup there?!" I chimed in. Thankfully, plenty of laughs. "Oh yeah I just don't do soup. I don't like liquid food".

Now this is a particularly chunky soup. It ain't the blended type. Vegetables bob about quite obviously. Then came the confessions of 'oh well I actually mainly eat burgers and pizza and all that'.

But here's the twist: I can comprehend a non-cook person with no interest or knowledge of food taking such an attitude to my soup. But she went on to explain she normally cooks southern-style fish and seafood dishes, and a great vegetarian lasagna I must drop by for...

Well, despite this soup being rejected, I can heartily recommend it. The DILL IS ESSENTIAL, so don't be tempted to omit it. No pictures sorry, but it's a lovely light green base with flashes of orange, white and green from the chunky vegetables.

I slightly adapted this from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family.


 Serves 6-8.

2 cups green split peas
2 T olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 t salt
2 large carrots, chopped
3 potatoes, diced
2 t ground cumin
black pepper
8 cups water
1 vegetable stock cube
2 large bay leaf
1 cup frozen peas
2 T snipped fresh dill

Soak split peas for about five hours in eight cups of water. Discard soaking water.

Heat oil in a pressure cooker or large pot. Add onion and salt and saute until golden. Add carrot, potatoes, cumin and pepper and saute few more minutes. Boil water and add a small amount to chopped stock cube and mix to dissolve. Add to pot with rest of water, split peas and bay leaves.

If pressure cooking: Bring up to pressure on high heat then lower and cook for 40 minutes.

If using a regular pot: Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 60-90 minutes. (Yes, it's worth finding that pressure cooker down the op shop).

Once split peas have softened and the soup has become creamy, add dill and frozen peas. Check seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed. Cook a few more minutes (don't over-do as peas will go mushy).

FOR BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Reserve some frozen peas/carrot/potato and steam until soft. Blend/mash and serve with no salt.
FOR BABIES 9 MONTHS AND OLDER: Serve soup as is, but cut back on salt.
FOR BABIES/TODDLERS ONE YEAR AND OLDER: Serve soup just the way it comes.