Make Friends With Your Kitchen

Make Friends With Your Kitchen
As a working mother, it can feel overwhelming having to feed my little clan. Plus I have standards darn it! Which means no takeaway and minimal processed food, because really not only is home made better for you and cheaper, a lot of the time it’s more delicious too!

Chatting to my mummy pals, basically what we all want is for meal times to be calm, simple and hopefully even enjoyable.

I have made a list for you of some hints and tips to help make your kitchen your friend. Hopefully a life long friend that you share with your family rather than a friend you only talk to because you have to.

Make Friends With Your Kitchen

1. Have a plan. Meal planning has been a huge life saver for me and my family. Huge. I started when my daughter (now 2!) started having solids. I realised I couldn’t have a panic every day at 5pm trying to figure out what we were going to have for dinner. That just ain’t sustainable. Instead, I sit down once a week and write a meal plan. I shop once a week knowing exactly what we need. To learn more about meal planning click here. To download my free meal planning printable click here.

2. Have a clear working space. This is probably the thing I struggle with the most. I love cooking and hate cleaning. However, the wise mature me has learnt that doing the dishes makes me happy. Eventually. I try to have a clean kitchen before going to bed, but failing that (some nights it is too much) then after breakfast the kitchen gets a full clean. Come crazy dinner time you’ve got clear space and all equipment is clean and ready to go.

3. Keep it simple. Yes we could all make every single thing from scratch using organic ingredients. But really. Who has the time or money? Know your limits. Don’t plan a banquet feast on a day you have something on. Allow for tired days. Buy snacks. Have an idea of your emergency family favorite meals.

4. Clean as you go. When you start cooking, fill the sink with hot soapy water. Even if you just throw things in, it will make cleaning up easier later. Plus you will have an easy way of washing your hands.

5. Share the load. I love to cook but I love that I don’t have to do it every night even more!! I am so grateful that Legoman cooks dinner twice a week (2 of my 3 workdays). He is home with our daughter those days and so meals are his job. Does he love cooking? No. Does he love us? Surely does. This has helped me not be such a control freak in the kitchen too. Don’t have a hubby? Do a bulk cook up with girlfriends or plan to have meal swaps with families close by.

I hope these simple tips help you make friends with your kitchen. Not sure what to cook for dinner tonight? Try my delicious Roast Chicken with Garlic, Sage and Thyme or perhaps my Pumpkin, Leek and Millet Oven baked Risotto.

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Delicious and Easy Chicken Schnitzel

Easy and Delicious Chicken Schnitzel

Once you’ve written Chicken Schnitzel a few times it starts to look super ridiculous! Chicken Schnitzel. Chicken Schnitzel. Chicken Schnitzel. Teehee. Anyway! This delicious and easy, very easy, chicken schnitzel was a way to use up the last bit of Buttermilk in the fridge after making Possum’s Birthday Cake and also these delicious Pumpkin Buttermilk Scones. Every meal planners dream! No food waste!

The weather in the mountains yesterday was cold and misty, perfect for a belly warming schnitzel teamed with creamy (and I mean creamy, I used pure cream and butter) mashed potato, roast pumpkin and steamed vegetables. Nom nom nom nom.

This version of Chicken Schnitzel is also egg free, so allergy friendly. Hurray! If you can’t do gluten you can substitute the bread crumbs for rice crumbs or gluten free bread crumbs. Rice crumbs actually turns out super crunchy.

This would be a great meal to make if you had a bit of mummy anger going on after a rough day as you get to bash the chicken with something heavy. Just watch your knuckles! I learnt the hard way.

This is a lovely meal for the whole family to enjoy with enough variety on the plate to ensure something for everyone.

I was thinking this would be a big hit with Possum as she loves chicken. But by the end of dinner she had eaten all her vegetables and wanted more vegetables but had hardly touched her chicken or mash. Clearly what her body wanted. Poor old mummy got to gobble up her serve of chicken schnitzel after Possum was asleep. Yes, I am a human seagull.

Can I just say, as delicious as Chicken Schnitzel is, it ain’t very photogenic. But the photo below shows you my secret weapon to a good Chicken Schnitzel. My marble rolling pin. This also doubles as my home security system. This baby has some serious weight to it and flattens out a chicken breast in minimal time and effort. Possum was also using it to practice her weight lifting skills (with my very nervous supervision).

Chicken Schnitzel Secret Weapon

Delicious and Easy Chicken Schnitzel – Serves 2 adults and 2 kidlets

2 chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthways (to make them a bit flatter)

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard (amp this up if you like a bit more of a kick to your schnit)

salt and pepper

1-2 cups of breadcrumbs

Olive oil for frying

After you have sliced your chicken breasts lengthways, lay down a large piece of baking paper, place 1-2 chicken pieces on the paper, then cover with another equal sized piece of baking paper. Use something heavy to hit the chicken (thanks to my marble rolling pin I don’t have to hit very hard) until the chicken is 5-10mm thick. Set aside flattened chicken and repeat with remaining pieces.

In a bowl mix together buttermilk, mustard and salt and pepper. Add chicken pieces and stir to coat. Allow to soak for 30 minutes. Then, using tongs, remove each piece and coat in bread crumbs. To make this easier I place the crumbs on a dinner plate, starting with ~1 cup, and add more if needed (another little kitchen hack is to place crumbs and chicken in a plastic bag and shake to coat). Place crumbed pieces on a clean plate ready to cook.

Meanwhile get your vegetables sorted. I roasted pumpkin pieces in the oven at 180°C in some olive oil, boiled some potatoes (ready for mashing) and steamed some broccoli, beans and carrots.

When you’re ready, heat oil over medium heat in a non stick pan, preferably cast iron (I love my cast iron pans). There should be about 2mm of oil in the whole base of the pan.

Place 1-2 chicken pieces in the hot oil. Cook for a few minutes each side until beautiful and golden. Place cooked pieces on paper towel. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Serve with all your delicious veg and enjoy!

Easy and Delicious Chicken Schnitzel 2

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Pumpkin Buttermilk Scones

Pumpkin Buttermilk Scones

After Mother’s Day on Sunday you may have some roast pumpkin swimming around in your fridge. Or maybe you totally forgot Mother’s Day and are looking for a way to make it up to the person who gave you life! Either way, these  Pumpkin Buttermilk Scones are delicious!

Mother’s Day was a bit of a non event in our house. Legoman went to work and Possum and I went to a birthday party. I did get to stay in bed an extra 30 minutes and we had croissants for breakfast. Win! Possum gave me a very sweet book called I Love You Mummy and Legoman gave me/us welding gloves, a small shovel and a metal bucket. Romance hey! The romantic thing is that they are all used with our fire place, and they have already been put to good use.

The scones were made for the birthday party Possum and I went to, which was a combined 2nd birthday party for Possum and a few of her little buddies. We had such an amazing afternoon on a friend’s property in the Kanimbla Valley. Amazing views, a beautiful large creek, heaps of space for happy toddlers plus we even all chipped in and got a jumping castle. Needless to say poor Possum was beyond tired by the time we got home.  And the scones were a success!

These Pumpkin Buttermilk Scones are great for kids as they are low in sugar and actually have some veg in them. If you like you could play around with the buttermilk and pumpkin ratios if you want more pumpkin in there. Possum and I just had to do some quality control when they came out of the oven! Yummo!

Pumpkin Buttermilk Scones – makes 12-15

2 cups self raising flour

1 Tbsp caster sugar

pinch salt

60g butter chilled and chopped

3/4 cup buttermilk

freshly grated nutmeg ~1/4 tsp

1/3 cup roasted pumpkin

extra buttermilk for brushing

Preheat oven to 220°C standard/200°C fan forced. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Add flour, nutmeg, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Combine. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour until the mix resembles fine bread crumbs (I used to love doing this as a kid growing up).

Make a well into the centre of mix. Add buttermilk and pumpkin. Use a butter knife to combine until it forms a sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface (also put a little flour on your hands). Knead gently until smooth.

Press out the dough until ~2cm thick. You can either cut into desired number of scones or use a cutter to make shapes (I did love hearts, surprise surprise!). Place the scones on the baking tray so that they are just touching. Brush the tops with some buttermilk.

Bake in the top half of the oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Serve with butter, ricotta or even mascarpone for a special touch of yum!

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Toddler Cooking Adventures!

quick and easy microwave popcorn

It’s all been feeling a bit like Noah’s ark at the moment. Crazy rain and wind throughout our state for days on end. Weather like this makes me want to crawl under a blanket, eat lots of food, drink hot chocolate and binge on TV series on DVDs. Alas being the mother of a toddler, this scenario pans out a little differently…. “mummy! mummy! mummy! I want to watch a mooooooovie!! mummy! moooooovie!” normally this has started at about 8:30 in the morning. Depending on my level of sleep, patience and general awesomeness I can sometimes hold out until about 3pm. Then it is not just a movie, but popcorn and movie time! For Possum AND mummy 🙂

Possum has been really enjoying getting into the kitchen lately and pretending to cook constantly. Making microwave popcorn from scratch has been a really fun, simple and easy way to include her in the kitchen as well as make a super tasty and reasonably healthy snack for the two of us to share.

Here is how to make it! What movie will you be watching? Our favourites are Madagascar Two (Possum calls it Lion Movie), Ratatouille (Rat Movie) and Rio 2 (Rio Movie).

Easy Microwave Popcorn – serves 4

1/3 cup popping corn

a decent chunk of butter

a shake of salt

Melt the butter in a large microwave safe bowl (I use my Pyrex mixing bowl) for around 30 seconds in the microwave, making sure you have a cover over the bowl. Take bowl out of the microwave, add your salt and popping corn (this is Possum’s job). Stir to combine (also Possum’s job).

Possum's cooking adventures

Possum’s cooking adventures

Stir stir stir

Stir stir stir

Place bowl and cover in the microwave for 3 minutes 20 seconds for a 1000W microwave.

Don't forget the cover!!!

Don’t forget the cover!!!

Stay close by to listen for when the pops slow down. Take your delicious hot bowl of buttery popcorn out of the microwave using oven mitts. Divide among movie watchers or share from one big (but still hot so be careful!) bowl. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Delicious hot popcorn!!

Delicious hot popcorn!!

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My Meal Planning Hot Tips (from a novice)

Meal Planning Hot Tips (from a novice)

After nearly 2 weeks of being house bound with a sick bub, we had actual human contact today!! Hurray for unexpected play dates!!

And even more hurray was that they stayed for 5pm dinner with Possum and I, wonderful company that was greatly appreciated. Legoman ended up having another late night at work, so like all good planners, I had a Plan B to fall back on. Leftovers. Our fridge was full to the brim of leftover mushroom mix from last night and curry from two nights ago. No point in making something new when there was so much food ready for the eating.

I gave roasting the mushroom mix a go. Not an improvement. But I was wondering if you could roast whole mushrooms and still fry up the capscium and onions… to try next time…

Nothing too exciting to report back about dinner. So I thought I might just give you a few hot tips I’ve learnt so far about meal planning. Please keep in mind we have a little family; me, Legoman and Possum (10 months old and doing baby led weaning). I’m also super new to this whole meal planning thing. There are people out there that have been doing it for years and would have some amazing knowledge to share (please do if you happen to be one of these wise people!).

  • Always Have a Plan B: You can plan and plan until the cows come home. But sometimes life doesn’t give a hoot about your plans. This is where a well stocked pantry and freezer absolutely come in handy. In my pantry I ALWAYS have:
    • Tinned tuna, tinned salmon, anchovies. These can be added to virtually anything (except milkshakes. Ew) and add some great protein and good fats to a meal. Anchovies add a great punch of flavour and most people won’t even notice that they’re in something.
    • Stock. Either in liquid or powder form. Can give rice, pasta, couscous and other grains some extra flavour. Can also be used to make soups, curries and sauces. Just do not use a commercial stock to try and make a jus or reduction. Legoman will have to tell you a story about that one day. It involves him proposing and me catching a yabby.
    • A variety of grains and pulses. A staple with which to build any meal.
    • Frozen vegetables. Much can be said for frozen peas and corn! Add to lentils, tinned tomato and some onion and garlic and you have vegetarian bolognese sauce. Make pea fritters! Or corn fritters! Or just to be the only vegetable on your plate.
    • Condiments. Mayo, mustard, balsamic vinegar, capers, olives, tomato relish.
    • Good quality store bought pesto.
    • Curry paste. I have about 4 different ones, but just have one as a back up. I have a killer curry recipe that uses masaman curry paste, red lentils and frozen peas. Delish!
    • Coconut milk. To go with your curry paste 🙂
    • Tinned tomatoes. With pasta, capers, garlic, anchovies and olives and you have a tasty pasta puttanesca!
    • An excellent spice selection. Great to make curries, spice up roast vegetables, add to salads. The ones I use the most are cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garam masala, turmeric, cardamom, paprika.
    • Frozen dinners. If you can, make a batch of something like spaghetti bolognese to have in the freezer as a back up. It’s very rare that I don’t want to eat a big bowl of homemade spag bol.
    • Eggs. I nearly forgot to add them! Essential! Keep some bacon in the freezer and you will never be sad again.
    • Cheese. Everything is better with cheese. Need I say more.
  • Check the weather. The day that you sit down to write out your plan, make sure you do a 7 day forecast at the same time. I find it helpful to write it down on my actual plan template. I have made the mistake before of planning to make risotto on a 30 degree day, or salad on a 15 degree day. I use www.bom.gov.au for my weather updates.
  • Know what is in season. This will save you a lot of money, plus your food will be more nutritious and taste better. It will also give your food life a nice rhythm that follows the seasons. For example, don’t plan a mango and avocado salad in winter. It will cost a bomb and be flavourless compared to if you made the same in the peak of summer. 
  • Synchronise diaries. Sit down with your family and figure out what is happening that week. You don’t want to be cooking something fancy if you’re home alone for dinner. I like to write down major events on the meal plan that gets stuck to the fridge.
  • Always have a tried and tested recipe in there somewhere. This way if you’re trying out new things the rest of the week and they turn out to be as delicious as a hospital dinner, then you will still have something to look forward to and potentially make a double batch of later in the week.
  • Use a printable template. I use this one.
  • Take advantage of online food blogs and website for inspiration and suggestions. I also know there is a great selection of cookbooks at my local library, great for a cookbook junky like myself! Some of my favourites are 101 cookbooks and taste.com.au
  • Have one day dedicated to do your shopping. This will save you time and money.
  • Consider having your final meal in your plan something that uses up any leftover fruit and veg in the fridge eg casserole, curry, frittata, pasta sauce.

I hope that is vaguely helpful to someone out there who is thinking about meal planning but not sure where to start. Personally I’m not a Monday is pasta, Tuesday is stirfry, Wednesday is steak… kind of person. I love trying new recipes and learning new skills in the kitchen and meal planning has been a fantastic way of achieving that whilst saving time and money for my little family.

Would love to hear what your experiences of meal planning has been and what are your pantry must haves.

“One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry.”

Inspiration and decision can come at unlikely times and unlikely places. Tonight, over Thai Beef Salad, I decided to create something. A blog. I’m not a writer, I’m a health professional. I’m not tech savvy either. But a blog I shall make! So welcome everyone to Pea Fritters!

I am a thirty-something mother to a beautiful vivacious 8 month old baby (Possum) and married to a gorgeous bearded man (Lego Man). We live in the astoundingly beautiful Blue Mountains, Australia, where we are beyond blessed with natural beauty at our door step. 9 months ago I started maternity leave from my job at the local rural hospital and have been a stay at home mum since then. A huge shift, I’m sure those of you who have walked a similar path can relate. Dinners out with friends every night has been swapped for a rushed decision at 5pm of “what the %#@! am i going to feed my baby for dinner!”, followed quickly by “I have no idea what we’re having for dinner”.

Thankfully Possum loves cucumber sticks and Lego Man eats for survival not necessarily for enjoyment.

I however am a cookbook addict with an appetite to rival a 16 year old football playing giant (thank you breastfeeding 5 times through the night alone!). Our daily non ritual was not sustainable for any of us.

I reluctantly made the decision two weeks ago to start meal planning for the week and doing a single big shop in a bid to actually eat real food every night and hopefully save a bit of money and maybe use the millions of recipes I have in my wonderful cookbook collection! And, to my surprise, it’s great! I’m totally sold. There are a few things I will get overly excited about if the topic comes up and I think meal planning has just been added to it. Alongside crochet, cloth nappies, local food, foreign food, cookbooks… well anything to do with food.

So here was the perfect excuse to pore over my cookbooks, buy pretty new pens, google free printables and have ALONE TIME at the supermarket (secretly one of my favourite things to do is wander the aisles of the supermarket, combining food and bargains!).

So… tonight was Thai Beef Salad. A lesson I learnt the first week was to check the weather forecast before deciding on recipes. A roast lamb is not a great idea on a 30 degree day… Thankfully today the weather and meal matched perfectly! I used a Jamie Oliver recipe for the salad part and the always handy taste.com.au for the beef marinade (can’t find the recipe again though! how many ways can you make thai beef salad? 40 apparently).  Lego Man thought I over did it with the lime juice in the dressing, but really, can you every over do it with lime juice?

Each night I will endeavour to give a run down of the meal with categories that Lego Man and I think are important when considering whether it was worth remembering and making again.

  • Affordability  :  MODERATE. I did have to buy a few bunches of herbs but I will use them again later in the week and thankfully our wonderful local fruit and veg store, Todarellos, are well priced. You can use whatever cut of beef takes your fancy or you can afford. I went for basic rump steak, and there was enough for leftovers for Lego Man’s lunch tomorrow.
  • Time Factor  :  MODERATE. ~30 minutes plus 2 hours marinating time. Depends how quickly you chop and if you have someone else to BBQ the meat for you. You could make the salad as complex or as simple as you like. We had steamed rice to plump out the meal a bit more which I put on first before starting the salad part. I also prepared the beef in the marinade while bub was having her afternoon snooze.
  • Complexity  :  LOW. Make salad. Make rice. Marinate and cook meat. Each element could of been done anywhere during the day, didn’t require as hubby calls it “cooking in stereo” (having multiple things on the go at once). If we were having a crappy night getting Possum to sleep, Lego Man could have coped on his own. I normally leave the night’s recipe on the kitchen bench as a just in case and the weekly menu is stuck to the fridge.
  • Deliciousness  : HIGH. I could eat this over and over again. Lego Man said “I will be very upset if I forget my lunch tomorrow”.
  • Mess  :  LOW. Chopping board. Bowl. Plates. Forks. BBQ. Knife.
  • Tummy Filling Factor   : LOW – MODERATE. I am not a salad person, but I love my carbs and meat. This required a sweet treat after for me. Could of added nuts or just had more meat to fill me up.
  • Possum Friendly?  MODERATE. We are doing the whole Baby Led Weaning thing with Possum which adds another dimension to meal times. Today she had a chunk of tomato at dinner which she absolutely devoured, she could of had the meat if it was cooked in time for her dinner. Leafy greens are a no no at her age (choking hazard) but cucumber she also devoured, so much so it didn’t go in our salad! She could’ve also had sugar snap peas but I forgot about them at her dinner time. I should add that Possum eats at 5pm which is a bit much for me to get my head and stomach around for all of us to eat together, so normally I have snacks while she eats dinner, then Lego Man and I eat after her bedtime so 7-8pm.

And so a blog wouldn’t be a blog without a daggy food photo. Now my efficient hubby packed everything away before I could fashion the leftovers into anything exciting so here is his lunch in his tupperware 🙂

Very bad photo of leftovers in tupperware from my phone... but you get the idea.

Very bad photo of leftovers in tupperware from my phone… but you get the idea.