vegetable garden

Introduction

Running a cafe for 5 years gave me good experience in preparing and cooking a wide range of food. While I do not claim to be a chef in that I have had no formal training I believe I have a good "feel" for cooking. I am not one to go to the fridge and create a great meal with what is available but I can look at a recipe, assess it for potential, and re-jig it, if necessary, to what I think would be good.

Recipes, particularly biscuits and slices, require a couple of goes to get it to the stage that it is easy and quick to make.

All these recipes are ones that I make often. Some are seasonal like the courgette recipes. When courgettes are producing in the garden they come thick and fast so I need plenty of interesting recipes.

We pay export prices for meat in New Zealand so many of my dishes do not have a large amount of meat. In some cases meat can be left out altogether.

When looking at a recipe look and see what ingredients volume/weight is critical and what you can adjust to your own taste. Generally with baking, it is pretty important to stick to the correct volume and weights specified in the recipe. With Highlander Biscuits for example, all the ingredients are important except the chocolate chips. You have a choice of increasing or decreasing the chips according to your taste. Either way the biscuits will bake well.

In dinner type recipes the ingredient volume/weight are much more flexible. Just be a bit cautious of herbs and spices. Do a taste test as you are cooking. Generally meat and vegetable types can be swapped with alternatives according to their availability and your preference.

As a rule us "blokes" are different in the kitchen to our wives/partners.
We tend to show more interest in kitchen "tools" and have our favourites.

These are mine:

  1. I like big bowls. For baking I use the big Christmas cake bowl that I inherited from my mother. She only brought it out for the Christmas cake. I use it all the time for my baking. I find that I can handle the mixture much better in the larger bowl. bowl and knife
  2. My chef's knife is a French Sabatier with a 20mm / 8inch blade. For me an ideal size. It has a top quality steel blade that sharpens well and retains its edge. Check this link on how to cut onions.
  3. A good sized wooden chopping board. I made mine out for an off cut of 265mm / 10.5inch x 370mm/14.5inch x 25mm / 1inch Rimu. I use one side for raw meat, onion, etc. and the other side for non-smelly and baking products.

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Getting to know your oven

I have never yet had an oven that bakes evenly. Maybe I just do not spend enough when buying one. Anyway I find that I have to get to know my oven and each one is different.

With my present oven I leave an oven tray on the bottom rake just above the element to spread the heat. Without it I found a tray of biscuits would cook very unevenly on the base.

Because the top and bottom heat are uneven I cook things like biscuits for half the cooking time on a lower rake height then put it up one rake height for the second half of the cooking time. This enables the biscuits to cook evenly on their top and bottom.

Although my oven has a fan options I do not use it for baking. I find it creates quite an intense heat.

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Kids in the kitchen

kids in the kitchen Train them young before they decide it is uncool.

I found that my 18 month old granddaughter always wanted to be picked up so she could see what I was working on when I was in the kitchen. This became difficult so I built her a stool that she could stand on to bring her up to bench height a long side me. The stool top is 430mm x 280mm and 400mm high. There is a risk of her falling off but she has learnt that the stool has edges and I keep a good eye on her.

kids in the kitchen This works really well. She is up beside me whether I am doing dishes, preparing dinner or baking. As kids like to feel grown up I made her a matching apron.

Things do take longer to do but she enjoys it so much that I find it of little consequence.

Some suggestions

  • With little kids in the kitchen treat it as education and entertainment. If the product turns out OK then that is a bonus.
  • Timing is everything. Choose a day and a time to cook together when you are relaxed.
  • Cooking is a great way for grandparents to get involved. They often have more time and patience than they did when you were young.
  • Get your kids into the kitchen as soon as they can safely stand on a chair or stool.
  • Start them off by letting them play in the sink with spoons, whisks and plastic bowls with flour, and other ingredients you are using, or vegetables when preparing meals.
  • Kids love to learn so talk while you are cooking.
  • As they grow the kids can learn about safety in the kitchen - how to use a knife, a grater, a peeler and manage hot things.
  • By the time they are teenagers the goal would be to have them able to cook a basic evening meal at least once a week and some biscuits or cakes. See they do not get stuck on just one or two recipes.
  • Encourage them to experiment with foods, to diversify their eating habits.
  • Keep it simple to start with. It is important that they have some good success early on to give them confidence. I suggest recipes like Rocky Road which is uncooked and casserole type meals. These can still be quite exotic served on rice or couscous and with a side salad or stir fried vegetables.

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