Monday, February 28

Some tips on how to take photos of food

Photographer Jeremy and stylist Tracey hard at work
Hey I'm no photographer, or even photographers assistant.. but I do like to take a photo or two - especially of my frills!  These days I'm taking a lot of photos of food and when I was offered a day on a photo shoot with Australian Good Taste it was an offer I wasn't going to pass up.  No siree!

I'll give you the full low-down on the day (ironically I did take SO many photos!) but for now, especially with today being the last day to enter the KleenexMums favourite family dinner competition - I thought I'd quickly pass on the tips that the lovely Denise from News Magazines gave me on the day to pass on to you!

She told me there was three 'rules' to focus on (boom-tish)
Side and back light
LIGHT:  Ensure your subject has both side and back light to eliminate shadowing.
Natural light is best but you can simulate it by diffusing direct lamp light  - you can do this by making a home made diffuser with white ricepaper over a frame (I'm so going to do this)

COMPOSITION:  (I must do this now) Take some test shots of your empty containers/bowls with your 'props' if you have them in the position you'd like the final shot/photo.  Check the light, whether it's too busy or not and how it fills up the lens.
Checking the composition

APERTURE:  Ever wondered how they get those shots where the object in the foreground is in full focus but the things in the background are blurry?  You can do this using your aperture feature on your camera - usually an 'a' on your dial.  You need to set your aperture setting to about 5.6 to get a full blur - and the more you increase the more in focus the background objects appear.
This is the dish before they put it on the set - watch out for the November 2011 issue to see the finished product!

There's lots of other tricks - but these are great ones to start with don't you think?  

Sunday, February 27

Sunday Baking Project: GUEST POST: Cooking with toddlers and for those you love - LEBKUCHEN

Well that's a mouthful that title isn't it? The lovely Megan from Writing Out Loud has so very generously shared her family recipe for Lebkuchen below and shared her tips on both cooking with toddlers and seeing past the mess, what long term benefits it can bring to your child's approach to food.

It's a wonderful piece and I really couldn't agree more, as you'll see from the recipe (we roadtested it and took loads (!!) of photos) my girls all love cooking and have done it since they could step up to the bench or at the kitchen table.

Lebkuchen translates as 'ginger cakes' and I often call them 'leibkuchen' (love cakes) as they certainly are something I think you make for or give to someone you love.  I first came across them when a schoolfriend of mine went to Germany on exchange and bought some back for me.  I got hooked - as I'm a big lover of ginger (and if you are I would suggest upping the ginger in the recipe by 1/2 tsp) I never looked back - this is a fab recipe that's a stayer in my house now!  Thank you Megan!

Megan's 2 year old princess Abbey - demonstrating 'The good bit'
Megan writes:

My daughter has been in the kitchen with me since she was a baby; first in her bouncinet, laughing at me as I cooked, then crawling into cupboards and rearranging their contents. Now, at two-and-a-half, she climbs atop a stool and gets more hands-on with the whole cooking process. 

Toddlers are never happier than when they feel they’re helping out. My daughter will stir, add ingredients, cut cookies, knead, roll pasta, attempt washing the dishes and, of course, lick the bowl (she may or may not have learnt that from me).

Some people question my sanity when I talk about cooking with a toddler, but so giving her little jobs in the kitchen is an ideal way to keep her busy and entertained. And seeing how much she loves it – she’ll abandon any other activity if anyone is in the kitchen – makes it worth the effort.

  • Every meal or snack that my toddler helps prepare, she’ll eat, which has helped avert the pickiness that can appear around this age. TIP: if your toddler won’t eat vegetables, try letting them help prepare dinner. Let them pick at raw bits of things like carrots and beans.
  • There are a bunch of skills that toddlers learn when they’re helping in the kitchen, including counting, seeing mum/dad read recipes, motor skills, and creativity. TIP: count measurements aloud, sing little songs as you stir, and let them unleash their creativity in decorating or serving.
  • Toddlers also learn a lot about safety in the kitchen – but be warned, this can take some bravery on a parent’s behalf. With supervision, my daughter will now stir pots on the stove, turn on the mixmaster, and help me chop ingredients (by holding the knife handle with me). TIP: try giving your toddler a little bit of leeway with less dangerous things first, and only let them do as much as you’re comfortable with allowing them to.

Here’s a fun recipe to try with your toddler (sssh! don’t tell my mother-in-law I’m sharing her best cookie recipe!)…

60g butter
2/3 cup golden syrup
1 ¾ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon cardamon
½ teaspoon cocoa
1 tablespoon milk
30g mixed peel, finely chopped
2 tablespoons plain flour, extra
Raspberry jam


Melt butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Add golden syrup and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and stand for 10 minutes.

In bowl, sift dry ingredients.

Add milk and peel and stir in the butter and golden syrup with a wooden spoon until smooth.

Cover and stand at room temperature for 1½ hours; the mixture will become thicker during this time. {Time for another activity with your toddler!}  Preheat oven to 180 degrees C

Turn mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly, working in only enough of this flour until the mixture loses its stickiness. Divide the mixture into two.

Roll dough out to 8mm thickness. Cut out biscuits with a heart-shaped cutter or any other cutter about 5cm diameter {Give your toddler some different shaped cutters and let them do this bit}. Place on lightly greased oven trays.

Using the end of a wooden spoon {or a toddler’s finger – they’ll LOVE this bit!}, gently push an indentation into the centre of each biscuit, but don’t push right through.

Fill with about ½ teaspoon jam.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Leave on trays until cold.

OPTIONAL: Melt 125g dark cooking chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.(Liss cheated by melting it in the microwave - 1 minute on 50% power, stir and another minute on 50% heat) Spoon on to a saucer for easier handling and dip the bases of biscuits into the chocolate. (Do this if doing it with the kids, they can have a saucer each) Smooth excess chocolate off with a small spatula or knife. (kids will do this with fingers) Place cookies, jam side down, on to trays lined with foil and refrigerate until chocolate is firm.

It is a totally delicious treat for Daddy (or Mummy) with a coffee or hot chocolate -enjoy!

Friday, February 25

Quickie afternoon tea - raspberry and almond tea cake

I am the type of person who always has a few things on the go at once.   Like when we watch TV together I am usually cooking, putering or doing something else aswell.  Even if it's the show I've been looking forward to for aaaages once the ads come on - you don't see me for dust.  I'm fiddling in the kitchen, putting a load of washing on, sending a quick email.

My hubby says 'did you see that ad?' I say 'no' and then in car: 'it's like that ad on TV'.

I am a marketers worst nightmare.

I am the same with newspapers, radio and magazines.  But I've noticed magazines are getting sneaky.  They are doing advertorials that look like editorials (ahem that's why they're adverTORIALS I suppose!).    And there's no 'over to you Moira' either.  It looks sleek and it's pretty crafty and well it's working because - the person who was almost impossible to be marketed to - is getting sucked in.


This recipe is from an advertorial people!  Good Taste Magazine has so many great recipes every month it feels a bit mean to be showcasing an advertorial from their magazine - but this was irresistible to me because it was simple,quick and beautiful.  

But I did get my own back, I didn't use any of the marketed product - multix baking paper - oops.

2 tb butter or margarine, at room temperature (50g)
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup plain flour,sifted
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup frozen raspberries (I think it would work well with cherries or blueberries too)
1/4 cup flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 200 degrees c
Cream butter and sugar until smooth, add eggs and mix well.

Add flour baking powder and salt, and again, mix until lovely and smooth.  Then stir in your raspberries. 

 Pour into a greased tin and sprinkle flaked almonds on top and bake for 30 minutes.

Cool for five minutes before turning out and serving!

Thursday, February 24

Fresh, quick and yummy - Yabby salad

Yabbies you say?  Yabbies?  Are you sure?

If you grew up near or have holidayed near freshwater creeks, odds on you may have been yabbying.  Yabbies I would describe as like a mini-lobster with the taste or a gamey-like prawn.  You cook them similar to a lobster - if they are fresh - freeze them first to put them to sleep and then straight into boiling water for a minute - two tops!  If you've bought them cooked, just peel them similar to a prawn.
image credit

They are actually beautiful barbequed - just the tails - with butter and garlic.

Today, I just made a salad - because I felt like something refreshing and I love the taste of the yabby with the dressing and the crunch of the lettuce - let's call it a 70's deja-vu moment to a prawn cocktail perhaps....

But my kids ate it - they love their seafood and particularly prawns - when they are prawns on the table - there's a scramble - now we can add yabbies to that list also.

1/2 iceberg lettuce, roughly torn
3 truss tomatoes, cut in eight pieces each
1 lebanese cucumber, diced
1 kg yabbies, cooked, peeled and de veined
3 tb mayonnaise
2 tsp tomato sauce
1/4 tsp tabasco sauce

Mix contents of your mayo and mix well.

Layer the lettuce, then tomato, cucumber, yabbies and lastly dressing.

Wednesday, February 23

A shift is coming my way...

And I can feel it...  I'm a mixture of excited and sad.  I'm going back to the corporate workforce.

Not just yet though - mid this year - I'll have the frills settled into school and I'll be ready.   I'm very lucky to love what I do - I'm a project manager/consultant and have worked in my field and specifically this role for a number of companies for the past 12 years - take about 3 years off in the past 6 since I had my babes.

I'm looking forward to working with new clients, fixing issues, being challenged coming across old colleagues, meeting new ones.   I'm looking forward to having more financial freedom, a place to be other than home, getting my hair cut on a regular basis - shopping for work clothes and shoes, let's not forget the shoes.  The kids will be able to do more 'extras' and I'll be able to upgrade my computer, my phone and everything else I've neglected since I finished up work.

You see, for me to be the one at home - we made significant material sacrifices.  I was the major breadwinner of our family - my hubby though well qualified and experienced and at the top of his game, does not have half the earning capacity I do.. and that's not his fault - it's just our industries.  But we've gone without things like holidays, new clothes, haircuts, beauticians (OK that's just me) two cars, swimming-ballet-and-the-like-type lessons and even pre-school because to us, well more importantly me - with my hubby's support - to be at home with our girls whilst they were young.  There's only one chance to do this and because we did have them so close together in the scheme of things -it wasn't too long to 'go without' or be out of the workforce.

No regrets.  But my hubby will be very relieved to see that extra income coming in you can imagine!

So all in all this year is a big change for all of us.  I will miss being there for every drop off and pick-up, being able to help the school in a physical way as much as I do now, attending every little performance or carnival, hosting playdates every week and all the things I'm enjoying now.  I shall be savouring every bit of it - because before long our life will be a rush of dropping off, picking up, getting home, fed, homework done and bed each night.   Hopefully I can work 3 or 4 days a week but that's not always possible in my line of work - nor is working from home.

And of course, I'll be keeping up the blog - it is my sanity I tell you - I'll NEED to continue my blog to keep me sane!

Are you a working parent to school-aged kids?  Any tips you want to impart to me?

Tuesday, February 22

Mug'o'vanilla almond muesli? For those naughty people who forget breakfast (like me!)

I'm a terrible breakfast eater. Terrible.  And I find it's getting worse since all girls are now at school because I have three times as much nagging to do (Ok, it's not too bad but I seem to repeat myself A LOT).  I really need to get myself on the breakfast bandwagon - and I think I've found something that might get me on it.

Muesli in a cup.

Now I'm a bit of a muesli snob and I can't eat any old muesli.  It needs to be toasted for a start (I know not so great but better than no breakfast) and it needs to be a little bit sweet.  I think of this muesli as my 'reward' for getting everyone fed, dressed and packed and it takes no time to prepare and eat.

I even eat it out of a coffee cup (given I don't drink coffee anyways).

So here it is:  Vanilla almond muesli.  It's delicious, it doesn't taste sugary luckily and the vanilla is subtle but it is just the right amount of sweet and lots of crunch.

I make enough for a few weeks - and given I'm only having a cup-ful at a time I don't feel too bad for the sugar indulgence...

1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 tb vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
1 kg rolled oats
100g slivered almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees c

In a saucepan combine the caster sugar, vanilla extract, water and maple syrup over a medium heat - when the sugar dissolves completely, take off heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, put your oats and almonds

Pour the saucepan contents over the oats/almonds and mix well.

Pour onto 2 baking trays lined with baking paper and pop into the oven.

After about 5 minutes, take out of the oven and toss the mixture about, swapping the shelves you place the trays on when you return them to the oven.  Repeat this process twice again and then sprinkle both trays with the brown sugar, dividing it between the two trays and mixing throughout the oats.

Return to the oven for the last time for 5 minutes.  Remove without tossing and allow to cool for 30 minutes before transferring to an airtight container or ziplock bag to store before eating!

Are you bad at breakfast?

Monday, February 21

The 'other stuff' we're learning at school - as twins

When people learned we've made the decision to put our twins in separate classes at the start of school there's about a 50/50 split:  Those who think it's a great idea and those who pause then tell me it's a great idea.  I'm guessing that last 50 percent aren't exactly sure why I'd do it.

I mean it is more work for me and I do feel torn at times about who I watch line up or when I'm detained at one classroom trying to get one out whilst the other is looking for me.   There are two teachers, two routines and two lots of friends and two lots of settling into school.  But I've never regretted this decision we made.

We made this decision even before they were born - I was so relieved to hear they were fraternal twins and even more overjoyed when I noticed how visibly different they were - over time they have developed of course very differently - as they are individuals - they have very different likes/dislikes/temperament and of course learning styles.

We really did want them especially in their first year to have the opportunity to be just themselves.  Not 'the twins' as they are often called by new friends or compared which is inevitable when you have twins.

When I did canteen duty the other day I noticed that they play separately, quite happily.  They have found their own group of peers and have settled in nicely.

What we have been dealing with last week is a few things:

- Sharing friends - each of the little frills has had a play date this week at our house - they have invited someone home from their respective classes and whilst it was intended to be the same day - due to the one child's schedule we spread it out over two days.  

There was initial excitement when we walked home with our new friends - but within the first hour on both dates the twin who was not hosting the playdate was upset because they felt that the playdate had somehow replaced them.  'Laura's not my best friend anymore' and then only two days later the same from Laura's mouth 'Olivia only loves Emma, she doesn't love me anymore'.   This will only continue as they get older but I do expect it, and I have explained to them that they can have friends outside the family (they have had for a long time anyways) but it doesn't mean their special relationship has changed.  I encouraged them all to play together and that helped that the 'other' twin was reassured.
We also have an amazing week with praise in school.   Eloise received 2 respect cards on the same day Laura received a responsibility card (one-off praise cards) Olivia was gutted.  The next day she got a Learner card and then the day after that (on Friday) she received a Merit award at assembly as Student of the Week whilst Laura received a respect card.  Pretty exciting stuff..   Laura asked why she didn't get one - because we are a house of equality I can understand why she would feel that way.  I just explained that she was especially good in class and I'm sure she'll have a Merit Award before long - and reinforced how she had been fabulous she had been this week.

So I suppose with all the learning done in the classroom there's just that little bit more of a learning curve socially as a twin.  And a Mama of twins too.

We're growing up!

Sunday, February 20

Sunday baking project - Make yourself some buns for lunches of hamburgers!

Call me cheap - I prefer frugal but I actually resent paying $4-$5 for 6 bread rolls for a hamburger etc.  I know you can get cheaper ones but for my hamburgers I do like them a little on the sweet side - sweet-ish bread rolls can make such a difference when serving chicken burgers in particular so I last week I made some and I'm going to make some again this week to stash.

They are very filling and not too sweet - they are lovely toasted.  Give them a try if you feel like baking!

1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup milk
4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup caster sugar
5 cups plain flour

Combine the water, milk and yeast in a bowl/jug - leave to sit for 5 minutes until it froths 

In a mixer with a dough attachment or a large bowl combine sugar and flour, add your yeast/milk mixture and mix well and knead in your machine for about 3-4 minutes or by hand for about 8 minutes.  Place in a greased (I just spray with canola) and cover with clingfilm or a damp tea-towel.

Allow to rise until it doubles in size (whoah baby!)

Preheat oven to 190 degrees c

Divide the dough into 8 or 10 equal portions (depending how big you want your buns to be) and slit the tops by slightly crossing them with a sharp knife.  

Transfer to well greased baking trays and set aside for a second proving for about 30 minutes.  Place them close-ish together so they rise UP.  Brush with milk and place in the oven and bake for about 15-18 minutes.

Allow to cool before packaging in airtight container/ziplock bag to store on counter for 2 days or in the freezer for 2 months.

Friday, February 18

Fast Food on a Friday: Tasty Thai Turkey nuggets

OK I'm a bad parent.  I lied to my kids and told them these were chicken nuggets with some extra flavour.  But you know what?  They didn't care!  I was craving some thai fish cakes and didn't have any suitable fish and turkey to use.... and also wanted to prepare something quick and easy to reheat for a night hubby and I were going out... so I killed a few birds so-to-speak.

Didn't expect that hubby and I would like them so much - so instead of 3 stash meals for the kids - there was one and hubby and I ate the rest - whoops.  Best news is they are not fried but oven-baked and quite lean in the scheme of things.  We served them with a garden salad and rescue wedges.

These would be equally as good as a canape.. with a sweet chilli sauce!

3 spring onions, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 tsp minced ginger
2 tb smooth peanut butter
3 tb red curry paste (I used an Asia at home sachet - perfect size)
1/4 cup fresh coriander, finely diced
500g lean turkey mince
1/4 plain flour
canola spray

Preheat oven to 200 degrees c

In a bowl mix all ingredients with exception of flour and canola spray.

Spray a baking tray with canola oil and spread your flour out onto a plate or container. Roll the mixture into two-inch diameter balls and flatten slightly. 

Lightly roll in flour and place on tray.  Spray some canola oil over the top and place in the oven for about 15-25 minutes until cooked through.

Serve right away or if freezing, allow to cool completely then seal in airtight container in the freezer for up to 6 weeks - cook from frozen for about 15 minutes.


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