Family Food


Miles declared his love of cauliflower to Suzi on Saturday.  For the following three days, he pulled out the mustard seeds from the drawer and asked what they were for, shaking the little black balls in the jar.  By Thursday, we had amassed all the ingredients for Miles and Suzi to cook dinner in a trip to the market, where Miles also professed love of orka and a bunch of other veg we weren’t able to cook that day.  Upon coming home from school, they headed out to the garden to pick curry leaves, pandan, lime and chilis.  Then the cooking lesson commenced.  Hope Miles took notes as I was banished from the kitchen!  We loved this dinner and lapped up every last morsel.

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Check out my spice drawer – isn’t it gorgeous!??!

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It’s been a while since I posted a food post.  There’s no recipe here (but if you are looking at the dinner calendar and can’t imagine going forward without sampling Squid Ball Noodle, here you go), but more an explanation of what we eat, how it gets to the table and all the behind the scenes work that goes on from day to day.

I’ve had a dinner calendar for over a year now.  First I recorded what we had eaten each night after the fact.  Then Tim began asking each day what he should avoid having for lunch, so I started writing out 2-3 nights of a plan on the calendar.  It’s progressed to forward planning 5 nights’ worth of meals, writing grocery shopping lists, market shopping lists, and procuring hard-to-find ingredients well in advance.

My lists are written on small scraps of paper, 1/16th of a full sheet of printer paper, with miniscule print and two columns.  On the left, market veg going down from the top and market fruit coming up from the bottom.  On the right, market other (eggs, meat, fish, coconut milk) going down and grocery store coming up.  I tuck this into my wallet next to my phone in the spot with the pen, and fit in my shopping whenever I can, usually Monday and Thursday or Friday for the grocery store, Wednesday and Sunday for the veg market, with random stops at the baking shop, sundries shop, deli, wholesaler, fruit stand, convenience store, organic shop and bakery.  In Penang, I spend a lot of time shopping for food, and probably make 5-8 stops for food shopping a week.  Yikes!

Meal selection comes from a few sources.  Last year, I cooked my way through Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals book, doing 1-2 recipes a week and filling in with leftovers and basic meals or things I saw on food blogs that looked interesting.  When I finished the 30 min meals book, I got the 15 Minute Meals one and am working through the 100 recipes in there.  In the last couple months, I’ve also been trying new things from the Moosewood Cookbook to do more vegetarian cooking.  Combine that with a subscription to America’s Test Kitchen and still all the food blogs and we never eat the same thing twice.  This way is not for everyone, I know, but it works for us and I feel like I am cultivating my foodie interests while feeding my family home-cooked food.

I do most of my meal prep either in the morning or between 3-4pm with my little chef at my side.  Miles loves fixing meals and has a true love of food, so this is a really fun thing to do together.  I rarely do a meal from start to finish before meal time like I used to, and it is a very welcome change to not rush to the kitchen when Tim gets home.  Dinner prep is rarely more than 10 minutes of reheating, quick stir frying, pasta boiling and garnishing.   Pair that with a glass of wine by myself in the kitchen and it’s a favorite time of day.

This week Miles started planning for breakfast too, as you can see by the multi-colored drawings above the dinners.  We had shake and toast (Monday), shake and omelets (tuesday), fruit yogurt & granola (Wednesday), oatmeal (Thursday), and breakfast tacos (Friday).

We don’t always cook at home, weekends are often times for eating out and sometimes our fabulous helper chef Suzi will cook an Indian feast.  But it’s been great to have a plan and be ready to eat at home, then choose to go out if we want to.

Miles, participating in a true Bolhouse tradition, Grandma Bolhouse’s Deviled Eggs.  Want to bring a hit to a picnic/potluck?  These are a sure fire bet, they fly off the buffet table.

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I am still cooking.  I am not still blogging about cooking.  In the wake of having our baby Hazel, something had to go.  I wouldn’t let it be running or yoga or swimming.  I wouldn’t let it be traveling or playdates or throwing parties.  I wouldn’t even let it be cooking most meals from scratch each night or doing an insane amount of baking.  And while some (read:Tim) may argue what went was a sane wife (see above), what I let go was taking pictures while I cook and writing about it later.  A small sacrifice.  But maybe some suffer.  If you used my weekly musings on food to inspire you, that might be you.

If you sail in that boat, here is something to keep you afloat (cheez alert).  What’s been cooking around here:

  • I’ve been working my way through Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals.  OK, with 2 kids it sometimes takes a lot longer than 30 minutes, especially if you have to go to 6 grocery stores to get all the ingredients you need.  But, I find the promise that someone somewhere did this in a half an hour motivating.  And the dishes are delicious.
  • Joy the Baker is a favorite blogger.  She recently wrote a cookbook.  I think I have made a third of the recipes out of that book already.  Oh my, the butter I buy. (Above picture is from my most recent effort)
  • I am also often inspired by Smitten Kitchen.
  • Miles loves ice cream, so yesterday we made Magic Strawberry Ice Cream.  What’s so magic?  No churner required.
  • Miles.  My baking buddy.  Give that boy a whisk, a bowl and an apron and he is off.  He even plays playdoh kitchen (one pot of playdoh and everything out of my kitchen).  Fun, Fun Fun.
  • I’ll hit up old favorites, like the Moosewood Cookbook, Laurel’s Kitchen and Eat, Drink & Be Vegan to mix things up.
  • I appreciate the weekend hawker meal, and don’t feel bad one bit about giving myself a break.
  • Speaking of breaks…We recently started asking our amah to cook one meal a week. Should have started this earlier. She is a fantastic Indian, Malay, Chinese, Nyonya  cook, her dishes are insanely good.  What I should do is start taking lessons from her and writing about those here!

Happy cooking.

I’ve been inspired only recently again when it comes to food. I mean, who could not be inspired by donut cake? Seriously, after Hazel was born I spent about 3 months without much desire for food. I would be hungry, belly rumbling, and I could not name a single thing that sounded good to eat. I blamed hormones, and it put me in an interesting position as a foodie. It’s reason I stopped writing about food here; everything was sustenance, nothing exciting. Well, well, well, the tides have turned. I can’t get two pages into a magazine and I am cutting out recipes and affiixing post-it notes. My mouth is watering and I am meal planning weeks in advance. We’re back.

This recipe called to me on so many levels. There’s eggplant (that’s for you, Linda), pine nuts, and caramelized onions. But really it was the rice that made it one of my first post-partum culinary ventures. I remember going to middle eastern restaurants growing up and being fascinated by the succulent rice with tiny brown worms running through it. Turns out they are fried noodle pieces, and this recipe does it in butter. This was originally adapted by the author from her grandma’s recipe to be suitable for a vegetarian magazine. I went back and made grandma proud by making it with lamb, but you could sub TVP if you like. Be sure to salt at various stages throughout cooking, especially if your canned goods are low sodium.

Stuffed Eggplant & Butter-Saffron Rice (from Vegetarian Times)

  • 3 large eggplants, cut into 3″ thick rounds
  • 2 medium onions, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 lb ground lamb, or beef
  • 1 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes (NOT low-sodium)
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup broken angel hair pasta (1″ pieces)
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Salt eggplant on both sides and set on platter for 20 minutes. Rinse and dry, then drizzle with olive oil and arrange in a 9×13 baking pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp oil over med-low heat. Slowly cook onion, about 20 minutes, until nice and caramelized. Add pine nuts and cook about 5 minutes more until browned. Remove to plate.
  3. Add lamb or beef to skillet and brown. Drain most of the fat and add the spices, cooking a minute longer. Add onion/pinenut mixture to skillet and off the heat. Adjust salt & pepper.
  4. Go to your eggplant, making sure the wider surface is face up in the pan. Use a spoon to push the softened middles down to create a depression. Smear each with 1 Tbsp tomato paste, then pile on the lamb filling. Top each with a generous spoon of diced tomatoes. Pour about 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes at 300F. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer. Take it out of the oven, allow to rest 10 minutes under foil.
  5. For rice, heat butter in a large soup pot. Add noodles and fry until golden. Add rice until covered with butter. Add saffron, salt and 4 cups water or broth, bringing to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover and cook 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
  6. Place a mound of rice then top with a crown of eggplant. I see why the original author called this “royale”, it’s stunning.

Four months go by without any food posts from me and I come at you with donut cake. I wanted to make sure it was something you were all going to make to get you back on track for recipes on this blog. I couldn’t very well make my first post called “kale smoothies” or something, that would not do.

I miss donuts. I ate them often growing up and less and less frequently after leaving the Midwest until coming to Asia where I eat them almost never. Cider mill donuts are the best, the cinnamon sugar kind, fresh and warm. I gorged on them last year when we passed one (open! In July! – I was pregnant, ok?). Well guess what folks…here is a cake that brings you all that warm deliciousness with a sugar crunchy top any time of the year on any continent.

The cake here is a bit denser than your typical cake donut, and the moistness works to mimic that warm steam that emits from a fresh donut. The smell that fills your kitchen as you bake this is almost as good as the cake itself, pure cider mill stuff; I think it’s the nutmeg/vanilla combo. Do yourself a favor and eat this with hot coffee, masala tea or fresh cider, depending on what part of the world you are making this in.

Cider Mill Donut Cake (adapted from The Wednesday Chef)

  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 Tbsp cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk*
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon suga
  1. Butter and flour an 8″ springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. With the mixer running, alternatively add flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture in 3 additions each, scraping down the bowl and stopping when it is fully incorporated but not over mixed.
  4. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Coat the top of the batter with cinnamon sugar. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until tester inserted comes out clean and you are ready to pass out from the lovely aroma. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate to eat soon. Or later. Enjoy.

*Asia: no donuts, no buttermilk. You can substitute drained whey from yogurt or milk with a squeeze of lemon juice. They both get the job done.

It would be impressive if my mini gingerbreads were thimble-sized houses, with icing icicles and candy cane arches all in miniature.  But, it’s the week before Christmas and even those of you that are not 39 weeks pregnant with a two year old on break from kindy are a little bit busy.  So, lucky for you, these are easy.  And delicious.  It’s bread, in a mini-muffin form.  And spiced, in a gingerbread way.  But moist, in a don’t-feel-bad-about-eating-a-dozen-they’re-mini-muffins way.

This is a recipe from my food blog friend Anna over at Tallgrass Kitchen.  Her Christmas setting is a little different from ours this year, being in rural Northern Wisconcin as opposed to a highrise on a tropical island, but it seems we enjoy this gingerbread equally this season.

Mini Gingerbreads (from Tallgrass Kitchen)

  • 11 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup molassas
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger root
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp baking soda, dissolved in 2 T warm water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease your mini muffin tin (this recipe makes about 5 dozen mini muffins, I did it in 2 batches).
  2. Melt butter, corn syrup, sugar and spices in a saucepan until melted and combined.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Stir in milk.  Add baking soda and beaten eggs, whisk to combine completely.
  3. Sift flour into a bowl.  Slowly add the mixture from the saucepan, whisking away especially at the beginning to prevent lumps.
  4. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full – these will rise considerably and then lava all over the place if you overfill (see the fourth picture above? Lava-inducing filling.  Note there is no finished product picture.).  Bake for 12-15 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness.  Do not overcook, they are best a bit sticky.
  5. Cool 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a plate.  Dust with powdered sugar if you need curb appeal, and enjoy alongside the husband’s homemade eggnog.  Yum.

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