Friday, 11 September 2015

Hiring an Au Pair

We recently had a new addition to the household and Janice has been finding it hard to cope. We have 3 young children and a large house. Things have been going well at work so we decided to look into the possibility of hiring an au pair.

First stop was the official webpage about this topic: https://www.gov.uk/au-pairs-employment-law/nannies which has very clear, easy to understand information about hiring an au pair.

I wanted to go down the au pair route instead of a nanny because of the cost, plus my parents successfully had an au pair when there were 3 naughty boys in our house growing up. Our au pair brought some Scandinavian culture with her, and showed me how to kick a football really high lol.

Anyway, you can use an agency or you can do it yourself. There are websites out there which will help you find an au pair independently. This way is cheaper but more hassle as you have to get involved with the visa and tax situations. You are in effect an employer.

Thanks to clear guidelines on the British government's website; we found that the whole independent process was much easier than expected. We found our au pair online and vetted her through previous employers and Facebook. We got through the paperwork fairly quickly and painlessly.

She is coming over next month and the whole process has been remarkably easy. We live near to a Metrolink tram station and our au pair wants to perfect her English skills. So we helped her find and fund an English school in Manchester: http://www.communicateschool.co.uk/

We are looking forward to the experience, Janice certainly is. The two older children will be sharing a room whilst the au pair is staying. They were not too happy about that initially, but we bought bunk beds which they fell in love with.

Anyway we shall update during or after the 6 months we have agreed to. Fingers crossed it all goes well. Janice is getting along with her on Facebook chat, so we both have a feeling it will work out fine. She also has experience looking after babies which gives us even more piece of mind.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Learn How to Cook Filipino Food

Filipino food is the latest food trend which is gradually taking over the world. First we had Chinese food, then Indian food became just as successful. Next Thai dishes landed in the West and most recently we have been enjoying Vietnamese delights.

Now it is the turn of the Philippines. Filipino restaurants are popping up in major cities with the most recent one being LUZON Restaurant in London. These restaurants offer classic or modern versions of traditional Filipino dishes.

In the past I lived in the Philippines for a few years, so I got to know the food pretty well. Today I want to share with you my two favourite recipes: Bicol Express and Mongo. I also enjoy Tinola, Nilaga and Sinigang, but my partner takes care of those.

Bicol Express My Way

If you want to do it by the book i.e. the classic way, I suggest searching on Youtube. This is how I learn to cook, but I often forget the videos, so perhaps my recipes are a little different.

Ingredients:
  • Pork with a little fat cut into small bite sized pieces
  • Coconut Cream or Milk
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Spicy chilli
  • Bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)
To begin fry up the pork with some onion in a decent amount of oil (e.g. 2 tablespoons for 1/2 kg pork) until the meat is browned slightly. Then add the ginger, chilli (plenty) and garlic and cook for another minute or two. Next add the coconut milk or coconut cream and add a little black pepper.

Now put a lid on the pan and let it simmer for an hour or so. This is to get the pork nice and tender. Take the lid off when the pork is tender and let the liquid boil off. Then add a generous amount of bagoong- this is the secret ingredient which really transforms this dish.

At this stage I often add green beans to make the dish a little healthier. They are fairly tasteless and add a bit of crunch. Let the liquid almost disappear, once it has almost evaporated you will need to stir vigorously to prevent it sticking to the pan. Hold your nerve and keep going. 

Finally the coconut milk will release its oil and you will just be left with the oil you put in and a little coconut oil. The taste of the ingredients has been highly concentrated and if you get the balance right, it is as good as any Indian curry. Best served over steamed/boiled rice.



Mongo My Way

Mung beans are one of the healthiest foods in the world. I forget the exact benefits but I remember reading that they are classed as a superfood. These small green legumes are the main ingredient of this simple dish.

Ingredients:
  • Mung beans
  • Pork (small amount ideally a little fatty for extra taste)
  • Pork stock (I cheat and use a stock cube)
  • Chilli leaves (not sold everywhere, you may need to buy a plant)
  • Bay leaf
  • Fish sauce
  • Tomato
There are two ways to do this. Because I am on a diet I will stick with the healthy option. The other option is to fry the pork and some onion in oil first. Instead simply boil a small pork steak (the streaky type with white lines) for 90 minutes. 

At any point add some garlic (if fresh garlic it is best at the beginning so you can mash it later). Add the pork stock, some pepper and a bay leaf. Leave the pork to cook away until it falls apart when you try to separate it with two forks. Separate the pork a little.

After cleaning the mung beans in a colander, place them into the the water with the pork and flavourings. They will need maybe 40 minutes to get soft, it seems to vary. After half an hour add some chopped tomato, a small amount, and remove the bay leaf. Alternatively add some whole cherry tomatoes which act as a kind of ketchup when popped later.

Then add a handful of chilli leaves. Then add fish sauce to taste. Keep stirring very gently and tasting it. The key with Mongo is to get the salt content right. It is a fairly simple dish which is too bland without enough salt. Garlic and salt both bring dishes alive. The fishy taste in the fish sauce adds depth, I often add a splash of soy sauce too for more depth.

The mung beans will expand so you will need to keep adding water. You want it to be a fairly mushy consistency, not a thin soup. Serve as soon as the mung beans have lost their hardness. They should be soft but not too soft. Serve with steamed rice at anytime of the day. Mongo is fine for any meal, even breakfast. I make a big batch and we eat it for a few meals, you may need to add a touch of water when reheating for the right consistency.