Mothers know best

'Eat what I cook or they can starve'

She's a smooth talker on the airwaves and a smooth operator in her kitchen.

Maddy Barber, Kiss92 assistant programming director and host of its popular morning show Maddy, Jason & Arnold In The Morning, said with a chuckle: "My husband is a former chef, but he never cooks at home. I'm the one making the meals. He used to shout out instructions but I've put a stop to that."

She prepares dinner for her family of four - the couple have two daughters aged eight and 17 - every other day.

"That's why I like being on the breakfast show - when I get home around noon, I have the rest of the day to plan what to cook for dinner," she said.

"My daughters eat what I cook, and I cook to my taste. If they don't want to, they can starve!"

But her English IT consultant husband Wez Barber, 36, is the picky one. The family tends to favour Western cuisine and "he must always have his meats".

"I make this killer brinjal lasagne. Everyone who's tried it loved it. But my husband looked at me and said, 'Am I a rabbit? Am I a herbivore? Where's my meat?'" said Barber, laughing.

So dinners are usually oven-roasted meats and one vegetable dish.

Barber said many people have the misconception that roasts are complicated to cook.

"They sound fancy, but they're actually very easy. Just chuck everything into the oven! I find roasting beef or making Yorkshire pudding much easier than doing stir-fry."

Barber also cooks Thai food, something she picked up from her years spent living in Bangkok.

Dinner on "lazy days" can sometimes be as simple as Marmite on cheese toast.

Barber said she'd get her younger daughter Alicia to peel and mash potatoes, while her older girl Elizabeth cooks "fancy stuff" like "brownies, egg and bacon cups or cupcakes".

This year's Mother's Day will be extra special for the Barbers as Elizabeth turns 18 on that day.

Barber said: "We're having a big BBQ to celebrate, so I'll be toiling!"

Maddy's Roast Chicken

'Works like a dream every time!'

Ingredients:
Whole chicken
Olive oil
Rosemary or sage
2 halves of a lemon and onion
Salt and pepper

Method:
1. Rub some olive oil, salt and pepper over the chicken.
2. Stuff rosemary or sage under the skin, and then stuff two halves of a lemon and onion in the cavity.
3. Seal it up with toothpicks and then roast it at 180-200 deg C for 30 minutes to brown the skin, then bring the temperature down to 120-130 deg C and slow roast it for another 1½ to 2 hours.
4. The slower you let it cook, the juicier the meat. Works for all meats.
5. Chicken is cooked once the juice between the thigh and breast area runs clear when you poke it.

She cooks all her children's meals

Former actress-host Wong Li Lin's skills include whipping up leftovers into a proper meal, like turning uneaten risotto into squash arancini and remaining mushrooms into an omelette.

The 41-year-old, who admits to being a better cook than baker, is an expert in the kitchen, having started cooking since her teenage years.

Wong, who has a daughter, Sage, nine, and a son, Jonas, eight, is a strong believer in all things healthy. She is, after all, a fitness and wellness guru and founder of Loopz Fitness, a unique exercise band and fitness system.

She tells M she believes in balancing out the "healthy stuff and fatty stuff".

"It's like a mathematical equation. My kids like their sausages, which is full of sodium nitrate, so I mix them up," she said.

She suggests a 70:30 ratio of fresh food to processed foods.

"Out of three meals a day, at least two are power-packed."

The meals she cooks for them are "very simple", as long as there is protein and vegetable.

Her suggestion to mothers whose children hate their greens? "Sneak them into something."

She sneaks sprouts into her kids' sandwiches and baked potatoes and adds lots of bananas to her banana chocolate cake made with spelt flour.

"I'm not expecting them to conquer the entire vegetable kingdom, so long as they eat some," she said, laughing.

The hands-on mum prepares all of her children's meals. Sage and Jonas eat out on weekends or when their father, US-born actor-host Allan Wu, takes them out.

The celebrity couple split up last June after 10 years of marriage.

Wong is particular about the kind of bread the children eat, preferring to give them gluten-free bread.

She said her children help out in the kitchen: "Sage can make her own scrambled eggs, and the other day, Jonas made his own fruit salad."

She said they "like a mixture of cuisine" and added: "I can't eat Chinese all the time. We have grilled stuff or simple stir-fries. We could also be having bulgogi one day, and go vegetarian the next."

But don't expect the trio to make a meal out of Mother's Day because Wong does not really "buy into celebrating" the occasion.

She said: "Sage may make a card, but I don't make a big fuss about it. They are always leaving me little love notes, giving me hugs and kisses.

"It's the everyday things they do that count. Maybe I may make them give me a massage or something!"

Li Lin's Salmon & Spinach Saute

'Superfoods all in one dish!'

Ingredients:
Salmon Spinach ("I use frozen and adjust the amount accordingly")
1 tsp mustard
1 cup stock (chicken, fish or vegetable)
Half onion and a clove of garlic, finely chopped
Splash of cream (optional)

Method:
1. Heat a pan. Add oil and saute onions and garlic until soft.
2. Add mustard to mix. Toss in frozen spinach, stirring until mostly soft.
3. Add the salmon to brown gently on all sides. Be careful not to flake the fish in the process.
4. Add stock and cream (if adding), season to taste and simmer until the fish is cooked through.
5. Garnish finished dish with some tomatoes.
6. Serve with rice, bread or potato.


Husband is the chef

Wong Li Lin and Maddy Barber may share a lifelong passion for cooking, but for former actress-host Evelyn Tan, it's "for the sake of survival".

The 40-year-old mother to a girl and three boys - nine-year-old daughter Kristen, seven-year-old Jairus, five-year-old Way and six-month-old Elliott - is fortunate that her husband, local actor Darren Lim, loves to cook and will whip up meals when he is home in their yacht.

"He's a Hainanese man, so he loves being the chef," said Tan, adding that Jairus enjoys watching his parents cook and dreams of being a chef.

"He's always asking what's on the menu."

Tan is letting Kristen learn to use the knife, so "she's been helping out in the kitchen".

The family cooks every day and has learnt to work within the space constraints of their three-room Lagoon 400S2 catamaran.

"But that means cleaning up is easier to do."

Tan prepares meals for her baby, who is starting to wean.

"His food is very easy, just steam and then everything goes into the blender," she said.

Baker

Tan fancies herself more a baker.

"Anything chocolate, such as brownies, and chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms".

One thing she adheres to is "healthy eating" and that their daily meals "must be freshly prepared", though Tan said Lim "tends to use more salt in his cooking and that's why Daddy's food always tastes better".

"Thankfully, the kids don't compare our cooking standards much," she added. "They would give a grade and tell us if we've gone up another level."

The family eats out on weekends and on special occasions like Mother's Day."We usually try and celebrate with my mum or Darren's mum. It's more to acknowledge our mothers.

"Everything is so costly on that day, be it flowers or food, so we have our meals earlier."

This article was published on May 7 in The New Paper.

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