Coming up with new meal ideas when you're busy isn't easy. And let's face it, we're all busy. "I'm no different," Karen Martini said. "But cooking shouldn't be a chore and it only becomes a chore because you get people complaining about what you're going to prepare.
"If you have cookbooks or magazines with food ideas, get the family involved. That way, everyone can have some input and hopefully there won't be any complaints."
Chef, restaurateur, TV presenter, recipe columnist, brand ambassador for Swisse Vitamins and busy working mum, Melbourne-based Martini is one of Australia's most popular names in food.
It's the lead-up to Christmas and she's flat out filming for My Kitchen Rules, on which she's been guest judge from the start, and the cooking segment of Better Homes and Gardens that's made her a household name. Her fifth cookbook - Everyday - has just been released with recipes she does at home for husband Michael Sapountsis and daughters Stella, seven, and Amber, five.
"All these recipes are really simple and use easily accessible ingredients. It's all about nourishing family and friends and keeping meals satisfying and interesting because we're all pushed for time. I do a lot of cooking at home because I have to generate recipes for TV and paper (she's contributing editor of Fairfax's Epicure and Good Food weekly liftouts). Then there's my books (a second Everyday is due out next year) and the restaurant."
Her Everyday repertoire includes roast cauliflower salad with almonds and fetta (an all-time favourite), prawn and chorizo tortillas, tandoori chicken burgers and chocolate cream bombs, all with the typical Martini twist. The chocolate ganache on the almond, coconut and raspberry cake is made with avocado. Of course.
"It's actually unidentifiable with the amount of cocoa and has this rich, creamy taste you'd normally get from chocolate, but without the guilt," she said. Her pizza dough is made with mineral water because that's how they do it at her St Kilda pizzeria Mr Wolf.
"We do go through a lot of mineral water and it's been a bone of contention with my partners, but I am standing firm on this. We buy it in kegs and I believe it's what gives the pizza base a stable crumb and crust. It's got something to do with the mineral content. I've used both Italian and Australian mineral water; soda water just doesn't have the same effect. There's no going back - the recipe came from an old man in Italy - but water will work at home."
Much of Martini's passion for cooking stems from the exotic food traditions on her French-speaking Tunisian-Italian father's side, such as salted mullet drying on window sills, lamb couscous, fried eggplant and stuffed olives.
"Meme, my grandmother, would constantly feed us from the moment we walked in," she said. "As soon we arrived, we'd get fougasse - a pizza dough in a hot dog bun shape filled with carrot, potato and caraway mashed lemon. And that was just a snack. She was always making something."
Martini started cooking at 16 after a work experience stint at Mietta's with newly arrived French chef Jacques Reymond that sealed her career in big-name restaurants, including the Melbourne Wine Room and Sydney's Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. Mr Wolf, her current venture, opened in 2004, but there's another restaurant in the pipeline for next year.
Her cooking style is Mediterranean but the book is multicultural with lots of Asian favourites, such as curry laksa, potato and crab somosas and dahl. Sweets get star billing even though Martini describes herself as a "chip and dip" girl.
"I prefer savoury, but I do cook a lot of desserts and they always get good feedback The white chocolate roulade is a winner with everyone but I prefer the croissant, chocolate and hazelnut pudding you can make with Nutella and I do a lot of fruit jellies for my girls."