Experimenting with my newest gadget

I was lucky enough to open the Kitchenaid Ice Cream attachment on Christmas morning. Life has been a bit of a rush over the last few days, but I've finally managed to get more than five minutes to start making some ice cream. My first experiment is the other pink ice cream - Turkish Delight. In reality, it's just ice cream flavoured with rose water and coloured with a bit of pink dye, but Turkish Delight sounds a little bit nicer.

Turkish Delight Ice Cream

400ml cream
375ml evaporated milk
300ml milk
3/4 cup sugar
6 eggs
2 tbspn rosewater cordial
1 tbspn rosewater essence
1 tspn vanilla essence


Combine the cream and milks in a large saucepan. Slowly bring to scalding point. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar together until sugar has dissolved. Add half the hot milk to the egg mixture and beat to combine. Return combined egg and milk to the saucepan, stir and return to heat. Add rosewater cordial, essence and vanilla. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for ten to fifteen minutes until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If the mixture boils, it will start to curdle or separate. If this happens, remove it from heat immediately and beat until the mixture combines again. Set the custard mixture aside to cool, covering with cling wrap to prevent a skin forming. If possible, chill for an hour or two, then churn according to the ice cream maker's instructions. If you don't have an ice cream maker, place the mixture in the freezer for an hour, or until the edges start to freeze. Beat, then return to the freezer. Repeat until the ice cream has a soft serve ice cream, then return to the freezer to ripen for an hour or two. If the mixture becomes too hard, place in refrigerator for half an hour until soft enough to serve.

The tenth day of Christmas

Christmas breakfast might be my favourite meal of the festive season. It's more relaxed than lunch or dinner, and the only time of the day when I'm actually hungry. At our house, it's time for catching up with friends before we set off to see the family. Presents have been exchanged and there's wrapping paper and toys everywhere. What could be better than ignoring the mess and heading outside for a delicious breakfast?

This year, the menu was bircher muesli with berry compote, waffles with grilled peaches and ricotta and rosti with smoked salmon and creme fraiche, served with a guava punch. Light and delicious, and no spoiled appetites for the main event.

Festive waffles with grilled peaches

2 cups flour
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground cloves
2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 peaches
1 tbspn vanillin sugar
200g ricotta
1 tspn vanilla essence


Sift together the flour and spices. Add the milk and eggs and stir well to combine. Lightly grease a waffle iron, and cook waffle until golden brown. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. Meanwhile, cut the peaches in halves and remove the stones. Sprinkle with vanillin sugar. Place under hot grill and cook until sugar caramelizes. Remove from heat. Beat ricotta and vanilla essence together until smooth. Place half a peach on top of each waffle and top with vanilla ricotta. Sprinkle with extra cinnamon if desired.

The ninth day

Time for gift baking - the gift that's always appreciated and much less stressful than hitting the shops at the last minute!

These biscuits are quick enough to make right on Christmas morning, or can be made in advance and hung on the tress as edible decorations. At our house, a couple even got left out for Santa and the reindeer to enjoy.*

Stained glass biscuits

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup golden syrup
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 tspn vanilla essence
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 packet boiled lollies


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cream the butter and sugar together. Stir in the golden syrup, then egg yolk and vanilla essence, beating well to combine. Sift together the flour and bicarb soda and gradually add to the butter mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for around 30 minutes. Roll out to a thickness of around 5 millimetres between two sheets of grease proof paper. Using a large cookie cutter, cut as many shapes as possible from the dough. Carefully remove the centre of each shape using a smaller cutter. You can bake the smaller shapes as little vanilla cookies, or chill and roll out again to make more window biscuits. Place the large biscuits on a lined baking tray, and add a boiled lolly to the centre of each shape. Bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until the biscuits are golden and the lollies have melted into windows. Allow to cool on the tray until the lolly windows are firm, then finish on a cooling rack.

*They make a surprisingly good accompaniment to Timboon Railway Shed Distillery coffee liqueur!

The eighth day of Christmas

The Christmas rush has officially come to an end at our house. Even though the tree and lights will stay up until the twelfth day of Christmas, the festive cooking has pretty much come to an end. The up side to this is that I've finally got time to catch up on some of the things I made during the mad rush.

Our first festive meal for the year was dinner on Christmas Eve. I wanted something special, but not too heavy considering the amount of food that would be handed around on Christmas Day. So for our main meal, we had a stuffed baked snapper with roquette and parmesan salad. Based on a Caribbean fish dish crossed with a paella stuffed snapper, the stuffing was the star of the show. Any large white fish would be suitable; if you can't find snapper, try trevally or red emperor.

Stuffed snapper

1.5 kg whole baby snapper, cleaned and scaled
2 tbspn olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, sliced and seeded
2 cups cooked saffron rice
200g cooked prawn meat, chopped
3 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped
lemon pepper to taste
Lime to serve


Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Cut three large slits in the side of the fish. Drizzle with around half the olive oil and season with lemon pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the garlic and chilli and saute until garlic is soft and fragrant. Add the prawns and rice and stir to heat through. Remove from heat and stir through chopped coriander. Open the fish cavity and make sure it's clean. If the fish needs washing, use salt water only - fresh water will remove some of the flavour. If you're unsure, wipe the cavity with a cut lime and set aside for ten minutes. Once the fish is clean enough, place as much stuffing as will fit inside the cavity. Spear the sides with bamboo skewers, then lace shut with cooking twine. Place in a large roasting pan and bake until the eyes turn white - anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the fish. Serve with lime wedges and salad

The seventh day

Fruit mince tarts are another one of those things I really love about Christmas. Like the cake and pudding, the fruit mince should be made well in advance to give all of the flavours time to develop. But despite not working outside the house, I seem to have run out of time this year, and have made my fruit mince extremely late. That said, cooking the fruit does help to speed things up somewhat, so you end up with a tasty pie nonetheless. The added benefit is the mix will keep a very long time if refrigerated, so you can always store any leftovers for Christmas in July.

The fruit you use really depends on what you like to eat and what you have in the house. Most of the measurements are sort of guesses - I tend to use handfuls - but as long as you have a good amount of fruit compared to liquid you should be fine.

Fruit mince

1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup brown sugar
4 apples, peeled and diced
1 cup sultanas
1 cup raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup mixed peel
12 dates
15 dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnuts
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground cloves
1/4 tspn ground ginger
1/2 tspn nutmeg
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brandy


Combine the juice and sugar in a large saucepan. Dissolve the sugar over low heat. Meanwhile, chop the apricots, dates and walnuts to match the pieces of apple. Add the fruit and nuts to the juice mix and bring to a simmer. Add the butter and stir through. Allow to simmer, covered for around 40 minutes or until the fruit is pulpy. Remove from heat and add brandy. Store in sterilised jars.

The sixth day of Christmas

I've been a bit slack this year. For a really good pudding, you should make it well in advance and let the flavours develop. That said, any extra time between making and eating the pudding is an advantage, and the amount of fruit and spices in the recipe ensures it won't be tasteless.

Plum pudding

1 1/2 cups prunes
1 cup dates
1 cup currants
1 cup raisins
1 cup sultanas
1 cup mixed peel
1 cup whisky
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbspn golden syrup
2 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground cloves
1 tspn ground nutmeg
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
1/2 cup blanched almonds


Roughly chop prunes and dates. Place in a large bowl with currants, raisins, sultanas and mixed peel. Cover with whisky, stir and leave to macerate at least six hours. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to combine. Add the golden syrup and stir through. Sift together the flours and spices. Add to the butter mixture and mix well. Add the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. Roughly chop the almonds, and add to fruit mixture. Combine the fruit and batter mix and stir well to make sure the fruit is evenly distributed. Prepare a 2 litre pudding basin by placing a disc of greaseproof paper in the base. Place the batter in the basin, and cover with pleated greaseproof paper. Secure the paper and cover with a lid if available, or aluminium foil if there is no lid. Place a trivet in a large stockpot or tall saucepan. Put the pudding basin on the trivet, and add water up until one third of the way up the side of the basin. Bring to the boil and simmer for around six hours until pudding is browned and quite firm. Store the pudding in the refrigerator until Christmas, occasionally "feeding" with whisky if desired. To reheat the pudding, place it back in the basin and boil for around an hour. Serve with brandy sauce and cream. To flame the pudding, ladle brandy over the warmed pudding and ignite.

And on the fifth day

Gingerbread! Making the whole house smell deliciously festive. I'm not a huge fan - I prefer all of the fruity baking - but the smell of gingerbread baking certainly is right up there on the list of good things.

Since it's not a favourite, I don't have a trusted recipe for gingerbread. What I came up with was favourably rated by the breadwinner. Probably just as well since he knows I only made them because he specifically asked for them.

The recipe makes at least 40 biscuits using a 9 centimetre gingerbread man cutter. If you don't think you can eat or give away that many at once, save half of the dough, tightly wrapped in the fridge safely for a day or two, and get two days of kitchen fragrance from a single effort.

Gingerbread biscuits

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup treacle
4 cups flour
2 tbspn ground ginger
2 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground cloves
1 tspn ground nutmeg
2 tspn bicarbonate of soda


Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius. Cream the butter and sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, beating well to avoid curdling. Add the treacle and stir well to combine. Sift together flour, spices and bicarb soda. Add to the butter mixture, around one quarter at a time. Mix well to a stiff dough. Form the dough into a disc, cover with cling wrap and place in refrigerator for half an hour. Place dough between two sheets of greaseproof paper and roll out to a thickness of around 5 millimetres. Cut into seasonal or people shapes, and place on a baking paper lined cookie sheet. Bake for around ten minutes until golden. Allow to cool completely on the cookie sheet - moving too soon will break the biscuits. Decorate with royal icing or enjoy them plain with a cup of tea.

The fourth day of Christmas

With not too many days to go until Christmas, it's definitely time to get my act into gear and make a proper start on the Christmas cooking. But since I tend not to start anything today that I can put off until tomorrow, I've made some more no-bake coconut ball things for a Christmas party instead.

These are along the same theme as the rum balls. If the only people eating them will be grown-ups, then using coconut rum for flavouring is a nice change. Since there were going to be small people at the party, I used coconut essence instead.

The verdict? According to Hotmo, even better than the choc cherry ones.

Apricot and coconut truffles

250g milk arrowroot biscuits
395g can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 tspn coconut essence
Extra coconut for coating


Crush the biscuits to a fine crumb. Add the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll generous teaspoon sized chunks into balls. Roll in extra coconut. Return to refrigerator until ready to serve.

On the third day...

On the third day of Christmas I iced the cake, but since that's not technically a recipe, here's one for eggnog.

Most of the recipes I've come across for eggnog include mountains of cream and raw eggs. Not exactly my taste, and not safe to drink for some people. My version is quite different. It's thicker than a glass of milk, and has a creamy texture, but is essentially a very runny custard. The key to getting the texture right is to make sure it doesn't boil. Trust me, boiled eggnog is not nice.

You can serve it hot with a dash of brandy and whipped cream on top, or chill it and mix it with ice cream, which is altogether more suitable for Australian summer. Either way, it's one of my favourite festive beverages.


2 litres milk
1 tspn vanilla bean paste
1 tspn vanilla essence
1 tspn ground nutmeg
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup castor sugar


Place half the milk, nutmeg and vanilla in a saucepan. Slowly heat to scalding point and remove from heat. Meanwhile beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the scalded milk to the egg mixture and beat thoroughly to combine. Return to heat and cook until mixture thickens slightly, without boiling. Depending on your stove, this will take between seven and ten minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining milk, stirring well.

On the second day of Christmas

More festive food - this time without any baking. I'm not sure when, or even if, rum balls became Christmas food, but they've always been something that's only eaten by my family over the festive season. Mum's recipe was always a very standard chocolate rum ball, sometimes replaced by an apricot and coconut white rum ball. I decided to try something a little bit different this year, and added cherries to make a cherry ripe rum ball.

If you have a food processor, this recipe couldn't be any easier. If you don't, it's still a simple recipe, but will involve a little more effort.

Incidentally, as this recipe is made with condensed milk, the second day of Christmas probably isn't the best time to make it unless you plan on making more closer to the day. I love them so whipped them up to take visiting. I reckon there'll be another batch on Christmas Eve.

Choc cherry rum balls

2 x 250g packets Chocolate Ripple biscuits
3 tbspn cocoa
1 cup desiccated coconut
395g can sweetened condensed milk
1 tspn rum essence
200g glace cherries
Extra coconut, cocoa or chocolate sprinkles for coating


Crush the biscuits to a fine crumb. Add the cocoa and coconut and stir to combine. Finally add the condensed milk, rum essence and finely chopped cherries. Refrigerate for around an hour to firm up a little. Roll teaspoon sized amounts of the mixture into little balls, then roll in coating. Place back in refrigerator for at least two hours, preferably overnight.


Another visit to Auntie Hotmo's, another excuse for yummy baked goods. With loads of chocolate in the pantry, I decided to make brownies. This recipe is sort of a fusion of a couple of different ones, with a bit of a Mexican influence. You could add nuts, top them with a ganache, or even add coffee or liqueur essence, but they're pretty yummy as are.

Dark Chocolate Brownies

220g dark chocolate, chopped
250g butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/4 cups plain flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/4 tspn baking powder
4 eggs, lightly beaten


Preheat the oven to 160 Celsius. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm swiss roll tin. Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly. Sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon and baking powder. Add the sugar and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre, and stir in eggs. Add the chocolate mixture and stir well to combine. Place in the prepared tin and smooth the top. Bake until set but not dry - around 45 to 50 minutes. Allow to cool in tin before turning out and slicing into squares. Dust with icing sugar or cocoa or top with ganache.

More muffin madness

A lot of my cooking at the moment centres around baby food. Not overly exciting to anyone not involved in getting the small person on to big person foods. One of the benefits is that there's often quite a bit of stuff left over. Today that meant a lot of mashed up apple, just perfect for apple muffins. I cooked about 15 apples - pink lady and granny smiths - with around half a cup of water for 15 minutes. My feeling is about six apples, peeled, cored chopped and sprinkled with water would give you enough apple for the muffins. If you're in a rush or don't have fresh apples on hand, commercial apple sauce would do a more than adequate job.

Apple muffins

1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups apple mash
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 cups SR flour
1 tspn baking soda
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground cloves


Mix the melted butter and eggs together, stirring well. Add the apple, then sugar and stir thoroughly. Sift together the flour, baking soda and spices. Add to the apple mixture and mix, being careful not to over stir. Place in muffin pans and bake at 180 Celsius for 25 - 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Makes 12 medium sized muffins or 9 ludicrously large ones.

On the first day of Christmas

Since we're a month out from Christmas, it's definitely time to get the baking started. Sadly I've misplaced my favourite Christmas cake recipe, so I've done a bit of investigating, relied a little bit on memory, and have come up with a recipe that should do the job.

In the past I've included dried apricots and apples in my fruit mix. The fruit combination really comes down to personal preference. My breadwinner would prefer I made one without any dried grape products. We shall have to wait and see how his luck runs with that.

Dark fruit cake

500g currants
200g sultanas
200g raisins
100g mixed peel
100g dates
100g prunes
250ml brandy
250ml dark tea
250g butter
250g brown sugar
5 eggs, lightly beaten
225g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground cloves
1 tspn ground nutmeg
3/4 tspn ground ginger
3/4 tspn ground cardamon
1 tbspn treacle


Chop the prunes and dates finely. Combine with remaining fruit. Cover with brandy and cooled tea and soak overnight. Preheat the oven to 150 Celsius. Grease and line a 20cm square pan. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices. Add around a third of the eggs to the butter mixture and mix well. Follow with a third of the flour mix, stirring to combine. Add the remaining eggs and flour alternately until all combined. Add the treacle to the fruit mix and stir through. Fold the fruit into the cake batter, ensuring even distribution. Place the batter in the prepared pan, hollowing out the centre to allow for rising. If you're not planning on icing the cake, decorate with blanched almonds, otherwise leave plain. Bake for 3 hours before testing with a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean, the cake is done. If there is any batter on the skewer, reduce the heat to 110 Celsius and bake for another 15 minutes. Leave the cake in the pan until completely cooled. For a deliciously boozy cake, poke small holes in the cooled cake and sprinkle extra brandy over the top.

Banana muffins

When faced with loads of bananas I tend to make cake. It's really one of the easiest cakes I know how to bake - just take a medium rich butter cake batter and add bananas and a bit of bicarbonate soda before the milk and flour. Sadly nobody else in the house seems to like it as much as I do, and I can't eat a whole cake before it goes bad. So this time I decided to make muffins.

They didn't turn out massive, but they did turn out tasty. I guess if you're a big fan of overflowing muffin tops, either make 18 mini muffins or nine mega muffins. I made 12 medium muffins.

Banana muffins

4 bananas
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup caster sugar'
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tspn bicarbonate soda
2 cups self raising flour


Mash the bananas and stir in the egg and melted butter. Add the sugar and walnuts and stir well to combine. Sift together the flour and bicarb soda, then add to the banana mix. Stir lightly. Place the batter in muffin cases or a greased muffin tin and bake at 180 degrees C until golden brown - around 25 to 30 minutes. Cool then serve plain or with a dusting of cinnamon sugar.

If you like pina coladas

Fish for dinner at Banjo and Spincop's house and I volunteered to make dessert. It's the least I could do, given everyone else works, while I hang out with the small person. Plus it seemed an excellent opportunity to get out of doing the housework.
Anyway, after the success of the apple sorbet, I figured something along the same lines would be good. Not too heavy, but not too healthy either. Pineapple and coconut gelato sounded ideal.

Pineapple and coconut gelato

2 cups coconut milk
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 tspn coconut essence (optional)
1 cup sugar
6 eggs
450g tin pineapple pieces


Combine the coconut milk, milk and cream and bring to scalding point. Meanwhile, beat eggs and sugar together until light and frothy. Remove the milk from heat and add half to the egg mix. Stir thoroughly, then add to remaining milk. Return the milk to the heat, and cook at a low temperature, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place in a shallow container and allow to freeze for an hour. Remove from the freezer and beat with an electric mixer or blender. Return to the freezer and repeat until the desired consistency is reached. Meanwhile, drain the pineapple, reserving the syrup for a topping if desired. Puree the fruit. Add the coconut to the drained syrup, water and glucose. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer until the syrup has thickened to a topping. Stir the pineapple puree through the gelato and serve with coconut topping.

Apples galore

There are two reasons why I can't wait for stone fruit to kick in. First of all, I love it. Secondly because hopefully it will mean the endless supply of apples arriving in our weekly fruit and veg box will dwindle.
A few of them have gone into apple cakes - including a monumental presentation fail, which happily still tasted great - but there's only so many of those you can eat without getting bored. I had planned to cook some up for baby mush, but it turns out the small person really isn't a fan. So at a bit of a loss, I decided to turn some into sorbet.

Apple sorbet

5 granny smith apples
2 cups apple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tspn cardamon
4 tbspn glucose syrup
4 drops green food colouring (optional)


Peel and core the apples. Chop roughly. Place in saucepan with apple juice, lemon juice and cardamon. Simmer until the apple is soft - around 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then stir through glucose syrup. Using a handheld mixer or a blender, whiz the mixture until it is pale and frothy. Add the food colouring and mix thoroughly. Place in a shallow dish, cover and freeze for 1 hour. Remove from the freezer and whiz again. Repeat until the desired consistency is reached.

For a sweeter sorbet, use 1/2 a cup of strong sugar syrup in place of the glucose.

Morning tea

Everyone knows I'm a big fan of afternoon tea - especially if there are scones involved. Morning tea seems a bit more difficult, but this morning, after a text advising that a friend was coming to visit in 45 minutes, I managed to get my act together.

So what to make when you've only got a small window of opportunity and a small person to get sorted out? I checked the pantry, saw a bag of dried apricots, and decided to experiment with them in a cake.

Apricot and coconut cake

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tspn coconut essence
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups SR flour


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease a 20 cm ring tin or 18 cm sandwich pan. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add the coconut essence and fruit and mix to combine. Add the flout and milk alternately, one third at a time. Place the batter in the prepared cake tin and bake for around 35 - 40 minutes until golden on top. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out.

We ate the cake while it was still warm. I think it would make an excellent steamed pudding, served with creme anglaise.

Fusion dessert

My first attempt at dessert wontons was a massive fail involving chocolate ganache. They tasted pretty good, but I ended up with a deep fryer full of burnt chocolate. I've got some ideas about how to achieve chocolate wonton nirvana, but in the meantime decided to try out apple. All in all, it was an excellent decision.

Fried apple wontons

2 green apples, peeled and cored
1 tspn ground cloves
16 wonton wrappers
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
oil for frying
icing sugar for dusting


Mix the sugar and water to together. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir. Microwave a further 30 seconds and stir again to dissolve remaining sugar. Microwave on high for one minute to form a clear syrup. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, chop the apple into small pieces and sprinkle with cloves. Add a small amount of water and cook until softened. To assemble the wontons, brush the edges of the wrapper with a little sugar syrup. Place a small spoonful of apple in the middle of the wrapper and fold up edges. Squeeze the edges together to make sure none of the apple escapes. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or heavy-based saucepan. To test if the oil is the right temperature, drop a piece of wonton wrapper in. It should be golden and puffed within 30 seconds. Fry the wontons in small batches until golden brown. Drain well. Keep warm in a pre-heatd oven while completing the batches. Dust with icing sugar and serve with cream or ice cream.


Tagines have to be one of the easiest ways to cook. Just whack all the ingredients in the tagine and stick the lot in the oven until it's done. Precisely what you want when you don't have loads of time to look after a meal.

The name tagine refers to both the pot and the style of dish. There are plenty of recipes out there for meat tagines, but I haven't come across that many vegetarian ones that I like. This is my favourite way of using my tagine.

If you don't have a tagine, the recipe will work just as nicely in a French oven or casserole dish.

Chickpea and lentil tagine

1 onion, sliced
800 g canned crushed tomatoes
1 capsicum, seeded and sliced
420g chickpeas
1 cup red or yellow lentils
1/2 preserved lemon
1/2 cup pitted olives
1 tbspn turmeric
1 tspn cumin
1/2 tspn paprika


Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Layer the ingredients in the tagine base. Place the lid on top, and put in oven for around two hours. Remove from the oven and check the lentils have softened. If they are still dry, stir and return to the oven for up to another two hours. Serve with cous cous.

Rustic goodness

When you want something hearty and filling, you can't go past vegherd's pie. Plus it fills a gap in the comfort food list that appears when you become vegetarian or even start eating less meat. Why vegherd's pie? It's essentially a shepherd's pie only for vegie keepers instead of sheep keepers.

Vegherd's Pie

1 olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tspn curry powder
1 packet vegetarian mince
410g can crushed tomatoes
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup peas
6 tspns gravy powder
1 cup water
5 large potatoes
2 tbspn cream or butter
1 cup cheddar, grated


Heat oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the curry powder and stir. Add the mince and tomatoes. Break up the mince, then add the peas, carrot, gravy powder and water. Simmer until the mixture thickens. Meanwhile peel and chop the potatoes roughly. Boil until tender - around 15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Add the cream and mash. Place the mince mix in a casserole and top with potato. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake until cheese has melted and is golden brown.

Soup's up

With winter making an encore performance, a hearty soup seemed like a good idea. Sweet potato and red lentil is a bit of a staple at our place. You can season it as much or as little as you like, and it's always filling. If you don't have any laksa seasoning, substitute with fresh, minced or dried chilli, cayenne pepper or galangal.

Sweet potato and lentil soup

1 tbspn olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 tspn cumin
1 tspn turmeric
1 tspn cracked black pepper
3 tspn laksa seasoning
1 cup red lentils
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbspn coriander, finely chopped


Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Add the leek, and saute until tender. Add the sweet potato and spices. Stir to coat. Add the stock and lentils. Cover and simmer until the sweet potato is soft - around 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Using a stick blender, blend until smooth. Stir through coconut milk. Serve with chopped coriander.

Tea cake

As a household, until stone fruit season arrives, we're not great at eating enough fruit. Unfortunately, I don't have any control over what gets delivered in our weekly seasonal fruit and veg box, so we often end up with a lot of stuff that nobody really wants to eat. Recently, that has meant we've had loads of pears. Since there's only so many times you can eat poached pears in a week, I decided to try adding them to a tea cake.

Pear and cardamon tea cake

3 buerre bosc pears, peeled. cored and diced
1/4 cup white sugar
150g butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tspn vanilla
2 cups SR flour
1 1/2 tspn ground cardamon


Preheat oven to 180 C. Place half the pear in the base of a greased ring pan and sprinkle with the white sugar. Cream the butter and caster sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well to combine. Add the vanilla and remaining pear and mix well. Sift the flour and cardamon together. Fold in to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. Bake for around 55 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Brain food

The first time I tried making this, it was nice, but not all that exciting. Mostly it was an experiment in reducing the amount of salmon the breadwinner eats in a single sitting. The second time, I tweaked the recipe quite a bit. We both agreed I got it right.

Most of the quantities are estimates - I don't really measure things unless I'm making sweet foods. This makes enough for four large serves, or six smaller serves with salad.

Salmon risotto

400g fresh salmon
1 tbspn lemon juice
1 tbspn butter
1 tbspn olive oil
1 leek
200g arborio rice
1 litre chicken style stock
2 cups sauvignon blanc
1 lemon
4 tbspn salted capers
2 tbspn dill


Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Place the salmon on aluminium foil. Drizzle with lemon juice and season with black pepper if desired. Wrap tightly in foil and place in the oven for around 10 minutes. Wash the leek thoroughly, then thinly slice the white section. Melt butter and oil together in a heavy based saucepan. Add the leek and saute until tender. Add the rice, and stir until coated. Meanwhile, bring the stock and wine to simmering point. Add around one third of the stock to the rice and stir well until absorbed. Continue adding small amounts of stock to the rice, stirring continuously. Add the dill and capers, stirring well. Zest the lemon, then add zest and juice to the rice. Finally add the remaining stock, stirring until absorbed. Remove from heat. Remove the salmon from the oven. Flake the salmon in to the rice mixture and stir through. The salmon will finish cooking from the heat of the risotto. Season with black pepper and serve.

Fast Food - Chinese Style

Normally I like to cook from scratch, but realistically, there are days when I just can't be bothered. On those days it's good to have a set of staples in the fridge or pantry to whip up some fast food. Vegie stir fry definitely fits the definition, and salt and pepper tofu, while not a staple, is definitely fast. All up, dinner was ready in around 20 minutes, which is faster than going out for take away, and most likely a fair bit cheaper too.

Salt and pepper tofu

1 packet tofu puffs
1/4 cup ground rice
2 tspns finely ground black pepper
2 tspns finely ground salt
spray olive oil
oil for frying


Combine the salt, pepper and ground rice in a bag. Lightly spray the tofu puffs with oil. Place in the bag and shake to coat with rice mixture. Preheat oil to smoking point. Fry coated puffs until golden - around 2 minutes. Drain. Garnish with fried shallots or fresh sliced red chilli.

Hints for super fast stir fry

  • Keep a bag of stir fry vegies in the freezer - my favourite blend includes water chestnuts, baby corn and bamboo shoots along with snow peas, broccoli, red capsicum and onion.
  • Keep bottles of minced garlic and minced ginger.
  • Make sure ground five spice is in your seasoning collection.
  • Always have a bottle of stir fry sauce of some variety on hand. Mushroom flavoured stir fry sauce is great for vegetarians, oyster sauce is good for carnivores.
  • Shelf fresh noodles are a good addition if you can't be bothered with rice.

Beans doesn't mean Heinz

Beans again, baked, not fried this time.

According to the internet - and let's face it, the internet is never wrong - baked beans originated in Boston as a result of the slave trade. I've also read somewhere that baked beans are the national bean dish in the USA. Big claims for a fairly humble dish.

After a bit of searching the intergoogle, it quickly became apparent to me that recipes for Boston baked beans are completely different to the canned baked beans we get in Australia. For starters, most of the recipes sounded like the end result would be flavoursome, rather than a salty mush in a reddish sauce. In fact, they sounded like something you would eat at home, rather than a dish prepared in a camp fire. Only problem was that just about every recipe I came across included masses of bacon or kaiserflesch. So I did a little experiment, and combined key ingredients from several recipes to make a vegetarian version.

Slow Baked Beans

250g borlotti beans, soaked
1.5 tbspn olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 capsicum, seeded and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
420g can diced tomatoes
3 cups water
2 tbspn cumin
1 tbspn smoked paprika
3/4 cup treacle


Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Heat oil in a heavy based stockpot or casserole. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add beans, capsicum, carrots, cumin and paprika and stir until fragrant. Add tomatoes and water - the water should cover the beans by around 4 cms; add more if necessary. Place casserole in oven, with lid on. Cook for four hours, checking hourly to make sure the mix hasn't dried out. Add more water if the beans look dry. After four hours, add treacle and stir through. The beans will immediately smell as though they are simmering in bbq sauce. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for a further two hours, uncovered, or until the mixture is thick.
Serve with toast for a comfort food lunch or filling breakfast.

Don't try this at home

In an attempt to be a good mummy, I've been eating fish to pass on omega 3s to Smidgin. Pasta with tuna, capers and white wine sounded like a quick and easy way to do it. The result was definitely quick and easy, but also incredibly bland. Dinner FAIL.

Afternoon Tea

Sometimes I wonder if I was born a couple of decades too late - lots of things I love were more popular back in my grandmother's day. Not least of which is afternoon tea. I'm not talking about a couple of Tim Tams with a cuppa while the baby has a sleep either. What I really love is full tea - afternoon tea with savouries, cakes and scones - served on the good plates, and eaten with the nice set of cake forks.

Thanks to a visit from Banjo Lawson and Spincop, I got to indulge on Sunday afternoon. The menu - smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper sandwiches, cheese and relish sandwiches, cappucino melting moments, scones, spiced apple tea cake and cupcakes, courtesy of Spincop.

The tea cake was light and airy, and tasted fantastic. I'm looking forward to trying some variations, but here's how it was on the weekend.

Spiced Apple Tea Cake

2 green apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
150g butter
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tspn vanilla
2 cups SR flour
1 tspn ground cardamon
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground cloves


Preheat oven to 180 C. Place half the apple in the base of a greased ring pan and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Cream the butter and caster sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well to combine. Add the vanilla and remaining apple and mix well. SIft the flour and spices together. Fold in to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. Bake for around 55 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

The musical fruit

I didn't like refried beans until fairly recently. In fact, it wasn't until after I'd tried feijoada that I started liking bean dishes of any sort. Now beans of all sorts are amongst my favourite foods.

Obviously canned refried beans are the most convenient, but not all brands are created equal, Some of them smell suspiciously close to dog food, or have a strange consistency. With that in mind, I decided to try making my own. The following is what I came up with. I don't think I'll be buying tinned beans again.

Frijoles Refritos

2 tbspn olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic
6 slices pickled jalapeno
2 x 425g can kidney beans, drained*
1 x 425g can cannellini beans, liquid reserved
1 tspn smoked paprika
2 tspn cumin
1 can beer


Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the paprika and cumin and cook until fragrant. Add the beans, including the liquid from the cannellini beans. Add the beer and stir to combine. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer from one to two hours, until the beans are soft. Stir regularly to make sure the beans don't stick. When the beans are soft, mash with a potato masher to the desired consisteny - I like some of the beans to remain whole.

Serve with rice or as part of your favourite Mexican food.

Bean dip

Use the leftovers - if you have any - for a simple but tasty dip, by combining equal parts beans and yoghurt, with lime juice to make the consistency you like.

*If you prefer to use dried beans, prepare the beans by covering with water, bring to the boil then remove from heat and soak for at least an hour before cooking. This reduces the toxicity of the kidney beans and means you won't end up with what seems like a bout of food poisoning.

Cake extravaganza

Grown up birthdays are going to be on the back burner for us for a while - the small person doesn't allow for a whole night spent away yet, and most certainly would not support a cocktail party. So in an attempt to make the bread winner's birthday a bit special, I came up with a cake extravaganza.

I'm not quite sure what to call it. Being a layered mud cake, I thought something geology-related might be nice. Then again, the chocolate, caramel and nut layers make it somewhat like a Snickers bar. All I know is that it isn't for the faint hearted or anyone attempting to lose weight.

Unnamed mud cake

Chocolate layer

250g dark chocolate
250g butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup hot water
2 tspn vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Caramel layer

250g butter
200g white chocolate
1 cup, firmly packed, dark brown sugar
3/4 cup hot water
1 tbspn golden syrup
2 tspn vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour


100g milk chocolate
1/4 cup cream
2 tbspn nut paste


200g dark chocolate
1/2 cup cream


Preheat the oven to 160 C. Grease 2 x 20 cm square pans and line the bases with baking paper. Starting with the chocolate layer, place the butter, dark chocolate, sugar, oil and water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat, add vanilla and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Sift the flour and cocoa together. Add the chocolate mix and stir to combine. Place in the batter in one of the pans and bake for 90 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with crumbs.

To make the caramel layer, place the white chocolate, sugar, butter, syrup, water and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly. Sift the flour and add to the chocolate mixture. Stir to combine. Place in the oven and bake for 60 minutes until a skewer in the middle comes out with crumbs.

Remove both layers from the oven and allow to cool in pan for at least 20 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

To make the filling, melt the milk chocolate, then add the cream. Beat with a spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir through the nut paste.

Finally melt the remaining dark chocolate, then add the cream and beat until smooth and glossy.

To assemble the cake, use a cake layer slicer/leveler to cut the chocolate cake into two even halves. Level the caramel layer. Place one of the chocolate layers on a serving plate, then spread with half the nut filling. Top with the caramel layer, and cover with the remaining nut filling. Place the second chocolate layer on top. Spread the ganache evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Allow the filling to set, then serve. As a very rich cake, this should be enough for at least 16 people.


When it comes to kitchenware and cooking, I'm more than a bit of a gadget girl. This week, we've acquired a new stick mixer and a breadmaker. Both have had a bit of a work-out over the week, and I'd have to say I'm pretty happy with both of them. And being happy with them, when I invited a group of friends over for lunch, I had to use both of them.

The food: Soup
The Gadget: Wizz Stick Plus

I'm kind of clumsy, so the extra length of the Wizz Stick Plus is a definite plus, keeping me out of the way of hot soup splashes. It's got two speeds, the low one being about the same as the standard speed of my old stick mixer. Altogether, it did a good job of blending the soup to a really smooth consistency.

Leek and Potato Soup

1 tbspn olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
2 leeks, thinly sliced
700g potato, peeled and chopped
1.25 litres vegetable stock

Cream to serve


Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Saute the onion until translucent, then add garlic and continue cooking for around a minute. Add the leek and potato, stir, then add stock. Cover, and allow to simmer until potato is tender - depending on the size of the potato pieces, this should be around 20 minutes. When soft, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Using the slow setting on the stick mixer, break up the large chunks of potato. For an extra smooth soup, blend on the high setting. Serve with a dollop of cream and garnish with chopped spring onion.

The food:Ciabatta

The gadget: SmartBake Breadmaker

The SmartBake has a horizontal pan, which sounds like it should make a loaf with pretty normal dimensions. But that's only true when you compare it to a standard breadmaker which, generally speaking, would produce a loaf more like a tower than anything you see at the local bakery. That said, it certainly makes a nice loaf, kneading perfectly and rising just the right amount. And it's super easy to keep clean, which is always a bonus.

Since I'm fairly new to bread making, I used a packet of bread mix instead of bread flour, improver and what not. Having bought 5 kilos of bread flour yesterday, I'm sure there'll be plenty of more authentic recipes to come.


1 pkt crusty white bread mix
4.5 tspns dried yeast
420 mls water


Place the ingredients in the bread maker in the suggested order for your machine. Select a dough only setting - for the SmartBake, the pizza dough setting is the best one. Allow the machine to knead and prove the dough once, then remove from the pan. The dough will be very sticky and elastic. Divide the dough into two pieces and pull each half into an elongated oval shape. It should be fairly flat. Place the dough on an oiled baking tray and allow to rise for 30 - 45 minutes. The longer it rises, the coarser the bread will be. Leaving it to rise for any less than 30 minutes will result in a loaf that's like a standard white bread only denser. Bake at 210 C until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.


Pizzas really are a simple meal to prepare - here's last night's effort that went down very well with the primary care giver.

Artichoke Pizza

12 inch pre-sauced pizza base
Pizza sauce
Half green capsicum
Two button mushrooms
Pickled artichoke hearts (in vinegar)
Half stick of goats cheese
Pizza cheese

Start with the pizza base on a pizza tray - I've found the best ones are the refridgerated ones with preapplied sauce in the deli. There's never enough sauce, so I use Leggo's pizza sauce in a squeeze bottle - more flavour than plain tomato paste which I used to use, and a full tub of tomato paste is too much and you end up wasting some. Use the back of a dessert spoon to evenly apply the sauce. I usually add some garlic flakes at this point for extra flavour.

Light sprinkling of cheese directly on the sauce. Don't put too much cheese on - it will form a cheese bubble that burns and ruins the pizza.
Add diced green capsicum, sliced button mushrooms, then add eight artichoke hearts evenly spaced - you want them to be the feature ingredient of each slice. Make sure the artichoke is well drained - too many liquidy ingredients are the death of a good pizza. Goats cheese can be a bit tricky - if it's a firm cheese, you can add medallions of it, but if it's soft, sticky or crumbly, you're stuck spreading it as best you can. Goats cheese is a personal preference - and the most expensive ingredient. $8 worth only does two pizzas, but complements the artichoke so well, it's worth it.

When applying your ingredients, remember that the finished pizza is going to be cut into slices - leave the middle fairly bare of toppings to help with slicing. Add more cheese on top to finish - leave a bit of a well in the middle, and don't spill cheese onto the edge of the crust - it will burn. Sprinkle with oregano to finish.

Pizzas don't take long to cook - 12 to 14 minutes in a fan forced oven at 250C should be enough - commercial pizzas are cooked in only 6 minutes! You want the cheese to be just brown. Cut the pizza almost immediately after coming out of the oven - it will cool quickly. No need for parmesan with this pizza - the flavour of the goats cheese and the artichoke is the main attraction.

Trust me, after having worked in a pizza shop - make your own at home :)

Cookie time

The small person has started having sleeps through the day which has meant baking is back on the agenda. So far I haven't attempted anything too adventurous - he's just as likely to wake up at a crucial moment. Biscuits seemed like a good starting point. Muesli biscuits are a bit like Anzacs, only with less fuss. I like to think the dried fruit makes them a little more nutritious.

Muesli Biscuits

125 g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 tspn vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup oats
1 tspn bicarb soda
3/4 cup dried fruit
1/4 cup coconut


Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla essence and beat well. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Roll small amounts of dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet. Press to flatten. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown.

More winter warmers

Since the recent addition of a small person to the household, cooking has been a bit on the back burner. The weekly fruit and veg delivery hasn't changed though, and we've got something of a backlog in the crisper. On investigating yesterday, I found three heads of broccoli; clearly it was time to do something about it.

This soup serves 4 to 6 people, depending on how hungry they are.

Cheesey broccoli soup

1 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn cardamon
1 tspn cracked pepper
1 tbspn olive oil
2 heads broccoli
1 litre stock
1 tspn mustard
1 cup cream
2 tbspn cornflour
1.5 cups cheese, grated


Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the onion and saute until transparent. Add the garlic, cardamon and pepper and continue to cook for around a minute. Add the stock and roughly chopped broccoli. Bring to the boil and cook until the broccoli is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Using a stick mixer, puree the mixture until smooth. Add the cream and stir through. Put the cornflour in a jug or bowl, and add around half a cup of soup. Mix to a smooth paste. Return to the pot and heat again, stirring constantly to thicken.

Divide the soup evenly between bowls and sprinkle cheese on top. Place under griller until the cheese bubbles. Serve with crusty bread.

Saucy Times

Spincop was kind enough to pick up a bunch of tomatoes for me at the markets. Since we already had plenty of tomato sauce in the preserves cupboard, bbq sauce seemed like a good idea. Until I found out that the only bbq sauce recipes online were for shop-bought tomato sauce with added molasses that is. Anyway, here is what I came up with. It smells great and looks right.

BBQ Sauce

1 tbspn olive oil
4 kgs tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 large onions, roughly chopped
3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 cloves garlic
4 tbspn pimento
2 tbspn cloves
4 tspn ground ginger
2 tspn salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup golden syrup
1 cup treacle
1.5 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar


Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Saute the onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes, apples, sugar, salt, ginger, syrup and treacle, stirring well. Place the pimento and cloves on a square of muslin and tie into a bag. Place in the tomato mixture. Allow the mix to simmer for one to two hours. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Push sauce through a strainer to remove onion and tomato skins. Return to heat, and simmer until sauce has reduced to the desired thickness. Bottle immediately.

Comfort food

Soup. Although I absolutely loathe winter, soup just about makes it bearable. It's fast, gives you almost all of your vegie serves in one hit, and generally tastes pretty good too. So in the first of a series of thoughts on comfort food, here's to soup.

Basic Pumpkin Soup
1 medium sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 tbspn olive oil
1 litre of vegetable stock
425g can cannellini beans, drained
black pepper to taste

Heat the oil and add onion. Saute until tender and translucent. Add the pumpkin and pepper, stirring to coat. Add the stock and beans, and bring to a simmer, covered. Simmer until the pumpkin is tender - around 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. When you're sure the hot soup mix won't burn you if it splatters, use a stick mixer to blend to a smooth puree. If the mixture is too thick, add a little milk. If it's too thin, red lentils or another tin of beans will do a nice job of thickening it up.

Add 1.5 tbspn of red curry paste after the onions and before the pumpkin. Replace the beans with coconut cream stirred through after blending the pumpkin.

Roast the pumpkin instead of boiling it.

Try seasoning with a little bit of nutmeg.

Quick Tomato Soup
This is almost as quick as heating up a can of campbells, but better value for money.

2 cans of tomatoes - chopped, peeled, seasoned, however you like them
1 tbspn tomato paste
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 litre of stock
Seasonings to taste

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for around ten minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Blend with a stick mixer and voila! Serve with hot buttered toast to relive your childhood.

Add some chilli, pepper sauce or curry paste/powder for a warming hit. Tear some fresh basil leaves and add at the last minute for beautifully fragrant soup. Try a little chopped capsicum and cucumber for a hot gazpacho. 

More frozen goodness

After reading that potassium and calcium are a good way of preventing leg cramps, I decided the best way of getting enough of both in my diet had to be banana ice cream.  It's turned out brilliantly, and fingers crossed, will stop intense leg pain waking me in the night.

As usual, this starts with a custard base. Incidentally, after a bit of googling, I found out that I haven't been making ice cream at all. I've been making frozen custard. In my opinion, if it tastes like ice cream and looks like ice cream, I'm more than happy to call it ice cream. 

Banana and Coconut Ice Cream
600 ml cream
500 ml milk
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 tbspn coconut essence
3 ripe bananas

Combine the cream, milk and coconut essence and cook on low heat until almost boiling. Meanwhile, beat egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Remove milk from heat, and combine around 1 cup with egg mix. Beat well to avoid egg cooking and forming lumps. Return egg mix to the milk pan and return to heat. Cook over low heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon - around 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before placing in the fridge to chill overnight. When chilled, whip until the mix is light and volume has increased slightly. Mash bananas, and add to custard mix. Continue whipping to combine. Place in a chilled container and freeze for around 90 minutes. The centre should be soft, with the edges frozen. Whip again, to gain additional volume. Return to freezer for an additional 90 minutes. Impatient people could eat the ice cream at this point, but additional cycles of whipping and freezing certainly won't do the mix any harm.

For a more grown up version that won't freeze hard, use Malibu in place of the coconut essence. You'll need to experiment with quantities, as too much will stop the ice cream freezing. For another variation, stir around a cup of shredded coconut through the mix at the same time as the banana. Given that my recipe is purely medicinal, I've chosen to go without.

Seriously fluffy pancakes

With all of the ice cream making that's been going on lately, I've been looking for recipes that use up egg whites and don't involve meringue. This is what I came up with this morning.

2 cups plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
4 egg whites
1 cup milk
1 cup yoghurt
50g unsalted butter, melted

Sift the flour and baking powder together. Set aside. Combine the milk yoghurt and butter, add to flour and mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites until fluffy but not stiff. They should be about double to triple in volume, but not leave peaks. Fold into the pancake batter. Heat a frying pan and add a little butter or non-stick spray. Add a bit of batter, and cook until bubbles form. Flip, and cook until golden brown. Add your topping of choice and watch them disappear.

I think you could probably leave the butter out without too many adverse effects. The finished pancakes would be a little drier, but if you like to add lots of topping, then swings and roundabouts.  Two cups of buttermilk could definitely be used in place of the milk and yoghurt too.

Next time I'll be trying a more grown up version, and add some cinnamon and ginger to the flour. 

Jam Season

There's no doubt summer is my favourite time of year. I love the hot weather, the beach, tennis and cricket. And summer fruit is by far the most delicious, and in my opinion, the least boring. The only problem with summer fruit is that it's also the stuff that makes the best jam. And the worst part about summer is spending a hot day or night stirring boiling fruit and testing for setting point. Still, home made jam is definitely worth the effort, both in terms of flavour and cost effectiveness. Best of all, you know exactly what's in it. 

My favourite jam is made from fruit straight from the farm, preferably after I've spent a morning picking - well, eating two, then putting one in the bucket. But lack of time and energy this year has meant a trip out to the farms hasn't been possible. Failing that, I've only made two flavours this year, both of them a little bit experimental and very delicious. Neither of them is safe for anyone trying to lose weight. Thanks to Darren and Caits for picking/buying good fruit.

I'm not an expert in the science behind jam making, but know that whether or not it sets properly depends on the amount of pectin and acid contained in the fruit. Neither of these recipes requires additional pectin, but if you can't get the mix to reach setting point, adding a packet of Jamsetta will rescue it without compromising flavour. To test if the jam has reached setting point, place a saucer in the freezer and allow to chill. Place a teaspoon of jam on the saucer, and return it to the freezer for 30 seconds. If the jam is ready to bottle, it will wrinkle when you push it with your finger.

Apricot and lime jam
The lime juice in this recipe keeps the apricots tasting like fresh fruit, instead of overly sweet. 

1 kg apricots
1 kg sugar
1 cup water
2 tbspn lime juice

Quarter the apricots and remove the stones. Reserve around ten stones.  Place the water, apricots, reserved stones and lime juice in a large saucepan and cook over low heat until the fruit softens. Add the sugar, and stir well until dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly around 15 minutes. Remove any scum that forms on top. Begin testing for setting point. If the jam is ready, remove it from the heat and bottle immediately. Otherwise continue cooking, testing at five minute intervals. After bottling, turn jars upside down for ten minutes to distribute the fruit evenly.

Makes 1.2 litres.

Strawberry and citrus jam
1 kg strawberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1 lime, juiced
900 g sugar

Wash and hull the berries. Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil, and allow to cook for around 15 minutes. Remove any pale scum from the top - brightly coloured berry juice foam is ok to stay. Begin testing for setting point. If the jam is ready, bottle it immediately. Otherwise, continue cooking, testing for setting point every five minutes. After bottling, turn upside down for ten minutes to distribute the fruit evenly.

Makes around 1 litre.

Now fingers crossed limes stay on special so I can make some marmalade.

Frozen goodness

With summer finally approaching, I've spent the last week experimenting with frozen desserts. The winner so far? A resounding victory for chocolate ice cream, with vanilla coming second. I can't get anyone to try my tropical icy poles, but that might have something to do with the litre of ice cream that's still in the freezer.

Interestingly enough, the chocolate ice cream wasn't made with a churn. Firstly because there was way too much of it to fit in the machine. Second of all, because the vanilla just wouldn't churn properly. It's not done much to further my argument that we need to invest in a Cuisinart soft serve maker. If you have a churn, use it, but I'd strongly recommend whipping the mixture before churning. It really increases the volume and makes the end product feel a lot lighter.

Chocolate Ice Cream
This is by far the best chocolate ice cream I've ever made. It's super chocolatey, incredibly creamy, and just has a fantastic feel to it. It takes a while, but it's definitely worth the effort. We might never buy commercial chocolate ice cream again.

The following makes just over 2 litres.

8 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
180 g dark cooking chocolate
600 ml cream
600 ml milk
2 tbspn cocoa
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn vanilla

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in saucepan with cream, milk, cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla. Heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate has melted. Bring to scalding point. The mixture will separate into a dark chocolate layer and a lighter foamy layer on top. Meanwhile, combine yolks and sugar, and beat until pale and creamy. Remove hot chocolate mix from heat and add quarter to a half to egg mix. Whisk to ensure eggs don't start cooking. Return combined eggs and chocolate to saucepan and cook over low heat until the mixture coats the back of a metal spoon. Don't allow the mix to boil - it will curdle. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Chill a minimum of two hours, preferably overnight. When completely chilled, whip on highest setting of an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. The mix should resemble a liquid chocolate mousse. Place in freezer and allow to partially set - the sides should be frozen while the centre is still liquid. About one hour, depending on your settings. Place in a chilled bowl, and whip again. The mix will liquify. You can give in to temptation at this point and sample what the almost finished product will taste like. Return to freezer for another hour or two, and serve when completely set.

For a Mars Bar variation, serve with toffee flavoured topping. Yum!

Vanilla Ice Cream
The vanilla ice cream uses a custard base like the chocolate. This gives it a richness without the cloying fattiness of a whipped cream base ice cream. The secret to good vanilla is to use the best vanilla you can find. Queens does a vanilla bean paste which saves the trouble of splitting and scraping a bean. One teaspoon of paste is the equivalent of a single bean. Vanilla essence will do the job, but imitation essence really isn't going to give you the right flavour.

The following gives around one litre. I'd make more, only living with a chocoholic means vanilla doesn't get the appreciation it deserves.

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
300 ml cream
250 ml milk
1 tspn vanilla bean paste

Combine cream, milk and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to scalding point, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, beat eggs and sugar together until pale and creamy. Remove milk from heat, and add around half to egg mixture, whisking to avoid the eggs cooking. Return eggs and milk to saucepan, and cook stirring until mixture coats the back of a metal spoon. Don't allow it to boil. Remove from heat, and allow to cool completely. Chill until cold, then whip on highest setting of your electric mixer. Place in freezer, and allow to partially set. Whip and freeze again, allowing the ice cream to reach the level of softness you prefer.

Serve with fruit - this is too good to add topping.

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