November 29, 2011


Hello dear readers!
It is true I have been off gallivanting across the states of Australia instead of cooking for my family but with very good reason.
Last month a got an S.O.S email from a reader who is lucky enough to be a chef on a fantastic boat called Dr.No which is travelling all over the Pacific in search of amazing dive locations and destinations where they can launch the fabulous little mini-submarine they just so happen to have on board. Now, while docking in Cairns for some air conditioning attention and a bit of 'land' time I was asked if I'd come up and join Lisa (chef) in the galley for a bit of one-on-one cooking time.

Like some of you, Lisa has been powering through Family of Foodies looking for food ideas and inspiration for the endless meals she has to cook on board the boat. At the best of times cooking for a group of people can be a bit tricky but when you throw in challengers like; one person is gluten intolerant, another dairy free/no fish and last but not least a vegetarian, well this just makes meal time a tad tricky and we haven't even begun to talk about what happens when the guests rock up, this is only the crew!

How could I resist the challenge and the fact that it was in sunny Cairns, thus making my decision that much easier (how quickly I forgot the galley was a hot box due to no air conditioning!).

Lisa and I had a massive amount of cooking to do and not nearly enough time to do it in, but we covered a LOT. Our first day kicked off with a quick shopping trip to the markets and then it was back to the galley to whip up lunch for the crew which consisted of two soups. A spiced carrot and orange soup and a potato and leek soup with a side of garlic and rocket sauce. The soups were teamed with tomato, basil and bocconcini quesadillas which were a big hit with everyone except Lisa who is the gluten free person, however, she loved the carrot soup.

With lunch out of the way we swiftly moved on to one of the breads I wanted to show Lisa. Bread is a great way to feed a large number of people, especially when you can play with the flavours and toppings once the kneading is done. I took this little video of Lisa doing all the work......after all she needs to know just how much work that dough kneads! :)

While we were waiting for the bread to prove we  moved on to a vegetarian dish consisting of broad (fava) beans, fennel, tomato and lemon. It was more the process of cooking the vegetables that I was showing her, so she could adapt the method to other vegetarian recipes.

So much to do in so little time! By this stage we were both sweating up a storm and looking at getting this day in the kitchen over and done with so we could relax in the pool before we started all over again tomorrow morning.
 One of the items high on Lisa's list was sushi so in between making a galette pastry for the next days morning tea and the beef and red cabbage stir fry for all the meat eaters for dinner that night, we quickly had a lesson on sushi rolling and making, while also slipping in a lesson on making a delicious coral trout ceviche that was awesome (if I do say so myself). We flavoured it with lime juice, jalapenos, tomato, red onion and extra virgin olive oil and it was soooo delicious.
I am sorry I don't have a photo of the ceviche.....we were in the weeds at this stage: trying to put all the dinner items up on deck and taking photos just didn't mix.
However, the next morning was a little more relaxed and I did manage to take a photo of the  mango and strawberry galette and the apple and raspberry galette we made and served with some home made custard (gluten free of course so Lisa could eat it). Lunch on the following day was all about butchering, pizzas, cry-vac machines, salads and spinach gnocchi. It was busy, fun and a wonderful experience for me and I hope Lisa! When we were all done with the cooking and cleaning side of the day we managed to relax in the comfort of some air conditioning at the house the crew were staying in (you just couldn't possibly stay on a boat without AC, trust me!) where we flicked through cookbooks, sipped a glass of vino and talked a little more about food.
There is always more to talk about and of course plenty more to cook, however, I think I filled Lisa with oodles of information and ideas so now she'll have fun putting it all together while she is sailing on the Pacific with her crew and the lucky guests that get to eat her wonderful food.

Good Luck! And for those of you who would like to see a few photos of their adventures click here

November 20, 2011

Christmas Cakes are done

I think it is a first for me to have the Christmas cake baked and decorated before December. Last year I managed to make it and decorate it about a week before Christmas. The brandied soaked fruit didn't really have enough time to soak but that didn't stop us from enjoying this very moist and delicious cake while sipping cups of tea.
Christmas cake is something that you either love or hate. I must confess I was never really much of a fan, however, I married a man that gets excited in October just thinking about the slices of cake he'll be eating in the coming months. Nic LOVES fruit cake!

My mum used to send us a fruit pudding every year no matter where we lived in the world (actually she still does), something my family always looks forward to every December. For me it helped that we were living on the other side of the world and eating Christmas pudding when it was cold outside, it seemed much more appropriate to eat a warm pudding in the winter months. For these warmer Australian Christmases I think I would rather have something a little lighter, fresher and maybe even a little lemony, however, I know that wouldn't sit right with the boys so just like last year I have made a fruit cake, mum's bringing the pudding (right mum?) and we'll be eating pudding and cake with the best of them.

Another reason I want to make our Christmas cake this year is to do so out of respect for the lady who gave me her recipe. Wendy, my dear neighbour in Virginia promised me it was a winning fruit cake and one she has made for years (I wasn't about to argue with an English woman over a good fruit cake!).
 Sadly Wendy lost her battle with cancer earlier in the year and passed away. So Wendy, I know your family will be missing you more than ever this December and missing your wonderful laugh and smile, not to mention your wonderful baking. The only way I know how to honour you is by recreating the recipes you passed on to me. We couldn't live without your bread and now that Christmas is upon us, I really don't think it would feel the same if I didn't make "the Wendy bird's" Christmas cake...I just wish it was that simple for the rest of your family x.

Wendy's Christmas Cake
1 large egg and 3 egg whites
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup apple juice
2 cups apple sauce/puree
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 1/4 cups plain flour
1.5 kg mixed dried fruit (approx 52 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/4 cups brandy

Soak fruit in brandy for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 190 degree (350).
Grease and line one loaf tin and one cake tin then place to the side.
Combine all dry ingredients except wheat germ.
Combine egg, whites, sugar, oil, honey, juice and apple sauce.
Set a sifter over a large bowl and add dry ingredients to wet, then add the wheat germ and mix until blended.
Add the fruit and mix until well combined.
Divide batter among pans up to 3/4 full.
Small tins will take 50-60 minutes while large cake tins 1-1.5hours.
When cooled, wrap in brandy soaked cloths and foil until ready to decorate with royal icing.

November 16, 2011

Pikelets- An after school snack

The kids came out of school today with rumbling tummies. It is true, they always seems to be rumbling after the school bell rings but today Max was particularly grumpy and broody. I was contemplating a sticky bun at the bakery but didn't have the energy to walk up and down the big hill and I also didn't have the head space for all the huffing and puffing I would of had to listen to on the way down the hill!

I give them popcorn at least three days a week and thought maybe I should try something else for a change. Alex was in the mood to help out while Max lay on the couch with a book in his hand and a rumbly tummy- the world did not look good in his eyes!

As Alex and I were sifting flour and cracking eggs, I realised I was short on milk. I put it to the boys as to what added flavour they would prefer- apple or orange juice? Apple it was for the last 1/4 cup of liquid and with that said our batter was whipped up in a matter of seconds (no really, it took all of 3 minutes to make!).

The boys were munching their way through the first batch in no time. Alex pulled down every spread he could think of while Max just stood in the kitchen and ate (he is not even into double digits and he is eating me out of house and home!)
A regular batch makes about 35 pikelets so I'll be able to keep some for tomorrows after school feasting. Now I have to go and be the big meanie who makes them do homework and trumpet practice...if only they realised I hate homework time as much as them!

2 cups self raising flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup apple juice (if you run out of milk!)

Sift flour into a bowl then stir in the sugar.
Drop in the egg (unbeaten) and then mix in the liquid until you have a thick batter, beat for a few minutes.
Heat frying pan or griddle, drop in a tablespoon of mixture and wait for bubbles to appear before turning.

Once bubbles appear, flip and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat and spread with jam, peanut butter, nutella or what ever else tickles your fancy.

November 9, 2011

Zucchini Pie

My mum introduced this to me way back when I was a kid and I just love it with any roast. Actually, I think I only ever make it when I'm having a roast come to think of it. I can't ever remember not liking zucchinis but to offer this to my boys would be a great waste of time and zucchini!

I think I have finally learnt not to make the boys eat foods they REALLY hate. After 3 years of putting food that I know they don't like on their plate and getting the same reaction EVERY time, I have decided to give myself a break so I can enjoy the family gathering around the dinner table without me being annoyed because they are saying what ever it is, is DISGUSTING.....yep, I'm picking my battles!

Nic and I on the other hand devoured our zucchini and tomato pie while the boys got extra helpings of beans and peas tossed with fresh basil, lemon juice and olive oil which I have to admit always has them asking for seconds, so really there is nothing to complain about when cooking a roast (I know, maybe I should do a roast every night!)

OK so for those of you who love your zucchini then this recipe is for you, it is simple, quick and oh so tasty.

Zucchini Pie  for 2 people
1 zucchini, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1 small onion, peeled and slices
4 basil leaves
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180 degree (350)then lightly grease a small oven proof bowl with butter then place a few slices of onion on the bottom, followed by a layer of zucchini slices, a few small knobs of butter, salt and pepper.

Add some slices of tomato followed by a few more onion slices, freshly ripped basil leaves and pepper.

Repeat the layering process until you have used up all the zucchini, tomato and onion

Just before popping it into a 180 degree oven, sprinkle on some breadcrumbs and finish with a couple knobs of butter

Bake for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft, the breadcrumbs are browned and it smells delicious!

You can make the zucchini pie ahead of time and then just warm it in the oven when needed. A great side dish for Thanksgiving that I'm sure no one else will have.

November 6, 2011

Sponge cakes

I don't know why but making a sponge has always been something that I have been scared of. I think I was told years ago that they were tricky, only people with 'the touch' can make a good one. Perhaps this was something I talked myself into so I didn't have to make one?

Whatever the reason, sponge cakes have never been high on my to-do-list, until recently. We made a trip down to Melbourne a month or two ago for a friend's wedding and while we were living it up in one of Melbourne's fabulous cafes having a scrummy breakfast, I couldn't help but be blown away by the fabulous looking sponge cakes on display. They looked so good and so simple I had to at least give the old sponge ago. OK so it has taken me a few weeks, or dare I say months but today I finally had enough eggs in the house for me to have a play.

I wanted to make a good one straight off the bat and I new exactly which book to turn too. The PWMU Centenary Cookbook 1904-2004. I didn't want the latest and greatest recipe from the web, no, I wanted a sure winner and if I couldn't trust the women who have made hundreds of sponges in their lifetime then who could I trust? The Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union has been making sponge cakes for decades so I was not about to fiddle with the recipe they supplied. I was a little surprised when I saw the addition of boiling water, so I followed it to the letter.

What I ended up with was a very light, airy and delicious sponge. I did it and to my surprise it wasn't a flop thank goodness as I have added mini sponge cakes with berry jam and marscapone cheese to my High Tea sweets list and if I ruined my first attempt it would of been a bit of a soul destroyer to say the least!

I made mine in a baking tray because I wanted to experiment with cutter sizes for individual cakes but of course you can also make one fabulous looking whole cake. The only bit of advice I can offer and I think it was something I was once told- just make sure you beat a lot of air into the eggs and use a gentle touch when folding through the flour.  Nic being the lovely hubby he is, made a perfect cup of tea so it was mini sponges all round while watching a beautiful sunny day turn into a blackened sky with rain drops.

The PWMU sponge cake
4 eggs, separated
1 cup castor sugar
1 cup SR flour, sifted
1 tablespoon boiling water

Preheat oven to 180 degree and grease cake tins or one large baking tray then dust with flour and set aside.
Add egg whites to a mixing bowl and with an electric beater, beat until whites are thick and creamy.
Add sugar and beat until sugar is dissolved, then beat in egg yolks.
Fold in sifted flour and lastly the boiling water.
Once folded through put into greased tins and bake for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack then fill with what ever filling you desire!

November 2, 2011

Alex loves all things seaweed

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks and today is my first midweek day off in over 2 years, so I am doing all the things I want to do.

There were tears on the couch last night. I had just finished the biggest day of catering (Melbourne Cup) and I was relaxing, revelling in the fact that I might not have to do it next year when Alex asked if we could have sushi for dinner because apparently I promised him we could.

I looked in the cupboard and all we had to put in the sushi was tinned tuna (not something I really fancied for dinner) so I told him we could make it tomorrow for school lunch.

'Noooo mum, you promised!', this was when the bottom lipped dropped and a few tears sprang into his eyes.

"Come on mate, I don't think I would of promised making sushi on the day of Melbourne cup?" This seemed to be a reasonable argument from me....but I was mistaken.

More tears poured down his face and I was reminded of the broken promises I gave him a couple of weeks ago when he first asked (oops!)

SO with a 'what a terrible mummy I am.......and we will defiantly make them tomorrow morning before school promise' I think I got off pretty lightly with a few pages of reading from those god awful Pokemon books my boys are loving these days.

Without a word of a lie, we did make sushi rolls this morning and the boys were delighted with their lunch box treats. I was also pretty impressed when I cut up the one they made for me when I sat down for lunch. Although tuna wouldn't be my first choice, it was yummy, tightly packed and fresh so what more could I ask for?

Anyway, back to Alex and seaweed.
I am not to sure when this love of his started but it is something that hasn't disappeared. For his 5th birthday he was adamant that he and his friends would make sushi rolls and whenever he gets the chance he'll nibble on a sheet. In fact when it came to pulling out a sheet of nori paper this morning there were nibble bites in them where Alex happily tells us he helps himself when he is a bit peckish- Oh really!?

Alex was helping me with dinner a week or so ago when he asked if he was allowed to do something different. Me being one to encourage ideas told him that as long as it was tasty I'm sure it would be OK. It was at this stage that he helped himself to my nori supply and started ripping bits off and arranging them on top of the steamed rice I was serving with some fish.

The addition of ripped nori to the rice was a great idea. Max wasn't so keen and opted out but the rest of us enjoyed the earthy taste with our fish and vegetables.
I love that Alex was thinking about flavours and combinations and I loved it even more that he asked if he could try it out on the family meal. If I could just get him to try cooked carrots then I could start him on a whole different food journey but for now I guess I will have to make do with raw carrots and a few more pieces of nori!