Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pumpkin & Bacon Lasagne

Here's another nostalgic recipe from the other side of the family. It's loosely based on one of my husband's family favourites. His mum had created the recipe, but it was just something she kept in her head, not a written thing. I got the gist of it, added a few of my own bits and bobs, and have written up the recipe for sharing.
At first I was highly skeptical about how the pumpkin and tomato would mesh, but this wonderful marriage of flavours has to be tasted to be believed-it's honestly even better than a meat lasagne-and I have a wonderful recipe for that too! The bacon pieces scattered through the golden cheesy white sauce that tops this great family meal really makes it sing.  You could easily leave out the bacon for a vegetarian meal if you so desired.





PUMPKIN & BACON LASAGNE

800g-1kg pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cubed
1/2 cup sour cream or cream
3x chicken stock cubes
1/2 cup hot water
700g jar tomato passata
400g can diced tomato
1 tsp garlic, crushed
1 tsp mixed herbs
1-2 boxes dried lasagne sheets
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp plain flour
1 cup cheese, grated
2 cups milk
3 tbsp Parmesan cheese
80g diced bacon


Place diced pumpkin in a saucepan with water covering the top. Cook until soft. Strain the water and place the pumpkin in a blender with the sour cream, chicken stock and water. Puree until smooth.
In a saucepan heat up the passata, diced tomatoes, garlic and herbs until warm.
Heat the oven to 180C.
Place a layer of the pasta sheets on the bottom on the 9x13 inch lasagne dish. Top with a layer of the tomato mixture. Place another layer of the pasta sheets over the tomato mixture. Spread a layer of the pumpkin puree over these pasta sheets. Repeat, alternating the tomato mixture with the pumpkin puree between the layers of pasta until exhausted (the ingredients, not you!)
The last layer should end with pasta sheets.
To make the white sauce which covers these pasta sheets, place the butter and flour in a saucepan on low heat. When the butter melts, quickly whisk the butter into the flour while pouring in a little of the milk at a time, to make a smooth paste. Add the remaining milk and heat through. Add the grated cheese and stir through, and continue stirring until it has melted, and the white sauce is thick.
Pour this white sauce over the final pasta layer. Sprinkle with Parmesan and cooked bacon pieces.
Cook in preheated oven for approximatey one hour, or until the top layer forms a golden cheesy crust.
Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8






 



Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mum's Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

Hand written recipes. Passed down from generation to generation.
The exact same flavours, textures and appearance experienced by those carrying the same genes, decades apart. There's something exquisite in the thought of family traditions, things enjoyed on repeat-those delightful family classics.
This is one of those family classics. It's mum's brownie recipe, and it's a real winner. I've tried other brownie recipes and I just can't find one quite as nice. It's fudgy, chocolatey and moist-simply delectable. Today my kids are making it and it's being enjoyed my the third generation. I hope it passes to many more!
What's your best family favourite?



MUM'S BROWNIES

1 cup (250g) butter
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp salt


Icing:
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup (60ml) cream 
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
Walnuts to decorate (optional)

Preheat your oven to 180C.
Melt butter and remove from heat. Stir through the cocoa and brown sugar until combined.
Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Next, blend in the flour and salt. Spoon the batter into a greased and lined 18x18 square baking dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

To make the icing, place all the ingredients in a bowl, and whip on high until thick and smooth. Cut the edges off the cooled brownie, then cut into two. Lather one with icing, then place the other half on top and smooth on the remainder. You can use a fork to draw a line pattern in the top, and sprinkle crushed walnuts on the finished product if desired. Cut and serve!

NOTES: You can omit a tablespoon or so of the flour to make for a slightly fudgier brownie. Yum!




Wednesday, June 8, 2016

To Die For Snickers Bar Cake


It's almost been a year since I made this crazy decadent Snicker's bar cake for my hubby's birthday. I lost it's photos among the craziness that  followed two weeks later-the birth of my youngest son. Sometimes I feel like that newborn phase creates a mayhem that no one who hasn't been through it understands. For me that usually lasts the first year after baby is born. I'm coming out of the fog, people! Paddy is almost one, and while I still don't get any more than two hours sleep in a row max, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (through droopy eyes.)
Baby experience or not, you may have a "food baby" after eating this cake, which is just a giant replication of your good old Snicker's Bar. It is seriously one of the richest most decadent things I have ever eaten, and I can't believe that my husband and I tackled this thing on our own. This is really the type of cake you could have at a party, it goes a long way because you cant eat too much at one sitting.
If you're not throwing a party, you could consider cutting this in half and freezing a portion. I had to feed half of this to the birds in the end because it took us that long to work our way through it that the custard began to go bad-it was such a shame I had not thought to freeze part of it!
It's insanely impressive in appearance and in taste, with decadent layers of Snickers, chocolate ganache, caramel, peanut butter custard, chocolate custard and biscuit. To die for!






SNICKERS BAR CAKE (Heavily adapted from Baker's Royale)

2 packets of rectangle Arnott's Milk Coffee Biscuits
12-14 mini sized snickers bars, chopped

Pudding:
2/3 cup corn flour (corn starch)
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
6 cups cold whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter

Ganache Pouring Sauce:
2/3 cups dark chocolate
1 tbsp heavy cream
4 tbsp icing sugar (powdered sugar)
4-5 tbsp warm water

Caramel Sauce:
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

To make the pudding and assemble the main:
In a large heat proof bowl, place the corn flour, sugar, salt and milk. Beat with electric beaters until well combined. Transfer to a heavy based saucepan. Over a very low heat, stir continuously until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leave ribbons when drizzled on itself.
Add vanilla and stir through to combine. Divide the mixture in half. Add the chocolate to one half, and the peanut butter to the other half. Stir both separately to combine thoroughly. Line a 8x8 pan or two 4x8 loaf tins with grease-proof paper, with the sides of the paper hanging over the edges for easy removal. Line the bottom with a layer of the biscuits laid side by side, breaking any biscuits that don't fit to make a good base. Spread a thin layer of the chocolate pudding over this biscuit base. Make the second layer of biscuit over this. Spread with a layer of the peanut butter pudding. Continue until the pudding is used up, and finish the top with the final biscuit layer. Cover in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 3-4 hours. Half an hour before removal make the ganache pouring layer.

To make Ganache Pouring Sauce:
Place heavy cream and chocolate in a bowl over another bowl of hot water. Let sit for 5 minutes before stirring through until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix until until smooth. Add the water a tablespoon at a time until pouring consistency is reached.
Remove the cake from the freezer. Pull the paper sides to release the cake from the tin. Place on a serving platter. Pour the ganache over the top biscuit layer to cover. Sprinkle with the chopped snickers bars. Then make the caramel sauce to finish the cake off.

To make the caramel sauce:
Place honey, butter and sugar in a small saucepan over a low flame. Stir as the butter melts, continuing until the mixture boils. Cool for a minute or two before quickly drizzling over the top of the cake (this dries quickly in the pot, so make haste)
You can return the cake to the freezer to firm up before cutting, or serve straight away. Semi freezing is advised for nice neat cuts.







Monday, June 6, 2016

Decadent Creamy Rum Balls

I sit here with a large glass of green smoothie. It's chlorophyll packed, vitamin packaged and nutritious, to counteract a week of indulgent eating in Melbourne. Alright, one smoothie isn't going to cut it, but these drinks are becoming a regular, and I feel good! I'll tell you what else feels really good-belly laughs. Yes, I had a really good one the other night. It concerned coming home to my little family after my "annual leave" to hear my 5 year old son talk repeatedly of these great "chocolate energy balls" that daddy put in his lunchbox. There was talk of how there were a few left over for other lunches. Chocolate energy balls this, chocolate energy balls that.
Thinking Dad must have bought some new fandangled treat when he went shopping, I thought little more of it-until I saw a few remaining energy balls in the refrigerator on a late night raid.
Chocolate energy balls.
Laced with good, and I mean, very good, lashings of Mount Gay Rum. Not chocolate energy balls, but adult only style rum balls.
All of a sudden I envisioned my son at school writing his letters a little less than precise, reeking of Mount Gay Rum. Fumes on the breath. Teacher's eyes bulging a little at the recognition of the scent of liquor surrounding a kiddo in her class.
No wonder they were so good.
Before I left for Melbourne I made my hubby some of these delicious adult treats, but I fear the Tupperware slice container made them look rather child friendly and fooled him. I mean, there's not so much rum in them to affect a kid, but still, it make me cackle wildly in the dead of night.
Next time he requests those "chocolate energy balls" for his lunchbox, I'll be holding off on the booze!
I took a container of these "energy balls" on the plane with me to Melbourne to give to my mum as a gift. I got stranded for a good few hours at a train station in the city and, not having eaten for about 8 hours, retrieved them from my bag and started on my lunch of decadent creamy rum balls. While I indulged, I watched a man scrounge through a garbage bin and thought about offering him a few. Then I was distracted in that moment by a woman sitting in a cafe. She started vomiting all over the cafe table-violent vomiting. The man ran away from the bin in a screaming rage at an invisible person.
Eventful and random morning. I continued eating through the box of rum balls-feeling very fortunate all of a sudden. Sorry Mum.
This recipe comes from my good friend Ursula, and they are her specialty. She made me a lovely gift box full of them for me at Christmas, and I knew I had to get her to share the recipe with me. They are so delicious-definitely not your average rum balls. The Secret I think is in the addition of butter. They are creamy! Decadently creamy, chocolatey and rummy. Moorish.



URSULA'S DECADENT CREAMY RUM BALLS

2 cups icing sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2-3 tbsp good quality rum
2 tbsp vanilla extract/essence
125g melted butter

Mix all the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Add the rum, vanilla and melted butter to the dry mixture. Combine thoroughly. Roll into bite sized balls and refrigerate until ready to consume.

NOTE: if the mixture is a little too dry and the balls do not hold together well, add a tiny little bit of water or rum until the texture is corrected.





Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spanish Chickpea & Spinach Stew (Garbanzos con Espinacas)

I totally love my sweets and processed foods, but you only realise how they lack when you eat something that is delicious, nutritious and made of good, unprocessed natural ingredients. I find myself taking a spoonful and sitting up a little straighter, and thinking "Why the heck don't we eat like this everyday?"
It's the type of food that fills you with a sense of nurturing your system. You find yourself thinking on this food often, wanting more of it in the future, yet being completely satisfied and not needing more after a serve. All that processed food leaves you feeling momentarily satisfied, then almost instantly wanting more. It's like a drug. It doesn't fill you.
That's why I usually don't buy cereals for my kids, but give them porridge made on milk instead. After a bowl of cereal, my kids are asking me for snacks. After a bowl of porridge, I don't hear the word snack for a few hours.
This is one of those high fibre, super nutritious and utterly delicious meals that eaves your tummy feeling happy for a long time. If you're vegan or vegetarian, this is also the perfect meal for you and will leave you with a happy face as well.
It's great for meat free Fridays if you're Catholic like I am. (In case you where unaware, we traditionally don't eat meat on Fridays. Fish is permissible.) If you totally need your meat in every meal, shredded roast chicken is perfect in this dish too.
Whip this up and your house will be smelling amazing, with infusions of garlic, onion, paprika and cumin. You can serve with rice or cous cous- pasta would probably go well too! Buen provecho!


SPANISH CHICKPEA AND SPINACH STEW (Adapted from Lazy Cat Kitchen)

2 tbsp oil
2 heaped tsp crushed garlic
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
3 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp brown sugar (optional)
2x 400g tins diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
100g baby spinach, stalks removed
1/4 cup almond flakes

Heat up the oil in a large fry pan. Add the onion and cook on medium with the lid on, until almost translucent. Add the garlic and cook, stirring a little, for two minutes.
Add the spices and stir through the onion and garlic mix, careful not to burn these ingredients.
Add tomato paste, combine thoroughly.
Pour in the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper to your taste. (At this point you can add the optional sugar if your tomatoes are very tangy, or just leave out.)
Turn the heat to low and let the sauce thicken, with no lid on. Stir it from time to time so that it doesn't burn.
Stir in the chickpeas. Lastly, add the spinach and heat until wilted. Garnish with the almonds. Scoop generous serving on rice and enjoy!

SERVES 4




Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Decorated Heart Sugar Cookies with Gumpaste Roses

This Mother's Day I asked my kiddies what they would like to make for mum, and my eldest daughter pulled out the cookie cutters. Mr 5 pored through a recipe book and pointed out a recipe for sugar cookies-so we got to it. I knew these gorgeous cookies would make the perfect budget friendly gift!
How important is involving children in cooking? I think it's a crucial life skill that needs to be encouraged at a very young age. I've vowed not to let one child of mine leave home without a good set of cooking skills under their belt-and not only the essentials. If you're wondering how to instill a love for cooking in your kids, there's a wonderful guide to cooking skills outlining appropriate cooking tasks listed by age, starting from three years and up. As painfully slow and messy it can be, I always allow my kids to get involved when I'm baking. They're too small to do much yet, but they do love activities like beating, rolling, measuring, sifting, licking the spoon....





BASIC SUGAR COOKIES (Adapted by Love Food pg.16)

115g butter, softened
55g caster sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1 egg yolk
175g plain flour

Mix the butter and sugar with beaters until creamy. Beat in the rind and the yolk. Sift in the flour and mix into a soft dough. Gently knead until smooth, then halve the dough and form into two balls. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for an hour (or the freezer for 20 minutes)
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Grease and line two baking trays. 
Unwrap the dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface to the thickness of about 5mm/1/4 inch. Using a heart shaped cutter, cut out the dough and place the shapes on the baking trays with at least 2cm space between them.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden.
Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack. When completely cool, ice with royal icing, and decorate if desired.


ROYAL ICING

2 tbsp beaten egg white
175g icing sugar
water or lemon juice, if needed

Place the egg white in a bowl and add a little sugar. Beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar to make a smooth, thick icing that holds soft peaks. For a thinner, spreadable icing, beat in a few drops of water or lemon juice to get the required consistency. To colour the icing, use a toothpick to add a little liquid or gel food colouring an mix thoroughly.
To ice the hearts, outline the cookies with the thicker icing and allow o ry, then fill in with a more spreadable royal icing. We decorated with a smaller version of these gumpaste roses and store bought edible pearls.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Chunky Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies (flourless-Gluten free)

Dark, fudgy, brownie, with soft gooey chocolate bits dotted throughout a delightfully creamy cheesecake centre-could there be a more moorish brownie recipe out there? This incredibly effortless and elegant gluten free, flourless brownie is sure to woo guests for morning tea, afternoon tea or dessert alike.With its two toned, creamy swirled design on the top, and lines of fudge chocolate brownie pulled through the cheesecake centre, this is simply an irresistible dessert. Best of all, it's also gluten free for those who are intolerant, and also freezes well for the times that you are too busy to bake. It's a new favourite, and has guests clamoring for more. Ooh la la!



FLOURLESS CHUNKY CHEESECAKE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES (Adapted from All Recipes)

12oz (1.5 packet) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Grease a 9in pan, and line with baking paper.
Combine the softened cream cheese with 1/4 cup of the white sugar. an one egg in a mixing bowl. Beat until smooth, then stir through 1 cup of the chocolate chips. Set aside.
In a microwave proof bowl, place the remaining cup of chocolate chips with the butter. Heat or 20 second intervals on high, stirring in between, until smooth and glossy. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, and baking powder and salt.
Spread half of this mixture into the prepared pan, and smooth so that it covers the bottom. Then spread the whole cream cheese mixture over the top of this chocolate layer. Top with the remaining chocolate mixture (This does not have to completely cover the cream cheese.) Using a knife, swirl the top layer of chocolate into the cream cheese to create a marbled pattern. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the sides are firm and the top crinkled. The centre will remain softer than the outer and will firm up on  refrigeration once cool. Cut into squares after chilling, and serve.

NOTES: These brownies also freeze well.




Thursday, April 7, 2016

Apple & Rasberry Iced Tea

What makes a great hostess? Who's with me in feeling like a failure in this regard most of the time? Guests swish in all glammed up, and you're standing there in the kitchen covered in a cloud of self raising flour in bare feet wondering where time got to. In a flash you have bolted to the bedroom, thrown on that trusty little black dress and cleaned up with a baby wipe-only to realise your guests are standing around without a drink in hand. There's nothing like that sense of  panic of feeling like the world's worst host or hostess (they should make a TV reality show on that one)
Never feel like that again. Be the host (est) with the mostest.

-Plan your gathering in advance. Try to visualize the ambiance, mood and the food you want to create. Make a list of cooking supplies you will need for your meal, as well as music choices for the night, beverages that you will serve and of course, dessert. Make a list also of when you will be making each of the edible components of the night. Make sure that there are a few you can make in advance to reduce the fluster and time spent in the kitchen when your guests are over. Ensure one option is non alcoholic, for those who are the designated drivers, or pregnant.

-Make sure you take into account any of the guests who may have allergies or intolerance when planning the menu.

-Feel free to buy any food from the store to make your job quicker and easier, as long as some components are home made (okay, lets leave that packet of quick cook pasta Alfredo on the shelf, though). You can buy things like meringue nests that can make putting together a dessert effortless and quick, and it looks like you've slaved the whole afternoon over the stove for your guests.

-Keep the food simple. You may want to look like Mather Stewart, but refrain from creating anything too complex and time consuming. At least make sure this is not the first time you are cooking the meal-it may go terribly wrong or just not taste as good as you thought it would. Also, if you are planning a three course meal, ensure there is a variety of textures and flavours. Too much of a good thing can often be a bad thing! (for example, risotto for entree, curry and rice for main and creamed rice for dessert. Too much rice, obviously. Keep the entree and dessert lighter than the main.)

-The first bite is taken with the eyes. Keep the dishes looking good! A sprig of fresh herbs here and there goes a long way and makes it look like you've made efforts where you have not.

 -Have your table set in advance, if possible. Also, any mood lighting such as tealights or candelabras should be lit before guests arrive so that they can experience the ambiance change as soon as they enter your house. If you are dining outside, such as the garden, fairy lights or tea lights set out in mason jars is a lovely way to make the even magical by creating warm glowing surroundings. If you're not planning on lighting any wicks, see if you can dim the lights a little.

-Prepare a welcome charcuterie platter in advance. You can whip this out of the refrigerator as soon as you hear the first knock on the door. Place it somewhere central where the guests can see it and help themselves to it while you fix the last bits and pieces of the food or set the table. You could also have a tray of drinks ready and waiting to be given for after your guests put down their coats and bags.

-Have a small table or coat rack handy so you can take jackets and bags when your guests enter. Your friends will love to be waited on, and it makes them feel more special.

-Surprise your guests with something unexpected. When my girlfriends come for tea, for example, I like to pamper them by offering to give them a Jamberry Manicure while we chat. This works well for an afternoon tea, but you might like to try something less time consuming if you're holding a dinner party. A friend of mine has a drinks trolley that he wheels out when he entertains. There's a cocktail book on the trolley along with a selection of liqueurs, and the guest chooses one, and the host will create it for them. You could also have a little take home gift of chutney or something you have made as a thank you for the guest's company.

-Make sure there is something on your charcuterie platter or tea and coffee tray that your guests have never tasted before, just to add to the experience. It might be some cookies from a foreign country, or wasabi covered dried peas to snack on-something exotic and unusual. These sort of surprised are often pleasant and make the night memorable.

-Chill out! Have a glass of wine or something to relax before any one arrives. Turn that groovy music on. And if anything goes off plan, go with it, just roll with the punches. Your guests are actually there for your company-the food, atmosphere and the rest are just a bonus. Enjoy yourself!

Do you have any other tips for entertaining? What's your fool proof go to? We'd love to hear! And while I'm waiting for your responses, I'm going to be sipping this delicious iced tea. Its delightful on hot summer days and so easy to make in bulk, you could pour some into a bottle and tie a ribbon around it and send it home with your guests! Perfect for sipping on a balcony with a good friend in the afternoon too, with a side of cake. There should always be cake.




APPLE & RASPBERRY ICED TEA

4 strong black tea bags
4 cups boiling water
2 cups iced water
1/2 cup concentrated Apple Raspberry cordial (add more or less to taste)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup mint leaves

In a large heat proof jug, place the tea bags and boiling water. Stir the tea bags around and let steep for two or three minutes. Discard the bags. Add the chilled water and concentrated cordial to the tea. Add lemon to taste. Before serving, garnish with mint, ice and a slice of lemon if desired.

NOTES: this recipe is largely dependent on your tastes and the strength of your chosen tea and cordial brands. Alter as desired. A few tablespoons of sugar or honey may be added to the hot tea if desired to increase the sweetness. You can also use other flavours of cordial to change the type of iced tea-the options are endless!