Plaited bread and a frugal meal

What to do when someone is coming over for lunch or dinner and all that is on offer is a simple soup. Budget, time, resources all point towards a simple nourishing, belly warming soup. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But how to turn that flaccid celery, pumpkin looking like its going to produce its own penicillin and the odd carrot or two in the bottom of the crisper into a delicious meal?

Place some simple plaited bread that looks pretty in the middle of the table and your meal is complete. After being inspired by Heidiannie and all her plaited and beautifully presented bread, I had decided to give it a go too.

Pumpkin Soup

good slurp of olive oil

a couple of sticks of celery

big hunk of pumpkin chopped up


Cook them up in some stock, then wizz with hand held mixer when soft. Add a spoonful of ready made asian sauce, (rendang, green curry paste etc) to give it an extra zing.

Serve with some fancy looking bread, (that’s actually really easy…shhh).

sourdough plaited bread

sourdough plaited bread

For more on braiding bread check out Celia’s latest post.

Date and Orange Spiral Biscuits

Date and orange. The two flavour combinations had been stuck in my head and were not going anywhere. I wanted to play….

Date and Orange Icecream, Date and Orange Cake, Date and Orange Lamb Tagine, Date and Orange Sourdough…ok maybe not the last one…or mayyybbe…but certainly these little babies.

Date and Orange Spiral Biscuits

Date Mixture

300 gms Medjool Dates

1/2 grated orange rind

juice of 1 orange

In a pot slowly cook up mixture, until dates soften and mixture becomes like a thick paste. Cool.

Biscuit Dough

120gms softened butter

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 grated orange rind

1 beaten egg

1 cup plain flour

2/3 cup S/R flour

Cream the butter and sugar and then add the orange rind and beaten egg. Then add flours. KNead lightly and roll out on to a lightly floured surface. Roll to about 1cm thick.

Add date mixture to the dough, carefully spreading out mixture. Roll up and trim edges.

Gently pressing in the roll and turning as you go, to get any air spaces out. Cut to 1cm thickness, and line on a tray with baking paper. Bake at 180C for approx 30 minutes.

For the love and taste of it all.

I get a kick out of food.

There I’ve said it. I’ve hinted at it, I’ve alluded to it and now I’ve said it…

I get a kick out of food. Nothing makes me happier than making something, unsure of how its going to turn out and then being blown away by the results. To buy something from the shop and then get home and think…actually I can make that, then do that and make it taste sooo much better. I get a real buzz from that. I’m not interested at this point in my life in super fancy pancy foody creations. I need things that will keep my family fed and contented, (and healthy.) Down the track I’m sure, actually damn sure I will want to spend 6 hours creating a particular meal, but for the moment when my time and attention is taken up predominantly by two small kids I like doing the basic cooking and having fun with it. Being able to provide that food for my family makes me so seriously happy, I sometimes wonder there may be something wrong with me.

Do I sound like a bit of a nutter, going over minute details of a particularly tasty pastry. Or the subtle tones of a handmade chocolate with hints of pepper, tobacco, and orange? Probably…But I can’t stop… I love it.

Making marmalade yesterday by 7.30am, seeing how it has set beautifully, using the natural pectin from soaking the seeds, running my fingers over the labeled recycled jars in the cupboard…true happiness. Making sourdough, letting the smell waft through the hall, hearing my husband say I think I need to have one of those rolls after dinner…makes me smile with pride. Proud that I made them, and proud that even after dinner he finds the bread so enticing that he wants to eat a bit more.

For me cooking is a creative outlet, I find it a lot of fun to build something up out of simple ingredients. Its also fascinating seeing how different concoctions of things come out with so many different results.

Bought food can give me a kick just as well. A delighted smile, when I taste something I wasn’t expecting. Trying to work out what the ingredients could be and how they made it. Looking at something lovingly created and amazingly produced. From an artfully decadent Adriano Zumbo creation, to just knowing where my free range ham came from.

Having bought some ham recently, Mr Chocolate and I were raving about the taste. The taste… I can’t tell you how different it is to regular store bought ham. The ham tasted drier, the flavours more in depth, there is a layer of fat around the outside and every bone in my body wants to eat that said fat as I know it will just add to the flavour. Compared to the regular bought one that tastes watery, salty, and a little slimy, it truly doesn’t compare.

Its expensive at around $40 a kilo but I seriously don’t mind paying the price. Not because we are rolling in money as we are not. But because I know where I bought it, I know who cured it, I know where that pig was raised in a free range environment, and I know that when I put a slice of that delectable pig on my tongue it will just slowly dissolve. So for us, I would rather pay more for ham and just eat it less frequently. When it is eaten, its eaten mindfully and every mouthful is enjoyed.

Since making more foods from scratch, we have set ourselves up with a certain standard though. A standard that means more work in the kitchen, but really and truly most of the time I don’t mind compensating that. As it means I know what went in to the food, and how it was made, and I truly, truly enjoy it, we all benefit from it.

The kick I get from eating my sourdough bread, with my own jam or marmalade, home made pasta with a little lovingly made ragu, a tarty yoghurt with an apple crumble, and while watching The Monkeys eat a biscuit that has 4 simple ingredients in rather than a whole paragraph. It really makes my heart swell with pride and my taste buds sigh with contentment.

Simple things that I truly love and just make a lot of sense to me.

(Down the track, add my own produce from my garden, and having built our own house and oh!…)

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie was always my childhood favourite dessert. Mums recipe was a little cut out one from some out dated ’70’s magazine and I thought it was heaven in a pie dish.

Actually I still think its heaven in a pie dish.

There are so many sweet lemony concoctions that pass as lemon meringue pie. Pastry base vs biscuit base. Tangy vs sweet. Meringue that is sky high or just slapped on.

I get nervous ordering this if I am out somewhere as its such a let down when the taste isn’t up to scratch.

My mums lemon meringue pies have actually evolved a little over time, and depends on who is coming to visit on which type she will make. For me the original is still the best, with a few tweaks from me if I make it though. I’ve only made it a few times as,

1/ I’ll eat it all with no holding back and,

2/ When something is such a favourite, I actually get a little nervous cooking it. High expectations!

The original recipe calls for a biscuit crumb base, but I think the pastry does it more justice though.

Lemon Meringue Pie


300gms (2 cups) plain flour

150gms butter

1 tsp vinegar

1/2 cup icing sugar

a little cold water

Knead dough lightly, cover in cling wrap and rest in fridge for about an hour. Roll dough out. Cutting to pie shape (I did individual sized ones), bake blind at 180C. Pastry does shrink a little, so allow room for that. Any left over pastry can be put in the freezer for another time.

Lemon Mixture

1 tin condensed milk

1/2 cup lemon juice

grated lemon rind of 2 lemons

3 egg yolks

Add all the ingredients together, combining well, and then carefully spoon into cooked pie shells.


3 egg whites

1/2 cup caster sugar

In a mixer slowly add sugar to egg whites until forms stiff meringue peaks.

Dollop meringue on to lemon mixture in the pie shells, and bake at 180C until peaks start to colour (approx 15 mins).

I also had some left over lemon mixture and meringue, so rather than make up more pies I made a Lemon Meringue Cake. Just added a cup or so of S/R flour to the lemon mixture and then folded the meringue through. Whack it in the oven and bake until springs back and golden. Easy- peasy.

Vanilla Champagne Coconut Cupcakes

You know when you ponder on something for awhile, thinking, I think it will work, I think it will, I think it will… Well this was one of those moments. Experimenting in the kitchen at its very best. Why? Not because I think my cooking is the bees knees, but because the cupcakes turned out even better than I had hoped they would.

These are my favourite thing I have cooked this month. Moist with a hint of champagne. Melt on your tongue, fantastic straight from the oven or just as good a few days later. These were a hit with The Monkeys, neighbours, family and Mr Chocolate.

Vanilla Champagne Coconut Cupcakes

125 grams softened butter

1/2 cup castor sugar

1 vanilla pod scraped (or two tsp of essence)

1 cup desiccated coconut

1 beaten egg

1 1/2 cups s/r flour

1 cup bubbly champagne (sparkling wine)

Cream the butter sugar and vanilla together. Then add the egg, coconut and champagne. It should look a little like soggy bread crumbs. Then fold in the flour. Cook at 180 until just cooked.

I have done batches in mini cup cakes, cupcakes and whole cakes, just adjust the time according to size. Should be just firm on top, not golden as they will be too dry then.

(20 mins for cupcakes as a guideline.)

The secret of the picnic

To me the perfect Sunday is spent under a shady tree in the park, in the company of wonderful people, and with a  scrumptious selection of delicious-ness spread out on a picnic rug before me. Lucky for me this was just how Sunday was spent.

A group of people not seen for 5 years, but the conversation commenced like it was just the day before that we had all gotten together. We had all changed a little. Three little ones that weren’t there last time, some hair was lost, some hair was greyer, some weight was gained, and some was lost. The minor details were incidental, the excitement of being there and not a phone call away was wonderful. Catching up on events, news and wishes. Monkey Boy made a campfire of twigs and cooked us some ‘soup’ and the Little Monkey flaked out in his pram with his little monkey pal.

A gorgeous day followed by coffee and hysterical monkey giggles back at our place.

Thats what I love the most. Easy conversation amongst people that I respect and value their company… (with a little cake on the side.)

Orange and Coconut Cake

Serves 8-10.

2 oranges

185g butter

1  cup sugar

3 eggs

1 cup desicated coconut

1 1/2 cups of self raising flour

Preheat the oven to 160C. Cook the chopped orange flesh up a little until soft, add the grated rind of the two oranges. Process them until lumpy consistency. In to the processor add the butter, sugar, eggs, coconut and flour. Process until smooth.

Line a 22cm round cake tin with non-stick paper. Bake for 1 hour 20 mins.

(Adapted from a Donna Hay magazine recipe)

Frugal Friday

Once more Friday rolls around and there is not much left in the fridge. Not quite so little as to go shopping but not quite so much as to have many options. What to do with some organic pumpkin, carrots, and some flaccid celery and still get the monkeys to eat it? Carrying on from the Indian theme from last Friday, I think it was going to have to be dhal. Add a little red lentils, vegetable stock, some garlic, a fistful of spices and I had myself a tasty, healthy, budget friendly, monkey friendly dinner. Add a little natural yoghurt on top, and some fresh naan bread and dinner was done for ‘Frugal Friday’.

Naan bread I had tried to make a number of years ago, with the end result being little hard round bricks. That was the last time I had attempted them. Naan bread being a firm favourite here and with an excellent little Indian take away around the corner to happily oblige us when the taste for naan over comes us.

But not today. I wanted to give it another crack…..

160ml warm water

1tsp dry yeast

1 tsp sugar

2 cups plain flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbls oil/or ghee

2 tbls yoghurt

Mix the water, yeast and sugar together in a bowl until dissolved. Leave in a warm place for 10 minutes. Add flour salt, half the oil and yoghurt. Mix to a soft dough then knead on floured  surface until smooth and elastic.

Place dough in a bowl with wet tea towel over the top in warm place for approx 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

Knead dough on floured surface for 5 minutes, then divide into 6 portions. Roll out into rounds. I pulled one side to get the traditional ‘teardrop’ shape that you would get if cooking in a tandoor oven.

Cook in a very lightly oiled frying pan and pop the frying pan under the grill to get those distinctive brown puffy circles to finish it off. Brush naan with remaining ghee or butter.

Free range Goat

Goat meat. What to make of it? What to do with it?…

I have been curious about this meat for quite some time now. Even though it’s the most widely eaten meat in the world it’s not much eaten here in Australia. I think I may have eaten it once about 10 years ago in a Nepalese restaurant but that has been it.

So why the curiosity? I have been playing around with different meats. Organic, free range, locally produced, environmentally best options etc etc. Even though I couldn’t care less whether I ate meat ever again, everyone else in our family thoroughly enjoys it. So to keep meal times flowing, I cook the beasts.

In different circumstances I like to think that I would be able to rear my own animals and then either butcher them my self or take them to an abattoir to be slaughtered. However I’m not in that position at the moment so who knows how that would go down when it came to crunch time. (I think I could walk my talk though).

Free range chicken and organic beef sausages are staples with us here. They are easy and it keeps the monkeys happy. I tried to do kangaroo sausages once and am still traumatised by the whole ordeal. It’s a lean meat, with high levels of protein, and is also a natural wild meat- so not the environmental problems that can be associated with domestically bred animals…. it’s just not for this city hippy farm girl.

I tried so hard to like it. All I can liken it to is…

um…… lets just say it has a very unique taste, that may not be for everyone. If you can eat the stuff- good on you.

However I digress. It was goat I was talking about.

So. I was at some farmers markets and saw a stall for some locally produced free range goat meat. It was the first time they had run the stall, so it would be good see how they do down the track. The stall was certainly getting some attention and a lot of people were trying the different goat dishes that they had for samples. I bought some and away we went.

One Goat Curry later served with Basmati rice and steamed vegetables. The verdict….

Delicious! Everyone really enjoyed it. The meat was soft and tender. There wasn’t an over powering meaty taste. The older monkey said ” I like the chicken, but not the curry”. After I had explained it was goat. (He’s 4 though, if it doesn’t involve pizza, or hommus and capsicum then dinner needs some encouragement.)

Two things to remember when cooking goat.

1/ Cook it at a low temperature- as there is not much fat in the meat it can loose moisture and toughen up quickly if cooked at high temperatures.

2/ Cook the meat with moisture- enhances flavours and increases tenderness.

Will I cook it again?

Sure will.

You say Barfi I say Burfi

Now it could be said, that I am a fan of all things Indian… and yes it would be true. From Bollywood to Indian sweeties and much in between. I love it all.

These were made yesterday, to end the week off well. They are so simple to make but are utterly delicious as well.

Barfi (or Burfi) is a delicious sweet from India. You can get many different types both in looks and flavours.

You are expecting a small sweet coconut flavoured morsel as you pop it in to your mouth and then you bite down. The chewyness of the pistachio, the sweetness of the condensed milk, the texture of the coconut and the comfort of the cardamom.

Comfort from cardamom?… A bit odd, but thinking about it… No, I will still stick by that one. Eating or drinking things with cardamom gives me comfort. (Nutmeg does it too, but nutmeg doesn’t go into these Barfi’s.)

I’m yet to take these little beauties anywhere where they haven’t been demolished within a short space of time. And that’s exactly what the woman said from Gourmet Food Safari when she made them- which is where I got the recipe from.

250g desiccated coconut
395g can sweetened condensed milk
10 cardamom pods – grind/crush seeds into a powder (already ground cardamom works fine I think as well)
Handful of pistachio nuts, roughly crushed

Mix 200g of the coconut and the remaining ingredients in a bowl.

Heat a non-stick pan on low heat and add mixture to the pan. Stir over low heat until the mixture starts to dry and rolls easily into a ball. Remove from the heat. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes until cool enough to handle.

Place the remaining coconut onto a plate. Using damp hands, roll the mixture into balls and then roll in coconut to coat. The coconut balls can be refrigerated for up to a week.

All though they certainly don’t last a week here!

Accident prone gingerbread men

Gingerbread men. I have had the taste for these little fellas all week, and it was about time my fingers walked the talk. Besides there is nothing the monkeys like more, than helping to make biscuits.

We have these funny little gingerbread men cut outs with an arm or leg missing- although the boys just think some one has been tucking into their biscuits.

Biscuits should be their middle names. The hint of a biscuit and the older monkey is clambering all over me to get in on the biscuit action. This is done with shouts of “Glook! Glook!” (what the little monkey calls biscuits) as he shoves them  in as quick as possible, as obviously the quicker he eats them the more he gets (or so he thinks).

This is then followed by their dear father, muttering “I feel like biscuits” as the monkeys go to bed and quiet time ensues. Quiet time except for the persistent grumble of a stomach only hungry for biscuits.

Actually…. Maybe biscuit should be our family name.

Unusual yes.

But fitting….

Cake eye

Coming back from grocery shopping my youngest little monkey decided he would help put things away. Before anyone could stop him he had ‘put away’ 5 eggs. Cracked and leaking but still within their shells, I had to make something with them straight away. I couldn’t waste 5 whole eggs. But what to make?


Scrambled eggs?

Cake?…Well that didn’t need too long thinking about. Of course it had to be cake!

Now I had just come home with some blueberries, and all week I had had the taste for some simple vanilla cupcakes. ( I had the *cake eye you see) So why not combine the two?

A vanilla blueberry cake!

The monkeys were napping so I whipped it up. I think it had 5 minutes too long in the oven but still not bad for a made up first effort. I certainly liked the way it looked.

The two monkeys woke up and I thought I would vacuum the place, just another few years and I will be able to get the two of them  to do that for me- for a nominal amount of pocket money of course. However until then, it was me.

Happily vacuuming away and started thinking….hmm, wheres the little monkey? Its been a whole minute since I have seen him and its very quiet.

Vacuum…. too quiet…. vacuum….really should check on him….. vacuum…. oh its been 2 minutes, where is he?

I had just vacuumed everywhere but the kitchen so he had to be there.

And there, standing perched on top of his little monkey chair that he had pulled up along side of the bench. He had a prime position to pick all the best bits of the Vanilla Blueberry Cake into his sweet innocent mouth.

He had the *’cake eye’ and he had it bad. Looking casually around to me, ‘oh good mama, you were taking awhile, so I thought I would help my self to some of this delicious looking cake I found on the bench’.

* CAKE EYE– Where you have a taste for something for sweet. You can think of nothing else but cake and you will not be sated by anything else until you get it. A term coined by my dear husband, and is able to explain sooo much in just two little words…. Cake eye.

Plums Plums Plums….


What to do with a huge box of plums destined for the garbage as considered too ripe? Bring them home and make…

Plum Jam– not quite the same without the vanilla bean, but certainly passed the family test. My 18month old opened his mouth like a little bird, “more, more”.

Plum Crumble– the humble crumble is a staple in our household. Even though its been a regular on my cooking list for a really long time it still is a favourite. So versatile, use what ever you have got as long as some kind of fruit and butter goes in everything else is interchangeable.

Plum BBQ Sauce– not sure about this one yet, I haven’t made it before. The sort of thing you taste, let it roll around on your tongue a little, swallow and then you are still not sure so you try it again…

Plums stewed– straight into the freezer for another time.

Plum puree– also in to the freezer for food colour of a birthday cake at some stage.

I do get a certain sense of satisfaction making all these things from something that was just going to be tossed out. If I could only get more jars I would be making pots and pots more of jam. It is such a good thing to store in a cupboard or for a little present for someone.