Erin’s Chocolate, Fig and Walnut cake

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Having moved southern hemisphere to northern hemisphere a few months ago, I understand the blessing of the ‘fall bounty’ more truly. Our local farmers market and grocery shops have been full of bright harvest for the last few months. Now, as both the birds and leaves migrate southwards, the abundance has begun to fade, now revolving, as it does late in the season, around squash and pumpkins. The fig trees around our new home fruited late too, we have been tripping over the fruit as it came thick and fast in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I feel a little guilty admitting to it, but neither Asher or I love fresh figs terribly. On the other hand, I really do not like fruit going to waste and so I had been gathering it up ‘to cook’ at a later date. Perishable as tender fresh figs are, Asher began to get frustrated finding my bowls of slightly fermented figs which were good only for adding to the compost. Anyhow, with a little (negative!) encouragement from him, I started trying to cook them up. I made chilli fig jam – a very tasty accompaniment to buttered toast. Erin’s birthday seemed like a good excuse to have a go at incorporating the jam into some baking. I played around with a few recipes to come up with the one below – the almond meal makes the batter it more dense than an average butter cake. I might keep playing with the recipe – I will keep you updated with any break-throughs!

Base
½ cup butter, softened (115g)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup yoghurt
¾ cup milk
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup coco powder
1 tsp cardamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt

Crumblings
75g butter
2/3 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts (roasted)

1 cup fig jam

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 175oC.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs, beat till combined.
4. Combine the milk and yoghurt, and all the dry ingredients in two separate containers.
5. Begin adding a little of the milk mixture and a little of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and mixing till combined, continue the cycle of adding the liquid and dry ingredients and the mixing till combined till all the ingredients are added.
6. Set aside.
7. Beat the butter and sugar for the ‘crumblings’, add in the flour till the mixture clumps together when you squeeze it with your hands.
8. Grease a bundt tin (or whatever tin you have decided to use!) and begin adding the batter, the crumblings, jam and walnuts to the tin, jam works better in the batter not at the edge near the tin. Spreading all the different components around equally will mean a more uniform result!
9. Bake it for about 50-55 minutes – just keep an eye on the browning – if it looks like its getting toasty round the edges and you want to let it go a little longer for the sake of a cooked centre – I use foil to protect it from over-browning-that-is-really-burning.
10. Serve with ice-cream or a little whipped cream – perhaps dusted with icing sugar.

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(almost) Nut free Muesli Bars

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I guess the reality is that ‘back to school’ baking doesn’t really stop after the first week back. Everyone – kids, husbands, wives, mums and dads, workers everywhere – everyone needs good food week-in-week-out to keep them going. Those who plan and pack lunches week after week seeking to nourish and care for their family (or friends) perform a labour of love. I love the premise of the blog Dinner: a Love Story, but after watching my mum in the kitchen late at night (or early in the morning) for years, I know the same is true of packed lunches. Preparing food thoughtfully is always costly – and always worthwhile. Of course it is important to allow exceptions and to compromise at times of extreme busyness and exhaustion, but the choice to carefully prepare and cook healthy, nourishing food is one worth making as often as possible. So, here we are, back to school, week 2 underway and I’ve tweaked Angela Liddon’s Feel Good Hearty Granola Bars for lunches this week. Working with kids (or feeding them), it is important to try and avoid using nuts in snacks because of food allergies so I’ve tried to base this one mostly on seeds, grains and dried fruit instead. I imagine that they would work with other mixtures of seeds and dried fruit if you wanted to get creative – I probably will in time! If you chose to use gluten free oats then they would also suit Coeliac sufferers and others who need to follow a gluten free diet. They fill a crack, are quite tasty and very healthy – hope you enjoy them too!

Ingredients:
1.5 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 medium/large bananas)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dates, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups sunflower, pepita and pinenut mix
3/4 cup buckwheat groats
1/4 cup roasted sesame seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 1750oC and line a 24x30cm shallow baking tray with baking paper.
2. Process the oats in a food processor till they become coarse and textured. Mash the banana and vanilla through the rough oat ‘flour’.
3. Chop the dates and cherries and stir these with the rest of the seeds, buckwheat and cinnamon into the banana-oat mixture. Mix till the ingredients are combined and the seeds and fruit are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
4. Spread the mixture into the baking tray evenly so that it all cooks uniformly.
5. Bake for 23-27 minutes until firm and just golden around the edge. Allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
6. Once the mixture is cool slice into bars – I got about 21 bars (7 rows by 3 columns).
7. Pack lunch!

Rosie’s Mum’s Banana Cake

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… is what the pink recipe card written in my dad’s writing reads. It is originally my grandma’s recipe that I’ve enjoyed playing with the sugar and butter levels, swapping the flour (substituting oats, using wholemeal etc.*) and adding more bananas. It is great for lunch boxes and also good for breakfast with yoghurt and fruit … or toasted. Below is the safest version that should produce reliably good Banana Bread each time.

Ingredients:
30g butter (2 tablespoons)
3/4 cup sugar (or 1 cup; half stevia, half sugar works quite well too)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups plain flour*
4 medium-large mashed bananas (if you are using little Carnarvon ones … sometimes you will need almost double)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, line a loaf tin with baking paper.
2. Find a large mixing bowl, add the (soft) butter and sugar. Beat till combined. It will not ‘cream’ as there is not very much butter in the recipe.
2. Add the egg and continue beating till it is combined with other ingredients.
3. Add the bananas and beat till smooth.
4. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, mix gently to start so the flour does not ‘puff’ out of the bowl. Ensure the ingredients are well combined.
5. Add the milk, beat till it has been mixed in.
6. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes or till done when a skewer has been used to test the thickest section.
7. Either enjoy straight away or freeze for later (sliced or whole, both work well).

A new way to do Blueberry Muffins

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This recipe is slightly altered from one I found in Ros Dobson’s Wholefood Kitchen cookbook. Relatively low in fat and sugar (it is still a muffin recipe) it has lots of fibre and complex carbohydrates. I really like blueberries so it caught my eye. I also love that as I cooked it I learnt a new trick.Keep an eye out at step 5!

Ingredients:
250ml buttermilk
65ml ricebran oil
375g wholemeal flour
50g oatbran
1 heaped tablespoon baking powder
1 small green apple
200g frozen blueberries
1 egg
75g brown sugar
75g caster sugar

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line a muffin tray with muffin papers.
2. Combine the buttermilk and oil in a jug, set aside.
3. Choose a large mixing bowl and mix the flour, oatbran and baking powder together.
4. Wash and grate the apple (discard the core), add this to the flour mixture. Toss through the flour to coat the apple pieces (hands work well, probably better than a spoon)
5. This the the revolutionary step! Add the blueberries now. Coat them in the flour mixture too. This means they are encased in their own little flour barrier and, wait for it, do not turn your muffin purple! Amazing!!!
6. In a separate smaller bowl, beat the sugars and egg till thick and smooth. Combine this with the buttermilk and oil, again, beat till all ingredients are combined.
7. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, mix together only till all the flour has been incorporated, muffin mixture does not like to be over-worked
8. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full of mixture and bake till golden and cooked through (about 20 minutes).
9. Enjoy as they are or with butter or cream cheese!

Mulberry Jam

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We were invited to a friend’s house to pick some of their mulberries. Mulberry trees are an important part of growing up in Australia. They are where you go to find food for your silk worms. They provide sweet purple snacks that require you to strip down to undies to pick and eat them. The fruit has also been utilised as war paint (remember, mum made you take your t-shirt off so she did not have to try and get the fruit stains out later – so your chest is ready for purple adornment).  My grandma had one in her yard we used to visit after swimming in the pool (already in our swimmers, not much damage possible when we were about to jump back in again!), my house had one, my husband’s house had one – they really were part of the childhood landscape.

Anyhow, we were invited to a friend’s house to pick some of their mulberries and so we did. We also had yummy mulberry smoothies and delicious home-made flat bread (that you can cook in an a sandwich press! Amazing!) and fruit and ice cream slice. The food was lovely and the catching up was too but we were left with mulberries that needed cooking … so it was Sonya to the rescue.

She has made jam before. Lots. I have too, but only one batch and it was almost toffee not really jam. Here is what I learned about jam making.

Ingredients :
875g mulberries
800g sugar
1/3 frozen lemon grated

Method:
1. Ideally freeze the mulberries first so you can snap the stalks off easily. Pick through the mulberries and make sure they are all good and any insects excited about the fruit have been removed!
2. Add the berries, sugar and lemon to a big saucepan. Simmer gently and mash the fruit with a potato masher.
3. Bring the boil till the jam begins to thicken, keep taking a small amount out and testing to see how thick it is. We were going for thick and syrupy, not gel-ed.
4. When the mixture is less runny and slightly darker, but is still liquid … that is about ready.
5. We sterilised our jars by dipping them in boiling water – just for home use, we did not aim for commercial sanitisation!
6. Using a homemade baking paper funnel (a revolution according to Sonya!), fill the jars with jam. Seal.
7. Alternatively, make bread and eat it hot out of the oven with the new jam and butter … that’s what we did! Either way, find some way to show off your productive and domestic labours and share it with those you love!

I know that it is clichéd but making something like jam can provide such a huge sense of achievement, the glossy bottles all in a row, something beautiful you made and can share. I really would recommend finding a friend and having a go!

Spelt Bread (that you don’t need to knead!)

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Another bread recipe!

This time it is from Kristy at You Me Naturally … Easy Peasy Bread. Well, its true, it is. Sonya and I made it yesterday and it was easy and it was yummy. Spelt this time, not wheat flour. A slightly different texture achieved, but spelt has a name for being easier to digest than wheat – it is often recommended for those with irritable bowel and other digestive troubles. Also, slightly revolutionarily, there was no kneading involved. No repeated provings and the whole thing took under 3 hours, with us ignoring the bread for most of that time.

Nice hot out of the oven and yummy toasted … very easy, you should try it!

Tabouli together

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Tabouli (traditionally tabbouleh) was always a ‘special’ salad in our family long before I knew anything about multicultural food. My ahead-of-their-time-grandparents always enjoyed it and it was often part of big extended family spreads. We always used the recipe in Jennifer Rowe’s Commonsense International Cookerybook, although often bigger batches and with lots of adjustment ‘to taste’! Its taken on another special role in the last few years, as I have observed the Lord’s Supper with church and biblestudy groups, sharing flatbread and lamb Jewish-style  … it represents the ‘bitter herbs’ in the original Passover and is a delicious addition to the more traditional aspects of this symbolic meal. I hope you enjoy this version!

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons of bourghul (cracked/crushed wheat)
5 medium tomatoes
1 onion (or 3-4 spring onions or shallots, depending on what you have)
1 bunch of parsley
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3-4 stalks of mint leaves
Cracked black pepper to taste

Optional:
A sprinkling of dried basil and/or oregano

Method:
1. Place the bourghul in a bowl, cover with cold water and set aside. It needs to soak for as long as possible to soften, at least 1 hour if using ‘cracked wheat’ rather than traditional bourghul.
2. Finely chop the parsley and mint and dice the tomatoes.
3. Mix the tomatoes with the herbs. Ensure you like the ratio of green to red, I like probably slightly more red than green.
4. Juice the lemon and mix with olive oil, salt and pepper.
5. Dress the salad, adjust seasonings (lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste).
6. Add in the bourghul and mix through.
7. Serve with other delicious things like Lebanese bread, hummus and lamb! Yum!

Note: the batch pictured used about 1kg of tomatoes and a very generous bunch of parsley from our garden. The dressing was probably doubled!