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Cheeky Beef in Hoisin

August 28, 2015


I’m telling you; brown food does not photograph well! You will just have to trust me when I tell you that this recipe is a great one! I notice that my recent recipes have had an Asian bent – I didn’t intentionally do this –perhaps I will have to convince my husband to take me to Europe for some required inspiration but I think my posts have evolved this way because I have been feeling a bit lazy; and indeed, these recipes of late, are very easy – ones you can do on auto-pilot; whack ’em on and “forgetaboutit” recipes. So here’s another!

Traditionally I stay away from bottled sauces and make my own. But I did just say I have been very lazy lately and the most popular sauce we have in the house – when I seldom buy it – is Hoisin. Find out more about it here.

By choice, my kids would slather hoisin sauce on everything. It ranks higher than mayonnaise or tomato sauce or BBQ sauce, hands down! And needless to say, just like the aforementioned sauces, I’m sure it’s popular because it is sweet!

Based on fermented soy beans, hoisin can be overpowering and bottled hoisin sauce (off the shelf) is very strong. I would never use it straight. If using as a dipping sauce always dilute it with a dash of water – a good secret is to dilute it with a little milk (any kind) which will soften the flavour and surprise you!

I do prefer my homemade version but if you’re feeling lazy like me (or busy), pick up a jar* and make this warming winter dish while it’s still winter!

I have made this dish with both casserole steak and beef cheeks and the beef cheeks were the winner according to the H.C.V.C. (household culinary voting committee). I think that lamb shanks would also work really well. Use what ever cut you prefer, but the sinewy, fattier meats will breakdown and create a richness that is unbeatable. The turnip and water chestnuts add a lovely contrast in texture too.

Don’t be put off by beef cheeks. They are rarely found fresh and are usually cryovac’d by the butcher, directly from the beast. Despite my aversion to food in plastic, cryovaccing; the practice of vacuum-sealing in heavy gauge plastic, is a useful method for preserving fresh meat without freezing, and allowing it to age without losing weight. Most of the meat that you get in the supermarket has previously been processed this way and repacked. These days, very few butchers buy fresh whole sides of beef and cut meat from the hanging carcass as there is too much labour and waste. That’s why it’s a good idea to find a good local butcher, who preferably stocks grass-fed meat, but that’s a post for another time!

If you haven’t cooked beef cheeks before, let me warn you: they are pretty ugly! And big! Unless you have a butchers band saw, don’t try to chop them up, they are full of sinew and connective tissue.  I just halve them and put them in the slow cooker as is. I use 2 – 3 cheeks in this recipe which weigh together, between 1 & 1.5 kgs. After 4 to 5 hours they will be melty and soft and gelatinous. They are worth it!

On a side note: isn’t it both wonderful and crappy that these old-fashioned cuts are available. Wonderful; because they are much more widely available and they are so nutritious and utilise more of the beast – but crappy; because these cuts USED to be CHEAP! CHEAP! Not long ago I used to pay $1.99 per kilo for beef cheeks and now I’m paying $8.99! Oh well, they are still an inexpensive cut compared to leaner cuts. Rant over..

2 knobs ginger

3 cloves garlic

20g oil

1 stick cinnamon

1 star anise

1 teas sichuan peppercorns (or ½ teas black peppercorns)

1 big piece of fresh mandarin peel – about palm sized

500g beef stock

100g rice wine

150g hoisin sauce

1.2kg beef cheeks, cut in half

1 turnip or potato

200g water chestnuts, whole or sliced, drained

Mince the garlic & ginger in the TM on SP 9 for 10 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and add the oil and sauté for 2 minutes at 100°C, SP 1.

Add the spices & peel, stock, wine and hoisin sauce and cook for 4 minutes at 100°C on SP 1 REVERSE.

Place the raw beef cheeks in the slow cooker bowl and cover with the marinade. Cook on high for 4 hours, then add the vegetables and cook for another hour or so.

Garnish with some finely sliced spring onion and serve with rice or cauliflower rice.

*Just check the label: very few commercial varieties that have any soy beans in them at all. Most named sugar as the main ingredient with wheat starch coming in second. Hoisin should typically include fermented soy, chillies and garlic. Vinegar, salt and sugar are also commonly added.


Green Beans in XO Sauce (Kisses & Hugs)

August 22, 2015

Stir-fried with lots of chicken

Stir-fried with lots of chicken

A friend recently exclaimed “I’m so sick of broccoli”.

Said friend, who has the figure of a goddess, eats broccoli as her staple at every meal. She told me that one day she revolted against her routine and bought some green beans instead! Good for her!! We are so lucky to have such a wide healthy range of produce available but it is easy to go on auto-pilot at the market and buy the same vegetables, day in, day out.

My regular market shop has a tendency towards broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, zucchini, avocado & tomatoes. Lately, I have been too tired to explore much else.  And I got thinking: yes, we eat a lot of broccoli and come to think of it, I’m a bit sick of it too! And I don’t know why, I always forget about green beans! and radishes.

Queensland is the main producer of green beans (also known as French or string beans) in Australia and are grown all year round, in various locations depending on the season. They are really easy to grow too which makes me wonder, ‘why haven’t I got any in the garden?’

My favourite way to cook green beans is to stir-fry them with some pork or chicken mince. You will see something similar at your local yum cha restaurant. The beans are meant to dominate – it’s a bean dish, not a chicken dish, after all, but sometimes I get carried away like I have in the above photo.  And it’s really easy, only using one pan which is great for washing up!

The secret ingredient is the XO sauce which is easy to make, note to self; do post on XO sauce or you can buy it from the Asian section at the local supermarket. Chinese XO sauce is really a decoction of flavoured oil with rich umami flavours. Home-made is much nicer, see how it’s done here.

I serve this with some steamed rice for the boys and I have mine with cauliflower rice or even wrapped in lettuce, sang choi bao style. Yum – a nice change from broccoli!

1 clove garlic

200g chicken thighs or pork belly, cubed

1 tab tamari or soy

2 teas maize cornflour or tapioca flour

2 teas brown rice syrup (or 1 teas honey)

½ teas dried chilli flakes

1 tab rice wine

2 tab oil or lard

300g green beans, topped but not tailed!

1 carrot, shredded

80g Chinese XO sauce

Chop the garlic on SP 8 for 5 seconds. Add the meat and chop on SP 5 until minced but not puréed. Add the tamari, flour, brown rice syrup, wine & chilli flakes and mix on SP 5 REVERSE to combine.

In a wok or frying pan, heat the oil until hot and add the raw green beans to stir fry. Toss them over a high heat until the skins start to blister and brown. This might take up to 10 minutes.  Add the shredded carrot and meat and continue to stir-fry, breaking up the meat with a spatula. When the meat is just cooked add the XO sauce and cook for further 5 minutes for the flavour to come out and a sauce coats the beans.


Nanna’s Banana Nut Loaf

August 19, 2015

It really doesn't need the honey..

It really doesn’t need the honey..

I have my Nanna’s banana nut loaf recipe handwritten on a sheet of paper that was torn out of an old telex book that I used to jot down recipes when I was a teen.  I have my grade 5 teacher to thank for my perpetually wonky handwriting which was just as messy then as it is now.  (She forced us to write on an angry slant with sharp points hitting the blue line. I remember so many kids struggling in class with her ideal script.)

I did have my Nanna’s original cookbook notes, springbound with a bakelite cover, but it was reclaimed by my mother, who perhaps thought, at 15,  I was not responsible enough for its keep. Ironically she eventually lost it.

Nanna Olive (yep!) used a mix of self-raising flour and plain, an enormous amount of sugar and no milk in her recipe. She emphasised the need for very ripe bananas; the blacker and mankier the better! This indeed contributes to the flavour, but also the sugar, so I use a lot less (sugar).

This is my interpretation of her recipe paleo-style, where I have used banana flour and tapioca. I am loving playing around with banana flour, it is so light in texture! Have you tried it yet? I promise I will get off the banana-flour band-wagon soon! Promise. Soon…

bananarecipe120g butter

30g oil, I used olive but macadamia would be nice too

120g rapadura sugar

3 eggs

180g ripe bananas (about 3 medium)

1 teas cinnamon

½ teas each nutmeg and allspice

140g banana flour

50g tapioca

2 teas baking powder

60g – 80g walnuts, chopped

Blend the butter and oil on SP 5 for 3 seconds. Add the sugar and blend on SP 6 for 5 seconds. Scrape down and add the eggs, one at a time while on SP 4, with the spices.

Mix in the bananas on SP 5 until smooth.

Add the flours & baking powder and mix on SP 4 for 10 seconds. Stir through the walnuts at the end to keep them chunky.

Bake in a lined loaf pan for 40 – 45 minutes at 160°C, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 minutes, if you can stand the temptation! It’s great fresh out of the oven or toasted with butter. It would also make a great sticky pudding, served in slices with caramel sauce and ice-cream.




Sweet Potato & Ginger Muffins

August 14, 2015


I have posted a few ginger cake recipes in the past but I think that this one is by far my favourite!

Based on sweet potato, you could easily substitute this for pumpkin or even white yam if you so desired.

Similar to this recipe, I use banana flour which is on my ‘love list’ at the moment. It is so much more versatile than coconut flour and has the advantage of not requiring so many eggs. If you haven’t tried using it yet, I implore you to – you will be delighted with the result! You can get from good health food shops or direct from the producer online.

Ginger is renowned for its medicinal and anti-inflammatory properties. It is most frequently used to aid digestion and can relieve nausea and flatulence FARTING! As I have been recovering from a recent bout of bronchitis recently, requiring various medications, ginger has been my tummy calmative and predominant craving of choice!

I have been steeping fresh ginger in camomile tea to make a ginger tisane, and diffusing ginger essential oil to work as a decongestant and energiser.

Fresh ginger can be substituted for ground ginger at a ratio of six to one, although the flavour of fresh and dried ginger are somewhat different. I find the dried version somewhat woody and it loses its flavour over time, so buy it in small amounts. I like to mix fresh and dried in my baking; and pair it with cinnamon, which gives it more depth.

Fresh ginger is easy to grow and has pretty flowers, which are also edible. The young leaves can also be shredded finely and used in cooking. Young ginger has a much milder ‘gentler’ taste and is less woody. Older ginger – the ginger used for drying – has a more pungent and peppery flavour and is very fibrous.

Do I peel my ginger? Not usually, just make sure you wash it well first. I try to buy fresh ginger when it is young and the skin is thinner and more tender. If I see good fresh young ginger at the market I tend to buy up big and then freeze it after chopping it into knobs. The fresh ginger found at the supermarket is usually months old and tough and withered. Freezing it also helps break down the fibres in it which is useful in baking.

Here’s an unusual fact: ginger contains an enzyme which naturally ferments. Ginger beer can easily be made with just ginger, sugar and water. Find a simple recipe here. I always add ginger to my water kefir to give it more fizz.

What’s a knob, you ask? In my opinion, a knob of ginger is a piece about the same size as the 2 joints of your thumb. You can vary this according to the freshness of your ginger and how much you love it.

I think these muffins are fabulous on their own, they don’t need a frosting or icing or butter. Have one with a cup of tea and enjoy!


1 knob fresh ginger

160g roasted sweet potato

90g rapadura sugar

120g butter or ghee

2 eggs

Pinch salt

2 tabs dried ginger powder

1 teas cinnamon (optional)

55g banana flour

30g tapioca flour

1 teas baking powder

1 teas apple cider vinegar

Grind the fresh ginger on SP 8 for a few seconds, then add the sweet potato, butter and sugar. Blend together for 10 seconds on SP 8.

Add the eggs, salt, cinnamon & ginger powder and blend for 10 seconds on SP 6.

Add the banana flour, tapioca flour and baking powder and mix on SP 6 for 20 seconds or until well combined. Add the apple cider vinegar last and mix through. Pour into lined muffin tins and bake for 20 – 25 at 170°C. I made 9 small muffins with this batch.

Cracka-Lackin* Crackle Cookies!

August 9, 2015


When my boys were really little we would line up at the kitchen bench and roll and roll and roll. I would be at the head; portioning out the mix, my youngest would be in the middle rolling the walnut sized balls; whilst my elder boy would do the rolling in icing sugar and flattening out. As a pottery teacher in a previous life (who taught kids and adults for many years), I took for granted the fine-motor skills my kids were developing. In my pottery teaching days, I was often shocked how difficult it was for some of my students to roll a perfectly round ball or a lovely smooth sausage of clay. There’s a lot to be said for getting kids in the kitchen to cook!

crackle cookiesThe secret in these dense and chewy cookies is using a good quality cocoa or cacao powder. I have almost halved the sugar from my original recipe so using a good quality cocoa makes a big difference. Add some stevia if you prefer them sweeter. Be sure not to over bake them, they should be set around the edges, with a nice crackle top but still be soft in the middle so they stay tender when they cool down.

Being gluten-free, the almonds keep them moist and add some protein to these tasty morsels. Feel free to use pecans or cashews too.


Intensely chocolatey and brownie like, these cookies are still a winner in my house and are fun to make – although 15 years later, the novelty of helping me make them has worn off for the boys!

50g raw sugar**

110g buckwheat

90g raw almonds

100g rapadura sugar

40g cacao powder

A few drops of stevia to taste (optional)

20g tapioca flour + 20g tapioca flour

1 teas baking powder

A big pinch cinnamon

¼ teas salt

10g honey or brown rice syrup

70g butter or ghee

2 eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.

Mill the raw sugar in the TM for 10 seconds. Add the 20g tapioca flour and set aside on a plate. ** Or alternatively use pre-made icing sugar.

Mill the buckwheat on SP 9 for 20 seconds. Add the almonds and mill for a further 20 seconds.

Add the cacao, 20g tapioca flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and butter and mix on SP 5 for 10 seconds. Add the honey & eggs and continue to mix until a glossy ball forms. Roll tablespoonfuls into a ball and then roll them in the sugar/tapioca mix*** and flatten slightly so you get a good crust coating them. Place on a lined tray, crust side up and bake for 9 – 12 minutes. I cook mine in my oven for 9 minutes exactly! They are yummy warm but I also think that they improve after a few days too, which makes them great for school lunch boxes.

*I can’t write this post without credit to a fellow blogger friend of mine Tania Hubbard of the mighty Gluten-free Grain-free Company from whom I nicked the funny term “cracka-lackin”! She is such a lovely lady and uses it all the time! Go visit her page here.

***If you were feeling really conscientious, you could roll these in just plain tapioca to give the crackle effect without the extra sugar,…. just sayin’!

Are you Keen for Curry?

August 6, 2015


Not so long ago, the only lettuce you could buy from the supermarket was iceberg; Coffee was instant and buying water in a bottle was unheard of!

Boy, things have changed! How lucky that we live in such an interesting and progressive time where the major influences in our eating habits over the last 30 or so years, have been tourism, migration and wealth.

I can remember my parents making coconut milk from desiccated coconut with a tea towel as coconut milk in a can was not available – haven’t we have come full circle?! As a three year old, I vaguely remember my Chinese grandmother hacking up a whole chicken on the kitchen floor with a cleaver – she was less familiar with bench-tops – and using Keen’s curry powder to make a Nonya curry as it was the only curry powder available in Melbourne at the time.

Fast forward 15 years and curried sausages were all the go. Thickened with flour and garnished with peas, curried sausages were the staple of many a dinner table. Yuk! I hated them, sorry mum!!

Curry powder is indeed a British invention. It is a blend of different powdered spices like turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin, fennel, and cinnamon.  In India there is no such thing as curry powder! The Tamil word “Kari” simply means either vegetables (“kai kari”) or meat. But individual spices, fresh or dried, were hard to source not so long ago and as inauthentic as curry powder is, it is convenient. Nowadays you can get some really lovely blends, specific to a certain dish. I have a few different blends here and here. Having a basic blend on hand is great for making quick dishes with great curry flavour.

Do you remember Keen’s Curry powder? I didn’t realise that it was as Aussie an invention as Vegemite!

In 1841, 22-year-old carpenter Joseph Keen sailed to Tasmania from Britain and became a father of 16.  He established a bakery, small manufacturing outlet and a general store where he produced and sold his own sauces including his own special blend of curry powder.

Within a decade, Joseph’s curry powder was known throughout the colony and his produce was winning awards: he received a medal for his spice mix at the 1866 Inter-Colonial Exhibition in Melbourne and an honourable mention for his spicy sauce at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition.

In 1915, after Joseph had died, the couple’s daughter, Louisa, took over the family’s curry-powder business. Her husband Horace was a colourful character, who daringly transformed land at the foothills of Mount Wellington, overlooking Hobart, into a large advertising sign: using heavy stones painted white, he formed the words ‘Keen’s Curry’ in letters 15 metres high. Public uproar resulted, but Horace won the right to use the land as an advertising sign. While renowned in Tasmania, Keen’s Curry Powder became a household name right across Australia – more than a century after Joseph set sail from England.

In 1998,  the Keen’s Curry brand were acquired by McCormick Foods Australia Pty Ltd.

Upon deciphering the label, I have concocted my own version of Keen’s curry powder (without the fillers); a version that’s handy to have as a base.

My Own Keen’s Curry Powder

25g coriander seeds

1 teas black peppercorns

½ teas fenugreek seeds

1 teas dried chilli flakes

1 teas allspice powder

1 teas celery seeds

1 teas salt

25g turmeric powder

Mill the seeds, pepper and chilli with the salt on SP 9 for 1 minute. Place a paper towel in between the MC and lid to stop curry powder from escaping. Add the turmeric and mix on SP 3 to combine. Store tightly sealed in a glass jar.

This Malaysian chicken curry is a recipe that my Dad has been making since time began! He used to use Keen’s curry powder until he graduated to his favourite curry powder, Bolsts, when it became available (in Australia) in the early 90’s. I like to use a whole chicken in the style of my grandmother. She used to chop it up (chop – chop Chinese style – bones everywhere!) and stew it in a saucepan. I like to slow roast it whole, as it keeps the whole bird moist and succulent this way. It’s also a good way to warm up the house on these chilly winter days – filling the house with spicy heady aromas – which are a turn on for my husband!! (Chocolate and cake work better for me!!)

Curry leaves are optional but they do impart a lovely extra dimension of flavour

Curry leaves are optional but they do impart a lovely extra dimension of flavour

Slow Roasted Whole Chicken Curry

40g + 40g coconut oil

1.8-2 kg whole chicken

8 cloves garlic, bruised

2 onions, sliced

2 tabs curry powder

1 teas cumin

1 teas garam masala

1 teas salt

1 tab rapadura sugar

2 teas turmeric

20 fresh curry leaves (optional)

600g chicken stock

400g coconut cream

In a large saucepan, brown the whole chicken in 40g coconut oil. Set aside. Using the same pan, add the remaining 40g oil and sauté the garlic, onions, home-made curry powder, cumin, garam masala, salt, turmeric & fresh curry leaves. Add the chicken, breast side down, and pour over the stock and coconut cream.

Cover the pot loosely in foil and bake in a slow oven 150°C for 2 hours. Season with extra sugar and salt if required. Serve on cauliflower rice or rice.

Notes: This can be done in the slow cooker for 4 hours on high. I like to do this as a whole bird but drumsticks or Marylands work well and take less time to cook.

Chocolate Beetroot Cake with Banana Flour

July 31, 2015

Look at this magnificent texture! Moist and delicious!

Look at this magnificent texture! Moist and delicious!

I’m pretty excited about this recipe and it presents two firsts for me today;

The winning combination of chocolate & beetroot – I know; old hat, but I haven’t posted one of these to date;

and…. banana flour!

I don’t know why I haven’t used banana flour yet. The wonderful Melanie at the Source Bulk Foods shop in Bulimba sent me some awhile ago and it has been haunting me from the fridge ever since.

I think that I knew that it would be like opening a can of worms and embark me off on an experimental frenzy – of which I didn’t have the time or energy for…. And I was sort of afraid of it.. sort of….well, yep, said it now…

It turns out that there was nothing to be afraid of. Banana flour is really easy to use. I imagined that it would be a bit tricky, like coconut flour which can really fluctuate in consistency, depending on the brand & which way the wind is blowing!

Banana flour is traditionally made from green bananas which have been dried, then ground and often used as a gluten free replacement to wheat flour. It has a very mild banana flavour  in its raw form and when cooked, a practically non-existent banana flavour; this surprised me.

The texture is lighter than wheat flour and you need about 25% less volume in recipes, making it a good replacement for flour.

Because the flour is produced with green bananas, it has a high percentage (17 – 30%) of resistance starch which has recently gained a lot of attention. Resistant starch refers to a type of starch that we cannot easily digest and acts similarly to soluble and insoluble fibre. Preliminary research has shown that increased resistant starch intake may reduce risk of obesity, diabetes, and colon cancer by enhancing the gut flora. In addition to this, banana flour is naturally high in potassium, magnesium and vitamin E.

Historically, banana flour has been used in Africa and Jamaica as a cheaper alternative to wheat flour where it has been available commercially since the early as 1900’s. Queensland produces over 90% of our banana production and has only in the last few years, started producing banana flour. Interestingly, it takes 8–10 kg of raw green bananas to produce 1 kg of banana flour.

Banana flour is used not only as a replacement for flour in baking, but also as a thickener for sauces and soups. It can also be mixed in smoothies & drinks as a resistant starch supplement.

My observations with baking with banana flour are:

  • Because it is gluten free, you will still need a binder such as eggs or linseeds or xanthan gum to prevent crumbliness.
  • Like coconut flour, it browns very quickly so you may need to cover your cakes, mid cooking to prevent burning.
  • You will need less banana flour than regular flour as it has so much fibre. Substitute 1 cup of normal flour for ¾ cup banana flour.
  • Too much, too soon might make you fart a lot!

So back to the chocolate cake! The combination of beetroot and chocolate in a cake is akin to apple & cinnamon, bananas and walnuts, Simon & Garfunkel, Bert & Ernie…..!!

Roasting the beetroot removes a lot of the water and intensifies the flavour. It is very sweet and earthy in this cake. You will need about 200g whole fresh beetroot, roasted in foil for about 40 minutes. I will wrap a few in foil and bung them in the oven when I am cooking something else. After peeling you should have no less than 160g of roasted beetroot. I’m sure that steamed beetroot would be okay, although the flavour may not be as exceptional.

The added beauty of this recipe is it hides the veges from the kids! And……this chocolate cake is gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free and NUT-FREE!!! Move over Magic Bean cake!!

Beetroot has long been used for medicinal purposes, primarily for disorders of the liver as it helps stimulate the liver’s detoxification processes. It is rich in fibre, folic acid and glutamine. Beetroot fibre has been shown to increase the level of antioxidant enzymes in the body, specifically one called glutathione peroxidase. And there are many studies that show favourable effect of beetroot juice on blood pressure.

This recipe makes a small cake in a loaf tin. I have tried to double the quantity to make a bigger loaf but it tends to brown too quickly before the middle is cooked. A double batch would work very well cooked in 2 sandwich pans or muffin tins. It would be fabulous sandwiched together with my faux whipped cream, or as butterfly cakes. And also banana flour can be a bit expensive first off. If you haven’t used it before, buying a small quantity of banana flour will give you the courage to buy more in the future. I bet you will!

160g roasted beetroot (about 1 medium large)

90g rapadura sugar

60g dark chocolate, chopped ( I used a dairy-free 70% chocolate)

80g olive oil

2 eggs

Pinch salt

1 teas vanilla extract

20g cacao powder

55g banana flour

1 tab tapioca flour

1 teas baking powder

Purée the beetroot, chocolate and sugar together for 10 seconds on SP 8.

Add the oil, eggs, salt & vanilla and cacao and blend for 10 seconds on SP 8.

Add the banana flour, tapioca flour and baking powder and mix on SP 6 for 20 seconds or until well combined. Pour into a lined cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes at 160°C.  I think it is perfect without icing but feel free to top with your favourite chocolate icing or ganache.

It makes 7 large cupcakes which take 20 minutes to bake.


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