If I had to list my favourite childhood ‘packet’ biscuits, the order would look something like this:
1. Tim Tams – because they epitomised luxury & decadence
2. Pink Chocolate Royals – because they were a 3 step process to enjoy
3. Malt o Milk – something about the thin, crunchiness and warming feeling on your tongue
4. Strawberry Shortcake – oh, so sweet!
5. Spicy Fruit Rolls – A ‘healthy’ treat
Now, I say ‘bought’ biscuits because my mum usually baked our lunch box treats and after school snacks. To get something out of a packet was quite the novelty. In fact, going to a mates place after school was always such an exciting event – you never know what their mums had lurking in a packet in the family pantry!!
So here it was that I bred the equivalent disappointment in my own kids: “Muuuum, why caaan’t we have insert here (biscuits, soup, bread, cake) out of a packet??” I used to think: ‘rotten buggers’ how lucky they are! But it has paid off in the end, with both my grown boys choosing real, whole foods and an appreciation and skills for cooking.
As a kid, I’m not really sure why I loved Spicy Fruit Rolls so much. At school we called them ‘squashed fly biscuits’ as the filling was suspiciously black and indeterminate! They were considered a healthy alternative because they weren’t chocolate!! They were actually the first Australian sweet biscuit brand to earn the national heart foundation tick – no matter that they are filled with SUGAR!! They claim to have a 45% fruit content but in 2007 the producer found itself in hot water with the ACCC for allegedly telling tall tales about the fruit content of its products.
I think the appeal for me was the shape and feel of the biscuit – it really was pillow like and of course, the ‘spice’ part was vaguely Yuletide with cinnamon & cloves. On inspection of the packet there are no spices listed only ‘flavourings’ on the list of ingredients. In addition, other ingredients on the packet label include: margarine, soy, preservative, colour, ‘nature identical’ flavouring, fibre, eggs and more… I have made mine grain-free, dairy-free and additive-free and they are great!
To follow suit with the real spicy fruit rolls, these are a bit fiddly to make. Akin to making sausage rolls, the filling is encased in a thin pastry, rolled up and sliced into portions. You could easily make them into a slice by using a flat pan, which might be much quicker. Nicely paleofied, my version is not as sweet as the real deal, I think there is plenty of sugar in the dates and figs. Feel free to use more dates than prunes for a sweeter hit; or add a dash of stevia if you wish.300g almond meal (flour) 2 eggs (reserve a little egg white for brushing) 30g rapadura sugar 15g butter or coconut oil pinch salt Throw everything into the TM bowl and blend on SP 6 for about 10 seconds until it comes to a ball (or very thick paste, depending on your eggs). Remove from bowl and chill while you make the filling. 1 piece orange peel 220g dried figs 50g prunes (pitted) 50g dates (pitted) 100g water 25g honey 1/2 teas cinnamon 1/4 teas ground cloves Without washing the bowl add all of the ingredients to the TM and turbo once or twice to roughly chop. Cook on SP 2 at 100°C for 6 minutes. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes. Using baking paper, roll the pastry out to about 5mm thickness and cut 11cm strips. Place 1/4 of the filling down the middle of the pastry with a teaspoon. Using the baking paper as a guide, roll the pastry over the filling and press down to make a flattened sausage. Cut into pieces and place seam down on a lined tray. Brush lightly with a little egg white and bake at 170°C for about 20 minutes until lightly golden.
Do you remember a time when you had to buy the whole bird? That getting just thighs or drumsticks or breasts from the butcher was not the norm? Back then, buying just a piece of chicken, was not just impossible, it was unheard of.
I can remember roast chicken being a big deal in our house. It was never a Sunday thing, but perhaps an occasional Friday or Saturday night, when mum had time. There would always be the argument over who was going to get the breast meat; and mum’s secret delight in eating the parsons nose – no one else wanted that bit!! And we always had boiled peas with a sprig of mint. No microwave ovens back then either!!
It’s funny how things change. Whilst I’m not keen on the drumstick, the thigh is my favourite part now – always succulent and flavoursome, no matter how long you cook it. In my household, the breast is the least sought after part of the bird these days and my husband has taken over savouring the parsons nose!
So I was thinking about this when I went to purchase 2 kilos of chicken thigh cutlets. Every piece a thigh. And I wondered about all of those poor chickens who were bred to produce enormous breasts (there’s a chauvinistic punch line in that!), unsupported by tiny thighs, unable to stand up. So I made a future pact to buy the whole bird and make use of it in every way I could. Buying an organic whole chicken is much much cheaper than buying organic pieces anyway.
Speaking of the parsons nose; this anatomical feature is actually the uropygium (pronounced ‘euro-po-gee-um’), a structure that supports the tail feathers.*
The phrase “parson’s nose” comes from the notion that an English parson may ‘have his nose up in the air’, upturned like the chicken’s rear end! A similar derivation applies to the phrase “Pope’s nose”, which may have originated as a derogatory term meant to demean Catholics in England during the late 17th century. (Wikipedia)
This is the fleshy protuberance visible at the posterior end of a bird and is very moist and succulent as it contains the uropygial gland that produces preen oil.
Haha! Still love that parsons nose now?!
Portioning (jointing) a bird is relatively easy:
1. You will need a sharp filleting knife and a sturdy pair of kitchen shears.
2. Cut through the loose skin between the leg and breast, and loosen the legs, pulling away from the bird (but not completely).
3. With the chicken upright, cut along one side of the backbone, with the shears, as close to the bone as possible, pulling the breast away as you cut. Repeat on the other side.
4. Cut down through the wing socket to separate the breast from the carcass. Repeat on the other side.
5. Slice off the wings from the breasts, leaving you with chicken fillets and wings.
6. Turn the bird over onto its front (breast side down) and cut in around the thigh bone at the socket to remove the leg joints.
7. You can either leave the legs whole or cut in half to get drumsticks and thighs.
8. You should now have 2 chicken fillets, 2 chicken wings, 2 chicken thighs, 2 chicken drumsticks and the remaining carcass can be used to create a lovely stock.
Here is a good video to demonstrate. Anyway, feel free to use whatever cuts you like, but I prefer to buy the whole chicken.
My son and I made this recipe up as I had plenty of lemons and I remembered an old Belgian recipe from Wivine de Stoop, who’s cookbook I no longer had. Hers certainly didn’t have olives in it, but we thought it was a good addition!
2kg whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 lemon, thickly sliced with peel on
2 lemons, zest & juice
2 sticks celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic
3 tabs olive oil or tallow
1 – 2 tabs rice flour
salt & pepper
70g green olives
350g chicken stock (or water)
4 baby leeks, halved
Generously season the flour with salt & pepper and dust the chicken pieces to coat. You can omit this part, but it does help to thicken the sauce when cooking.
Heat the oil in a large heavy based frying pan or casserole dish and sauté the sliced lemon. Set aside and in the same oil, brown the chicken pieces all over, without cooking through. Add the garlic and celery and brown also.
Add the leeks, stock, zest and lemon juice and bake for about 35 minutes, covered at 170°C. Add the olives and sautéed lemon slices; check to see how much longer the chicken needs to cook. It will depend on the size and cut of the pieces. I baked mine for another 10 minutes with the lid off to reduce. Taste for seasoning and serve with winter mash or steamed rice and broccoli.
* After doing 12 months of anatomy & physiology in my late teens, I couldn’t joint a chicken for months!!
My first taste of the French Gougère pastry was at Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in the ’80’s. It was served as an amuse-bouche with a tiny lobster bisque and it certainly did amuse my mouth!
It combines the gorgeously crunchy appeal of a choux puff with, none other than, cheese! Apart from bacon, things always taste better with cheese!!
Now that it is genuinely soup weather, I am looking for things to dress up our meals, that don’t so much constitute bread! And these delightful gluten-free pastries fit the bill with their cheesy & eggy inards, soft & custardy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It must be the weather that has me craving for carby, ‘bready’ treats.
A gougère is a baked savoury choux pastry with many variants. I had been thinking of the Brazilian Pão de queijo, which is made in a similar way but with only tapioca flour and a much stiffer dough. As much as I like these little cheese breads, no one in my family is very keen on them, so I tried them with these French puffs, which were a much bigger hit!
The cheese used is traditionally grated Gruyère, Comté, or Emmentaler, but I find using a plain tasty, mozzarella and/or parmesan blend, just as good. Feel free to use whatever you have.
A little while ago I had lunch at a favourite local cafe, Plenty in West End, where I had the most wonderful Mandarin Cake. It was fragrant in the way that oranges are not, it was light but still sustaining as it was based on almonds; being totally gluten-free.
I did ruminate on this cake for at least a week before I started experimenting on my own! Many whole citrus cakes that are nut based can be heavy and cloying. A traditional flourless orange cake often relies on a syrup to make it moist or tender – and I didn’t want to
add any more sugar use a syrup.
So I decided to lighten the texture with a little tapioca flour which worked a treat.
Mandarins originated from southern China and were named after the Chinese officials of the Imperial court who used the fruit for various medicinal purposes. They used dried mandarin peel to improve digestion, relieve intestinal gas and bloating, and resolve phlegm. It is still used in this way in modern TCM and you will often find it in Chinese cooking.
It is mandarin season here in Australia and they are plentiful. Last year Australians consumed more than 70,000 tonnes of Australian mandarins throughout the season, which was grown on over 2.3 million Australian citrus trees. A single mandarin provides adults with 190% of their daily intake of Vitamin C, whereas apples provide 40% and bananas 33%.
Mandarins are easily hybridised and there are many many different varieties.
Imperials are the most popular mandarin variety (here in Australia) and are the first to be harvested each season. They are easy to peel, have very few seeds, and are one of a handful of popular citrus varieties that originated in Australia.
Murcotts (or Honey Murcotts) are popular in supermarkets as they have an attractive appearance and excellent flavour. I find they often have too many seeds for my liking and are harder to peel.
Other varieties that are grown here are Fremonts; slightly smaller than most mandarins, with a deep flesh colour. This Californian variety is great to cook with as they have a strong rich flavour.
The Sunburst mandarin variety are a deep red-orange colour and have a high juice content, which means they are perfect for juicing as are the Taylor-Lee, which is another Australian bred variety.
Hicksons arrive later in the season and originated in Queensland in 1941.
When developing this recipe I found a new variety that I hadn’t seen before: Afourer from Morocco. It was marketed as being seedless, but the ones I bought were full of seeds! I have read that this can be affected by growing conditions.
When cooking with the whole fruit, choose fruit that have a thinner skin and fewer seeds. The pith and seeds can make the cake bitter so I used Imperials. You will need 2 – 3 mandarins for this recipe.
You may want to increase the sugar by another 30g – I have made this recipe not too sweet on purpose – but if your palate is like mine, it will be sweet enough. This cake keeps really well and freezes well also.300g mandarins, preferably ‘Imperial’ 100g rapadura sugar 4 eggs 230g almond meal 50g tapioca flour 1.5 teas baking powder vanilla to taste 20g macadamia oil (or preferred oil) 1 tab lemon juice or apple cider vinegar Choose mandarins that are unblemished and have a thinner skin. Slice in half, widthways and remove any seeds. Add to the TM with the sugar and blend on SP 8 for 10 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on SP 5 for 10 seconds. Pour into a 22cm lined tin and bake at 160°C for 1 hour.
You may have noticed that my recent posts have been veering ever so slightly away from my Paleo template!
The 80/20 rule has been somewhat tested – perhaps the 80 part was the last 4 years and the 20 part, the last 4 months!
It’s time to get back on course as I have been considerably distracted lately; chocolate éclairs, vegetable pasties, choc-chip biscuits, cheesecake and Whisky cake are not very healthy OR Paleo!!
But they were DAMN FUN!
And so my sweet tooth has been fired up and hard to control, such is the seduction of sugar. I
need to have to wean myself back onto the wagon gently so I though that this recipe would make a good segue. OK, I’m kidding myself, but it’s gotta be better than going cold turkey!
This recipe is an old favourite which fits my Paleo template, even if it does have lots of natural sugars – I don’t feel so guilty indulging with my afternoon cup of tea. Dairy free and nut free, it’s a good one to freeze and makes a yummy high fibre lunch box treat.
stevia to taste (optional)
2 ripe bananas
100g butter (or 90g coconut oil)
40g coconut flour
1 teas baking powder
1 teas cinnamon
1 tab tapioca or potato flour
100g coconut milk or water
1 tab apple cider vinegar
Chop the dates on SP 9 for 10 seconds. Add the banana, butter, milk, eggs & cinnamon and mix for 10 seconds, SP 7.
Add the flours, baking powder & vinegar and mix on SP 5, 5 seconds until combined. Pour into a muffin tin and bake at 160°C oven for 25 minutes or until just done. Do not overcook as they will dry out.
It’s been several years since our trip to Vietnam and only recently, when I was flicking through my folder of collected recipes, did I find my stained & crumpled pages from a cooking class we did there.
I think it must have been one of the most memorable and fun (and tasty) classes we have done overseas. It was run by the Hoa Sua Vocational Training School in Hanoi, where proceeds go to educating and training disadvantaged kids.
Our teacher was a very stern but beautiful trans-gender chef, who taught us how to make fresh spring rolls, grilled turmeric fish and this dish; lemongrass chicken.
We were introduced to stinkweed (sawtooth coriander), galangal juice and the unusual use of dill and majoram in Vietnamese cooking. And we learnt what a huge difference it makes to grill directly over charcoal, rather than a BBQ.
Sometimes a really good recipe is not so much about the recipe but the assembling of a number of ingredients. I admit that after making this dish in Vietnam, I have never really measured any of the ingredients but thrown it all together to my taste – which is what I would encourage you to do too!
The contrast in temperatures and textures of this dish appeals to me – hot grilled lemongrass chicken, paired with cool crunchy vegetables like cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts or daikon. Fresh aromatic herbs, vermicelli rice noodles and the tangy Vietnamese Nuoc Cham dressing – are a feast for the senses… fragrant, lively and bright.
Assembled as a noodle bowl, known as Bun Ga Nuong, it can be made with grilled chicken or prawns, marinated with lots of lemongrass. Vermicelli rice noodles are traditional in the dish, but for a low-carb option, try substituting daikon “noodles” or shiratake.
I think the fresh lemongrass in this recipe is the star of the dish. It is fragrant and zingy and really can’t be substituted for exact effect. I have some lemongrass in our garden which is struggling a bit – we planted it in an area where it is too dry. Lemongrass LOVES water and heat and I have friends who say that it can take over if not careful. For now, my lemongrass has produced puny stalks so I am resigned to paying for the expensive stuff at the markets.
When I buy a bunch, I peel away the tough outer layers of the lemongrass stalks and separate the white and very light green portions from the green, which I save and freeze. I make a paste with the white/light green parts and use the dark green parts for steeping in soups or tea or steaming in rice.
To make the paste, slice the white & green parts finely (yes, even if you are using your Thermomix!) and then grind on SP 10 with a pinch of salt. It works better if you are using at least 6 stems and the time taken will vary, depending on the coarseness of the stalk. Freeze the pulp in an ice tray and then remove to a jar to keep in the freezer for easy, instant lemongrass.
You can buy lemongrass pulp from the supermarket but it is filled with preservatives and citric acid which changes the taste considerably. I have also tried dried lemongrass powder which doesn’t taste like lemongrass at all!! Just wood shavings!!
250g chicken thigh fillets
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 fresh lime
1 tab fish sauce
1 tab tamari or soy sauce
1 tab coconut sugar
1 tab macadamia oil
3 tabs minced lemongrass, white part only
50g fresh papaya (green or yellow)* optional
Place the marinade ingredients into the TM and blend on SP 6 for 15 seconds. Add the chicken thighs and mix on SP SLOW REVERSE to combine and then set aside to marinate for at least 2 hours, or better still, overnight.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
50g rice vinegar
60g fish sauce
40g coconut or palm sugar (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1 lime
1 red chilli, sliced
½ teas salt
1 clove garlic
Mix dressing ingredients on SP 3 for 2 minutes at 90⁰C & strain & cool. Adjust to your taste – spicier or sweeter.
To Assemble Noodle Bowl
100g dried vermicelli noodles** or shiratake or daikon
1 carrot, julienned
1 cucumber, sliced
1½ cups shredded lettuce
1 handful bean sprouts
Small handful of mint leaves, preferably Vietnamese, if you can get it
Small handful of Thai basil leaves
Sliced chili & Lime wedges to serve
Soak the vermicelli noodles in hot water for 3 minutes (or according to packet instructions), then drain and rinse under cold water to stop the noodles from sticking together.
Heat your BBQ grill or charcoal grill to hot and cook chicken on each side until brown (almost charred) and chicken is just cooked through. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes then slice thinly.
To serve individually, place noodles in bowl. Then add the chosen vegetables and top with chicken pieces. Garnish liberally with the mint and basil and drizzle with a few tablespoons of Nuoc Cham Sauce and serve with lime wedges.
Often, I will just put everything on a large platter for everyone to help themselves.
* The papaya is a great tenderiser and will give you that “bite-tender” mouth feel that you get in Vietnamese restaurants.
** Look for the ones made in Vietnam as they are finer.
As a child, my family had a regular tradition of visiting my grandparents house every Saturday whilst my father religiously punched in at the (horse)races.
My grandmother, Eileen – whom we called “Eini”, would prepare miles of toasted sandwiches, arranged in assorted points, for all of the extended family who dropped by. There would be a production line of women buttering bread, layering them with various combinations of ham, cheese, tomato, chicken loaf (heaven forbid!), sometimes canned asparagus, mustard – and on special occasions, pineapple. And then someone would be at the end of the line, frying them up on the Sunbeam electric frying pan, to be cut into triangles and served on an enormous platter for whoever was present in front of the Saturday afternoon movie with my grumpy grandfather, Frank**.
It was a house filled with the smell of brown butter and chatter, with lots of aunties & young cousins, and was quite a contrast to my family home, which seemed empty in comparison.
But the highlight of the day was discovering what Eini had baked for the day! Pillowy lamingtons, airy passion-fruit sponge, chocolate éclairs, or chocolate cake. Whatever was on offer, it was guaranteed to be accompanied by oodles of freshly whipped cream! Oh, what a highlight to my week!! Now can you understand where I got my my sweet tooth from!
I think my favourite were the chocolate éclairs. Coated in a shiny chocolate fondant, they were fat and gorged with fresh cream. Reluctantly, we would impatiently tour the garden, admiring the new rose bush or marvel at the grafted fruit tree which had BOTH apples and pears growing on it, before we could go back indoors for CAKE!
I mean, what 8 year old is interested in rose varietals, when there are fresh lamingtons awaiting!!
Eini was a marvellous baker and a keen sweet tooth herself. Bless her.
Chocolate éclairs are just one of the many delights made with choux pastry. The word comes from French éclair ‘flash of lightning’, so named because it is eaten in a flash! I love anything made with choux: Beignets, croquembouche, Paris Brest, Gougiere^, to name a few!
Choux pastry, or pâte à choux, is a twice cooked pastry dough that contains butter, water, flour and eggs. The “rise” during baking, relies on the high moisture content which causes it to produce steam when cooked, which puffs the pastry.
I have played with choux pastry before in the past and I have discovered that the process can’t be rushed. Before the arrival of my thermomix, the method involved some serious arm muscle; beating the cooked roux to a smooth paste. The ease of the thermomix renders one a little impatient so its easy to want to rush. It’s important to cool the dough well before adding the eggs, you will impair the rise otherwise.
Whilst I like choux puffs on the softer side, you still need to bake them enough to dry them out or they will collapse like shrivelled prunes. To keep them tender, you need a good proportion of eggs, but too many will make them eggy. Using gluten free flour will create a crisper puff and no one will know the difference!
My recipe uses a higher proportion of butter than usual recipes. This, and a slightly less flour/liquid ratio helps when I use gluten free flour. If you are lactose intolerant, ghee works well too but I haven’t tried it with other oils. To me, choux pastry is all about the butter flavour.
Lots of recipes will advise to pierce the shells after baking to allow the steam to escape. I do this but then I put them back in the oven and let them dry out as the oven cools. The shells should be crisp and light to hold their shape. Depending on the filling, they will soften after you fill them. I prefer my chocolate éclairs with a fondant icing rather than melted chocolate. In an effort to reduce the sugar – I have made a sort of hybrid icing*. Feel free to use either plain melted chocolate or ganache or your own stock standard icing! Enjoy!
60g butter (or ghee)
75g gluten-free flour (I used this one)
1 big pinch salt
2 large eggs
Heat the water and butter until boiling, for 3 minutes at 100°C SP 2.
Add the flour and salt all at once and continue to cook at 100°C on SP 3 for 30 seconds.
The dough will be very thick and form a ball. Remove from the TM and set aside to cool.
When cool, return to the TM bowl and beat on SP 4. Add the eggs,through the lid hole, bit by bit, whilst still beating to incorporate. When incorporated, whip for a further minute at SP 4.
Use a piping bag to pipe the batter into 15cm strips on a lined baking tray. Bake in a 200°C oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven down to 150°C and continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Alternatively, spoon dollop-fuls onto a tray for profiteroles.
Remove from the oven and pierce with a sharp knife then return to the oven to cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to fill.
80g dark chocolate (I used sugar-free, dairy-free)
30g rapadura sugar
50g brown rice syrup
50 – 80g water
Grind the chocolate with the sugar on SP 9 for 5 seconds. Add the syrup & 50g water and cook for 2 minutes at 50°C, SP 3. It should be the consistency of runny cream. Add a little more water if required. Pour into a shallow bowl for dipping. The mix will firm up in the fridge.
I found it easier to split the éclairs before dipping the tops and refrigerating for an hour or so to firm up, before filling.
** He wasn’t always grumpy, just after he had a stroke and became immobile….
^ Look out for a post on Gougiere soon!!