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A Couple of Good Spreads

September 21, 2016


Recently I tried a very interesting cake recipe from my friends blog The Cooks Notebook.

Mel had a secret ingredient in her recipe that no one could pick! Mushrooms! WOW – I just had to try this straight away as I love mushrooms and hadn’t had a fix for a while. As described, this is a VERY decadent cake! Full of almonds and chocolate, it’s dense and moist and extremely tasty! The mushrooms almost melt away and I am tempted to make it again and add more to the mix – just to see what happens! And it so happened that I was looking for a vehicle to test drive my new vegan chocolate frosting that I had been experimenting with. In her recipe, Mel uses a simple ganache to top the cake but I thought that my frosting worked extremely well. And considering that it is based on sweet potato and avocado, I figured that a meal of this cake would be a vege packed balanced meal!!


The frosting is easily made in any food processor or “nutri-bullet” so it’s made in a minute, although it is best left to stand for about 30 minutes in the fridge to firm up. It is beautifully smooth and buttery, despite having no butter!

A word on coconut oil: Just recently, I have gone off coconut oil. I don’t know why.. Maybe its the brand I bought but I am finding the flavour a little too intense for me and not sitting too well in my gut. So I am listening to my body and avoiding it for a while. I have made up a substitute that gives me a similar texture for this purpose and that is an olive oil/cacao butter mix, mixed together in a 60:40 ratio. I have gently melted together 120g light olive oil and 80g cacao butter and poured it into a jar and I use it when a recipe calls for coconut oil. Of course, this is only for sweet cooking as the cacao butter imparts a gorgeously velvety chocolate flavour, which I think is better than coconut oil anyway! And olive oil has been proven to have just as good health benefits to coconut oil too.


Another recipe I have been sitting on is my tahini butter recipe that I love to spread on toasted banana bread or paleo toast.  Only a few ingredients whipped together can turn something from ordinary to sublime! If you use unhulled tahini the flavour will be stronger so experiment with the quantities to your own taste. You can always substitute the above cacao butter mix for butter if you are dairy free. The honey, though, is non-negotiable! It is so lovely in this combination that brown rice syrup (or coconut syrup) just won’t be the same.


200g cooked sweet potato flesh

80g coconut oil (or 80g of the above cacao butter mix)

80g maple syrup

4 tabs cocoa powder

2 tabs rapadura sugar

120g avocado

Make sure the sweet potato is well cooked so that it is soft and smooth. I find the best result is baking the potato in its skin and using it while it is still warm as it will help dissolve the sugar and the cacao butter.

Whip all of the ingredients together until smooth and set aside in the fridge to firm up. This will make enough frosting to fill and cover a family chocolate cake.


100g butter (unsalted is best)

1 tab tahini

1 -2 tab honey

Whip together and set aside in the fridge to firm up. Serve on toast or crumpets or scones!


Chiquitita, you and I know…. Chokito!

September 16, 2016

chokitoChiquitita, tell me the truth
I’m a shoulder you can cry on
Your best friend, I’m the one you must rely on                        (Abba)

Arghh! This song has been my ear worm since I started making this recipe. It has nothing to do with chocolate but the I can’t get the words out of my head!  Maybe chocolate is the shoulder I can cry on… and rely on!! Or best friend or….I dunno!? I’m not making sense!

When you were a kid, what was (or still is) your favourite chocolate bar?

After graduating from the infamous Bertie beetle as a kid, mine was the chokito bar. It must have been the crunchy bits encased in chocolate that appealed to me. I shared the passion with my brother while I remember that my sisters favourite was the Pollywaffle.  Interestingly both bars were manufactured by the now defunct Rowntree Hoadleys Chocolates (formerly Hoadleys chocolates) and then bought out by super-giant Nestle in 1988.

Last month we had our Ekka – the Royal Brisbane Exhibition & Show – the realm of showbags, and I always thought that the Rowntree Hoadleys showbags were the best! (They had Bertie beetles in them too). Fortunately, showbags or commercial chocolate do not interest me anymore but I do have fond childhood memories of them.

A chokito is an Australian chocolate bar containing caramel fudge with puffed rice crisps and coated in chocolate.  I believe you can also get them in New Zealand, Switzerland and Brazil and there is a similar bar in the United States called the $100 Grand bar. In the ’70s the tagline for advertising was “Chokito gets you going” but was changed to the current “big feed, big taste” (marketed to men aged 24-35), to increase chocolate sales in men as women continue to dominate the chocolate market.  I’m not sure what that says about my tastes – and I haven’t bought a chocolate bar since I can remember – but I was reminiscing recently and thought it was time to healthify this treat!

There are a couple of parts to this recipe and it is not as complicated as it sounds. The fudge is deliciously easy to make, just make sure it is properly chilled before you slice it up. I experimented with rolling the fudge in brown rice puffs but sadly, they lost their crunch. Using commercial rice puff cereal will maintain the crunch but it wasn’t optimum for me. I had more success rolling the fudge in a mix of toasted buckwheat and chopped walnuts; I think these are healthier for you than rice puffs anyway, but it’s a personal preference. I even tried toasted pinenuts which also worked. Then again, coating anything in chocolate is going to be a winner!


120g raw cashews or blanched almonds (I used a mix)

70g cacao butter

50g dates

50g maple syrup

50g almond milk or cream

50g coconut oil or butter

vanilla to taste

Chop the nuts, cacao butter and dates on SP 7 for 5 seconds. Scrape the bowl down and add the syrup, milk, vanilla and oil and cook at 70°C on SP 5 for 5 minutes. Scrape the bowl down again and blend for 1 minute on SP 7.

Pour into a lined loaf pan and place in the freezer to chill well for at least 1 hour.


1 cup of rice puff cereal


50g buckwheat, lightly toasted

70g pinenuts or chopped walnuts

150g dark chocolate*

1 teas oil

Place the rice puff on a plate OR Mix the nuts and buckwheat together on a plate. Slice the fudge into 2 cm widths and roll in the combined nuts and buckwheat until well coated. Place back in the freezer while you melt the chocolate.

In the TM bowl, mill the chocolate on SP 8 for 5 seconds. add the oil and melt at 50°C for 2 minutes. It needs to be quite runny. Pour into a shallow bowl and dip each fudge roll to coat, using 2 forks, and drain on a wire rack. I place a piece of baking paper underneath so I can catch the excess chocolate and reuse. Keep in the fridge or freezer and try not to eat them all at once!

*If using homemade chocolate, omit the oil.




A Jewel in Iranian Millet!

September 4, 2016

iranian rice

Before rice was widely consumed in Asia, it is thought that millet was the staple grain in this region. It is one of the hardiest grains and is therefore a staple food in regions with poor soils where other grains will not grow at all (eg. parts of India, Africa, China and Russia).

Millet is actually a seed, originally cultivated in the dry climates of Africa and northern China since the Neolithic Era. (A few years ago, archaeologists discovered a 4000-year old bowl of millet noodles in northwestern China!) In time, millet spread throughout the world; the Romans and Gauls made porridge from it, and in the Middle Ages millet was more widely eaten than wheat. It is mentioned in the Old Testament as an ingredient for bread.

Today, millet continues to be a staple for a third of the world’s population. Ground millet is used in flatbreads, such as Indian roti and Ethiopian injera. Teff is actually classified as a variety of millet. In Eastern Africa, millet is used to make beer. It is also an ingredient in Eastern European fermented drinks and porridges.

In the western world, millet has mostly been relegated to bird and livestock feed. However, interest in the grain has had a resurgence as it is gluten-free and easily digestible. It has a good source of magnesium, fibre, iron, folate and B vitamins. It does contain phytochemicals including phytic acid and saponins so is best rinsed (or activated) before use.

There are many varieties of millet; the primary types are called pearl, foxtail, proso, and finger. Yellow proso is the kind most often found at health food stores. It has been hulled and looks very much like raw couscous. It has a delicate nutty flavour and, depending on how it is cooked, a texture that can be crunchy or soft.

I have only really used millet as a flour where I mix it with other flours to provide a different protein and texture to my gluten-free flour mix.  But I cooked it as I would quinoa and it turned out similar to couscous!

I believe that if you toast it first you get a nuttier flavour – and I admit that I like it better than quinoa as the flavour is less overpowering – but it’s not as nutritious as quinoa. The longer you cook it, the softer it gets, to the point where you can mash it. I really enjoyed using millet as a whole grain and will do so more in the future – its cheap and works well as a conduit to a gluten-free diet for my non gluten-free family!

This dish is a ‘corrupted’ version of the traditional Persian jewelled rice which I have been wanting to blog about for ages. The traditional recipe is quite complicated and time-consuming, using basmati rice. It is laced with butter and sugar and spices and piled with nuts and dried fruits. In the Middle East it is typically served at weddings or other celebrations. I have simplified it somewhat and also used millet and cauliflower rice for a point of difference.

½ medium cauliflower

100g millet

2 carrots, julienned

70g ghee, butter or olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

6 cardamon pods

1 generous pinch of saffron threads

rind of 2 oranges, julienned

2 teas salt

1 tab honey (or brown rice syrup if vegan)

juice of 1 lemon

1 tab apple cider vinegar

½ teas cinnamon

60g flaked almonds, toasted

80g pistachios, toasted & chopped coarsely

2 tabs raisins or dried cranberries

1 pomegranate, arils only

1 teas orange flower water (optional)

1 bunch dill, chopped

Prepare the cauliflower by chopping on SP 4 until resembling rice size pieces. Add 60g water and cook on 100ºC for 6 minutes REVERSE. Drain and set aside in a wide bowl.

Prepare the millet by adding 900g water & 1 teas salt to the TM bowl with the strainer basket and weighing in 100g millet.  Cook for 17 minutes on SP 3 at VAROMA temperature. Add to the drained cauliflower.

Saute the onion, cardamon pods and saffron in the ghee (or oil) at 100°C for 5 minutes SP slow, REVERSE.

Add the carrots, orange rind and raisins and continue to saute for another 4 minutes, SP slow, REVERSE.

Add the honey, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and orange flower water*. Pour into the cauliflower/millet and mix in the nuts, pomegranate and dill. Serve at warm or at room temperature.

*If you can find them, pick out the cardamon pods, they are not so nice to bite on!








Pine-nuts and Parsnips!

August 26, 2016


This recipe purely came about using whatever I had in the cupboard last weekend. It was market day and I had a bunch of gorgeously fresh vegetables I needed to cram into the fridge for the next week, so I had to use up what was leftover from the previous market day: two lone parsnips!

These two parsnips had been sitting there stoically in my fridge demanding attention. I had been ignoring them guiltily, pushing them aside for the zucchini and broccoli, even the swedes got cooked up before them. When I bought them I had planned to make parsnip fritters or pudding but for some reason the inclination never returned.

So what to do with two not-so-fresh parsnips?

The word CAKE does not spring to mind but I set myself a challenge and this is the end result. Initially I had some flaked almonds to use for the topping which suited me happily but after the first cooking attempt I had run out of flaked almonds so I used pine-nuts instead.

Pine-nuts are always considered a luxury in our house as they are so very expensive. Last market day saw my husband bringing home an enormous bag of pine-nuts. (When I asked for some, I didn’t stipulate any particular quantity and I was struck dumb when he came home with 500g of the precious seeds!) “Boy, they are expensive!!” he exclaimed!

And rightly so, pine-nuts are pretty complicated to harvest. The seeds take up to 3 years to harvest, given the right conditions, and shelling them is a tricky, time consuming matter.

While all pine trees will produce a pine-nut, there are only about 18 species that produce seeds large enough to be of value as human food, and are found in Asia, Europe and North America. Pine-nuts are ready to harvest just before the green cone begins to open. The cones are dried in the sun and then they are then smashed to release the seeds, which are separated by hand from the cone fragments. The fact that it takes a lot of time and patience is an understatement – and justifies the high price of pine-nuts. Pine-nuts have a second shell, which also has to be removed before eating. (Are you beginning to understand the high price?)

parsnip cake

The pine-nuts we get are either Asian (short stubby seeds) which have a higher oil content, or European (long slender seeds) which are more expensive and less likely to spoil. Both have a mild buttery flavour which is enhanced by toasting, but be careful, their high fat content enables them to burn easily.

They are rich in the same healthy fats that other nuts contain and surprisingly have quite a good protein content.

I have posted this recipe with pine-nuts to keep it nut free, but flaked almonds also work really well so substituting either is fine. I guess it depends on how full your wallet is at the moment!!!

Interesting fact: Pine-nuts can cause “pine nut mouth” or “pine nut syndrome”. It causes everything you eat to have a bitter, metallic taste – lasting a few hours to a couple of days. It is believed to stem from one species of pine-nut, Armand or St David’s pine (P. armandii) from South West China which triggers  an unpleasant taste sensation by the absorption of a naturally occurring chemical in the Armand pine. Sufferers report enjoying their pine-nuts – and only hours or days later suffering the taste problems. This is so unusual that it has researchers studying it further to try to understand neural pathways that connect the digestive system to the brain and our system of taste in the mouth. They hope to learn more about how our whole food metabolism works in the process.

It may be small consolation but while temporarily unpleasant, pine nut mouth apparently has no other effect on health with no toxic or other debilitating effects. I have had this happen to me once in my life many years ago and never knew what it was –  it wasn’t obviously related to pine-nuts and was very mild. Authorities are much more vigilant about keeping Armand pine-nuts out of circulation these days: another reason to pay a bit more for your pine-nuts!

The cake can be made without the caramel topping if you like but I would increase the nutmeg to give it more flavour. It is wonderfully moist and freezes well. But the cake with the caramel topping is to die for: chewy and nutty, it is amazing served warm with cream for a very easy and impressive afternoon-tea or dessert. As with most gluten-free flour cakes, it doesn’t last well so is best eaten fresh.

…. And can you taste the parsnip?? You can taste a subtle earthiness but without knowing, it would be hard to pick. Try it out on your friends and see!

150g parsnips (about 1 medium, peeled)

90g sugar

150g olive oil

3 eggs

1 teas vanilla extract

½ teas nutmeg

½ teas ground ginger

150g gluten-free flour

2 rounded teaspoons baking powder


80g butter (or 70g coconut oil for dairy-free)

50g sugar

1 tab golden syrup

2 tabs gluten-free flour

80g raw pine-nuts or flaked almonds

Chop the parsnip on SP 5 for 10 seconds until grated finely and set aside.

Blend the sugar, oil, eggs and spices on SP 6 for 1 minute. It will be nicely homogenised and thick. Add the parsnip, flour and baking powder and mix on SP 4, REVERSE, until well combined.

Pour into a lined 24cm springform tin and bake at 175°C for 20 minutes. Make a slight indentation in the batter so that when it rises it will rise with a flatter surface. (My pinenuts rolled off in the photo!)

In a clean TM bowl, melt the butter with the sugar, flour and golden syrup on SP 3 for 3 minutes at 90°C. (Or you can do this on the stove in a small saucepan.)

Stir through the nuts gently.

When the cake has been baking for 20 minutes, take it out of the oven and pour over the topping and return to the oven to continue baking for another 25 minutes. Depending on your springform pan, oil may leach out of the bottom so place it on a baking tray to prevent a mess in your oven.

Cool for 40 minutes before removing the pan.



Nutty about Nut-bars

August 13, 2016

Muesli bar

When my kids were at school, the most popular thing in their lunchbox was an Uncle Tobys Muesli Bar.

Yep. That’s right! Not homemade hedgehog or Anzac biscuitsapricot slice or banana nut loaf, but a chewy oaty muesli bar out of a packet!! These days I’m not packing the kids lunches anymore but my husbands lunch! His new job has longer hours and he hasn’t quite worked out how to “budget” enough food to last him for the day.

These nut bars are my version of a muesli bar – minus the oats and sugar of course, and filled with plenty of nuts and protein to help sustain a grown man through the day. I don’t use peanut butter very often in my cooking but it works really well in this recipe. If your household is peanut-free, it works just as well with any other nut butter.

Peanut butter was first patented in 1884 by a Canadian pharmacist who included sugar into the paste so as to harden its consistency. I’m guessing that this explains why peanut butter is seen as a sweet condiment in the United States rather than a savoury one as it is here in Australia.

John Kellogg, of Sanitarium fame, served peanut butter to his patients who had difficulty chewing, for its high nutritional content. It is an excellent source of protein, fibre and vitamins. Peanut butter is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, iron and potassium.  It has saturated fats: palmitic acid; and unsaturated fats: oleic and linoleic acids.

Unfortunately, most commercial peanut butters are filled with vegetable oils and sugar and salt. I prefer to make my own from dry roasted peanuts, which can be easily done in the Thermomix or food processor. I like it slightly salty while my husband prefers it unsalted. We both like it chunky though!

When I first came to Queensland, I didn’t know what people were talking about when they referred to ‘peanut paste’. In the southern states it’s called peanut butter and I have never really made the adjustment! But in other countries it is called anything from monkey butter to peanut cheese to peanut spread! Anyway, I don’t eat it much, preferring to have it spread on celery as a snack but it is really yummy in this recipe. you can always use almond butter or your favourite nut or seed butter instead.

In the rest of the recipe, I have used a mix of nuts and seeds here – feel free to omit or add any different ones, as long as the total weight comes to 250 grams. Add some chocolate chips or chopped dried cranberries for some variation.

They last very well in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, I like to wrap them individually to grab & go.

The kids, big and small, will love them!

muesli280g almonds

50g macadamias

50g pepitas

50g sunflower seeds

20g chia seeds

30g puffed brown rice

3 tabs psyllium husks

20g desiccated or flaked coconut

30g whole buckwheat

60g dates

150g nut butter (I used crunchy peanut butter)

120g butter

30g coconut oil

100g honey or brown rice syrup

A few drops of stevia* (optional)

Add the almonds & macadamias to the TM bowl and pulse to roughly chop. Pour into a wide mixing bowl and add all of the other dry ingredients except the dates.

In the TM bowl mince the dates on SP 8 for 5 seconds. add the butter, honey, oil and nut butter. Cook on SP 2 at 90°C for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the stevia, if using and pour over the dry ingredients and stir well.

Press into a lined scone tray and sprinkle with some sesame seeds for garnish. Bake in a slow 150°C oven for 35 minutes until golden brown. Wait until very cold before slicing. I find it slices better if you refrigerate it overnight and then slice into bars. It will cut into 16 bars.

*Because I do not add any sugar, you may wish to add a few drops of stevia if your tribe like things extra sweet.

Vintage Books & Italian Apple Torte

July 9, 2016


Last weekend I went to the Lifeline Bookfest for the first time after hearing people rave about it for many years.

It is a massive sale of donated books that raise funds to support the Lifeline 24-hour Crisis Support Line and many other UnitingCare Community services across Queensland.

I was not prepared for the enormity of the collection of books that were there! There were literally 4km of tables with millions of books ranging in price from $1 – $5. There were also magazines, puzzles, CD’s and vinyl.

Obviously, I spent most of my time in the cookbook section where I looked at a time capsule of my own entire cookbook collection, both past & present!  I drove my son mad with exclamations of: “I have this book! I had that book when I was your age!” or “Ooooh, that’s a good one! I have haven’t seen that for YEARS!!!”

My cookbook collection has shrunk over the years. At one stage I counted nigh on 800 books. A divorce settlement reduced it by half (it was the only thing we argued over!) and the 2011 floods reduced it by half again. I have to admit it is much easier to consult the internet these days than refer to a book – and many books I keep are for a single favourite recipe alone, which is space consuming in my small house. The bookfest reminded me about food trends and fashions; it was a nostalgic path of food memories, good and bad; and $hit food photography. I convinced my son to buy a Women’s Weekly Chinese Cookbook (c.1980) because I often cooked from my mothers copy when I was a teenager. The recipes are basic, really good and reliable enough to expand his repertoire. I hope he uses it!

I found a copy of the original Women’s Weekly Cookbook (c.1970) that was the textbook we used in Home Ec. at school for which I paid a $1! I was bemused at the ingredients listing ‘stock cubes’ and ‘canned asparagus/bean sprouts/potatoes’. Photographs of the chicken dishes show whole chickens with small breasts and legs.  In nearly 40 years the shape of a chook has evolved somewhat….

This whole experience reminded me of an old recipe from a vintage cookbook that I thought was very sophisticated at the time. It was described as an Italian Apple Torte but was probably closer to a cheesecake slice, (did you say cheesecake??) so I converted my very berry cheesecake recipe to replicate it. It is of course gluten and grain free and delicious served warm or cold.

1 tab sultanas

1 tab rum (optional)

75g raw almonds

75g buckwheat

½ teas cinnamon

½ teas ground ginger

50g butter

1 teas honey

1 large or 2 small granny smith apples

70g raw or light coconut sugar

rind of 1 lemon

250g cream cheese

250g sour cream

3 eggs

1 tab buckwheat flour

juice of half a lemon

extra cinnamon for dusting

Blanch the sultanas in boiling water and drain. Add the rum and set aside while you make the base.

Blitz the almonds, buckwheat, spices, honey and butter on SP 8 until soft crumbs form. Press into a 20cm x 20cm, lined square tin. Peel the apple and cut into 3mm slices. Lay these slightly overlapping, on the base to cover. Drain the sultanas and sprinkle over the apples.

Place the sugar and lemon rind in the TM bowl and grind on SP 9 for 5 seconds. Scrape down and add the remaining ingredients and mix on SP 6 until smooth. Pour over the apples and base and cook for 35 minutes at 170°C. It will still be a bit wobbly. Turn the oven off and leave the cake in the oven until cool.

Dust with extra cinnamon  before serving.








Hot Chocolate & Cookies for a Rainy Day

July 2, 2016


It has been quite cold and rainy here lately which is the perfect weather to snuggle up in front of the TV with a cuppa and a cookie!

We have been overdosing on Netflix and enjoying the old-fashioned art of jigsaw puzzling. Could jigsaws be the “new” colouring in? It’s certainly more fun to do with company!

If you think that this biscuit recipe is reminiscent of the good old Anzac biscuit, you would be right! Without the oats, I substituted the golden syrup for honey and added more nuts and seeds to make it delightfully crunchy and it is easily kept gluten-free. I prefer to grind the linseeds & buckwheat in the magic bullet and mix the batch by hand. I find it gives a much nicer texture than if it is mixed in the Thermomix.


Photo: Courtesy of Irene who tested this recipe for me!


1 tab linseeds
70g rapadura sugar
60g buckwheat
70g GF flour (I prefer Orgran)
30g whole buckwheat, extra
40g desiccated coconut
90g flaked almonds
60g sunflower seeds
1 tab chia seeds
120g butter
1 tab honey
¼ teas salt
½ teas bicarb soda
2 tabs hot water

In the TM (or magic bullet) grind the linseeds, sugar and 60g buckwheat until finely ground.

Place the above mix and the rest of the dry ingredients into a big wide bowl. Melt the butter with the honey in the TM on SP 1 for 2 minutes. Mix the bicarb and hot water and add this to the butter mixture. Stir the wet mixture into the dry and place apricot sized balls on a lined tray and flatten. The mix will be quite wet. Bake in a 160°C for 20 mins. Leave on the tray until they are cold – they are quite crumbly when warm but will firm up on cooling. I like to refrigerate them to keep them crunchy.

A handful of chocolate chips would be a yummy addition!


60g 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped
120g raw or coconut sugar
2 tab slippery elm powder (optional but helps to thicken)
40g cocoa powder
¼ teas vanilla powder
50g dry milk powder or coconut milk powder*
¼ teas salt

I find this easy to make in my magic bullet but it is just as easy to do in your Thermomix.
Pop all of the ingredients into the bowl and blitz until a fine powder forms. To make up a hot chocolate
add 2 tablespoons to a mug and half fill with boiling water. Stir to dissolve, then top up with hot milk.

*I know that powdered milk is not very good for you and pretty nutritionally void, but I like the creaminess that it adds. I prefer to use coconut milk powder rather than dairy milk to keep this dairy free.

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