Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Italian's Have It!

Happy New Year to you all!

I hope you will join me this year as we launch our food journey of 2014. 

The first recipes for the year will be from Italy. Here are a few photos taken on my last visit to Tuscany, to get you excited.

Harbour at  Riomaggiore  - top,  Volterra - middle,  view across Tuscany - bottom - photos by Cyndy
So why start with Italy, you may well ask?

Firstly, I wanted to to begin the year with one of my favourite countries. Beautiful scenery and historical buildings, wonderfully friendly people and amazing food.  We can also travel into many other exquisite places from here going west, east or north. We will come back to Italy later in the year and look at regional cooking and how that has developed over time and try out a few new recipes. But I wanted to start with something that everyone can cook regardless of how much experience you have.

Today, I desperately needed to use up some Granny Smith apples and I knew that this recipe would inspire many people. It is very easy to make and just a little different from your everyday apple pie. I think it makes a stunning centrepiece for any table.

They say Coppi in Naples and Sfogliate in Lombardy, but most people will recognise the name Crostata! It is a sort of open apple pie which is popular in Italy. I can certainly remember eating a huge slab of Crostata in Sienna a couple of years ago; crisp shortcrust pastry, succulent apples with just a hint of cinnamon.

So diving head first into 2014, here is a recipe for Rustic Italian Crostata.

Rustic Apple Crostata

Ingredients - Oven temperature 180 degrees fan forced


220g Plain flour
1/4 tsp Salt
120g Butter cubed
50ml Cold water approx

Make a shortcrust pastry, by putting flour, butter, salt in a food processor until it resembles breadcrumbs. With motor running, add water a little at a time until it forms a soft dough. On a floured board, gently bring pastry to a ball, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.


120g Granita biscuits or similar
1 tbls Icing sugar for the top
2 tspns Ground cinnamon
2 tbls Plain flour
1 kg Granny Smith Apples (you could use any other kind of apples)
75g Caster sugar + 2 tbls sugar extra
2 tsp Vanilla extract
40g Butter

Peel, core and slice all the apples but one. The remaining one should be peeled and sliced whole, removing the seeds but retaining the 'star- like' pattern. Melt the butter in a pan, add 75g sugar, and vanilla extract. Place the apple slices in a large bowl and drizzle the butter mixture over the apples to coat them thoroughly. Put aside.

In a food processor, add Granita biscuits, 1 tablespoon of sugar, cinnamon and flour. Put aside.

Take a pizza pan or a large baking sheet. Cover with baking paper. If you use a baking sheet draw a large circle on the piece of baking paper as a guide. Roll out pastry larger than the pizza pan or the drawn circle. The overhanging pastry will be used to fold back onto the apples. Add the Granita biscuit mixture. Lay the slices of apple randomly over the granita mixture, ensuring the whole apple slices are on top. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar and fold over the pastry edge. (see photo)

Place in a pre-heated oven and cook for around 35 minutes until pastry and apples are browned.
While still warm, sprinkle with icing sugar to give the apples a nice sheen.

Buon appetito!

This recipe was adapted from Belinda Jeffery's Apple and Cinnamon Crostata from The Country Cookbook - Lantern 2010

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Baby, it's Hot Outside!

We have experienced what the Adelaide summer can deliver already. Blazing hot 40C degrees or freezing cold and 10C degrees or anything in between. Generally we can guarantee that over the next few months we are going to see some scorching weather. That's when I have to take cooking outside - or simply turn up the fridge and not cook at all.

Are you a really, really organised person with a bucket load of pre prepared meals in the freezer, ready for this type of occasion? Or like me and many others that are very disorganised/too busy/don't have freezer room/ or any other excuse you care to use and need some interesting, nutritious, low kilojoule recipes for these occasions. Especially after the festive season when you have a fully belly!

I love salads. Nothing gives me more pleasure than heading down to the vegetable patch and picking salad vegetables, going inside to wash and prepare them. The sweetness of fresh, juicy, tomatoes warmed by the sun, cut in half and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Are you salivating yet?

I have just heard on ABC radio that the percentage of people in Australia that consume fresh vegetables is only 5%. I find that is pretty amazing and very sad, if it is true. One of the most amazing things about this country is its ability to produce beautiful vegetables and fruit.

There are so many scrumptious dishes that require little or no cooking, so lets get well prepared and have a few recipes on hand for the days and nights when it just seems too hard. Here are 2 recipes to get you started.

This first recipe is easy to prepare, I cook the Haloumi on a BBQ outside but you can cook it in a fry pan on your cooker. It takes only a few minutes, so your kitchen wont warm up.

Tomato and Olive Salsa Salad with Fried Haloumi  

Serves 4

1 packet of Haloumi
6 Green Olives
1/2 Red Onion
2 tablespoon Baby Capers
Juice and zest of a Lemon

4 Tomatoes
1/2 bunch Parsley
1/2 bunch Mint
Vegetable oil (if you are using a pan on the cooker)

To make the Salsa, chop capers, red onion, lemon zest and olives. Add lemon juice and mix together. Set this aside for at least an hour before hand so the flavours develop.

Chop the parsley and mint and mix together and place this on the bottom of your dish or plate.

Chop tomatoes thickly and place over the herbs and put the salsa on top of the tomatoes.

Cook the Haloumi (on the BBQ or frypan) until it is nicely browned on the outside but still soft on the inside and place on top of the tomatoes and serve.

Bean and Red Pepper Burgers

Makes 10 burgers - should serve 4 people

75g French  green beans
2 tbls Olive oil
1 Red pepper, cored, seeds removed and diced
2 Cloves garlic
1 heaped tsp Ground chilli powder
425g tin Red kidney beans drained and rinsed
150g Fresh breadcrumbs
100 Panko breadcrumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 egg yolk
Fresh coriander about 1/4 bunch
Extra oil for BBQ or for pan frying
Salt and pepper

Blanche green beans in a pan of salted water, or steam over a pan of water for 2 minutes. Drain, cool and chop roughly.
Saute Red pepper, garlic and chilli for 2 minutes.
Place the red pepper mixture in a blender or food processor , add red kidney beans and egg yolk, coriander and pulse until ingredients are coarsely chopped. 
Add the green beans and pulse a little more until all is combined. The mixture will look a little wet at this stage - don't despair, it will come together.
Mix in the breadcrumbs.
Put the mixture into a bowl and with floured hands shape into little cakes.
Put in the fridge for 30 minutes and then shallow fry or BBQ for about 5 minutes per side, until golden.
Serve with salad and sweet chilli sauce or homemade lemon mayonnaise!

This recipe is adapted from The Bean Book - 2001 by Hambly

I made the stuffed tomatoes with some left over sweet pilaf. If you would like the recipe leave me a comment and I will let you have it.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

What a load of Rhubarb!

The Chinese had it first, Marco Polo talked extensively about it and the Greeks had some extrodinary names for it, but we call it just plain, Rhubarb.

When I was just a kid in England, I remember my father used to have a huge bed of rhubarb. He would carefully collect any horse manure from the neighbouring yards and he would dig it in to the rhubarb bed. He had an old metal bucket that had a hole in the bottom which carried ashes from the fire until the bottom burned out. Each winter he would pick his best rhubarb crown and carefully lay the bucket over the top. My sister and I would keep a watch on the rhubarb over winter, brushing off the snow if it became buried by an overnight flurry. We watched it to make sure that we would be able to break off a few pieces when Dad wasn't watching, sneak into the kitchen and dip the end of the rhubarb into the sugar bowl and eat the crisp, juicy but sour rhubarb. We all loved it.

By Spring, Dad's prize rhubarb would be growing out of the top of the bucket and we knew that mum would soon be making crumbles and pies for Sunday lunch.

I picked a big bunch of rhubarb from my vegetable garden yesterday and thought it was time to make something delicious. I checked my fridge to see what I could possibly teem up with Rhubarb and decided that some Creme Patisserie would be a wonderful combination.

Here is a recipe for a French Rhubarb Tart - When you eat it, think of your parents and what they did to make your memories so wonderful.

French Rhubarb Tart

A rich sweet pastry, creme patisserie filling, topped with cooked rhubarb and a syrup glaze. The recipe came courtesy of BBC Good Food but adapted to suit. You could substitute this pastry for an ordinary shortcrust pastry with a bit of icing sugar in it.


Rhubarb - 12 x 35 Fluted Flan Dish

500g Rhubarb approx
50g  Caster sugar
Juice of an orange
1/2 Cup Water
Vanilla pod seeds removed and kept

Cut the Rhubarb so it is exactly the width of your flan dish
In a fry pan add water, sugar,orange juice and vanilla pod and cook on a low heat until the sugar has melted.
Add the rhubarb and cook for 5 minutes.
Take off the heat and let the rhubarb cool in the juice, it needs to be cooked but keep its shape. 

Pastry - Oven fan forced 170 degrees 
220g Plain flour
140g Butter
25g almond meal
2 tbls icing sugar
1 egg yolk

Add flour, butter, almond meal and sugar into a food processor and blitz until it resembles breadcrumbs, add egg and 1 - 2 tablespoons of water while still running. Blitz again until it forms a soft dough. Knead very lightly to bring together, wrap in plastic, fridge 30 minutes. Roll out and blind bake with paper and beans in flan dish for 15 minutes, remove beans and paper and bake another 5 minutes. Remove and cool.

Creme Patisserie

4 Egg Yolks
250 ml Milk
100 ml Thickened Cream
2 tbls caster sugar
1 tbls cornflour
1 tbls plain flour

While pastry is resting heat milk and seeds from vanilla pod until it reaches about 90 degrees or just below boiling. Beat egg yolks, flours and sugar together in bowl until pale.  Add warm milk. Strain and put back on heat stirring continuously until the custard thickens. Cool. Whip cream to peaks and add slowly to the custard once the custard is cool enough.

Assemble by spreading the creme patisserie on the base of the flan. Lay the rhubarb onto the creme. Make a syrup by fast boiling the rhubarb juice and once it is cool glaze the rhubarb.

Apart from the resting and cooling time, this really is pretty quick to make and it is delicious.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

58 Cook Books

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that yesterday, I counted 58 cook books in my book case and a five year supply of Delicious Magazines. 

I bought my first cook book in Vauxhall Bridge Road Market, London many years ago. It cost me 10 shillings and 6d. Which is the equivalent of $15 in today's money. It seemed like a lot at the time. I remember flicking from page to page looking at the glossy pictures of things that I would love too learn how to cook. The book is called " GoodHousekeeping Easy Stages Cook Book".     

If you saw the book now you would wonder why the stained and dog eared pages are so close to my heart. Well, this is the book that launched my journey into food and got me experimenting with flavours and ingredients my family had never heard of. For all its sentimental value the only recipe I can actually recall cooking from this book is on page 211 and it is a Cheese Souffle. 

My husband cooked this souffle, from this book for dinner this evening! So even after many years I can still recall the page number and the ingredients and I am willing to share this with you now. It is a quick, easy souffle which never fails. 

So if you have always been too shy to try a souffle, this is the one to break your fear.

Cheese Souffle

This recipe is suppose to serve 2 - 3, but we have no problem eating it between two of us.


3 eggs separated
115g Cheddar Cheese grated
15g Plain Flour
1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard
150 ml Milk
30g Butter
Salt and pepper
Italian parsley chopped

  • Grease a souffle dish - the one I use is a 4 cup capacity Maxwell & Williams 
  • Melt butter in saucepan, stir in flour, mustard and cook 2 minutes on low.
  • Gradually stir in milk and cook for 3 minutes
  • Take off the heat, beat egg yolks into the sauce and stir in the cheese and parsley, salt and pepper
  • Stiffly beat the egg whites and fold carefully into the sauce mixture
  • Turn mixture into souffle dish and bake in centre of oven for about 30 minutes at 170 degrees fan forced until well risen and golden.

I have recently made these in small ramekins and the mixture made six.
You can make it 1 hr before cooking if it is covered with foil and kept in the fridge and it will still rise and be nice and fluffy.

In this recipe I folded into the mixture some chopped blanched asparagus  just before I added the egg whites. The photo shows an asparagus spear sticking out of the top but this isn't at all necessary!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Roman Strawberry and Chinese Cherry

It is hard to imagine that strawberries were first cultivated in Ancient Rome. The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love, because of its heart shaped fruit and its colour. Can you believe it is in the same family of plants as the rose?  The strawberry is the only fruit that has seeds on the outside rather than the inside. They are high in vitamin C (8 strawbs will give you more vitamin C than an orange) and anti-oxidents, so they are so good for you. Their only downfall is that one is compelled to add chocolate, ice cream or cream!

So here is a recipe which will make your heart sing. Lots of strawberries a little sugar and water, with amazing results!

Strawberry Vanilla Syrup


2 cups hulled Strawberries
1 cup water
1 cup Caster Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

  • Place water, vanilla and sugar in a pan on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring all the time
  • Mix in the strawberries
  • Boil for 10 mins, then lower heat for another 10 minutes until strawberries are mushy
  • Strain the syrup and bottle
  • Keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks

You can use this syrup on ice cream, in smoothies, on waffles and pancakes and you can picture yourself in Ancient Rome, being the Goddess Venus, lying on a sun bed in a court yard being fanned by the God Pluto (God of the riches under the earth), or you can just thank goodness for strawberry farmers!

Cherry Vanilla Jam

My kitchen smells of deliciousness and I have red sticky bits around my mouth! I have just made a batch of Cherry and Vanilla Jam. I really love this combination for the taste and the aroma. This is really a conserve because I have left the cherries almost in tact except for the stones, so you can also use this as a filling for a cake - Black Forest? Add to a Goat's Cheese Tart, Pancakes, Croissants or anywhere you would normally have a sweet fruit filling. You could even get a spoon and eat it straight from the jar.

1 kilo of fruit only made 4 jars
Here is the recipe 

1 kilo cherries, cleaned, stones and stalks removed
600g Caster Sugar
1 cup Water
1 Vanilla Pod
Juice of 3 lemons

Cherries have very little pectin (that's the stuff that makes the jam set) so don't skimp on the lemons.
Place cherries, water, vanilla pod, lemon juice and sugar in a big pan on a low heat and gently dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 20 - 30 minutes until the mixture thickens and setting point is reached. To test for setting, bring the pan off the heat and put a teaspoon of the jam on a cold plate. If the jam tends to wrinkle when you push it gently with a finger, then it is ready for bottling. Take out the vanilla pod and wash it and dry it for future use. 

Once you have put the jam in the jars, place a round of greaseproof paper over the jar and seal with a lid. Leave for a week or so until the flavours really develop.

If I reuse jam jars I wash them in soap and water and then put them in a low oven for about an hour.   I scrub the lids and boil them in a saucepan of water to ensure they are clean.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Stoned Fruit!

It is the season to be jolly! Not because of the fat man in a red suit, but because it's summer fruit time in abundance. Cherries, apricots, plums, strawberries, peaches, nectarines - oh goodness I am drooling just thinking about them all. Sorry Northern Hemisphere folk I hope this isn't making you feel too miserable.

I have been visiting fruit growers this week to pick up some of the new seasons fruit. It hasn't been the best year for cherry growers because of the variable weather and wind and bees not pollinating the blossoms. I am pleased to say that I was able to select a few fat, juicy cherries from Torrens Valley Orchards at Gumeracha, which I hope to play around with over the next few days. Unless of course they get eaten before I have a chance to turn them into something special. I promise faithfully to share the results with you.

My favourite strawberry place  Green Valley Strawberries, on the Nairne/Inverbrackie Road, at Nairne, has had a major makeover. Going from a large packing shed to a brand new building incorporating a cafe! Pleased to say their prices have remained the same - so thank you! I bought up big to make some 'Strawberry Syrup' (I'll post the recipe up during the week). I will also give you a few tips on how to use it.

While you are waiting, how about a simple peach recipe?

Peach Salsa


    2  Spring onions finely chopped
    1/2 red capsicum finely chopped
    2 - 3 peaches quartered
    1/2 - 1 Avocado depending on size
    1 small lebanese cucumber chopped
    1 large tomato finely chopped
    5 - 6 slices of  Jalapeno peppers, chopped
    1/2 bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
    Juice of a lemon
    3 tablespoons Verjuice
    Cos lettuce for serving                                   
    Combine all ingredients (except the lettuce) and toss together. 
Place a couple of cos lettuce leaves on a serving plate and pile up the salsa in   the middle. Top with a slice of peach and a coriander sprig.

Serve with some crusty baguette and a chunk of Brie or Camembert. Great for lunch, serves two.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Are there Bananas in France?

Searching through my copy of  'Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, I found only one casual reference to bananas. This was to use bananas as a substitute for other fruit in a fruit flan.

Checking further in my "Cordon Bleu Cookery Book", I found only a couple of minor inclusions of bananas. So what does this mean? Do French people eat bananas? Are there bananas in France?

So I took a fabulous French Apple Cake recipe and adapted it into a French Banana Cake. The result was pretty outstanding. But, I can't call it a French Banana Cake, because I am not sure if French people eat bananas.

So here is my recipe for a French Banana Cake with a French Accent!

Bon appétit!

170 degrees, fan forced oven 
Spring form cake tin size 22cms


110 g Caster sugar

110g Butter
3 ripe Bananas
Pinch salt
2 Eggs
120g Plain Flour
3/4 teaspoon of Baking Powder
1/2 tsp of Vanilla extract

  • Grease cake tin with butter.
  • Melt butter in a saucepan on a low heat and cool
  • Mix flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl.
  •  Using an electric beater, beat eggs,vanilla and sugar together until they look light and creamy.
  • Beat half the flour mixture in to the egg mixture and fold in half the butter. 
  • Gradually fold in remaining flour and then the last of the butter. This should have a batter consistency.
  • Chop bananas into large pieces and gently mix into the batter.
  • Pour the batter into a well greased cake pan and bake at 170 degrees, fan forced, pre heated oven, for approximately 35 minutes.
  • Cool for 5 minutes in the tin and then cool on a rack.

Serve  by itself with a dusting of icing sugar or indulge with Creme Fraiche, cream or Ice Cream.

Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan - The Apple Cake is amazingly delicious too!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Cider and Apples - Dreams of Summer

I live in the Adelaide Hills, which has the perfect climate for growing apples and pears. There is enough fruit grown here to be a major supplier of apples to the whole of Australia. There are small pockets of apples grown in Tasmania and Western Australia too, but it is comforting to know that the apples I buy and eat are grown just around the corner.

With such huge apple and pear productions, it isn't surprising to find 'The Hills Cider Company' located close by. Actually it was a surprise because I hadn't heard of them until quite recently when I went to a local cheese show. The company launched in 2010 and Steve Dorman and Tobias Kline are two young guys making a name for themselves having already won a number of awards for their products. So how come I hadn't heard of them? Well, that's because I don't drink a lot of cider - well I didn't until I found this company and now I am hooked. They make a range of apple and pear ciders, all quite delicious.

So thinking of cider, I got all homely and English and thoughts of warm afternoons, shady trees and fields of flowers. What a wonderful way to celebrate summer, apples and cider. Here's one of my creations to tempt you.

Apples in Cider


3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
3 tbls unsalted butter
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
11/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup of your favourite apple cider

Put water, 2 tbls of butter, sugar, cinnamon, pinch salt and nutmeg in a non stick fry pan and bring to the boil slowly. When butter and sugar are melted add apples and coat the apples with mixture in the pan. Add cider and mix.  Cook gently, stirring occasionally until apples are tender and the liquid is reduced. This takes about 7 - 10 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the remaining butter. Serve warm with Creme Fraiche, ice cream or alternatively, wait  (if you are able) and serve them cold from the fridge. Either way they will be gone in seconds.