Fairy Bread

“What is that?” I hear you ask – don’t worry if you don’t know, I asked the same question a number of years ago after finding myself in a new country and attending a friend’s child’s birthday party. So if you’ve never heard of it I completely understand, but it has got to be the easiest yet most beloved of Kiwi kid’s birthday party table treats. Personally I was slightly horrified when I found out what it was but kids love it – try it, yours might too.

Fairy Bread

I have no idea how Fairy Bread came about, probably a Mum short on birthday party ideas or budget, possibly both, but I’ve seen this at New Zealand school fêtes/galas, kid’s parties and taken to school on days when parents need to “bring a plate” – another Kiwi tradition. But don’t do as my cousin did and bring an empty plate! It has to be filled with something delicious, preferably home made, and able to be shared with others, like a sort of picnic or shared lunch or pot luck meal. The fact that you don’t have to bake a thing could be rather appealing for all those mums and dads that can’t or don’t like to bake, do this and you’ll still be the hero of the party.

The great thing about this dish is it has 3 ingredients, yes, you heard me – 3 ingredients – if you don’t count the gazillion E-numbers and colours that are sure to induce hyperactivity within minutes…but that’s what birthday parties are about!

ingredients:
thin slices of white bread
butter
Hundreds and Thousands

  1. Butter the bread.
  2. Sprinkle the Hundreds and Thousands over the buttered bread, making sure you coat the surface evenly.
  3. Now cut the bread into shapes (rectangular fingers, squares, or I prefer to use cookie cutters to make various shapes that match the party theme).

Enjoy!

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Pumpkin & Blue Cheese Penne with Meatballs

As I continue my love affair with creamy Blue Cheese, I had to share this recipe with you. It was one of those light bulb moments when everything just came together perfectly – I would probably leave out the meatballs next time if it was just for me and enjoy this as a vegetarian dish, but my family would have worried I’d lost my mind if I served up a meat-free main meal. Pumpkin, baby kale leaves, pistachio nuts, a little cream and of course, the creamy blue cheese.

Pumpkin and Blue Cheese Penne with Meatballs

You can use store-bought meatballs if that’s easier, but I prefer to make my own. It’s easy and quick and you get to control what goes into them. You don’t want to overshadow the delicate combination of flavours in this dish with meatballs that have strong spices or herbs in them.

Meatballs:
400g beef mince
salt & freshly ground black pepper
a little olive oil for frying

  1. Place the mince into a large bowl and loosen it with your fingers or a fork.
  2. Season with salt and pepper and form into small-medium round balls.
  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the meatballs, a few at a time, until they are nicely browned on the outside.
  4. Remove from the pan and set aside – they don’t have to be cooked all the way through.

Pasta and sauce:
250 g penne (or other pasta if you prefer, but a pasta with ridges or a large surface area allows the sauce to stick to it and coat it nicely)
200 g pumpkin, pre-cooked if possible in bite size cubes
200 g swiss brown or white mushrooms (portabello are always delicious, but they may be a little strong for this dish)
200 ml full cream
150 g creamy blue cheese
3 handfuls baby kale leaves (see this interesting link to read more about kale: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-kale)
a handful raw pistachios, shelled

  1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When al dente, rinse and set aside.
  2. Get the pre-cooked pumpkin out of the fridge 🙂
  3. If you weren’t able to pre-cook it, then you’ll need to cook it prior to beginning the pasta as it will take a while. Peel, chop and cook the pumpkin (preferably roasted or steamed as you want it to hold it’s shape and not mash when you add it to the other ingredients)
  4. Slice the mushrooms and fry in a little oil.
  5. Add the cream to the pan. Crumble in the creamy blue cheese.
  6. Add the browned meatballs and allow to simmer gently for a few minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and the cheese has melted but don’t boil as the cream will split.
  7. Add the cooked pumpkin cubes and the baby kale leaves.
  8. Cover with a lid so the kale steams and softens.
  9. In a separate pan over a moderate heat and with no oil, gently dry fry the pistachios. Nuts are generally toasted when you can smell their aroma. Watch them closely as you don’t want them to burn and be bitter.
  10. Remove the sauce and nuts from the stove. Pour the sauce over the pasta and dish up the individual portions.
  11. Lastly, sprinkle over the nuts.

Enjoy!

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Date Scones

There isn’t much nicer than freshly baked still-warm Date Scones with butter melting into them on a Sunday morning. They smell heavenly, taste even better and only take about 20 minutes to rustle up, including baking time. A freshly brewed pot of tea or coffee (tea for me please), the morning paper or a good book and I’m in Sunday morning Heaven.Date Scones

The original recipe calls for plain flour and 6 teaspoons of baking powder, but I think they work perfectly just using self-raising flour if you have it on hand. If not, stick with the original.

I’ve listed a few tips I’ve learned about making the perfect scone:

  1. Don’t be tempted to handle the mixture to much. Scone mixture does not want to be kneaded. If it looks knobbly and not smooth then you’ve probably done it perfectly. One way to make sure you don’t overwork the dough is to combine the wet and dry ingredients with a knife until it just comes together.
  2. Pat the mixture into a flattish oblong/circle and then cut out the shapes by scoring with a knife or using a scone/cookie cutter. If you feel you must use a rolling pin, then roll very gently and as little as possible. You want them to be light and fluffy, not compacted and dense – I advise leaving the rolling pin out of this one.
  3. Another great tip is to have your milk and butter cold direct from the fridge. Many recipes call for these ingredients to be at room temperature, but for scones, you need them cold. Some people in the know even call for the butter to be frozen. After measuring out the quantity you need, dice it (chop it into small evenly sized blocks). These blocks are then rubbed-in (using your fingertips) or cut-in (using a special tool called a pastry-cutter). I’ve also read that a fine cheese grater works well on frozen pre-measured butter. The reason for the butter to be cold is you don’t want it softening and forming gloopy clumps in your mixture. Your fingertips are the coldest part of your hand, allowing the butter to stay cold for longer which in turn allows you to create fine bread crumbs. The smaller butter pieces then only melt under the high oven temperature which forms delicious pockets in the scone, aids the rising and creates a light and flaky texture.
  4. An egg or milk wash painted over the top sparingly gives the scones a lovely golden brown colour during baking. Be careful you don’t slop on too much egg or milk wash though as you don’t want the scone sitting in a puddle of goo.
  5. Placing the scones slightly closer together, even almost touching, forces them to rise upwards instead of sideways.
  6. Lastly, if you are using a scone cut-out/cookie cutter, then push it straight down into the mixture and pull it straight back up again. Don’t twist it like you might for a cookie. I’m not sure how true this is but I’ve read that twisting can cause the scone to be a bit lopsided in the oven instead of rising evenly.

ingredients:
3 cups self-raising flour (or plain but then add 6 tsp baking powder as well)
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
75 g butter
¾ cup chopped dates
1 Tblsp sugar
1 to 1½ cups milk, approximately
extra milk or egg for wash
cinnamon sugar mixture for sprinkling (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C standard or 200°C fan forced. Line a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder (if using), salt and cinnamon into a bowl.
  3. Cut the butter in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  4. Add the chopped dates and sugar and give it a quick stir to combine.
  5. Make a well in the centre and pour in 1 cup of milk, mixing with a knife to combine. Only if you need to, add more milk, a few drops at a time as you don’t want the mixture to be too wet and once the liquid is in the bowl, it’s a devil of a job to get it back out again if you’ve added too much.
  6. Lightly flour a surface and work the mixture gently, patting it into shape so you can cut out the shapes or score it with a sharp knife into squares.
  7. Place the scones close together (I leave about 1 – 2cm – some people say they should touch, but I like the air/heat to be able to move between them) onto the prepared baking tray.
  8. Brush the tops with the egg or milk wash and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture (optional).
  9. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy!

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Caramel Chip Cookies – a tribute to Robin Williams

So very sad today to hear of the death of Robin Williams – one of life’s great comedians and actors. A soul who brought so much joy and happiness to so many, but who’s own demons eventually overcame him. This is definitely not the post I was planning on sharing with this scrumptious cookie recipe, but I’m full of emotion for Robin and his family today, so bare with me. The first movie I remember seeing him in was Dead Poet’s Society back in 1989 – as a teenager it touched my soul deeply. Mrs Doubtfire was hilarious and I recently had the pleasure of enjoying Hook again, but this time with my own little boy and saw how Robin Williams was able to touch a new generation and bring a beautiful story to life.

Caramel Chip Cookies

Love him or hate him, ignore his political stance if you will, but his talent was there for all the world to see. Voices, impersonations, such fantastically quick wit. Whether tackling comedy or drama, he brought each role to life with his unique energy and humour. I shed a few tears for him today. So often one hears about Hollywood actors who pass out of this life into the next and we briefly reminisce, but hearing of his tragic death really touched me – I felt like I’d lost a dear friend – someone I could always turn to for a smile or a crazy laugh, the kind that leaves you with aching tummy muscles and an ear to ear grin on your face. I recently began watching his latest TV series: The Crazy Ones – always good for a laugh and it allowed him into our home once again.

The only tribute I can pay to him is to thank him for many happy memories – occasions I’ve shared with friends from the past, tying in to various “growing up” stages of my life.

As I sit with a cup of tea and snack on a few of these delicious caramel chip cookies while pondering the meaning of life, the swift passing of time, careful not to become to melancholy, I think how the world needs more funny, kind, good-natured people.

In the words of Walt Whitman and taken from the movie Dead Poet’s Society, I remember Robin Williams:

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

For these cookies, I used the recipe on the back of the Nestle Caramel Bits bag but I wasn’t super happy with the outcome so I’ve fiddled a little – they’re now not as jaw-tighteningly rich but I’ve included the options below so you get to choose for yourself.

ingredients:
125 g butter, softened
¾ cup (165 g) brown sugar (I prefer using 50% raw sugar and 50% soft brown sugar)
1 egg
1¾ (255 g) self-raising flour
250 g Caramel chips (I halved this quantity but you decide)

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C or 150°C fan forced. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Cream the butter, sugar and egg in a bowl until it is pale and creamy – about 10 minutes.
  3. Sift and stir in the flour.
  4. Add the caramel chips/bits and mix well to combine.
  5. Roll the mixture into small balls using your hands – I can’t be meddling about with teaspoons!! and flatten slightly with a fork.
  6. Place them onto the trays, about 4 cm apart.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.
  8. Allow to cool on the baking trays for a few minutes (they are very soft) which also allows them to set before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

The recipe says you should get about 30 cookies, but I make them a little larger than normal (as my variation isn’t quite as rich) so I get about 24 cookies.

Enjoy!

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Steak & Mushroom Pie

My darling husband seldom makes meal requests, so when he does, I try my best to provide exactly what he’s asked for. Some people think making pies is all a bit much work and prefer to buy a ready-made one, but I prefer the labour of love (and this one includes a little labour if you count the cooking time) and satisfaction of knowing it’s a wholesome, healthy meal instead of one filled with all sorts of preservatives and suspicious contents.

Steak and Mushroom Pie

Recently he asked for a pie, a beef pie to be exact, with lovely big succulent chunks of gently cooked meat – and I was really glad he did. Don’t think this is one of those quick and easy throw-it-together-in-20-minutes kind of meals, cos it definitely isn’t. But the effort and time spent on it is worthwhile. Another positive is that you can use a relatively cheap cut of meat, like shin, chuck or blade steak packed full of flavour which a longer cooking time helps to develop. I also enjoy the fact that most of the ingredients listed are pantry or freezer staples, so no special or expensive trips to the supermarket.

I began preparing everything on the one night, leaving it to cook for a few hours peacefully and unhurried and then finished it off the next night. I suppose cooking it all in one go on a Saturday or Sunday would work, but I found the enjoyment being in two shorter installments instead of feeling like I had a cooking marathon ahead of me. I doubled the quantities and then froze half of the mixture so another pie in the making already planned for the future, only having to defrost the mixture, place it in the pastry and pop it into the oven. The quantities listed below is the standard recipe and serves 4 – 6 (unless you’re feeding my husband – he ate almost half of it himself :)).

ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
750 g beef chuck steak, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
½ cup red wine
1½ cups beef stock
1 cup water
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or ½ tsp dried)
250 g button mushrooms, chopped
1 Tbsp each: cornflour, water
2 sheets savoury short pastry
1 – 2 sheets puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten

  1. Heat a little oil in a large heavy-based pan or casserole dish that can stand direct stove-top heat.
  2. Add half of the meat and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until it is well browned.
  3. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside. Brown the second lot of meat, adding a little more oil if necessary. Remove and add to the first lot of meat.
  4. Reduce the heat to low, add a little more oil if necessary and add the onion to the pan. Cook, stirring every so often, for a few minutes until the onion has softened.
  5. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute or so – just to soften it and release the fragrance, you don’t want to colour the garlic.
  6. Add the red wine, bring to the boil and allow to boil for a couple of minutes until the wine has reduced by half.
  7. Add the beef chunks back to the pan/casserole dish, along with the stock, water, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce the heat to low.
  8. Simmer for 2 hours or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. (As I had doubled the mixture, I cooked it for a little over 4 hours).
  9. Add the mushrooms and simmer for a further 30 – 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  10. Combine the cornflour and water and stir it into the meat mixture. Cook, stirring, until the mixture boils and thickens.
  11. Remove the pan/casserole from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until the mixture is completely cold.And this is where I stopped, only to pick up with step 12 the following night.
  12. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease and flour a 20 cm x 24 cm pie dish.
  13. Line the dish with the savoury short pastry sheets (either home made or store bought, it doesn’t matter), joining where necessary.
  14. Spoon the cold beef mixture into the dish.
  15. Cover the top of the pie with the flaky puff pastry, joining where necessary, taking care to push it down gently onto the top of the meat mixture so no air is trapped in between. Trim and press the edges together to seal with the prongs of a fork or your thumbs (use a little water to seal the two pastries together if necessary).
  16. Cut slits in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape so the pastry can crisp up instead of being damp. Add cut out shapes on top if you’re feeling fancy.
  17. Brush the surface with the beaten egg.
  18. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until the top and base of the pie are golden brown.

Serve with seasonal veggies and mashed potatoes or chips – you’ll need something to mop up all that delicious gravy.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Marshmallow Slices

Today I want to honour a woman I used to work with many years ago. She is vivacious, beautiful and full of life. At the time, I was completely intimidated by her and her overwhelming energy and enthusiasm and was at a point in my life when I was learning about me. Who I was, what I wanted to do, who I wanted to become, I had questions and concerns about decisions I was making and had made as my life didn’t seem to be turning out quite how I’d planned.

Chocolate Marshmallow Slice

Melanie seemed to know exactly what she wanted and knew how to go about getting it. We seemed very different and all the positives I saw in her seemed to highlight the flaws, or so I felt, in me. I now of course know that it was all a lack of confidence in myself and nothing at all to do with her. We weren’t very close and I can’t even say that we were friends, so it wasn’t a great surprise when our lives took very separate paths and I honestly didn’t think twice about her again. I moved countries, drew on strengths I didn’t know I had, and made a new life for myself. I found “Me” again and am very happy and content with who I am. Then through Facebook she recently requested to be Friends. I was a little surprised and have to admit, inquisitive, and some of the old emotions and fears crept out from their hiding places, but I’m mature enough now to manage them and accepted the Friend request.

I can’t explain the feelings I had when I read about Melanie’s recent life experiences. For someone who looked like life came easily, she has sure been tested with the loss of a very much wanted and loved baby boy. He was born with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) which is a motor neuron disease and has bravely shared her and baby Kade’s story publicly. She is the founder of The Kade Crusade, a foundation in support of SMA, connecting families, medical care, information and raising awareness for this terrible infliction that has, in this day and age, no cure. This foundation also raises funds to assist displaced families, the hungry, children in need, etc. I salute Melanie, her family and her focus. She believes God has a plan for her and little Kade’s life and although he was only on earth for 11.5 weeks, his legacy will live on and help so many.

Please take a moment to visit http://www.kadescrusade.co.za or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KadeCrusade?fref=ts. If you can and feel so inclined, please help out by donating to this wonderful cause. Donation information is on the website. It is a registered charity/foundation.

Now how does this relate to Chocolate Marshmallow Slices I hear you ask? It doesn’t and I can’t even begin to make up a link. It’s just that I wanted to share both the slice recipe and Melanie and Kade’s story. I made the slice this week and it didn’t last very long – it is truly delicious and very easy to make.  In fact, I had forgotten quite how easy. I guess they both just made me, again, remember how grateful I am for the blessings in my life and how sharing a simple chocolate slice with the people I love makes me feel for those who have lost loved ones. I too, have losses I don’t care to talk about much, but I think the loss of a child that you have carried to term, given birth to, taken home with dreams of many years ahead of creating a wonderful life, only to lose it all when a doctor gives you a diagnosis you can do absolutely nothing about – must be truly heart breaking in a way that I sincerely hope I never face. And then to have the courage and love to hold your baby while it takes it’s last breath – as a Mother myself, my heart breaks for her.

So my recipe might seem trivial, but enjoy the small treats life has to offer, make the most of every single day and live, live, live. Celebrate the simple things and smile – we have so much to be thankful for.

ingredients:
125 ml sugar
125 ml flour
1 x 225 g can condensed milk
2 x 100 g dark chocolate
60 g butter
8 marshmallows, chopped
125 ml peanuts (raw and unsalted), chopped
250 ml biscuit crumbs (I used super wine biscuits, but Marie or something similar will do)
30 g butter

  1. In a pan, combine the sugar, flour, condensed milk, 100 g chocolate, 60 g butter and marshmallows.
  2. Heat gently, stirring continuously until all ingredients are melted and well blended. DO NOT boil the mixture.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped nuts and biscuit crumbs.
  4. Pour into a lined 25 cm square pan and refrigerate until set.
  5. Melt the remaining 100 g chocolate and butter together, blending well and spread over the set mixture. Return to the fridge to allow the topping to set before cutting into slices.

Enjoy!

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