Winter Green Smoothie

As another Winter draws to a close and I feel the first itchiness of a good Spring-clean coming on, I realised that this must be the first Winter in many years that I haven’t, at some point, been ill enough to need antibiotics. My next thought was how ridiculously unhealthy have I been in the past? But setting the mild panic aside, I remembered that while still having a relatively young family, most bugs are brought home from school and kindly shared around the family. Things like strep throat, ear aches and sore throats have left me alone this year and the only thing I can put that to is sticking to my glass of warm lemon water each morning – as far as possible – and enjoying my liquid breakfast on as many mornings as my stocks of ingredients and time will allow .

Winter Green Smoothie

Kale has become my new best friend, eaten on sandwiches, in soups, in my smoothies and baked into pasta dishes. Combine it with a chopped banana, kiwi fruit, and any other number of seasonal fruit like chopped pears and you’ll soon be slurping your way through your daily portion of fruit. To be honest, I find it much easier to drink my fruit anyway, getting it all done in one go giving me heaps of energy to tackle the day.

ingredients (makes 1 large serving):
1 banana, peeled and sliced
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped
1 juicy pear, chopped
1 handful fresh kale
300 ml coconut water

  1. Add all fruit and kale to a large glass or mixing jug.
  2. Pour in the coconut water (as little or as much as you want).
  3. Blitz together using a blender stick if you have one or mix it all in the liquidiser.

Enjoy!

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Lemon Surprise Cupcakes

This morning I’ve woken to see blossoms appearing on our plum tree, and with Spring just around the corner that’s to be expected, but is always heart warming to be part of the cyclical journey of the seasons. Technology has allowed me to chat with my parents in South Africa, read an email from my sister-in-law in Canada, and see a Facebook post from another Canadian family friend all in the space of about 10 minutes this morning. And every conversation included snippets about the weather.

Lemon Surprise Cupcakes

I’m a big fan of eating seasonal fruit and veges, as not only are they cheaper, but I’ve read that they are probably healthier than fruit or veges that have been grown, packaged and transported from elsewhere and possibly stored for a long time before reaching our shelves. At the moment we’re enjoying “lemon season” in NZ, so I’ve been drinking freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon in a large glass of warm water every morning. Very healthy and cleansing, I know. But the other day I opted for something a little less healthy, but delightful to bake, eat and look at.

Depending on the recipe, cupcakes can sometimes be a little dry, but by hollowing out a small hole in the centre of the baked cupcake, you can add all manner of surprises, taking the cupcake to a whole new level. This recipe is delicious with or without the “surprise”, not dry at all. And what is the surprise? Lemon curd!

Lemon curd filled cupcake

Using a sharp knife, carefully remove a small portion of the centre of the cupcake and fill with a blob of lemon curd, taking care that you don’t mess it all over the top of the cupcake. Then ice the cupcake in the normal way. This lemon buttercream is to die for so no skimping please. Go a little crazy and pile it up high. To finish off the decoration, place a few strands of lemon zest on the top. Simple, elegant, delicious. What more can you ask for?

ingredients:
125 g butter, softened
½ cup caster sugar
finely grated zest of ½ a lemon
2 eggs, room temperature
1 cup self-raising flour
3 Tbsp milk, warmed for 10 seconds in the microwave
½ cup lemon curd for filling
more lemon zest for decoration

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.
  2. Place the butter, sugar, lemon zest, eggs and flour into a food processor. Process for about 10 – 15 seconds.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process again briefly. Pour the warmed milk down the chute and pulse until combined.
  4. If you don’t have a food processor, cream the butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well combined, but don’t overbeat – it’s a fine line. Add the lemon zest. Sift in the flour and mix slowly until just combined. Then move on to step 5 below.
  5. Spoon the  mixture evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 15 – 17 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Set aside to cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool properly.
  6. When cool, cut a tiny hole in the top of each cupcake and fill with a teaspoon of lemon curd.

Lemon Buttercream:
1 cup room temperature butter, softened
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 Tbsp milk or cream

  1. Cream the butter until very pale, about 3 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides if you need to.
  2. On a low speed, mix in the icing sugar alternately with the lemon zest, juice and milk/cream. Continue to beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Pipe onto the cooled and filled cupcakes.
  4. Decorate with the last of the lemon zest.

Enjoy!

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No-bake Chocolate Peanut Slice

Sugar or sugar-free? I have to admit that I’m getting so tired of listening to debates about the pro’s and con’s of sugar in all it’s various forms. Tired of seeing programmes advertised on TV about the growing epidemic of obesity. What happened to enjoying a well-balanced life? Isn’t it common sense anymore? Come on people, we know that too much sugar is bad for us. We know exercise is good for us. We know that there are hideous amounts of hidden sugar in processed foods. We also know that fizzy drinks, energy drinks, too much chocolate and an abundance of lollies is bad for us, just like too much salt isn’t a good idea…don’t we?

No-bake Chocolate SliceAs you know, I enjoy baking. Whether it’s for myself, my family, work colleagues or friends. Any excuse is a good excuse to bake. And I use sugar. Now I do agree that some forms of sugar are better for our bodies than others, but I read an article yesterday saying how fructose (sugar found in fruit) is bad for our livers. For Goodness’ Sake!! Where will it end?

In my opinion, as long as we are aware of what we are eating, and we prepare the majority of our food from scratch and not packets, boxes or bottles, a little indulgence once in a while can’t be all that bad; and as I referred to it earlier – I live by the adage “a well-balanced life”. Balance in all things. That means exercising self-control a little more often than some of us are used to. But if we do that, l’m sure the majority of people’s lives would be so much more enjoyable.

Right – I’ll climb off my soap box now and share this glorious sugar-filled chocolate treat with you. If it makes anyone feel better, it has raw peanuts and dried apricots in it. But yes, the apricots have fructose…

This is a version of what Kiwi’s call a Hedgehog Slice, and what I’ve always made and called my Chocolate Chunky Fudge (see recipe here). It’s a super easy recipe for kids to make if you’re wanting to get them into the kitchen. It freezes well too, although I’d advise cutting it into squares and storing in the fridge for a while before moving it to the freezer. To defrost, separate the pieces and leave covered on the bench-top or in the fridge. Great for a lunch-box treat too.

Ingredients:
200 g packet dark chocolate wheaten biscuits (chocolate digestives)
125 g malt biscuits
125 g butter (no need for room temperature as you’re going to melt it)
1½ cups caster sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg at room temperature
¼ cup each: chopped dried apricots, raw peeled peanuts

Chocolate icing:
1¼ cups icing sugar
2 Tbsp cocoa
50 g butter, softened (not melted)
2 – 3 Tbsp hot water
1 Tbsp coconut for sprinkling

  1. Line a 20 cm x 20 cm pan with baking paper.
  2. Place all the biscuits into a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs. If you don’t have a food processor, put the biscuits a few at a time into a plastic zip-lock bag (let the air out) and pound with a rolling pin. Not letting the air out could mean an almighty explosion of cookie crumbs everywhere.
  3. Place the butter, sugar, cocoa and vanilla extract into a large saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg well and pour it into the chocolate mixture, whisking quickly to combine. You want the mixture to become thick and shiny, you definitely don’t want bits of scrambled egg in it.
  5. Then add the biscuit crumbs, dried apricots and peanuts. Stir well to combine and press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Put it in the fridge for half an hour.
  6. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl. Add the softened (not melted) butter and enough hot water to make a spreadable icing. Spread the icing over the chocolate base, sprinkle with the coconut and put it back into the fridge to set.
  7. When ready to serve, remove it from the baking paper and cut into squares or rectangles.

Enjoy!

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Broccoli, Blue Cheese and Walnut Soup

Last night was cold. Perhaps not as cold as some places in this world, but cold for Auckland. We woke to find frost glistening on the grass in the early morning sunlight. I love the sharpness of the summer sunshine, but to wake to a beautiful clear blue sky brightened by the weakened rays of mid-winter sunshine reminds me that it is truly a blessing to be alive and able to enjoy the changing of the seasons.

Broccoli, Blue Cheese and Walnut SoupThis beautiful bowl of greenness won me over at a restaurant last year. It was a cold Saturday morning last winter when we headed to our favourite place at the time for a brunch after another early morning soccer session. My hubby had the house full breakfast while I couldn’t let a bowl of something hot and steamy go untried. Served with freshly baked bread I can honestly say it was heavenly. But I didn’t have the courage to ask them for the recipe, plus I imagine it isn’t quite the done thing, so this winter I set about trying to recapture it in all it’s glory.

My little boy told me it was his “second best soup” but could I leave out the nuts next time. So I’ll give that a go next time. I decided against telling him about the blue cheese – devious I know… the things we Mothers do to feed our families!

Feel free to mess about with the quantities as you see fit. My soups are generally made for 3-4 people and I never really measure, but I’ve tried to give accurate measurements here.

If you are including the walnuts, make sure they are fresh and not rancid by tasting them before adding them. A walnut that isn’t fresh has a very bitter taste and will overpower and spoil the soup. I don’t always trust the “best before” dates either, better to check for yourself.

ingredients
1 head of fresh broccoli (I suppose you could use frozen, I haven’t tried)
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 – 2 cloves garlic
1 small onion
1 litre chicken stock
½ cup full cream
75 g creamy blue cheese
¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
extra cheese for decoration

  1. Wash and break the broccoli into florets, discarding the central hard woody stem.
  2. Peel and chop the garlic and onion very fine.
  3. In a large saucepan, gently sauté the onion in the olive oil. Add the garlic when the onion is already soft and almost translucent so you don’t overcook/burn it.
  4. Add the broccoli florets and cover with the stock. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the broccoli is soft.
  5. In the meantime, chop the walnuts and dry fry in a separate pan over a low heat, toasting them until they are fragrant but not coloured. Remove from the heat.
  6. Break the cheese into bits and add, along with the walnuts and cream, to the soup.
  7. Carefully transfer the soup to a liquidiser and blitz until almost smooth. You may prefer to do this in stages instead of overfilling the liquidiser.
  8. Lastly, return to the saucepan to heat through. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper if needed and serve with a few shavings of blue cheese on the top. Accompanied by freshly baked bread, this is a hearty filling meal for anyone.

Enjoy!

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Kitchen Sink Cookies

This wonderful name comes from the idiom “everything but the kitchen sink” meaning that these cookies have a very long list of ingredients, that practically everything has been thrown in that the inventor could think of. Normally I shy away from recipes with long ingredient lists, but this one excites me as with most of my shared recipes, ingredients can be changed to suit my pantry or mood.

Kitchen Sink CookiesThis is another recipe I copied into my book many moons ago and have no idea where I got it from, but as they are easy to make and delightful to eat, let’s not worry about where the recipe came from and rather focus on getting a batch into the oven really quickly so we can enjoy the fruits of our labour!

Remember that baking works better when ingredients like eggs, butter, etc. are at room temperature so leave them out of the fridge overnight or for a few hours before you plan to begin baking. Leave out the nuts or add chopped apricots; replace the raisins with dried cranberries or do half bittersweet and half white chocolate – keep the basic ingredients the same and you can’t go wrong.

ingredients:
2½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
230 g unsalted butter (or use salted and omit the ½ tsp salt)
½ cup brown sugar
1½ tsp Golden syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup raisins
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
½ cup oats

  1. Preheat your oven to 190°C and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Sift all dry ingredients together and stir briefly with a whisk to combine.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar on a low speed, increasing to medium as it comes together. Add the syrup and vanilla extract and continue to cream until well combined and fluffy.
  4. Add 1 egg at a time to the creamed mixture and continue to beat slowly  until combined.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and fold in. Add the coarsely chopped pecans, raisins and chocolate. Combine. Add the oats last.
  6. Roll into golf ball size balls and place onto the prepared baking trays. Flatten with a fork and place in the centre of the oven.
  7. Bake for 12 – 16 minutes. Remove the trays from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack.

Enjoy!

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Meatloaf with Apricot Sauce

I know that Meatloaf is not the most popular dish ever, and you probably think I’ve returned to the ’70’s but meatloaf actually pre-dates much of the history of the last 2,000 years, having first shown up in an old Roman cookbook!

Meatloaf with apricot sauce

Many recipes call for the addition of oats or a bread and milk mixture, but I don’t like adding these as they dumb down the flavour and the texture is then not very meaty. You do need to add a liquid of sorts and bread crumbs work well as they help to glue the minced meat together as no-one wants a dry crumbly meatloaf, so I know this sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but read on… A good meatloaf has to be moist, full of flavour and able to be sliced.

This particular recipe is a very simple version that I came across shortly after my son was born and it caters to the very simple palates of the very young. I’ve found that as he’s grown and his tastes have developed, I’ve been able to make changes, add garlic and spices, and generally moved away from the original recipe, but it is lovely to return to it occasionally. And the secret ingredient? Don’t have a heart attack now, but it is Baked Beans!

ingredients:
500 g minced beef or lamb
420 g can baked beans
2¼ cups soft breadcrumbs (I halve this, it isn’t necessary to use this much)
1 egg
pinch dried mixed herbs or 1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs
4 Tbsp tomato sauce

For the sauce: 3 Tbsp Apricot jam

  1. Preheat your oven to 160°C and grease a loaf tin.
  2. Combine all ingredients (except the jam) in a bowl or blitz them in a food processor.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the greased loaf tin* and bake for 1 hour.
  4. Cool in the tin for 5 – 10 minutes before turning out.
  5. If making with the sauce, melt the jam in the  microwave for a few minutes and brush over the top of the loaf* before placing it into the oven. Alternatively, drizzle the sauce over the sliced loaf when ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Recipe taken from the New Zealand Beef and Lamb “Easy Iron-rich Meals for Babies and Toddlers”

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Apricot Jam Bread and Butter Pudding

Winter just isn’t Winter without good old Bread and Butter Pudding. So easy to make yet so delicious and very versatile so you can change it’s flavour depending on the ingredients you have on hand. I love smearing the bread with Apricot Jam as it adds another dimension, but any jam will do, or, stick with the traditional vanilla egg custard recipe.

Bread & Butter Pudding

Some recipes ask for the bread to be diced and soaked in the egg custard mixture, but I use sliced bread and pour the custard mixture over the top. Then let it sit for a half hour or so prior to putting it into the oven so the beautiful liquid has soaked into the bread. Any type of bread will do as well, normal white bread or if you feel the urge to be a little bit fancy then why not use a sweet Italian bread.

Traditionally this was known as a “poor man’s pudding” as it was a way of using stale bread and a little fills the tummy and goes quite a long way, but over the last few years it seems to have made a resurgence into some of the fanciest restaurants – or so I’m told – as I don’t frequent them very often…or at all, if I’m to be totally honest.

Add chocolate instead of raisins, or soak the raisins in a liqueur for a grown-up version; Nutella spread instead of jam is heavenly, but any which way, it’s another great dish to add to your repertoire.

ingredients:
1 loaf white bread, sliced (about 15 slices*)
butter
apricot jam
½ cup raisins
ground cinnamon (optional)
1½ cups milk (or half cream and half milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
¼ cup sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C and grease an oven-proof dish.
  2. Remove the crusts from the bread and slice. I like to butter the slices and smear with the jam.
  3. Layer the bread and sprinkle each layer with a little cinnamon (optional) and raisins.
  4. Combine the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and sugar and pour over the bread. Make sure that all the bread is covered in the milk mixture and allow to stand until it has been mostly absorbed.
  5. Bake in the oven until the top is golden brown and the liquid has been absorbed (no liquid should be visible when a knife or skewer is inserted).
  6. Serve with vanilla ice cream, custard or cream.

Enjoy!

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