Author Archives: clare

About clare

I believe in creating simple dishes from high quality raw ingredients; everyday food from scratch. I am a caterer, whole food eater, hopeless recipe collector, book worm, trainee marathon runner, ocean lover and mamma to Thea.

How to make Italian buttercream

A cheese and pineapple echidna, chocolate cornflake cakes, popcorn, fresh fruit skewers, homemade lemonade. And cake. What a kid’s birthday party is all about. Singing happy birthday, blowing out candles, making a wish and eating cake. For Thea’s first birthday I had baked her a baby friendly banana and coconut birthday cake with THE most delicious maple buttercream frosting, a beautiful recipe from rubies and radishes. No grains and no refined sugars for little tummies and their first taste of cake. I was looking forward to baking it again for Pat’s celebratory day. Little did I know, it was going to turn into a lesson on how to make Italian buttercream. 
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The night before Pat’s party, to be held at a ride on model railway, the banana and coconut component of Pat’s cake was on the bench ready to be iced. With Thea and Pat in bed it was time to start making the best part, the maple buttercream, to ice it. I poured the maple syrup into a saucepan and heated it to 115 degrees. While it was heating I whisked up four eggs. Ok. Now time to add the hot syrup to the eggs, steady stream, all in. And now the butter. Shit. The beautiful billowy whisked eggs turned to soup. Damn it. What had I done wrong. I’d made this icing before. Weird. Maybe the syrup wasn’t hot enough. So I tried again, this time with a different thermometer.

DSC_0202Oh shit. On my second attempt with the new thermometer I forgot to change the settings from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Third attempt. Soup. Ok. Seriously. What is going on. You tube. Fourth attempt. Fifth attempt. I was raging. All those beautiful ingredients. What was I missing. Why wasn’t it working. I’d done it before damn it. Who could I call. What was my plan B. Cross and disheartened I went to bed thinking that I would just whip up some fresh cream in the morning and ice the cake at the party.

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Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t give up. I’m stubborn and determined, and like a rumbling dark storm cloud when something isn’t going my way. So without even knowing why, in the morning still in my pajamas with 15 minutes until we had to walk out the door, I abandoned plan B and started my sixth attempt at the icing. Heat the maple syrup, oh wait no I used it all last night. Ok honey. Heat the honey. Whisk the eggs until doubled in size. Honey hits 115. Pour the honey down the side of the bowl with the motor still on high. Now the bit that I didn’t do the night before. I left the mixer going on high for a generous 15 minutes. I even held an ice pack against the side of the bowl during this time (a you tube tip from this lady) to help bring the mixture to room temperature. With the first piece of butter in my hands ready to add to the mixture, there was now no time for a back up plan. Every single one of my eggs was in that basket. My heart sank. The eggs lost some of their volume. Shit shit shit. Oh fuck it. I just kept adding the butter.

How to make Italian buttercream

Piece by piece I dropped the butter into the bowl and watched, quite astonished after so many agonizing attempts, as the buttercream began to increase in volume again. Wow. I’d done it. I had made honey Italian buttercream. Elated knowing that there would be icing on the cake I grabbed the bowl, a spatula, some Thomas trains and we headed for the party.

How to make Italian buttercream

Kids parties are a delight to plan. Any party is fun to plan, but especially children’s ones. They’re bright, colourful, imaginative and creative. They make food fun. And it’s always heartwarming to see small people excitedly putting little fistfuls of food into their mouths. I made sure that the spread wasn’t too sugar heavy and surprisingly the children dived into the fruit skewers while the adults scoffed the chocolate cornflake cakes. Pa cooked sausages on the wood fire barbecue while everyone had rides on the sit on locomotives. The cake cut into just the right amount of  slices, and there were even a few comments about how good the icing tasted. I’m sure everyone wondered what all the fuss was about though, and Pat didn’t even want any. Never mind. I’m so happy I didn’t give up. And the icing for Thea’s cake. You guessed it. A maple buttercream. From now on it’s going to be my signature.

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How to make Italian buttercream

Maple Italian buttercream

Recipe from rubies and radishes

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 4 eggs
  • 480g soft butter
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • pinch sea salt
  1. Place the maple syrup in a small saucepan and heat it until it reaches a temperature of 115 degrees C, then immediately remove it from the heat. Use a thermometer to do this. The heating process should take about 5-10 minutes.
  2. While the syrup is heating, crack the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high until the eggs have doubled in volume and turned a pale colour. This will take about 5 minutes. Try to time it so that the eggs and maple are ready at the same time. There is the risk of over whisking the eggs.
  3. With the mixer still running, in a confident slow stream, rest the saucepan on the side of the bowl if you wish and pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl. Take about 1 minute to do this.
  4. Continue whisking on high for an additional 15 minutes. This allows the egg/syrup mixture to cool to room temperature before the butter is added.
  5. Now, add the butter, one bit at a time, until it’s thoroughly incorporated.***
  6. Finally, slowly add the cream and whip everything until it’s well combined and fluffy.
  7. Ice the cake!

***This is the point where things may turn to soup. If the egg/syrup mixture is too hot when the butter is added, it may turn to liquid. Stop adding the butter and get an ice pack (or several) from the freezer and hold it against the side of the bowl. This is to try to cool the contents down and bring it back to a fluffy mass.
The opposite thing can also happen if the butter added is too cold. Then the icing will become grainy and appear to separate. In this instance, wet a tea towel with hot water and hold it against the side of the bowl to warm the mixture up and “melt’ the butter slightly.

If you enjoyed this recipe you might like my top tips for making Pavlova

No bake mint chocolate cheesecake

I think it’s been about 10 months since I last visited here. Life with two small people is needless to say, very busy. Jam packed really. From the moment Thea comes into my room and grins her morning bed hair grin at me and Pat cries out to join in the fun, it’s non stop action and a little bit of chaos for the next 12 hours. Add work into the equation. A nutrition course. Building a new house. It makes for a full day. But I wouldn’t have my life right now any other way. Yet this post is not about any of those things. The reason for my sudden impetus to write, apart from the fact that I’m craving to put the jumbled sentences swimming in my head in to a meaningful form, is that my sister-in-law Tash, one very cool lady and among many things, a passionate doula, has asked me to share the story of Pat’s birth. And the timing seems just right with the anniversary of that day fast approaching.

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Pat’s impending arrival was jigsaw puzzle perfect. I found out I was pregnant two weeks after running my first marathon. Immediately I made a vision board full of round tummies and chubby newborns. My second pregnancy was going to be different. This time I was going to grow the little human inside me for the full 40 weeks. I was going to have a peaceful natural birth and I was going to cradle my newborn son in my arms before the cord was even cut. Wrong. For all my positivity, at a 24 week scan, booked so that Pat’s size could be measured to check that everything was on track, it was discovered that I had the same complication that I experienced with Thea. The flow of blood in the umbilical cord was compromised and he wasn’t getting all the nourishment that he needed.

Hearing the news time slowed down. My cheeks flushed, my heart started racing and a tumultuous feeling settled in my stomach. This can’t be happening. Not again. Not two premmie babies. But with Thea on my lap as testimony of a beautiful outcome, I accepted what I had been told and decided to maintain my optimism.

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Fast forward through 12 weeks of ECGs and growth scans, to 36 weeks and five days pregnant and the night before my Caesarian was due to take place. I had been told in answer to my requests to deliver baby later, “No, going over 37 weeks is really not a good idea as the chances of the cord giving up get much higher.” I had also been told no to trying for a natural birth. It was all out of my hands and to be honest knowing that all the monitoring and stress related with having a high risk pregnancy was going to be over was a huge relief. That said, I was sad. Sad for the loss of those final few weeks. Sad for the negativity surrounding my unborn baby which the doctors and nurses insisted on fostering. Sad knowing it just wasn’t my fate to experience a natural birth. I am aware that these things are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but let me tell you, becoming a mother is life changing. And how your child is delivered leaves an indelible mark. One moment you are someone, the next you are a completely different person with feelings so big that they are able to bowl you over.

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I spent a sleepless six hours in bed, getting up to go to the loo what seemed like every five minutes. I just couldn’t get comfortable. Couldn’t relax. I wasn’t so much worried about having two children and how logistically it was all going to work, or about how Thea was going to react to having a brother. No. I was anxious in that visiting a hospital three and four times a week to check the progression of your pregnancy because it’s considered high risk really gets into your head. Would baby be ok, healthy, a good size? Or was he going to be tiny and need help? Mark and I finally got up at six o’clock on Thursday June 30th and left the house for the last time as a family of three.

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I knew what to expect. Cold room, bright lights, lots of people, numb legs, screen in front of my face, Mark’s cheek pressed close mine. And the birth of a baby. A joyous occasion. But I did not experience joy. I felt sadness. Despair. Powerlessness. I felt defeated. I had written down a few things that I would like to happen at the birth this time around, like to see Pat coming into the world, but not one of my requests was honoured. It was like with Thea but worse, because this time I thought I might have some control over the situation, but really I didn’t. I was a number on a list and my son’s birth was just part of a routine day.

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But then the moment came. I heard the words that I ached to hear. It took a while and I really didn’t think that it wasn’t going to happen and had been forewarned it might not. Would you like to hold him? I howled. Wailed. A primal explosion of emotion washed over me as my perfect little boy was placed on my bare chest. He squealed, I soothed. I cupped him in my hands. He was breathtaking. A gorgeous 2.4 kilos, 10 tiny fingers, 10 tiny toes and the gentlest dusting of soft brown hair. Oh all the things that we will do together, all the memories we will make, all the possibilities in the world that lie ahead of you. My boy. We did it. You’re here.

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The encounter was far too brief though and we were separated until the next morning. My time in recovery was full of tears and anguish. Mark had gone with Pat to the nursery and I had no way to contact them. My temperature kept dropping and my whole body shivered. Anxiety churned in my stomach. With no idea what was going on, I was beyond stressed. Having experienced Thea’s birth, where I knew that she would be taken away from me, this time round I was full of hope, but equally trepidation. How was my little boy doing.

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The next morning full of gusto, my focus entirely on Pat, I lowered my limbs out of bed, renewed my senses under a hot shower and headed straight for the nursery. I was going to cradle my baby boy, feed him, drink him in. Bring him home. He latched straight away, tears pricked my eyes and my heart soared. By 4pm that afternoon, I was allowed to have him in my room and soon discovered that unlike Thea, he was not going to sleep unless held. And that was fine with me. In the clinical setting of the dimly lit hospital room, the two of us dozed and the bad memories of the day before faded. By 1pm on Saturday, Pat Finch Thompson, in a little red onesie, was securely cocooned in his car seat and we were on our way home.

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Recollecting Pat’s birth still makes me sad. Wether my experience with Thea marred her brother’s arrival, or the weeks of monitoring before he was born, or simply the fact that we were separated. Above all though, his entrance into the world may not have been what I wanted, but he was safe and cared for and there have been a multitude of joyous times since that day. I often think that the challenging events in life, the most uncomfortable of times, can teach the biggest lessons. From both my pregnancies I have learnt to surrender, yet not without optimism, but perhaps more importantly, that having children is not about me at all. It’s about them.

And the mint choc chip? Having Pat come home straight after having him was so different to my experience with Thea. The way my body changed over the first few weeks of his life really did make me feel like I’d had a baby. My capacity to eat chocolate was unending and I craved mint chocolate more than anything else. Mint slices dipped into hot cups of tea, mint chocolate mousses, mint magnums, mint choc chip ice cream, no bake mint chocolate cheesecake… If I had craved family sized portions of lemon dressed salad when I was pregnant, now it was all about sugar. And so I give you this no bake mint chocolate cheesecake. Enjoy.

No bake mint chocolate cheesecake

Makes about 10 servings. I would give credit but the recipe comes from Ma Lyn’s recipe book in the form of a very old clipping.

Crumb crust

Combine the biscuits and butter in the bowl of a food processor and whizz until fine crumbs are achieved. Press the crumbs into the base of a lined 20cm loose bottomed cake tin and chill until firm.

Filling

  • 1 tbsp powdered gelatin (I used Great Lakes gelatin)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I used Sunshine vanilla powder)
  • 4 drops real peppermint essence (I used Doterra)
  • 90g dark chocolate, melted
  • 375ml evaporated milk, chilled

Soak gelatin in cold water. Add boiling water and stir until dissolved. Cool.

In a large bowl or stand mixer beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla and peppermint essence.

Gradually add the melted chocolate, then the gelatin mixture, then the evaporated milk. Keep mixing/beating at high-speed until the mixture is thick and has doubled in volume. Pour the mixture into prepared tin and chill for at least two hours.

Decorate with chocolate shards or sprinkles and enjoy.

If you liked this recipe then you might like chocolate fork biscuits

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Easy upsidedown pineapple cake

Now that during the day we are three, me, a very little and helpless human and an independent, talkative, whirlwind of a toddler, activities to do with the later, to make her feel included and secure with the new family dynamic are more important than ever. And it’s been a beautiful discovery to find that she enjoys cooking. The weighing and the mixing and sometimes even the eating. We’re still working on the eating and it’s sad for me to admit that as a chef I have an extremely tiny, fussy and plain eater. Anyway, she does still enjoy cooking, and this week we made an easy pineapple upside down pineapple cake.

easy upsidedown pineapple cakeEven before children, I had visions of the kind of activities that I would like to do with them when the time came. Painting, drawing, gluing, sticking and cooking. Of course cooking. Cutting out gingerbread men and decorating them with Smartie buttons, baking fairy cakes and licking all the butter cream icing off first, making chocolate chip cookies and munching them with an ice cold glass of milk. I have very fond memories of routinely preparing rock cakes with one grandma and cupcakes with the other. Spending time together in the kitchen doing a common activity and sharing the pleasure of the final culinary creation.

easy upsidedown pineapple cakeAs a lot of my day is spent holding Pat, feeding him, burping him, carrying him sleeping in a sling (this one’s the bomb), Thea loves it when it’s time for her to have some uninterrupted focus. Don’t get me wrong, she knows what’s what and why I’m investing so much of my time with Pat, but she still craves one on one attention. And cooking seems to be a solution. It’s almost an out of bounds area that she gets to enter into, up on her little stepladder spooning flour into a bowl, haphazardly cracking eggs and pressing buttons on the processor. Yes, it’s messy, especially when there’s cocoa or hundreds and thousands involved, but we both laugh, and surely that counts for more.

easy upsidedown pineapple cakeDSC_1030easy upsidedown pineapple cakeThis easy pineapple upside down cake is a really great recipe to make with a small person. They can be very hands on with its preparation as there are essentially just two simple steps. Plus the finished product is so pretty and colourful. There is no guarantee however that participating in making the cake will mean that beyond nibbling the edges your little helper will want to eat it… But that’s ok. We had fun. And it means more for everyone else!

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Easy upsidedown pineapple cake

Adapted from a recipe in Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 6 pineapple rings from a tin (reserve juice to thin cake batter)
  • 11 or so glace cherries depending how many your toddler eats
  • 100g flour
  • 100g soft butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Pre heat the oven to 200C and butter a 24cm isn cake tin.

(Get your toddler to) sprinkle 2 tbsp of sugar in the bottom of the cake tin and arrange the pineapple slices on top. Fill the gaps with glace cherries.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and (get your toddler to) process until a smooth batter is achieved. Thin with a little, maybe 2 tbsp pineapple juice from the tin of pineapple rings.

Pour the batter into the cake tin on top of the pineapple rings and pop the tin into the oven for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before sliding a spatula around the outside of the tin. Place a plate on top of the tin and then turn it upsidedown. Easy pineapple upsidedown cake!

Enjoy with cream and a cup of tea. Your toddler may or may not do the same.

Like this easy upside-down pineapple cake recipe? Then you might like almond tart with strawberries

Cafe de Paris butter recipe

This post is a long time coming. A long time. Pregnancy stopped me in my tracks in more ways than simply preventing me from posting here. My main focus was on growing a healthy baby. And that was it. Motivation to achieve much else waned. But then Pat was born and immediately I felt invigorated. Ready to pick up where I left off and reenter life at full throttle. This Cafe de Paris butter recipe is one of the first things that I was inspired to make for the sheer pleasure of it to go with a celebratory meal to mark our new family unit of four.

Cafe de Paris butter recipe

Let’s be clear. This recipe is not for the fainthearted. It’s butter, flavoured with a myriad of ingredients, to sit atop steak. The method is straightforward enough, but for the mixture a trip to the shops to restock the pantry will be required. The finished product is well worth the effort though and will keep in the freezer for months ready to crown grilled beef and transform it into a glorious meal at a moments notice. Serve aforementioned meat with shoestring fries and it’s one of my favourite dinners.

Cafe de Paris butter recipe Cafe de Paris butter recipe Cafe de Paris butter recipe

Enough of dinner though. Pat. Patrick Finch Thompson. My little man. After a rather traumatic pregnancy with more monitoring than I care to ever remember, due to my history with Thea and some abnormal findings, Pat arrived safely into the world at 11.19am on Thursday June 30th 2016 36+6 weeks, all 2.4kg and 45cm of him. I was allowed to hold him skin to skin after his birth and I bawled. Howled. The relief. All the months of heartache worrying how long I’d be able to carry him. If he’d be ok. And he was. He was perfect. Oh and the love. The absolute pure unending love that I’m sure every parent feels as soon as they see their baby. That love is so special.

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I don’t feel that I need to say much more here right now. About Pat. Or about this Cafe de Paris butter recipe. Basically this a great compound butter to transform steak and chips from average to wipe-the-plate-clean delicious. And Pat. Well, I’ll definitely be mentioning him again soon.

cafe de paris butter recipe

 

Cafe de Paris butter recipe

Adapted from a recipe from French by Damien Pignolet

1kg soft unsalted butter
60g tomato sauce
25g Dijon mustard
25g capers, roughly chopped
125g French shallots, finely chopped
50g parsley, finely chopped
5g dried dill
5g dried thyme
10g tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
8 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 tbsp brandy
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp curry powder
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch of dried rosemary, ground
8 white peppercorns, ground
juice 1 lemon
zest 1/2 lemon
zest 1/4 orange
10-12g sea salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy.

In a separate bowl combine all the remaining ingredients and then add them to the butter and mix thoroughly.

Next take a long length of aluminium foil and on top of it place a long length of baking paper. Spread the butter out along it and try to keep it an even width from top to bottom. Now roll the butter into a log, twisting the ends of the foil to tighten it.

To serve, cut discs of the butter and place (once at room temperature) on top of warm steak to melt while the meat is resting.

Asparagus carbonara

asparagus carbonara

So without further a do, I mean it has been eight weeks or something now, I have a new recipe, asparagus carbonara. A dinner born as a way to help make use of the gorgeous and abundant cherry tomatoes thriving in back yard. It’s such a joy to pick a new harvest each day with Thea, to subliminally teach her where food comes from as well as recognise colours. But why the lapse in sharing this simple recipe?

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Well. The cooking continues in my kitchen, but that little window when Thea has her nap that I used to reserve for writing down my recipes. Gone. Used now by me also for some daytime shuteye. And it’s not even a choice. I’d love to stay up and be productive but my body hits a wall and it’s all I can do to read Thea a story, usually Peepo, settle her into her cot and then climb into bed myself.

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Daytime naps are one of life’s little luxuries though. A mini holiday during the day. And the way I like to look at it, exclusive time for me and my 20 week bump. Lying on my side, hand on tummy, feeling the tiny little kicks that never fail to make me smile. I know. Half way. And thankfully growing well.

asparagus carbonara

Speaking of holidays. We are off to Fiji next week and I am so excited. Excited to spend time as three, swimming and relaxing. Spending our days at a different pace. My reading material is children’s fiction, Harry Potter and The Dream Snatcher – glorious worlds that I can easily lose myself in and may even be able to finish while away with Thea. I have also prepared a list potential restaurants, because holidays are as much about eating as they are unwinding. I know I will find inspiration for new recipes to bring home with me. Be patient until I share them.

asparagus carbonara

asparagus carbonara

 

Asparagus carbonara

For 4.

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • about 200-300g cherry tomatoes
  • a handful of  black olives
  • 4 clove garlic
  • 1 to 2  birdseye chilli, chopped
  • 30g butter
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 400g spaghetti or your favourite pasta
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Snap the woody ends from the asparagus and then cut the spears into three. Cook these for about 3-5 minutes in boiling water, drain and then plunge into cold water, chilled with ice if you have a spare tray handy in the freezer. This step stops the asparagus cooking so that it retains its bite and colour. When the asparagus has completely cooled, drain and dry.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half.

Pit the olives and then slice lengthways. You can put these three items into a bowl now ready to add to the pasta later.

In another bowl, place the yolks, milk, feta, salt and pepper and mix well.

Now chop the garlic and chilli and fry gently in the oil and butter until the garlic is fragrant but not coloured.

At this stage, everything is ready and you could go and bath children, have a bath yourself, open a bottle of wine and read a magazine, do the washing up. Whatever. The point is that when everything is done up to this task, the prep can be left and then continued on with again later.

Put a large pot full of water on the stove and bring to the boil. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling, add the asparagus, tomatoes and olives to the garlic and chilli, gently heat and keep warm.

When the pasta is done, drain and then return it to the pot in which it was cooked. Working quickly, add the asparagus mixture to the pasta and gently stir and then straight away add the yolk mixture. Continue gently stirring the pasta. The yolks will cook with the pasta’s residual heat and a glossy coating will develop over everything in the pot.

Check for seasoning and enjoy.

Like this recipe. You might like spaghetti carbonara

Peach and burrata salad

I know. I know. I feel a bit sheepish coming back, but I really really would like to explain where I’ve been. And also make my comeback along with a killer summer peach and burrata salad that you are going to want to make. Juicy ripe peaches, soft creamy cheese, crunchy buttered almonds, clean fresh mint and tangy pomegranate molasses to marry the seasonal medley together.  A gorgeous starting point or accompaniment for any seasonal gathering.

peach and burrata salad

Ok. Let’s get to the point. Why was my last post back in November? Um, because I’m making a tiny human and the last 14 or so weeks have been all about sleeping, eating more citrus fruit that is necessary and copious amounts of tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil, and generally just getting through the day. It does seem so unfair that pregnancy make you feel like half the person you once were. Sick, tired, cranky, constantly hungry. But as I write this, a small person is growing inside of me, apparently currently the size of a peach (you see what I did there).

peach and burrata salad

Not only have I been feeling exhausted though. If I’m very honest, which is easy on paper, I’m scared. I am just so scared. I know the absolute joy that comes with bringing a child into the world now, and I also know the anguish that comes with bringing a very tiny premature baby into the world, so I’d just like this time to be a smooth ride. A lazy, uninteresting, routine journey to 40 weeks. With a big party at the 30 week mark as I enter unknown territory.

peach and burrata salad

To instil some positivity, which I know can only come from inside myself, I have made a pregnancy vision board, full of beautiful round bellies and cherub like newborns. I bought some new onesies. Unisex ones. And no we’re not finding out this time around. Every night I now read Thea a book all about how she’s going to become a big sister. And you know, I feel a little more carefree.

peach and burrata salad

So with my new outlook (and hopefully second trimester renewed energy) comes new vigour to return to this space and share some beautiful recipes with you, starting with this rather special peach and burrata salad, as well as share this crazy, miraculous and wonderful journey.

Peach and burrata salad

For 2. 1 ball of burrata will serve 2 people so you can adjust this recipe according to how many people you are feeding

  • 1 ball burrata
  • 2 ripe yellow peaches
  • handful fresh mint leaves, roughly sliced
  • small handful of whole almonds
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • pomegranate molasses

This peach and burrata salad is the kind of dish that needs to be made at the last-minute, but don’t let that deter you as it’s extremely simple and quick to prepare.

Begin by toasting the almonds in a pan with a teaspoonful of butter and then roughly chop them.

Depending on how rustic you’d like the salad to look, tear or cut the peaches into  walnut size chunks. Now take the ball of burrata and gently tear it and scatter it over the peach pieces.

Over the cheese and the fruit, sprinkle the mint leaves, the almonds, a frugal dousing of pomegranate molasses and enjoy.

Enjoy this peach and burrata salad recipe? Then you might like this marinated mozzarella salad

Roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley

So now I’ve shared with you where we’ve been staying for the last three months, can you picture it? Can you hear the waves breaking from your pillow as you lie in bed reading a book, smell the jasmine wafting through the window in the middle of the night as you look out over the ocean lit by a full moon, see the whales breaching as you enter the kitchen first thing in the morning? It’s all still so fresh in my memory. Like this fresh and colourful picnic made up of roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley and a kale salad with roasted baby carrots, shared around a gigantic neolithic looking table at the bottom of the garden.

roast capsicum bruschetta

Exploring our surroundings during the first few days of our stay, Thea and I discovered an incredible, almost secret, garden artefact. Below a palm tree and shaded by its branches, on the last ‘tier’ of the house’s land, stood a huge stone table, its rough surface patched with lichen. Embraced by lush grass and perfectly placed for gazing out over the ocean, I pledged to myself that I would make an effort to make the most of such a wonderful thing. To read a magazine at it. To sip my morning cup of tea at it. To have a picnic around it and share it with friends.
roast capsicum bruschetta

Picnics are fun things and can be as simple as a cookie (the word I use with Thea to describe the homemade snacks I make her, like these granola bars) eaten in the park. They can also be as elaborate as wicker hampers burgeoning with cheeses, meats, pastries, fruit and champagne. I remember taking a long-term university flame on a romantic picnic to celebrate the end of his exams. The wicker basket kind. When we got to our destination though it was pouring and after trying to drink champagne under a tree we decided better of it and retreated to a nearby pub. We finished or picnic on the train home and the fact that I can still remember the event so vividly is probably because of the inclement weather. 
roast capsicum bruschetta

In fact, pondering picnics, Mark proposed to me half way through a picnic. At Clareville beach, mid bucket of prawns that we were sharing with my dad, he asked I’d like to go for a walk. “You’re not going to propose are you?! You never go for romantic walks” I affirmed, to myself as much as him. Poor guy. He replied that he wanted to go and see the tri-hull moored a short distance away, which seemed like a fair enough explanation. When we reached the boat in question though, he turned and dropped to one knee…

roast capsicum bruschetta

There is definitely a sense of romance where picnics are concerned. Not just girl boy in love romance, but something idealised, pretty and whimsical. Eating atop blankets and rugs, in the shade of trees, surrounded by nature, away from the pressures of life. So next time you take your lunch to a park bench, or pack an elaborate hamper, try this roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley. Perfect with or without champagne.

roast capsicum bruschetta

Roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley

Enough for 4 servings. Place the prepared ingredients into little containers so that you can assemble the roast capsicum bruschetta at your chosen picnic spot.

  • 4 red capsicums
  • 1 ripe truss tomato
  • small handful parsley leaves, finely sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • slightly stale bread

Begin by preparing the capsicums. Cut them in half from stem to base and remove the seeds. Now cut side down, place them under a hot grill until they are blackened all over, then pop them into a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling wrap to allow the capsicums to steam, which will make peeling them easier.

While the capsicums are cooling, cut the tomato into grape size pieces.

When the capsicums are cool enough to handle, peel their charred skin off, but don’t wash them, as this will take away some of the lovely flavour that you’ve just imparted from grilling them. Now slice them into thin strips.

Why stale bread to make roast capsicum bruschetta? The reason I say stale bread is that it will absorb all the juices from the vegetables and still be firm enough to pick up. With fresh bread you may run the risk of creating something that is still delicious, but that you need to eat with a knife and fork.

To assemble, place a little pile of capsicum strips, several pieces of tomato, a generous dousing of oil, salt and pepper and a smattering of parsley on top of your bread and leave for a few minutes for all the flavours to mingle, then enjoy. Some crumbled feta or crunchy almonds, or hell, both, would also be lovely additions.

Need another picnic recipe. What about this marinated mozzarella salad.

Almond tart with strawberries

I can’t really keep it a secret any longer. If you visit here often you’re going to notice sooner or later anyway, so I’d better come clean. For the last three months I have been living in a house with views that take my breath away daily. With gardens so pretty and scent heavy, I feel like I’m in a fairytale when I walk through them. I’ve fallen asleep to the reassuring sound of breaking waves and woken to magnificent patchwork orange and magenta skies. So this almond tart with strawberries was perfect for a Sunday lunch with friends in such a special place.

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You might recall that back in April a tree fell on our house, and as a result we relocated that same night to Ma and Pa’s. Well a very generous friend offered us their home for the months of August, September and October. And so this is where my photos have been taken lately. In the beautiful kitchen of a Palm Beach house with panoramic views of the ocean. Believe me that I am not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I look up from the dishes to catch a glimpse of a whale breaching. That at night I can see Barrenjoey lighthouse intermittently twinkle in the distance. That I am extremely lucky and grateful for the opportunity to have stayed in such a beautiful location.

strawberry and almond tart

I think that Thea has enjoyed her stay too. We go the beach daily, sometimes twice, making the most of our temporary seaside location. I put her porridge in a little container, grab a coffee and we go, with obligatory bucket and spade in tow, to have our breakfast on the sand. I don’t know if I would do this if it was our full-time home. There is definitely something to be said for being placed in situations that not only force you to realise how fortunate you are, but also to make the most of your time.

strawberry and almond tart

The spotted gum tree that crashed through our roof has also made realise that our house overlooking the sparkling Pittwater, a five-minute walk to Clareville beach, was a great home. I’m not sure that we fully appreciated that. We were so focused on renovating it and making in to the thing that we wanted it to be, that we never stopped to fully acknowledge how good it was: All those evenings spend sharing food with friends and family on the deck, this one and this one, oh and this one, especially stand out, as well as the dinner parties inside by the fire like this one.

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When we do move back to our home (seemingly still light years away as our insurance hasn’t even been settled yet) I’m planning on throwing the biggest dinner party ever. I intend to celebrate where we live. With lots of delicious food. Delicious wine. Flowers. Music. And possibly even bite size versions of this almond tart with strawberries. It really is that good and definitely fitting for a special occasion. Even Thea thinks so.

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Almond tart with strawberries

Adapted from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook 2

For the pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 55g icing sugar
  • 100g butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cold water

For the almond tart filling

  • 265g soft butter
  • 265g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 265g almond meal

To serve

  • 250g strawberries, hulled and halved
  • icing sugar
  • creme fraiche

To make the almond tart pastry, pulse the butter, two flours and icing sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the yolk and pulse until mixed in and then with the motor running add the cold water in a steady stream until the pastry comes together. Remove from the processor, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before rolling out (with extra flour) and lining a 28cm diameter, 3.5cm deep loose bottomed fluted tart tin. Pop the lined tin in the fridge for another 20 minutes or so and then bake it in a 180 C oven.

**A note on baking the tart shell. Use baking beans. Seriously. I don’t know why I waited so long to become the owner of these little ceramic balls that have changed the appearance of my pastry shells for the better. I used to bake my tart shells with nothing and the sides would always shrink and the bottom bubble up. Then I got a little less lazy and started using dried kidney beans to keep the base of the tart shell flat. But after a while they began to smell. And just weren’t all that pretty. So one day, when in a kitchen shop looking for some platters, I came across Tala baking beans and my tart shells have been beautifully golden and even specimens ever since.**

For the almond tart filling, using a hand-held or stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter together. When the mixture is pale and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond meal. Spoon the mix into the baked tart shell and bake for around 40-50 minutes until the filling is set. Don’t be tempted to overfill the shell as the mixture does puff up and will spill over the edge resulting in a messy end result.

Once the almond tart is cooled, decorate with strawberries, lots of icing sugar and enjoy with spoonfuls of creme fraiche.

Like this dessert recipe? Then you might enjoy my two tiered Pavlova

 

Beautiful Thai canapés

Let me begin by telling you about the thing that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. Ocean swimming. Dropping into the sea and swimming in the cool mineral rich water as part of my daily routine. What could be better. An activity to nourish the soul and clear the mind, at the same time of course as keeping everything trim, muscles toned surrounded by the cold.  Well the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to do just this with a lovely lady that I met at the beach (there was no way I was going to do this activity alone). And that’s where these beautiful Thai canapés come in.

beautiful Thai canapés

Sam is the lovely and very interesting lady mentioned above. Bobbing in her blue swimming cap, she patiently waits for me as I catch up to her in the sea. With no pushing and gliding at either end like in a pool and a slight sense of vertigo as my body rolls in the swell, I’m still acclimatising to open water swimming. We jump in to the sea at the end of Palm Beach ocean pool and swim parallel with the shore for 500m or so and then back again.

beautiful Thai canapés

Let me be clear at this point. I find this activity extremely scary. Rips, swell, breaking waves, deep water. No problem. But not being able to see what’s beneath me. The thing that nightmares are made of. Conquering your fears though is kind of addictive, and every time I get out of the water after another swim, I want to get straight back in. Plus I guess being scared makes a morning swim just that little bit more exhilarating.

beautiful Thai canapés

Sam is also a mum, and a runner, and she’s done ski seasons. I feel at home in her company. After sharing a few drinks with her and her husband’s one Sunday afternoon, Mark and I wanted to continue the conversation, so the following weekend we invited them to dinner. Cue the beautiful Thai canapés. Sweet, salty and nutty. The perfect flavour combination to enjoy with a few pre dinner drinks.

beautiful Thai canapésIt’s funny. I’ve owned David Thompson‘s Thai compendium for years, and enjoyed glancing at its fuchsia spine on my bookshelf, but I’ve never cooked anything from it. I’m a little nervous of Asian recipes, slightly fazed by their long ingredient lists and confused about what to substitute for items that aren’t readily available. But this recipe. I felt confident about it. And now I’ve made it once, I want to make it again. A bit like diving in to the ocean I suppose. Scary at first, but definitely something to repeat.
beautiful Thai canapés

Beautiful Thai canapés – Ma Hor – Galloping horses

Minced chicken, pork and prawn with pineapple

From David Thompson’s book Thai Food

  • 100g prawn meat, finely chopped
  • 100g chicken mince
  • 100g pork mince
  • 1 cup palm sugar, grated
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup fried garlic
  • 1/2 cup fried shallots
  • 4 tbsp ground toasted peanuts (unsalted)

Coriander and garlic paste

  • 4 coriander roots
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 15 white peppercorns
  • pinch salt

Fry the prawn mince with a pinch of salt in the oil of your choice. When cooked, transfer to a bowl to cool and repeat with the chicken and pork mince.

Next make the coriander and garlic paste by pounding all the ingredients together with a pestle and mortar.

Now fry the paste in a little oil and when fragrant add the palm sugar and fish sauce and then simmer for a few minutes until the mixture is thick and syrupy.

To the syrupy mixture add the prawn, chicken and pork mince and half each of the fried garlic, shallots and peanuts. Cook for a few minutes than remove from the heat and add the remaining garlic, shallots and peanuts. Taste the mixture. It should be sweet, salty and nutty. Adjust accordingly

Leave the mix to cool. It will firm up considerably. While it’s cooling cut the pineapple into bite size slices.

Moments before you are ready to eat the canapés, top the pineapple pieces with the punchy topping and enjoy.

Love canapés? Then you might like this recipe for gougers-bite size balls of cheesy choux pastry.

A very easy garlic prawn entree

easy garlic prawn entree

Prawns plus garlic. The perfect combination. Add some fresh bread and you have a very easy garlic prawn entrée. The best thing about this starter is that it’s served ‘en papillote‘ or in the bag, which means that there’s a little bit of theatre when you bring the garlicky crustaceans to the table. Guests have to tear open their own individual parcels, releasing the wonderful cooking aromas, at the same time as revealing the pink, parsley flecked prawns inside.

easy garlic prawn entree

Home made garlic butter is the best. A few cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh herbs, a grating of lemon zest and some soft butter, press the button and it’s done. Use it to smother over thickly sliced bread before toasting under the grill to make garlic bread. Stuff chicken breasts with it for delicious homemade chicken Kiev. Fry some sliced mushrooms in it and serve them on triangles of brioche. But make lots and freeze it so that you always have some on hand.

easy garlic prawn entree

easy garlic prawn entreeeasy garlic prawn entree

I think that a hankering for prawns is a sign that the weather is getting warmer. The days longer.  The sun lingering in the sky. Prawns are the kind of food that I like to take time to eat, whether around a table with friends or simply with a significant other and a bottle of wine. Leisurely peeling away the crisp shells and dipping the pink meat into piquant seafood sauce, in an al fresco setting. When buying prawns, look for ones with smooth black eyes, not ones with eyes that look like currants. This is a sign that they are fresh, or so I was told by a lady who sold me some of the sweetest, freshest prawns that I’ve ever eaten.

easy garlic prawn entree

A very easy garlic prawn entrée

For 6.

  • 1-1.5kg prawns (which should be around 30-45 prawns depending on their size and how many you want to serve to each of your guests)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 250g soft butter
  • 1 bunch parsley, leaves only
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • glass of white wine

Begin by making the garlic butter. Simply put the garlic, butter, parsley, zest and salt in a processor and whizz until everything is well combined.

Prepare the prawns by removing their heads and shells (you can keep these to make prawn stock) and then the vein that runs down their backs.

Tear off six pieces of baking paper about 40cm in length. Fold these pieces in half, just so you have an indication of where to put the prawns. Place 5-7 prawns per person on one half of each piece of baking paper and top with a generous amount of butter.

Now fold the baking paper over the prawns using the halfway line that you made as a guide and then starting from one end, seal the baking paper all the way around so that you have a parcel.

At this point, the parcels can be stored in the fridge until that are needed.

When you are ready to cook the prawns, unseal the parcels enough to be able to add about 2 tablespoons of white wine to each one. (Don’t try and do this ahead of time as the wine will leak out. I know. I tried and failed.) Reseal the bags really well, as the wine inside the bags will steam and cook the prawns. If there are any gaps, then the steam will escape.

Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes at 180C.

Serve the prawns immediately in their little bags with fresh bread and a green salad. A very easy garlic prawn entrée.

You want to know what to do with the prawns heads and shells? Thai red curry with prawn stock and salmon.