Monday, April 26, 2010

Free-form fig pie

Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe and lovingly baked for tonight's dinner party with the gorgeous K - a fellow fig lover - this pie is dead easy, delicious, and the fruit makes it seem semi-healthy. 

Free-form fig pie

In a food processor, put two cups of plain flour and 185g cold chopped butter.  Process until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, then with the motor still running, slowly add approx 2 tbs iced water until the mixture just comes together as a dough.  Take the shortcrust pastry out of the processor, knead briefly until it forms a ball, then wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 mins.

In the meantime, combine 3/4 cup almond meal, 1/4 cup caster sugar, and enough melted butter to form a spreadable paste.  Roll out dough in a circle, to 3mm thickness.  Spread paste around middle, leaving approx one inch around the outside.  Arrange four finely sliced figs over the paste, then fold in the dough around the outside to hold the contents in.  Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake in a 180deg oven for approx 20-30mins until lightly browned around the edges.  Serve as is, or with cream/icecream.  Some suggestions for future pies around tonight's dinner table included peaches, apples, raspberries, nectarines, or strawberries!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Man Jordie

This entry was supposed to be about Anzac Day and the classic foodie tribute to our fallen heroes, the Anzac biscuit.  But at dawn this morning, my husband and I awoke to our old puss, Jordie, in extremely poor shape.  Sick, lethargic, eyes downcast, not even a hint of a purr and a total lack of appetite signalled that there was something horribly wrong.  We cancelled our roadtrip plans and instead took him to the vet.  The news was grim: Jordie's system was shutting down, fast, and with no obvious signs of the cause (apart from a moderate heart murmer), there were limited options.  We made the most difficult decision a pet owner must inevitably face - to end his suffering and put him to sleep. 

Jordie was a 12 year old, fluffy, cuddly, "big boned" domestic cat.  I adopted him five years ago from a couple who were moving to a place where they could not keep pets - a favour to friends of a friend.  He took no time at all to settle himself in to my home; the first night, he self-righteously pushed his way under the doona and curled up against the small of my back, taking advantage of my warmth.  Since then, his aggressively affectionate nature has appealed to house guests (mooching figure eights around their feet), small children (amiably going all "rag-doll" like when small arms would struggle to lift his 8.5 kilogram frame), and even supposed cat-haters (my father, who begrudgingly would scratch his chin after Jordie muscled his way onto his lap). 

I know he was "just a cat".  I've owned pets who've lived and died; stroking fur as the vet injects the green dream, a small soft body going limp in my arms.  Or back on the farm, where countless pets met an untimely end - too many times to count, all in my childhood years.  But he was still my furry friend; my "snuglepuss", my old man Jordie.  Always there when I walked in the door, with his slightly arthritic limp and gutteral hungry miaow.  Yesterday afternoon I had a long nap, and he curled up in the crook of my arm for two whole hours - he must have been so hot under the sheets - reluctantly, gently, creeping out of bed as I slowly awoke.  I will miss lovingly cursing him, as I pick white hair out of my clothes.

Quinoa Anzac Biscuits


2 tbs golden syrup
2 tbs water
150g butter
1 1/2 cups quinoa flakes (or rolled oats)
1 cup SR flour
1 cup dessicated coconut
3/4 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)


Heat oven to 180deg; line two baking trays with non stick paper.  Melt butter in a small pan with golden syrup and water.  Sift flour into a large bowl; add quinoa flakes, coconut and sugar, and stir.  Add golden syrup and butter mix, add to dry ingredients and stir until it all comes together in a dough.  Roll into golf ball sized balls, place on tray and press down slightly with the back of a fork.  Cook in oven for 12 minutes, let cool on tray before removing gently.

"Lest we forget"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sticky Date Pud with Salted Toffee Sauce

When asked what their favourite comfort food is, people will give a variety of answers.  Chocolate features high up on the most common responses, as do roast dinners.  Inmates on death row, similarly, have wishlists which span from the mundane (a big mac and fries) to magnificent (foie gras).  Personally, nothing says "curl up under a warm doona and forget about the world outside" quite like a good pud.

Ingredients (serves 4):

100g pitted and roughly chopped dried dates
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp bi carb soda
50g unsalted butter
80g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup SR flour (sifted)


1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cream
50g salted butter
1 tsp sea salt flakes


Preheat oven to 180deg, lightly grease 4 ramekins.

Combine dates and water in saucepan, bring to boil and remove from heat, add bi carb and let cool to room temp.  Beat butter and sugar with electric beaters in small bowl until creamy, slowly add egg and vanilla while beating.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl and fold in flour and dates plus water mix until just combined (don't over do it!).  Spoon mix into ramekins, place ramekins on a baking tray and bake for approx 30 mins until golden brown and cooked through.

For the sauce, put sugar, cream, butter and salt into a pan and bring to boil.  Simmer for a few mins, stirring, until butter and cream dissolve and combine.  Reduce heat, simmer for another minute.  Pour hot sauce over inidividual puds and serve immediately - either on its own (classic) or with some cream and seasonal fruits (posh).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The results are in - Chocolate Lover's Competition

Thanks to all the entrants who took the time to join the Good Food = Happy Life blog, and submitted their favourite chocolate experiences.

The winner is... "Anonymous" (osands@optusnet) - congratulations Olly, your story was a wonderful account of how chocolate can so easily say "I love you". 

Keep coming back, you never know when the next competition will be!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chocolate Lovers Competition!

Listen up foodies; I have some exciting news for chocoholics.  Suzie over at Melbourne's Chocoholic Tours has very generously donated TWO FREE TICKETS for one of her famous Chocolate Tours, and I'm giving YOU the chance to win them!  The prize is worth $70 and is a gift voucher, which means you can take the tour whenever you like (vouchers are valid for six months).

Competition Details

To win, all you need to do is:
  1. Join the Good Food = Happy Life blog (click on "follow" at the top of the page); THEN
  2. Write a comment under this article, about your "All Time Best Chocolate Experience" (in 100 words or less) - it can be anything at all, just as long as it involves chocolate in some form!  Please remember to include your email address.
Entries must be submitted before midnight, (AEST) Wednesday 21st April 2010; the winning entry will be judged by blog author of Good Food = Happy Life and will be announced the following Friday.  Extra points will be given for creativity.  The winner will be contacted by email.  Sorry, this competition is open to Victorian (Australia) residents only.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oysters and Mussels from Queen Vic

I've posted before that my husband is not a fan of certain foodstuffs; whereas I'm more your "I'll eat anything" kinda girl.  So when I find myself home alone or in restaurants, I indulge.  Saturday morning - slightly the worse for wear after a big night out - I found myself unusually close to the city and in need of a vitamin kick.  Omega 3's, here I come!

Mussels in White Wine

If you're a mussel lover like me, this will serve one - however if you're a normal person, this will provide two quite generous serves.

Scrub and de-beard 1 kilo of fresh mussels, set aside.  In a medium heated pan, saute four chopped spring onions and two crushed garlic cloves until transparent and fragrant.  Add half a cup of dry white wine ( I used a Sword's Pinot Gris ) and half a cup of fish stock, simmer until slightly reduced.  Add the mussels, put on the lid and cook for approx 10 mins or until the mussels open.  Take the mussels out of the pan as they open (discard the ones that stay closed), set aside, covered with foil to keep warm.  Strain the stock into a bowl using a fine sieve (I used a regular colander lined with a clean chux); tip it back into the pan and simmer for five minutes.  Turn heat down and whisk in 2 tbs cream and 1 tbs butter, until thickened slightly.  Pour over the mussels, serve immediately with some crusty bread and a green salad.

Oysters with sesame dressing

Take a dozen freshly opened oysters ( I used coffin bay ) and prop up on a plate (use rock salt if they won't stand up on their own).  Combine two finely chopped spring onions, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tbs rice wine vinegar and 1 tbs light soy sauce - whisk together with a fork then spoon over the oysters.  Serve immediately.

Beery Scones

Another recipe using beer; resulting in the most beautifully light fluffy scones I've had in a long time. I served them up straight out of the oven - to my husband as he was about to leave on a long-ish solo car trip - topped with my mum's blackberry jelly and thick cream.


3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup beer (I choose a Cascade Blonde)
1 cup cream
pinch salt


Stir ingredients together and knead on a floured board until it just forms a dough. Form into a large rectangular shape and cut into desired shapes. Bake in 200C oven for about 10-15 mins or until risen and golden.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cupcake Obsession

Little sister J is a bit of a health nut. She jogs every single day, does gym classes, swims, and has been known to compete in the occasional triathlon. She eats reasonably well too - she loves her vegies, cooks low fat dinners, and snacks on nuts.

However she does have a weakness. She is absolutely obsessed with cupcakes. I'm not exaggerating. The last time she visited Hobart's wonderful "Cutie Cups" shop, she excitedly purchased half a dozen beautifully crafted morsels of cupcakey deliciousness, devouring one and packing the rest for the return trip. Only she forgot and left them in the hotel room. When I met her for breakfast immediately after landing back in Melbourne, she had tears in her eyes as she told me her tragic tale of cupcake forgetfulness. And then promptly turned to her fiance T and blamed him for distracting her.

My belated birthday present to J this year: a trip to Old Kingdom for a spot of Peking Duck (her second favourite food), and some chocky home made cupcakes with a generous dollop of icing.

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla marshmallow frosting

Preheat oven to 200C and line 12 cupcake tins with patty papers. Beat together 175g softened unsalted butter with 175g caster sugar until pale and creamy, then gradually beat in two beaten eggs. Stir in 175g self raising flour, 2 heaped tbs cocoa and approx 1 cup milk (sorry I forgot to measure the milk). Fold together until combined - it should make quite a thick cake batter. Spoon into tin - you'll need to flatten slightly with the back of a spoon. I also tapped the tin on the bench a few times to more evenly distribute the batter. Bake in the oven for about 15 mins or until cooked through.

For the frosting, put half a pack of vanilla/raspberry marshmallows in a small pan on low heat, together with one tablespoon of milk - heat gently until melted. In another bowl, beat together two egg whites until soft peaks form, then beat in two heaped tablespoons of caster sugar until stiff peaks form. Cool the melted marshmallow a bit before folding into the egg white mixture. Let it sit for approx 10 mins before icing the cupcakes. My trick is to fill a zip lock bag with the frosting then cut off a small corner, and pipe it over the tip of the cakes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Best friends and baking

In theory, my bestie V and I should make better enemies than mates. She loves Harry Potter; I prefer obscure arthouse movies with subtitles. V is outgoing and happily chats to strangers; whereas I'm more on the I(ntroverted) side of things. She is a naturally beautiful, latte-skinned Indian goddess who never wears make-up, not even on her wedding day (bitch!); I regularly spend a small fortune on beauty treatments and pampering for my pale, sensitive, scandanavian skin (the last time I turned up to work without foundation, I received concerned looks from colleagues who said "are you okay? You look ... unwell").

We're very different, V and I, in many ways. But we do agree on the important stuff. We hate shopping for the sake of it. We believe strongly in friendhsip, family and community. We share a passion for all things involving cheese. And, we love cooking.

Enjoying my first of two weeks leave and with V on school holidays, we agreed to spend a day together, cooking up hearty, healthy food with some of this season's early fresh produce.

White bean soup with tapenade and olive beer bread

Soup: 400 grams cannellini beans soaked overnight, then simmered in a pot for an hour with 2 litres vege stock, sauteed onion and celery, bay leaves, dried oregano then pureed and seasoned with lemon rind, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil once cooked.

bread: 1 1/4 cups each plain and SR flour mixed with 2 cups mixed pitted olives, 2 tbs olive oil, few chipped spring onions, 250ml beer (I went with a lovely James Squire pilsener), 1 tbs sugar - knead for a few mins and press into a pan, let it rise for 10 mins then bake in a 180C oven for 25 mins.

olive tapenade: Mix a few handfuls of mixed pitted & chopped olives with a chopped red chilli, splash of olive oil, 1/4 cup of fresh chopped oregano leaves, and the rind and juice of one lemon. Serve with cannellini bean soup and olive bread.

Autumn vegetable stew with herb dumplings

A selection of large chopped autumn vegetables simmered in just enough vegie stock to cover, along with a few bay leaves, ground ginger, cinnamon stick, garlic, and a teaspoon of flour to thicken. Dumplings were made using flour, grated cold butter, and enough water to bring together to a dough. Knead and roll into balls before dropping into simmering stew, simmer for approx 20 minutes or until all vegetables and dumplings are cooked through.

Olive marinaded roast chicken and mashed potato

Two small sized organic chickens were placed side by side in a roasting dish, after being marinaded in a mix of finely chopped kalamata olives, anchovies, lemon juice and rind, olive oil, fresh and dried oregano (pulse marinade ingredients in food processor to bring together and rub over chicken). Roasted in a 200C oven for 1 1/4 hours (turn once to redistribute juices and keep moist) - cover in foil for first 50 minutes of cooking. Potatoes were boiled and mashed roughly with some butter and milk, seasoned with a little pepper.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter brunch with home made hot cross buns

For someone quite keen on baking (and perhaps that's an understatement), I had never made my own hot cross buns. No, that's not my atheism showing; I simply hadn't thought to make my own when there is a plethora of bakery and supermarket buns of offer each year that are generally decent quality, acceptable fare - especially once toasted and slathered in butter.

But this morning, with some friends coming over for brunch and little in the cupboard after I was again caught off guard by Good Friday's unnecessary trading laws* - I decided to bite the proverbial and give it a go. The only problem: the closest thing I had to sultanas was cranberries.

Like all good enterprising Generation Y cooks would do, I googled "cranberry hot cross bun recipe" and found this little gem (


1& ¼ cups (310ml) Milk
3/4 cup (165g)Caster sugar
2 x 7g sachets Dried yeast
4 1/3 cups (650g)Plain flour (plus extra for flouring your hands and surfaces)
1 tsp Cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp Nutmeg, ground
1/4 tsp Ginger, ground
1/4 tsp Cardamom, ground
1 cup (190g) Cranberries, dried
1 Egg, lightly beaten
100g Unsalted butter, melted, cooled
¼ tsp Salt

To make the buns

Gently stir the milk and 1/3 cup of sugar in a saucepan over low heat till it is lukewarm, then turn off heat. Stir in yeast, then stand on stovetop for 10 minutes or until mixture is foamy.

Sift 4 cups of flour, spices and 1/4 tsp salt together into a bowl. Stir in cranberries, add the yeast mixture, egg and butter and stir until the mixture forms a dough.

Flour a clean kitchen surface or chopping board (the surface is usually easier) and knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Stand in a warm place (not an oven!) for 1 hour or until doubled in size. NB - If you have a bread maker, follow the instructions for proofing to save time at this stage.

Divide dough into 16 pieces and shape into balls and place in a greased 23cm square cake tin. Cover with plastic wrap then stand in a warm place (not an oven) for 30 minutes or until it has risen level with the rim of the tin.

Preheat oven to 200°C while you make the icing. Stir remaining flour, 1/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water together until smooth. Spoon into a piping bag then pipe crosses over buns.

Bake for 10 minutes at 200°C then reduce oven to 180°C and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and risen. Turn on to a wire rack to cool. Stir remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tbsp water in a saucepan over low-medium heat until sugar dissolves then bring to the boil. Brush hot syrup over top of buns. Serve.

The verdict? Scoffs and smiles all round. Happy Easter, enjoy the long weekend!

* THAT'S my atheism showing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Thursday Duck & Good Friday Pizza

Day one of two weeks' leave, and I spent it with a hangover. Probably not the best start, but the morning after the night before was worth it. Since moving high up into the heart of the Dandenong Ranges, my husband and I have taken to trekking into Melbourne's CBD and spending the night in a hotel once every couple of months after enjoying a night on the town.

A friend of ours is currently doing a stand up show for the Melbourne comedy festival, so we went along to enjoy his sick, twisted, and VERY funny antics. (Those who are interested: Already close to Chinatown, we grabbed a "quick" bite to eat at Da Hu Peking Duck; half a duck and about 7 pancakes each was $25 in total, and a hearty enough feed that our loose plans to grab dumplings after the show had to be shelved. After hooking up with a friend and laughing ourselves silly, we headed back up Chinatown way and enjoyed some champers and skillfully crafted cocktails, first at Chi Bar, and then over to Manchuria. Rather expensive, but worth it just for the skill and showmanship of the bartenders.

Tonight I decided some good home made pizza was in order. Not being particularly religious but up for the 'challenge' of sticking to a meat free agenda, I opted for a simple combo of fresh and home grown cherry tomatoes (from our lovely neighbour, J), anchovies (Meditteranean wholesalers), fresh basil from my garden, and shredded mozzarella (home brand!). For the sauce, I used an equal mix of tomato paste and my mum's beautiful tomato and onion chutney. It's always an interesting conundrum, what to top your pizza with. Personally, I think the fewer ingredients the better. While it's always tempting to just pile on all the favourites, if you're using fresh and flavoursome toppings and the right combo, the flavours will shine through and you'll end up with a lovely fresh and relatively healthy pizza.

Here's a very easy pizza base recipe to get you started:

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups plain flour, pinch of salt, teaspoon dried yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 3/4 cup warm water until it forms a dough. Tip out onto a clean surface with some extra flour, and knead for a few mins until it comes together. Put it into an oiled bowl and cover with cling wrap, put it in a warm place for about an hour until it doubles in size.

Knock the dough back by 'punching' it in the middle, then knead again briefly on a floured surface before rolling it out into pizzettes, or alternatively press it into a big pan. Remember, it will rise, so roll it super thin for a crispy base.

Top with your favourite pizza toppings, and cook in a hot oven (240 deg C) for approx 10 mins.