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  1. Portuguese Custard Tarts

    September 16, 2014 by Maria

    It is said that these tarts were invented by Portuguese Catholic monks many years ago when they had to find ways to use excess egg yolks. Apparently egg whites were in demand for the starching of nuns habits & also needed when making ‘port’.  They are also known as ‘Pastel de Nata’ (singular) or “Pasteis de Nata” (plural) in Portugal.  They’re surprisingly easy to make and would impress guests or a crowd if you had to take a plate somewhere.  Be warned however, blink and they’ll disappear!

    Portuguese Custard Tarts
    (Makes 12)

    -1 x 3 pack of Pampas Butter Puff Pastry (ie. 3 frozen sheets in a pack)
    -4 egg yolks
    -3/4 cup milk
    -300ml cream
    -2/3 cup caster sugar
    -3 heaped tablespoons cornflour
    -1 to 1.5 vanilla bean/s (seeds scraped out) or 2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste or extract (not essence)
    -1 strip of lemon peel, 5 or 6cm in length
    (I think shredded lemon rind is more intense because the lemon oils are released, so use 1/3 teaspoon only if you want to use your lemon rinder gadget)
    -Combination of plain flour & icing sugar to use underneath pastry (so it doesn’t stick)
    -Oil for muffin tray (I use low aroma, refined coconut oil)
    -Optional but very traditional & lovely extra: icing sugar to caramelise on finished tarts!

    -Put pastry sheets on kitchen counter/table to defrost
    -Preheat oven to 180c or 170 (if fan forced oven)
    -Grease your muffin tin with oil
    -If you’re using vanilla bean or beans, make sure to ‘deseed’ first before you start your custard
    -Prepare your strip of lemon peel
    -In a medium-sized saucepan mix the sugar, cornflour & egg yolks over a low heat until well combined
    -Add vanilla and lemon peel and slowly add milk & cream (I combine both of these & just pour while whisking)
    -Keep stirring/whisking custard well until mixture boils & thickens a little (it’ll start to form big bubbles)
    -Remove custard from heat & immediately cover with a piece of baking paper so a skin doesn’t form on top of your custard. The proper way to do this is by making a
    ‘cartouche’).. which will mean your baking paper is round..and fits your saucepan nicely (of course it doesn’t have to be exact). If you’d like to learn how to make a cartouche.. here is an easy 1.5 minute video online! I prefer a cartouche with baking paper than cling film food wrap on top of custard. I don’t like the idea of the plastic film in direct contact with my hot food.
    -While custard is cooling, dust your work surface with a combo of plain flour and icing sugar
    -Cut (or ‘press-out’) four rounds into each pastry sheet using a large soup mug or something similar. I used a big milkshake cup. An ordinary drinking glass might not make rounds that are big enough (See my website photo’s for pic of my ‘cutter’)
    -Place (& gently mould) a pastry round into each muffin cup & divide custard into the raw pastry cups
    -Bake tarts for 20 to 30 min’s – & keep an eye on them. When the custard has risen to ‘puffy heights’ and some of the tops ‘brown’ a little, they are ready. Mine took approximately half an hour. They’ll come out of the oven looking like you have puffy custard, but the custard will shrink back a bit like a deflated souffle.. so don’t be disappointed… it’s normal!
    -Optional but very traditional & special ‘extra': Sprinkle icing sugar onto the top of each tart.. be generous! I have a cooks torch (like a flame gun!), so if you have one too then ‘torch’ the sugar (ie. caramelise it) until it melts & goes very dark brown.. careful not to make them too black. A little ‘scorched sugar’ colour is traditional & it doesn’t ruin the taste of the tart. I’ve not tried placing these under a hot grill before to melt the sugar. There is a risk you could burn the edges of your pastry. However, you could always cover the edges of your tarts with a little foil (as fiddly as it sounds) to prevent them from burning & then place icing-sugar covered tarts under a hot grill.. until the sugar is bubbling & dark brown. Remove the foil edges before serving of course. I bought my cooks torch at a speciality kitchenware shop.
    -If you’re not going to caramelise the tops of the tarts, then simply dust with icing sugar for presentation.

  2. Swedish Meatballs

    September 2, 2014 by Maria

    Five years ago I had the pleasure of attending the 20th anniversary concert of the most successful tribute band ever, “Bjorn Again”.

    A lovely ‘Tiffany’ style wall lamp (one of several) inside St Kilda’s ‘The Palais’ theatre. I love these kinds of lead-light lamps.


    Now the secret ingredient in my recipe this week is GINGERNUT biscuits!
    Aka in other countries as ‘Gingersnaps’

    Swedish Meatballs

    Makes 25 meatballs (slightly larger than a golf ball) & Serves 4 to 6

    In Bowl #1
    -800 grams of minced meat (Preferably half beef, half pork)
    -1/2 finely chopped medium onion
    -1/4 cup fresh chopped dill (or 1 heaped teaspoon dried dill)
    -1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
    -50 grams of Cranberry sauce from a jar (about 1 large, heaped tablespoonful)
    -1/2 cup breadcrumbs
    -2 teaspoons of powdered beef stock (I use Massels brand)
    -1 teaspoon of salt
    -Pepper (a few shakes to taste, I used white pepper)

    In Bowl #2
    -1 large egg & 1/2 cup of milk whisked together, then add:
    -1 packet crushed & ground Gingernut biscuits (IMPORTANT: before crushing biscuits take out 6 which are reserved for the gravy) – This will yield around 1.5 cups of biscuit crumbs, around 200grams. I bought Arnotts brand.

    -500grams of good quality pasta – cooked to packet directions (I used Italian made ‘radiator’ shaped pasta, being ‘radiatori’)
    -1/4 cup rice bran oil (or peanut oil) for frying meatballs

    -1/2 chopped onion
    -2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or one level teaspoon dried)
    -3 tablespoons plain flour
    -2 tablespoons butter
    -1 cup water
    -2 cups room temperature skim milk
    -1 tablespoon chicken stock
    -100grams cranberry sauce
    -3 tablespoons of light sour cream (I use Weight Watchers brand)
    – 6 (remaining) Gingernut biscuits (ground)

    *Mix together all of Bowl #1 ingredients
    *Add combined Bowl #2 ingredients to Bowl #1
    *With wet hands, form meatballs slightly larger than golfballs (you should have approx 25)
    *Refrigerate 60 minutes (I did it a run-out-of-time shortcut & put them in the freezer for around 25 mins!)
    *Heat a non-stick pan & add rice bran or peanut oil
    *Brown meatballs in two batches, set aside
    *Meatballs won’t be cooked all the way through, you’ll finish the cooking process in the gravy

    *Boil water & cook pasta as you prepare meatball gravy

    Prepare Gravy:

    *Leaving meatball juices in the pan, over medium heat add butter, cranberry sauce & onion – fry for two minutes
    *Add flour & ‘cook’ stirring with a wooden spoon for a minute
    *Add half the dill (1 tablespoon) & cup of water stirring briskly as sauce thickens
    *Add cranberry sauce & chicken stock powder, keep stirring to incorporate into gravy
    *Add milk, one cup at a time, gradually.. stirring, working out any lumps to thicken gravy
    *Add remaining 6 ground Gingernut biscuits, keep stirring
    *Simmer gravy for 5 minutes
    *Add meatballs, carefully stir so all meatballs are coated in gravy, then cover with a lid or make a lid out of a sheet of aluminium foil as I do
    *Simmer meatballs in gravy for another 5 minutes & add sourcream and remaining dill, stirring well with a wooden spoon, being careful to mix in well, in and around the meatballs without damaging them
    *Cover meatballs again & simmer 10 to 15 minutes. ‘Test’ a meatball by removing one onto a plate and cutting it in half to see that it’s cooked all the way through and not pink.

    *Serve meatballs & gravy in bowls over drained pasta and top with a sprig of dill as a garnish. *Serve with a side salad (optional)

    (Left) My girl pounding the Gingernuts with a meat tenderiser (Right) Two meats

    (Left) Radiator “radiatori” pasta
    (Right) I had abundant fresh dill & parsley kindly given to me by a lady from church

    Crushed Gingernut rubble. It doesn’t have to be perfect. There can be a few little lumps, but not too many as you don’t want ‘gingernut surprises’ in your meatballs. This was 1.5 cups of ground Gingernuts which was a whole packet minus 6 biscuits. The leftover 6 bikkies are for the gravy.This is essentially Bowl #2 with the whisked egg & milk and the gingernuts added. Once all mixed together it looks like ginger-coloured slop..nothing too pretty!

    This is Bowl #1 minus the cranberry sauce which I dolloped in as soon as I took the photo!

    This is Bowl numbers 1 & 2 mixed together and formed into 25 meatballs, ready to refrigerate!
    Brown meatballs in two batches. They’ll finish cooking in the gravy later.
    The gravy under way. Adding the rest of the Gingernut rubble (6 biscuits) into the sauce.

    After the balls have simmered for a bit, sourcream and more fresh dill are added. Despite the seemingly generous amounts of dill in this recipe – the dish is by no means overpowered with ‘dill’ flavour. The Gingernuts reign supreme and really make this a special meatball meal!
    I used this Woolworths ‘Select’ brand of cranberry sauce for the first time and thought it was great to cook with!

  3. Homemade Goat Cheese

    August 19, 2014 by Maria


    A few weeks ago I took some of this cream cheese into the studio and my recipe segment co-host had a taste. We both LOVE goats cheese and I didn’t think I’d be publishing the recipe because it feels like there isn’t one.  But he insisted I did publish it and I don’t blame him because it is delicious!   Just a couple of ingredients.. a few tools..and some time. I was inspired by Sarah Wilson’s cream cheese recipe in her book “I Quit Sugar For Life”. I’ve slightly altered the recipe by using goat milk yoghurt and adding salt at the end. I lacto-ferment my own sauerkraut now and I need to make this cream cheese first because I use the leftover whey as kind-of my pickling juice. It’s a win-win situation. Beautiful, silky goat cheese and crunchy, tangy sauerkraut which is around $17 a jar if you’re getting it from a wholefoods store. All fantastic for gut health. My next project will be making my own kefir, so stay tuned. In the meantime.. this cheese is amazing. While goat milk yoghurt isn’t cheap.. it’s still cheaper than buying ready made goat cheese. Enjoy.


    Homemade Goat Cheese

    Goat Milk Yoghurt, full fat x 1kg
    Sea salt flakes, 1 or 2 pinches (to taste)
    Cheese cloth x 1
    Large bowl
    Wooden spoon
    Two big pots or containers around the same size to suspend your wooden spoon and make a ‘bridge’ with it (see blog photos)
    -Drape the cheese cloth into a large bowl so it hangs over the edges like a blanket
    -Pour all of the goat milk yoghurt into the bowl (onto the cloth)
    -Gather the edges of the cheese cloth and tie into a knot, around a wooden spoon, like a bag on a stick.. so the wooden spoon is holding your pouch full of yoghurt
    -You want this pouch full of yoghurt suspended over a large bowl. I put the bowl between two large upturned vessels, I use my pressure cooker and an ice bucket. They’re about the same height and keep the cheese cloth suspended in the air. You want the whey to drip out from the cheese cloth and not come into contact with anything. See blog photo’s for my example.
    -Keep your suspended cheese cloth at room temperature for 24 hours
    -After 24 hours, untie the knot, open the cloth and you’ll have the finished cream cheese.. put this into a bowl and pour the whey into a clean jar if you want to keep it for other recipes (refrigerate up to a month)
    -Add a good pinch or two of sea salt to the goat cheese and mix in with a fork
    -You can eat it straight away or cover it with cling film and refrigerate .. it’ll last a few weeks


  4. Cheats Avocado Sushi – (Maki)

    August 12, 2014 by Maria


    Here is what I took along to a “bring a plate” event over the weekend.  My sushi isn’t perfectly formed because it was a tad soft when I cut it (I used a little too much avocado, my avo was huge!).. but it was very tasty and popular and easy to eat as well as prepare.  If your avocado is larger than normal, I suggest using half to three quarters of it.  Great vegan/vegetarian dish too!  My top tip is never leave out the sushi rice seasoning. Plain boiled rice isn’t the same.


    Cheats Avocado Maki


    *Sushi Rice, 1 cup
    (I use “Kokuho Rose”available from
    Asian food section in Coles)
    *Avocado x 1 (not too small or jumbo!)
    *Sushi Seasoning, 2 tablespoons
    (Obento brand, looks like vinegar)
    *Salt, white pepper
    *White sesame seeds
    *Nigella seeds (black)
    *Lemon juice just a few squeezes


    -Make sushi rice according to packet directions
    -Spread onto a plate to cool down, sprinkle over
    Sushi Seasoning, mix with wet hands. Cool rice down
    with a little help, using either a fan or the coolest
    setting on a hairdryer (held at a distance)
    -Remove avocado flesh from skin and dice, sprinkle
    with a little salt and squeeze over lemon juice
    -In a bowl, mix together gently the rice and avocado,
    ideally using wet hands, season with a little white pepper
    -Tear off three pieces of baking paper, each the size of
    a magazine/chopping board, approximately
    -Put a third of the rice/avocado in the middle of one
    sheet of baking paper
    -Form it into a ‘log’ and fold the paper in half, pushing
    the sushi mixture to compress it, then roll the paper
    “log-style” so you have an even ‘log’ of sushi mixture,
    twisting the ends like an old fashioned lolly-wrapper
    -The aim is to remove all of the air and have a solid
    Sushi log, ready for refrigeration
    -Refrigerate your three sushi logs for about an hour
    -When ready to serve, slice the maki with a serrated
    knife. Then remove the paper, display the maki on a
    plate, sprinkle with white sesame and nigella seeds.
    -Serve with soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi.



    Recipe adapted from an Avocado industry video I saw on Facebook! Inspirational!

  5. Wonton Soup

    August 5, 2014 by Maria

    Have you ever bought a packet of wonton wrappers? They’re versatile little pastry squares. One of my ‘entertaining’ cookbooks uses wontons to line mini-muffin tins which are baked into crisp baskets, then filled with a cooked, fragrant Asian mince mixture. Finger food yumness!

    Wontons are edible parcels.. holding a surprise. And I think a bowl of broth at the very least, needs a pleasant surprise or two!

    This recipe is called “Wonton Soup” but it can be called chicken wonton soup or pork wonton soup or even vegie wonton soup, depending on what you decide to use for the filling.

    Admittedly you might need some patience to individually make each wonton, but I usually do this while watching TV or talking to my daughter.. and time seems to pass a bit quicker!  Trust me, your efforts are rewarded because what you end up with is a hearty, yet light & healthy, unquestionably delish Asian-style soup. When cool, this soup keeps well in the fridge and easily reheats for a quick meal.  Eat within 3 days, but honestly it won’t last that long.  My top tip for this recipe is don’t skip the garnish, it takes it to a whole other level.

    Wonton Soup
    Makes 24 wontons – Uncooked wontons can be successfully frozen for up to 6 weeks.

    -250g  either chicken, turkey or pork mince (alternatively, very finely diced veg, mixed with a little cream cheese if you’re going vegetarian)
    -2 to 3tbs soy sauce
    -1 tablespoon fresh coriander, roughly chopped
    -2 small spring onions, finely chopped (called shallots in other states)
    -1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
    -24 wonton wrappers (usually found near the fresh noodle section at the supermarket)
    -1.25 litres chicken stock (or whatever flavour you like – made from a good quality stock powder or made from scratch)

    Garnish (This finishes the soup off beautifully, try not to skip this step)!
    -2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves
    -1 shallot/spring onion sliced on the diagonal
    -1 birds eye chilli, seeds taken out & sliced (Once the seeds are taken out, there is less heat than you might think – and the flavour is wonderful. When I deseed a chilli, I tend to run them under cold water as I do it).
    -Mix 1st five ingredients together in a bowl
    -Place about a good teaspoon of meat mixture in the middle of each wonton
    -Fold wonton wrapper in half diagonally, moisten half of the edges with water, using a clean finger or a pastry brush. Press edges to seal them.
    -Take two corners of the stuffed triangle, fold over and join the ends together
    -Fold third corner in the opposite direction, backwards and join/press the ends with the other two ends you’ve moulded together, to form a ‘tortellini’ type shape (photo’s on blog)
    -You should get approximately 24 wontons
    -Bring chicken stock to a simmering boil (not overly bubbling)
    -Plonk wontons into the soup and stir gently
    -Bring back to a simmering boil & cook wontons for 10 minutes, turn off heat
    -Prepare garnish – chop spring onions, coriander and chilli
    -Ladle soup into bowls, 4 wontons per bowl and garnish

    The finished soup above. Ready to be ladled into bowls and then the garnish added.

  6. French Onion Soup

    July 29, 2014 by Maria

    I don’t know how else to say this, but this thick and hearty soup is so very good and so worth making from scratch. It’s nothing like packet French onion soup and you musn’t leave out the baguette for the cheesy crouton topping. Extremely good – there is no other soup like it!

    In the spirit of Masterchef, I’ll pass on my 3 top tips for this recipe: 1/ Make sure you break down ie. caramelise your onions slowly and don’t burn them. This way they’ll go a deep toffee colour and the flavour will be everything you need it to be. Be patient.. it’s not instant. 2/ Dry white wine is the best kind for this recipe 3/ You may not use all of your stock/wine/water mixture.. but you get to decide how thick or thin you’d like your soup .. I don’t like it too watery. I used Campbell’s beef stock (salt reduced) and then later added some Massel’s beef stock powder for extra seasoning.
    French Onion Soup
    (Serves 2 to 3 hearty main meal portions or 4 to 5 entree portions)

    -6 onions, thinly sliced (between 900gm-1kg)

    -2 tablespoons of butter & a small splash of rice bran oil (or vegetable oil)
    -1 litre of beef stock
    -1.5 cups water
    -2 heaped tablespoons of plain flour
    -2/3 cup dry white wine (like Chardonnay)
    -1 bay leaf
    -1 teaspoon of fresh thyme
    -2 pinches of salt (for breaking down the onions)

    Swiss Cheese Croutons
    -1 French stick or two French stick halves (sliced into 1.5cm slices approx)
    -optional butter/margarine for spreading
    -1 cup of grated Swiss cheese
    -In a large pan, melt butter and add splash of oil (which will help keep butter from burning)
    -Add onions & stir occasionally as they cook and collapse a little
    -After about 15 minutes, add couple of pinches of salt and continue cooking another 15 to 25 minutes until onions are really soft and golden brown/caramelised
    -In a separate saucepan, heat wine and boil for one minute
    -Add beef stock, water and bay leaf, bring to the boil and remove from heat
    -Add flour to onions and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until well incorporated
    -Slowly add hot stock while stirring and working out any clumps
    -Once all of the broth is in, bring to a boil, then let simmer for 25 minutes without a lid
    -Remove bay leaf, add thyme and stir well (tast for seasoning)
    -To make croutons, lightly butter each slice of baguette (which is optional) and place under a grill until light brown
    -Flip baguette slices over, sprinkle over Swiss cheese and put back under grill until bubbling and bread is toasted around edges (being careful not to burn it)
    -Ladle soup into bowls and add two large cheese croutons to each serving