Thursday, September 23, 2010


Apparently you're not supposed to 'hide' vegetables from fussy toddlers. Well, how about just offering them mixed into plenty of carbohydrates and cheese?
Asparagus and Pumpkin Rice Cakes

 Billie wasn't fooled anyway, or perhaps she just chose not to dig into these today. Maybe tomorrow.

Our one-year-old has dropped her all-devouring love of vegetables and began toddling down the path to fussy-dom. My idealistic plans to not tolerate a fussy eater don't work when you're dealing with a little person that can't speak, let alone reason.

Pumpkin and spinach have so far remained firmly on Billie's menu, so I was a little taken-aback when the chunks of roast pumpkin landed on the floor, with a smirk. Especially since she devoured a similar dish only a few weeks back.

I made these for lunch today, served with a spinach and tomato salad dressed with balsamic and olive oil. When dinner-time came round Billie did manage to get half of one of these tasty vegetarian cakes down, so this recipe still earns an entry.

And anything with asparagus is worth making during spring.


1 cup rice (I used brown but any will do)
1/4 pumpkin
1 bunch asparagus
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
fine dry bread crumbs
olive oil

Place rice with 2 cups cold water in pot on high with lid on. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer on very low with lid on until water evaporated. Don't stir - you will be able to see/hear when water gone.

Chop pumpkin into small bite-sized chunks and rub with olive oil. Roast in hot oven until soft and crispy.

Oil 12 muffin tins and line with breadcrumbs. 
Chop asparagus into small chunks and steam lightly with little water and butter. Remove from pot.

Whisk eggs lightly with milk and freshly ground black pepper. Stir through grated cheese, rice and pumpkin and asparagus. Check seasoning and spoon into muffin tins. Bake in hot oven for 25-35 mins.

Leave in tins for 5 minutes. Remove and cool on wire rack. Eat warm or refrigerate for later.

BABIES 6 MONTHS AND OLDER: Depending on where you're at, reserve some cooked pumpkin chunks and some asparagus. Blend for younger baby or offer as finger food for older baby.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


One of the most scary things about returning to the office this week was FOOD.

How was our family going to eat? I refuse to go back to paid work so I can spend my part-time wage on lunches and takeaway dinners.

So billie bites may be about to become a whole lot more useful for some readers. I've often been told the recipes look good, but there's just not time...

Eating well is all about time management, organisation, planning, budgeting, and shopping. If the cupboards are well-stocked you're more than half-way there.

Now I have a huge disclaimer to announce: A BIG thank you and congratulations has to go to Miles for taking the reins of part-time house-husband. So actually, Miles did most of the cooking. And very well. Especially considering he had to work any minute Billie slept.

However, essential to this successful changeover was a big, well-planned shop on Sunday. As much as we wanted to get out in the sunshine and take a much-needed walk to the beach, to the shops we all went.


I used to head to the shops with a strict list after planning the weeks' meals. But this leaves you stuck with overpriced spinach and skipping past the bargains.  So write a list, perhaps after flipping through a few cookbooks or blogs, with several meal options. That way when you discover fresh peas are expensive this week and the store doesn't stock frozen ones, you can throw that idea to the wind. 

Asparagus is in now because it's spring in the southern hemisphere, so take advantage. Avoid it for the rest of the year. It's tricky keeping up with appropriate prices for fruit and vegetables and I'm definitely still learning, but the more you browse the green grocers the better you'll get at eating well on a budget.

I screwed this up on Sunday night when I cooked one of Billie's favourites - her Italian great grandfather's manasta. I only made enough of this simple nourishing spinach and white bean dish for one dinner and a too-small office lunch for me and a little for Billie. However, when Miles took over on Monday he cooked an entire bag of black beans in the pressure cooker, froze half of them and turned the rest into delicious chili beans. These stretched over two Mexican burrito dinners, a hearty lunch for me and also for Billie.

Sorry to trundle out that old dogma, but it's true. If you always have most of these in store you'll never have to reach for the takeaway menu (unless you want to treat yourself). Off the top of my head I suggest: Rice, flour, oats, polenta, cous cous, quinoa, dried beans - black, kidney, chickpea, great northern etc- and some tinned beans for emergencies, lentils, tin tomatoes, nuts - almond, brazil, walnut etc, nut butters, dates, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, tamari/soy sauce, and the list can go on...I know they're not technically store cupboard, but I reckon keeping eggs, milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt around can make your life that much easier too.

Manasta is one of those dishes that makes you feel good just preparing it. On the eve of my return to paid work I was quite anxious, but once I started cooking this tasty, healthy and very easy dish I felt relaxed and calm.

This Italian stable comes from Billie's Great Grandpa Lou whose family hails from Naples. His wife Eve taught me to make it when we visited their Baraboo, Wisconsin home during the fourth of July holiday weekend. Eve is one of the most amazing home cooks I have ever met - we dined on blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, pumpkin pudding, Mexican egg salad, spinach and ricotta lasagne, chili beans, and this Manasta. Technically a soup, and I recommend serving it with good bread, but it's more the consistency of a stew/casserole. I recommend doubling this recipe.


1 cup dried great northern beans (white beans)
1 large bag English spinach
1/2 cup olive oil (yes, you need this much - it is Italian after all)
6 large cloves garlic 
1 t fennel seed
Soak beans in four cups of water for several hours of overnight. Drain and place in pot with another four cups of water and bring to the boil before simmering for a couple of hours. If you have a pressure cooker use that instead - much quicker and you don't need to soak for as long. Or you could use canned beans but then you don't get the soupy stuff.

Wash spinach and leave a little of the water on the leaves. Place in large pot with lid and cook on medium for about five mins. Shake and stir every minute until just wilted. Remove from pot to cool before chopping.

Heat oil in large pot and cook garlic gently for few minutes. Add fennel seed and cook for just one minute. Add beans, cooking water and spinach. Salt to taste (just a little if serving to baby/toddler and then re-salt adults' later. Simmer for few minutes to blend flavours.

Serve in bowls with good, thickly-sliced bread. Works well as a side dish too, which is what Eve did.

Squeeze a very small amount of lemon juice over just before serving - the vitamin C is needed to absorb the iron from the spinach. Or serve with a tomato salad, fruit etc.

PS Miles also made sushi while he was on. But that's just showing off...
So then I had to catch up, and made this batch the following evening.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


 At last, the recipe many have been waiting for. Some have been waiting for years.

This spinach torte went down a treat at Billie's first birthday party on the weekend. Her friend Marilla, just one day younger, couldn't get enough.

Now when I say spinach, I mean spinach. I'm afraid silverbeet - often called spinach in Australia - just doesn't cut it in this dish.

I make a hunza pie - yet to make an appearance here - which is very well suited to silverbeet. But please only make this torte with 'English' spinach - and fresh is always best.

This Italian dish is perfect picnic fodder, travels well, lasts a few days in the fridge, is delicious at room temperature and has been the star of many shared buffets.

I have adapted this from Julie Biuso's Italian Cooking - a great New Zealand classic.


1 large bunch of spinach
1 T butter
1 cup arborio rice, or another Italian rissotto variety
3 T olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
fresh ground black pepper
fresh ground nutmeg
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 T extra butter, melted

Preheat oven to 200c. Butter or oil a flan dish - ceramic is best as doesn't stick. If you don't have either use a cake tin with a removable base.

Place rice in a small pot filled with water and a bit of salt. Bring to boil, then simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes or until just cooked. Drain and set aside to cool.

Pick and wash spinach leaves. Flick dry but leave a little water on leaves. Place butter in a large pot with spinach and cook on a medium heat. Shake/stir every minute or so. Once wilted, but not too cooked, remove from pot and leave to cool. 

Saute onions for a few minutes in oil before adding garlic. When very soft and a little browned add to rice. Chop spinach and add to rice with eggs, 3/4 cup of the cheese, nutmeg, and pepper. Combine with a large fork. Taste and add salt if needed. 

Pour into flan dish and drizzle top with melted butter and rest of parmesan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is crisp.

Serve hot, warm or room temperature.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Billie tries her cake and eyes up a second helping
I used to be suspicious of cakes boasting of their low-sugar low-fat credentials. What's the point?

Well, this pumpkin and banana loaf passed the first test immediately - it tasted GOOD.

And when you're trying to keep your baby/toddler/child/self away from sugar, suddenly recipes like these are winners.

If you're hosting a one-year-old's birthday, this cake has the added bonus of being the right shape. No need for fancy sculpting with lots of sweet sticky icing.

And the babies, toddlers and kids all came back for more. Especially Billie.

I have only slightly adapted this from a recipe courtesy of Cherie at our ante-natal mother's group.

Billie's First Birthday Cake

1 cup self raising flour
1/2 cup wholemeal self raising flour
1/4 t baking soda
1 t ground ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups grated pumpkin
1 large banana, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sultanas
 2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt

Preheat oven to 180c. Oil a loaf tin and dust with flour or else line with paper. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl and stir through sugar. In a separate small bowl mix walnuts, sultanas, pumpkin and banana together. In another bowl whisk eggs, oil and yoghurt together. Add wet to dry and blend well with electric mixer, or else use wooden spoon. Stir through pumpkin mixture and pour into tin. Place on low-middle shelf of oven and cook for about an hour or when skewer comes out clean. Check after 50 minutes. I had to cover with foil towards the end as browned quickly on top and still wet at bottom, but will depend on your oven.

Leave for ten minutes in tin before turning out on wire rack to cool. Dust lightly with icing sugar before serving.

Training back from Melbourne

Monday, September 6, 2010


Billie's First Birthday Party

Billie Miro Mystic Merrill turns one today.
Pumpkin and Banana Loaf Birthday Cake

I've just popped a very healthy and delicious cake in the oven to take down to Bronte to share with her little friends born from our ante-natal classes. I grabbed the recipe for this wonderful low-sugar, low-fat pumpkin and banana loaf from Cherie, mother of Ty. Check recipe tomorrow.

But yesterday was the real party. I prepared this tasty menu of finger foods suitable for toddlers, which could all be pre-prepared and would travel well to the park. However, gale-force winds provoked a change of venue and instead our home was taken over by babies, toddlers and kids old enough to kick soccer balls around in the shared backyard.

FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY MENU: (Recipes below or to follow this week)

Pumpkin Feta Rice Cakes
Pumpkin Feta Rice Cakes and Spinach Tort
Spinach Rice Torte
Corn Chips
Carrot Sticks
Fresh Dates
Brazil Nuts
Camembert cheese and crackers
Pumpkin and Banana Loaf Birthday Cake

(And thanks to Toni for the egg sandwiches - courtesy of her backyard chooks - and Amanda for her mum's fruitcake.)

Train trip to Melbourne
The Spinach Rice Torte is adapted from a Julie Biuso recipe that has been my go-to for picnics and parties for years. But I'm most excited about the pumpkin and feta rice cakes, which I invented the previous week in preparation for a big train trip to Melbourne - just me and Billie. These eggy, cheesy little numbers travel well, are fine at room temperature and last for a few days refrigerated (but not in our house as they just get eaten).

These two rice-based recipes lend themselves well to being prepared semi-simultaneously, necessary when you have limited time to cook for a child's party. Thanks to Emily and Linton for taking care of Billie on Saturday afternoon while I did the great cook-off (Miles was away at the Brisbane Writers' Festival).


1 cup arborio rice, or other risotto rice
1/4-1/3 pumpkin, skinned and chopped into small pieces
one small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
dried, fine breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
6 eggs, lightly beaten
Block feta, chopped into very small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200c.

Place rice in medium-small pot with plenty of water and a little salt. Bring to boil and then simmer gently for 12 minutes. Drain and leave to cool.

Place pumpkin on oiled oven tray. Cook until soft and browned - it won't take long as small pieces.

Saute onion for few minutes in frying pan with olive oil, add garlic and cook a few more minutes.

Oil 12 muffin tins and then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Combine eggs, milk and cheese and then mix together with rice and onions and garlic. Season with pepper but salt is not necessary due to the feta and Parmesan.

Gently stir through pumpkin and distribute to muffin tins. Bake for about 40 minutes or until cooked right through and nicely browned. Turn onto wire rack to cool. Eat warm or refrigerate for later.

Billie enjoys her (second) birthday cake 06/09/10