Sunday, January 30, 2011


Olives seem to be a hit with toddlers - or at least with Billie and her good friend Henry. And fresh sweet corn is Billie's no.1 vegetable. In fact, these days it's the only vegetable she eats without it being hidden.

So when I offered to contribute to Henry's 2nd birthday bash his lovely mother Emily requested "some of your rice cakes, but with olives, no feta and you could hide some courgette". I wound up filling them with lots of corn so I'm not sure Henry was impressed -  and there were too many toy diggers landing in his lap anyway. But the adults were.

Phew. There was a fair bit of competition this morning - several offerings of savoury muffin-type things. Even one from a fellow food blogger, Morsels & Musings. Anna served some delicious salmon and dill mini muffins. I have to confess Billie preferred those to her mother's vegetarian rice cakes. I'll have to chase Anna for the recipe.

My favorite today though was Emily's gazpacho served in shot sizes. Perfect for a hot January morning. I'm definitely going to follow that one up.

Olive, Corn and Courgette Rice Cakes

Billie chills out with an Olive, Corn and Courgette Rice Cake

All the savory bits were followed by lashing of sweets. Emily made a perfect chocolate cake for Henry. Moist, tasty and light. She did extremely well as first-time cake baker. It's a recipe I pulled out of a cookbook years ago, I don't even recall what book. All I know is the author credited it with their friend Dana - so it's Dana's Chocolate Cake.

But I will call it Magic Chocolate Cake. If you come across another cake recipe that DOES NOT CALL FOR ANY CREAMING of butter and sugar, please pass it on. When Emily mentioned she didn't own a cake mixer - neither do I - I insisted she try Dana's Chocolate Cake. It's easy and extremely good.

Henry gets ready for some Magic Chocolate Cake

Billie had chocolate for the second time in her life. I wish I had a shot of her and Henry post-cake.

The Magic Chocolate Cake recipe follows the Olive, Corn and Courgette Rice Cakes recipe.

Makes 12-18

1 cup arborio rice - or other Italian
knob of butter
2 corn cobs, steamed
2 courgettes/zucchini, grated
3/4 cup pitted olives, chopped in half sideways 
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
generous grind of black pepper
6 egg, beaten

Place rice in small pot filled with water and salt. Bring to simmer and simmer with lid off for about 12 minutes or until just done.  Drain and mix knob of butter through with fork. Leave to cool.

 Remove corn off cob by placing length-ways on chopping board and slicing with large knife. Place in large bowl with rest of ingredients. Mix well but gently with large fork.

Spoon into oiled muffin tins - depending on cup size this recipe will make between 12 and 18.

Place in preheated oven on medium-hot (200 c/400f). Cook for 15-20 minutes or until browned.

Remove from tins and cool on wire rack. Serve warm or cold. Perfect picnic fodder.

Emily and Henry start the jam


1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk
100g butter, melted
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

100g butter - soft
250g icing sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
 milk to mix
 1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180c/350f. Grease a 20cm loose-bottom cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Put all the main ingredients in a food processor, or just mix by hand (very easy, remember - no creaming). Pour into the prepared tin and bake for at least 50 minutes.

The cake will rise a lot and when cooked the centre should spring back when gently pressed, or a skewer poked into the centre will come out clean.

To make the filling or icing, place butter and dry ingredients in food processor, pulse to combine. Again, no worries if you don't have one, a wooden spoon and bowl will do you fine.  Add a dash of milk, mix, and add tiny amounts of milk until achieve a thick, soft, spreadable icing. Add vanilla.

Slice cake in half horizontally and spread some icing on the lower half. Replace the top half and ice the whole cake. Alternatively, just leave cake intact and use all icing on the top. Leave to set and keep in sealed airtight container.

Birthday Super Mum Emily and myself

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Santa Fe farmers' markets

Get ready for some superb Southwestern-inspired food. But first, Santa Fe is kind of the Disney Land of New Mexico. You wouldn't know this if you didn't venture further into the desert, to the mountain town of Taos say. Or even better - little Las Vegas - a town frequented by Billie the Kid and now a popular film set for Western-tinged films by the Coen Bros etc.

Santa Fe's New Mexico Museum of Art uses the faux-dobe made popular by the town's planning laws

But for wide-eyed tourists such as myself fresh off the train, it's hard not to fall for Santa Fe. Town planning laws dictate that all buildings must pay some homage to the traditional Adobe, invented by the Pueblo people - the traditional land owners. So you play the guessing game of which is the faux-dobe and which is the real mud brick. At least it all looks nice. Even the petrol stations.

Real adobe or faux-dobe?

Shell gets into the dobe-mode

It's not just the mud bricks that tourists flock to Santa Fe for. The town has become an eating destination, with it's own cuisine reproduced in many cookbooks and famous restaurants. Unfortunately I cannot report that our dining experience was anything to write home about  - probably because all the good ones were booked out or had queues longer than Billie could possibly stand. 

The best food we ate in Santa Fe was found right here on the plaza

However, we ate well throughout the rest of New Mexico and the US South West. It's a blend of Mexican, Native American - such as fry bread, corn and beans - and some other stuff tossed in.

Getting hungry? This fabulous salsa salad is easy to make and will impress most palettes. Last night I took it to Skye's birthday beach picnic, and there were enough recipe requests to pass the test.

And yes, Billie loves it. Nine-month-old Fig enjoyed a few mouthfuls last night too - although she preferred the beans to the corn.

I pinched this from my current favorite, Feeding the Whole Family, by Cynthia Lair. I've only made a couple of small adaptations. She suggests serving with tortillas or polenta but I have always used corn chips.

This recipe brings together some of my favorite ingredients: black beans, lime, corn, fresh coriander/cilantro and red pepper/capsicum. Served with a bowl of corn chips, it makes a fantastic dish to share. It can be prepared a few hours ahead of time, so good for outings.


2 cups cooked black beans  (1 1/2 cups dried or one 400g tin = 1 1/2 cups)
1 red pepper
1 corn cob, steamed (or 1/2 cup frozen/tinned corn but use fresh if you can)
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander/cilantro
plain corn chips, to serve

3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons lime juice = one lime
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (use 1/4 if not serving to any kids)

Soak and boil/pressure cook the black beans. They only take 15-20 minutes in pressure cooker if been soaked a few hours. About three times as long if you regular boil in a pot, after soaking. Or open a can or two.

Next, roast red pepper/capsicum to char the skin for easy removal. You can do it under a grill or directly over the low flame of a gas burner. Turn until skin charred on all sides. Place inside paper bag and close to allow pepper to sweat - this will make skin easier to remove. After about ten minutes - or longer if you can wait - the skin should slip off. Slice pepper into thin strips and then chop strips in half.

Meanwhile, steam whole corn cob - again only takes 5 mins in pressure cooker, 10-15 mins probably in regular pot. Let cool then place sideways on board and slice kernels off in strips. Place strips in large bowl with beans, coriander and pepper. Mix gently.

To make dressing: Mince garlic and salt to a paste, either in pestle and mortar or on bread board with a knife. Place in small bowl and whisk in oil, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Pour over salad and toss gently.

Serve with corn chips. If you go for the more spicy option, a bit of yoghurt on the side works well. And if you are feeling energetic, or you want to make the meal go further, the salad partners very well with guacamole. 

My suggestions for making this work for all ages:
BABIES AGED SIX MONTHS AND OLDER: Make a little extra corn and puree
BABIES/TODDLERS AGED NINE MONTHS AND OLDER: Set aside a little beans and corn
TODDLERS AGED ONE YEAR AND OLDER: Serve as is - check seasoning

And now, I can't resist a little garden update. 
Just two weeks on, and we have several small green tomatoes and one little courgette. 

The tomato plants are topping their stakes, and the aubergine plants are getting huge too. The poor lettuce, spinach and basil are getting a bit overwhelmed by the growth of their neighbors, losing a fair bit of their sun. Next time I would put tomatoes in their own patch I think.

Friday, January 14, 2011


 Happy New Year billie biters. Hope you had a relaxing break.

Jan 09 2011

We were very excited to return home, from camping on the NSW Far South Coast, to find a blooming vegetable garden.  The frequent rain showers sprinkled between hot sunshine in Sydney gave our little veggie patch a much-needed boost. Before we left I was stressing that gardening was all about the PROCESS, ya know. Watching those SEEDS sprout and mature and survive the great transplant. Well, now I can happily revise that. It's feeding us too - a little.

Our first garden feast featured spinach, lettuce and basil from the no-dig garden we created in late October. Gardening partners Emily and Henry Besser (Billie's best mate) brought bread and tomatoes, and the best sandwiches I have eaten all decade were had. And only a metre from where the seedlings grew.

First pickings, 9/1/11

Soon to come on the garden menu will be tomatoes, aubergine/eggplant and red pepper/capsicum followed by courgette/zucchini. Dill seedlings are thriving. I have also impressed my neighbor Lauren (who kept a close watch over the garden while we were camping) with some coriander seedlings. They did take a couple of attempts. Thanks also go to Miream for the lettuce and courgette seedlings, brought to life down the road in Randwick.

When Emily, Miles and I built the no-dig garden in the spring, we simply followed some directions pulled off google - layering up with newspaper, straw, manure and a bit of dirt and compost. We omitted the hay because it was impossible to find in Sydney. We should have used cardboard because the weeds are very feisty.

Next we planted seeds in egg cartons, sat them in old plastic takeaway containers on my sunny kitchen windowsill, and delighted in their speedy growth. All was fine, except I left them too long and many dried out and died. A couple of the spinach and tomato survived and are now huge. But the next batch of seedlings I transplanted after just a week or so. Coriander can't seem to survive transplanting so I stuck the whole egg carton straight in the garden once big enough to cope outdoors. The dill seeds I planted in a plastic pot, after the first batch failed to transplant. 

First transplanting of seedlings, Nov 26

Billie and Henry water seedlings after first transplant 26/11/10

I learned from a little organic gardening workshop mid-way through that our seedlings were struggling for lack of fertiliser. So they have since benefited from a fortnightly does of a seaweed concentrate and another organic mix that contains nitrogen.

So it's been a learning journey, and we're still very much novices. But that doesn't stop us screaming from the roof-tops: WE ARE GROWING A BUMPER CROP IN OUR LITTLE VEGETABLE PATCH!

 Today I will make our first home-grown salad to take to lunch with Giles and Anna and Bruno at Giles' art studio. Of course I'll wait until we're about to leave before picking the spinach, lettuce and herbs so I can shout ONE HOUR OLD VEGETABLES  ON YOUR TABLE!

I've just been listening to a re-run of a great discussion on vegetarianism. ABC Radio National looks at the growth in popularity of vegetarianism, as more people question what they're eating and the environmental cost of producing it. The show debunks some nutritional myths about a meat-free diet with Dr Rosemary Stanton.  Check it out:  Vegetarianism on ABC Radio National's Life Matters