Monday, 17 December 2012

Caramelised Onion and Blue Cheese Focaccia

Shall we just get down to the nitty gritty? I made my upgraded focaccia a week ago and seem to have been struggling to get it on the table (metaphorically speaking of course, believe me, it's been eaten). As I mentioned, we went out for dinner recently with the KR family and had this amazing bread that inspired me to try making focaccia, in the hopes that I could replicate it.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


I have been thinking of tackling bread for a long time. It's on my list of things to try and has kept coming to mind lately. Today I had some semi-quiet time at home, as in, Reuben was out and Esther was at home. Despite the great opportunity, I frankly didn't feel like doing anything. I do get stuck like this as times. I tried to settle in to making christmas stockings for the kids, a job I was in the middle of at this time last year, when my whole world fell down around my ears and I haven't looked at them since. It didn't go very well. So I abandoned it and escaped to the kitchen, and, once again, getting out the flour and the mixing bowls and turning on the oven brought the life back to my bones.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Banana Berry Icecream

Reuben requested icecream recently when I was in the middle of a haze of glucose experimenting. I froze at the idea (ha ha, hope you like the pun) of him eating sugar and wondered how I could get around it. Actually no, I didn't. He eats very little sweet food, he's just not in to it (with a few exceptions). He turns his nose up at my baking and tells me his favourite food is broccoli (though I can hardly believe it). So I wasn't afraid of a little icecream.

Monday, 19 November 2012

So where to from here? Making a plan.

The time has come. No more thinking, it's time for action. We need to start eating less sugar and we need to figure out how we're going to do it. Below I have outlined all kinds of things to think through and made some suggestions as to how you might decrease your sugar intake. I'd like you to have read, make a plan, and tell us about it in the comments section below. It might be really simple, it might be just one thing, it might be complex, it might be easy to achieve or hard to achieve. But make it concrete and put it in to words. And it'll start this week. Buy what you need to, banish what you need to, and let's all be doing something different by the weekend.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Glucose as a sugar alternative, and vanilla biscuits.

Well for goodness sake. It is so simple really. What does sugar contain? Fructose and glucose. What is bad for us? Fructose? What is good for us? Glucose. What should we not be eating? Fructose. What should we be eating? Glucose. What should we be baking with? GLUCOSE.

Vanilla biscuit with glucose by Reuben

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

And on that bombshell...

Well I told you it was going to be bad news. And you could have guessed that anyway. I hope you found the summary of The Bitter Truth interesting - I was certainly engrossed in every detail and it really blew my mind to be honest. There was a lot of chemistry involved but, unlike at school, I was seriously interested in the results of the lesson, and that had me hooked. For a sleep deprived, breast-feeding, grieving mother of two small children, I think working through all that information makes me brilliant and amazing.

But there's a lot to talk about. For today, let's see if we can look at the questions you have raised, and the questions that have come to my mind as well, and next time we'll look at where to from here.

Monday, 12 November 2012

What is wrong with sugar? "Sugar: The Bitter Truth"

In 2009 Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, presented a seminar for the UCSF Mini Medical School for the Public called Sugar: The Bitter Truth.
Below is my summary of what he presented. The seminar is one and a half hours long and you can watch it here Sugar: The Bitter Truth. In my opinion this is critical viewing, and I strongly urge you to take the time.
If you have concerns about the following information, do discuss them here, but remember this is Robert Lustig's research that I am summarising.

Since the 1970s, as fat has been reduced in our diet, sugar and carbohydrate consumption has increased. Fat used to provide the flavour, and sugar has taken its place.

We have reduced our fat intake, but rates of obesity metabolic syndrome (obesity, type II diabetes, lipid problems, hypertension, cardiovascular disease) have all gone up. Why?...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Quick update, sweet.

It's been great to hear from so many of you on the terrifying topic of sugar. I can see there is a surging wave of panic on the topic of baking. But remember we are doing some serious work on sugar alternatives, not total elimination of anything sweet. I'm finding xylitol a really good alternative in all my baking so far, except that it doesn't give a nice crunch to biscuits.

I have also acquired something called "Sweet Freedom" which I mentioned on our Facebook page but haven't discussed here. No, it's not an artificial sweetener, it's a syrup made from 100% apple, grape and carob extracts. It is not exactly "perfect" but it is a really good alternative to honey, golden syrup and maple syrup, and could probably work as a substitute for condensed milk.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

We need to talk, sugar.

Well, my friends. I have been doing a lot of research on sugar. I've been talking about sugar alternatives for a while, and we all know that sugar is bad for us, but I really want to know what the deal is. So I've been reading and watching some stuff. And it's all bad news. Bad news.

We are eating far too much sugar. It's making us fat. It's addictive. Some even call it poison. Bad news.

Monday, 5 November 2012


Oh my GOSH I made butter! I know. I just overwhipped the cream and made butter. On purpose.

I had a rush of blood to the head recently and picked up (I mean bought) a magazine about making cheeses, and it included a recipe for making butter. I've always known that if you look like you're about to overwhip the cream (I'd just like to say I never get close these days), somebody will say "careful, you'll turn it in to butter," but I've never thought about the fact that butter really is just overwhipped cream.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Party Food and Finding Colour

 I was a little unsure about whether to have a birthday celebration for Esther and me, and was nervous even after deciding to do it (if you're unsure why, have a read here and here for more than enough explanation). But I quickly realised two things. There are many people out there who love to celebrate our children, and I want to give them the opportunity to do so. And my children are missing out on so much already, I don't want to add to the loss. And actually there was a third thing - I want to celebrate Esther too! So we had a party. Mostly for Esther, and a little bit for me.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Raspberry, Cherry and Coconut Slice

I try to be good and blog about cooking that is challenging, or requires a bit of technique or something I haven't done before. And I wasn't sure if this was really going to be different enough to qualify. Just sending a few different ingredients round the mixer isn't really what The Cook's Sponge is all about. But actually, this was really different. The ingredients were unusual for me (I mean who buys glace cherries except maybe at Christmas?). I have, believe it or not, never made a three-different-layers slice before, and if you want challenging and nifty techniques, just you try cutting this baby. Oh and also, never in all my life have I ever put a tablespoon of vanilla extract in to anything. That alone is worth blogging about.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


I have a gorgeous friend who comes to see me regularly. We get all of our children in to bed and she races across town feeling youthful (I think) and child-free (definitely) and we have a quiet evening of real conversation, something mothers of toddlers never get between the hours of 7am and 7pm. The truth is I do most of the talking and she does most of the listening and there is such a heaviness in my heart and in my house that I wonder how she enjoys herself so much. So last time she was here I decided that her next visit would have to include some real fun.

Monday, 8 October 2012

More Sugar-Free Results

It's a hard job, but someone has to do it. I have been trialling my sugar free options in various recipes to see how they perform, and yes I've been doing lots of taste testing too of course. Once again, the results have been pretty clear.

Yesterday I got very scientific and did another round of chocolate chip biscuits, this time doing one batch with condensed milk and standard sugar, and another with agave nectar and xylitol. I also did a bit of juggling with my measurements (but that's a story for the next post) and did half in my own oven and half in my Dad's oven - all to try and ensure that my "control" batch were as perfect as possible. Indeed they were. The condensed milk and standard sugar batch were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with a little bit of chew. The xylitol and agave, however were soft without even a bit of crunch. I have suspected for a while that's where we were heading

I've trialled xylitol in some other baking too. I put it in pikelets and there was no discernable difference to taste or overall result. I put it in my muesli bar (flapjack) recipe and they tasted the same but they were definitely more cakey. And I have tried coconut sugar in chocolate pudding a number of times and the taste is no different though I suspect the end result is a little drier so I just add a drop more liquid.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Sugar-Free Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Ok. After the hard work of my last post I have some results for you. I have a chocolate chip biscuit recipe that uses white sugar and condensed milk, so the obvious thing to do was substitute agave nectar for condensed milk, and either xylitol or coconut sugar for the white sugar. So I tried both. I made two batches, and did agave nectar both times, and either xylitol or coconut sugar. The results are pretty simple to report back on.

The dark coloured biscuits are the coconut sugar biscuits, and the light ones are xylitol. The flavour of the coconut sugar is as noticeable as the colour. They taste dark and syrupy and a little bitter. The xylitol biscuits had no discernable taste difference to the usual biscuits that use white sugar and condensed milk. So this means that not only does the xylitol make little difference to the end flavour result, but neither does the agave. I didn't enjoy the strong flavour of the coconut sugar biscuits very much, and I possibly only persevered with eating them because they were filled with chocolate chunks.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Sugar-Free Sweetness - Sugar Alternatives

For a long time I have been interested in alternatives to sugar, perhaps because, like many of us, I have a desire to be healthy as well as a desire to eat sweet things. And do you know what? There ARE alternatives. There are actually heaps of ways we can sweeten our food without having to use sugar, but it can take a lot of work to research and figure out. And you lucky things, I've been doing the hard work for you. Well, for me and you.

I have decided to get serious about experimenting with some sugar alternatives in my baking, and see if I can find something(s) that I would be happy to switch to long term. There are a few things to factor in, for example - Does it taste good? Does it easily replace sugar in any given recipe, or do I have to adjust the other ingredients to make it work? Is it truly a healthier option? Is it affordable?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Chocolate Banana Cake

I've made a few challenging things over recent months on this blog, but today was one of the hardest of all. This afternoon we made a birthday cake for our beloved husband and daddy who died 8 months ago.

Reuben and I had a conversation a while ago which made me decide I wanted to make a chocolate and banana cake. A friend of mine recently made a fantastic one and kindly passed on the recipe. I must say this one came out very differently - I seem to have a problem with particularly flat cakes at the moment, and the banana was much more chunky and noticeable in this one, but I *loved* it. It was even more moist than last time I tried it, and I added a little more cocoa. It's really, really good!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Pasta Sauce

I've thrown tinned tomatoes at pasta many a time, adding some kind of herbs/garlic/wine combo to try and make it interesting, but it's always disappointing.

Recently I bought a jar of pasta sauce and it was good. Really good. The little guy gobbled it down and I enjoyed it too. But for a long time I have wanted to try and nail a good homemade version, and last week I finally did. Well, I made a good homemade version, but I'm not sure if I quite nailed it... I would have liked a bit more depth and richness to the flavour, it was a little light and tangy. But it's a good place to start, nothing beats cooking something off like this to bring stronger flavour. You can play around with this recipe as much as you like - barely anything in it is essential.

I read a few recipes and put together some different ideas, starting with one I found on the Taste website. All recipes suggested fresh basil but we're in the wrong season for basil in my garden, so I used dried oregano and fresh parsley. I chose to add a teaspoon of sugar towards the end of cooking as the sauce was very tangy. The sugar added a little depth and softened it a bit, though not as much as I wanted. I almost wondered if it needs a little stock added - call me crazy, but I did come across the idea of adding a mirepoix which is a vegetable base for many stocks and sauces. I may not go this far next time, but I would probably add more tomato paste, and go out of my way to get some really good tinned tomatoes. For now though, feel free to just grab what you have in your pantry. If you have any thoughts on improving this recipe, I would love to hear them.

I wanted a smooth texture, so blitzed it in the blender after cooking.

Pasta Sauce

1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 x 400g tins whole plum tomatoes
Splash of wine (red is ideal, white is fine)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper

Simmer chopped onion and garlic in the oil and butter until softened but not brown.
Add the tomato paste and stir for one minute, then add the tomatoes and wine and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add sugar, salt and pepper and herbs to taste.

PS - an easy meal idea is to chop up some mushroom, capsicum and really fine bits of broccoli and add it to the sauce. You may even want to do this before you freeze it. A great way to get more veg in to kids, if you find that a challenge. I had some of this leftover recently and put it in an omelette for lunch. Yummo!


I thought I would sneak you an extra post occasionally - a little off the topic but worth recording.

Birthday season has arrived in my family. My brother's birthday comes first, and while we didn't have a family celebration this year, I made him some shortbread on the weekend and we sat round on the floor with our kids to eat it. Reuben ordered candles and singing, so it felt like a real party.

Mum's Shortbread

1/2 pound of butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornflour
2 cups flour

Soften butter then add sugar and beat until creamy.
Add flours and mix.

Press in to a greased, lined tin, using the bottom of a glass to smooth the surface.

Bake at 150 degrees for 35-40 mins.

To do what I've done here, add in the juice of a mandarin to the buttery mixture, and an extra shake of flour. Top shortbread with mandarin zest and a sprinkle of fine grated chocolate.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


I'm just going to come right out there and say it. I think I have the best recipe around for scones. It's not like it's any credit to me or anything - I just happened to buy the right recipe book (and actually use it). I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently about good recipes, and a tendency many have to not want to share their best recipes. Perhaps we like the glory we get from producing

something that no one in our circle can do as well. But the chances are the recipe was passed on to us, and surely we can share? My friend told me that some women in years gone by were known to pass recipes on when asked, but purposely leave out a key ingredient to ensure their friend's failure (RB I promise I didn't do that to you!). Have you ever been tempted to do such a thing, or just ducked and dodged when asked for a recipe? If ever I feel the temptation rising in me, obviously I have to quell it fast for the sake of this blog. And if ever I were to feel the temptation rising in me, it would be now, with this scone recipe.

I had a long phase of making these scones when living in London a few years ago, and had them regularly for morning tea. I like a really good morning tea when working full time in an office, but also like to avoid too much sugar. So these were perfect. I gained a bit of a reputation for eating them every day, and occasionally snuck one to my two favourite work mates to cheer up their mornings.

Reuben is not a big fan of baking and I was rather disappointed when he shunned these without even trying! I have long since given up trying to give them to him, but recently made these baby size scones for baby Esther, and was stoked when she scoffed the lot! That's my girl. And you know what? Even Reuben had some.


The instructions below are for standard size muffins, whereas I have made smaller ones in these pics. The recipe comes from Marie Claire Kitchen, with a few small changes from me. I recommend also trying cheese scones, just omit the sultanas and add grated cheese (a good half cup or more) and a sprinkle of chilli powder. Of course swapping the sultanas for dates is always a popular option too. The recipe has eggs in it which is very unusual for scones, and the mixture is really wet. Rather than pressing the dough out and cutting with a knife, you will be scooping it out of the bowl and on to the tray with a spoon.

I have tried all kinds of ways of rubbing butter in to flour, as i hate doing it with my fingers. My Mum had one of those scoopy half circle wire thingamies when I was a kid, but I don't find those very successful. I have tried grating butter in and imagined squeezing it through a garlic crusher, but still this doesn't make it fine enough. What a twit I felt like when my cousin said she just beats it hard in the mixer. So obvious. I have never looked back. Turn it up hard and fast and grease your oven tray while you wait.

And actually, if you do take "my" recipe, give it a try and make it "yours", I would be delighted!


 400g flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
85 g butter
200 mls milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sultanas

Pour boiling water over the sultanas to soak while preparing the other ingredients (this helps to stop them burning while cooking). Drain really well in a sieve before using.

Put the dry in ingredients in to mixer bowl and combine. Dice butter in to squares and blitz in the mixture until well combined (or rub butter in to flour mixture if you are doing by hand). Add sultanas. Whisk milk and eggs together and add to mixture.

Spoon 12 scones out on to a greased and/or floured tray and bake at 200 degrees for approx12 minutes.

I have almost cheated by including this recipe on The Cook's Sponge, as it has not been part of my current learning experience - it's an old one. But I do think it needs to join the Best Recipe file, I'm keen to share it with you, and the pics are my best yet don't you think?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Mini Marmalade Bread and Butter Puddings

So then. The English and their puddings. What can I say? When we lived in London I worked for an organisation that had, among many other fantastic things, a cafeteria. A number of my otherwise discerning work mates would get very excited about the array of puddings on offer throughout the week. I can't remember them all, but they were the old-school classics, custardy things, roly polys, sponges, crumbles, spotted dick (I definitely remember that one) and bread and butter puddings. Really nothing could ever convince me to get in to this stuff (though I will eat a good crumble) and I would turn up my Antipodean nose at all of it, in much the same way that the locals know how to turn up their noses at us Antipodeans for all manner of things. But I digress.

I did find a recipe for bread and butter pudding that I tried, perhaps because it was so far from the original concept. Classic b & b pudding is made with slices of buttered white bread baked in a mixture of whisked milk, cream, eggs and sugar, and sprinkled with sultanas. The recipe I came across was made with brioche (sweet and buttery bread), extra egg yolks and loads of chocolate. Really, everything that is bad for you could be found in that one recipe. It tasted very, very good and I have never, ever made it again. It's a once in a decade calorie laden special. And to be honest I think it barely qualifies as real bread and butter pudding.

Towards the end of our time in London we lived with another couple, and Helen and her visiting mother made a bread and butter pudding which they kindly shared with us. They decided to try making it with panetone, a sweet Italian bread made with raisins and citrus flavours. They also added marmalade to the mix and it was *amazing.* From then on I was convinced that bread and butter pudding, with the right ingredients, could be something special.

To add to this list of exciting experiences, when back in Wellington a friend and I went to Flori's for afternoon tea and she chose a muffin sized bread and butter pudding. I snuck a bite, wished I had got it for myself, and haven't stopped thinking about it since. It was flavoured with I can't remember what - perhaps berries?- but there was only one thing at the top of my list when it came to make this pudding myself.

There are only about two foods in this world that my mother won't eat - marmalade and tamarillos - and when she and her sister were given marmalade toast as children by a kindly relative, they threw it out. I think it's going to be hard to convince her, and other marmalade haters, to give this a try. And then there are all the bread and butter pudding sceptics out there. I told a broad minded and widely experimenting baking friend about my awesome b & b pudding discoveries and she struggled to believe me. I am determined to turn her around, but I haven't heard from her after delivering her one of these gems the morning after baking, so I am nervous. And to be honest, I wonder if I have convinced any of you.

To create the puddings below, how could I start anywhere other than with Delia, the Queen of British cooking? I found that she has a recipe for bread and butter puddings that included marmalade, so I just added sultanas to mine, and adjusted the cooking time to make mini puddings in large muffin tins. I am a big cream fan, and for the first and perhaps only time in my life, recommend runny cream rather than whipped. Yoghurt has its place, but I'm afraid I can only recommend cream for this particular recipe...

I made 8 mini puddings. I could have fitted the mixture into 6 tins which would have made for less washing up, but obviously the puddings would have been bigger, and they are pretty filling. You decide. If you only have standard muffin tins you could try making tiny ones; just remember to reduce the cooking time.

Mini Marmalade Bread and Butter Puddings

6 thick slices white bread, with crusts
Butter for spreading
Marmalade for spreading
Handful of sultanas
275 ml full cream milk
60 ml cream
3 eggs
75g sugar
Demerara sugar for sprinkling
Orange zest/candied peel (optional)

Generously butter all 6 slices of bread.
Spread marmalade thickly over 3 slices, then top with the other 3 slices to make marmalade sandwiches.
Spread butter across the top of all 3 sandwiches.
Chop or tear roughly in to pieces, and spread pieces out amongst 6 - 8 large muffin tins, adding sultanas as you go.
Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs and sugar, and pour over the bread.
Sprinkle with demerara sugar and zest and peel if you wish.
Bake at 180 degrees for approx 25 minutes.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Roasted Chickpeas

I have been starting to think about healthy snacks recently. I eat a huge amount when feeding a baby, and it seems to be difficult to find healthy things to reach for at short notice. Lara recently put a comment up on Last Night about roasted chickpeas, and then my Mum sent me a link about the same thing, so I decided it was time to get some in to my cupboards. I was also hopeful that Reuben would enjoy them, and perhaps even Esther, who is munching on all kinds of exciting foods nowadays.

The first time I tried this I found the chickpeas a bit too overdone and crunchy for my liking - I wanted them to retain some of their softness on the inside with crunch on the outside. So I turned the oven down a little and shaved off some time, but you may like to experiment a bit to get the level of crunch that you prefer. I went for healthy options for seasoning too, so as not to ruin my original intentions, but I can see that adding something salty would be tempting. Plenty of herbs is a very satisfying alternative though. I also realised once they were cooked that a 10 month old is far better snacking on un-roasted, well rinsed chickpeas straight from the can, but she'll catch up with us before long.

Roasted Chickpeas

1 can (390g) Chickpeas
1 tablespoon oil
drizzle of lemon juice
shake of oregano and thyme
(try also garlic salt, chilli powder, cayenne pepper, moroccan spices, rosemary...)

Wash the chickpeas and dry well with a teatowel.
Toss them in the oil and seasonings.
Bake at 200 degrees for 25 minutes (or longer and hotter for more crunch).

Monday, 13 August 2012

Dana's Chocolate Cake

It's been a chocolate cakey week. A friend of mine hosted a mini-gathering to test out chocolate cake recipes for an upcoming event, and a few of us were happy to do the research for her and provide our opinions. Her original online plea for "best chocolate cake recommendations" resulted in an absolute stampede. It seems there are some great recipes out there, or at least some strong opinions.

It's a topic I have been thinking about a bit lately - the idea of finding the best recipe for some favourite foods, and chocolate cake is not surprisingly on the list. But I am realising this could be more complicated than I originally thought, and have struggled to put this idea together. How exactly do you define chocolate cake? It's a very subjective topic, who decides what tastes best (well, me. And you can see if you agree...)? But, most awkwardly of all, a friend pointed out the other day that even when you hit on a really good recipe (which she and I believe we have) if you have it too many times (which perhaps she and I have) it can start to get a bit boring.

But I want to plough on anyway. Most importantly, I think this "best recipe" idea will have to never be definitive, it will be a moving feast, if you will. Your submissions will be welcome, requested even, and even when I think I have come across the best I can find, I look forward to you topping it with something better (recipes are good, samples in my letter box are encouraged).

So, chocolate cake. The samples I tried on my friend's sunny back deck were outstanding. One of them I have made myself, and I was eager to see it again. The other got better and better the more I ate (always a problem). And not only because my friend hand-ground all the hazelnuts herself! But I'm not sure if they quite fit the definition that I need to put in place. Mainly I think because they don't have flour, and once you leave the standard cake ingredients behind, you can go a long way off course and where does it end? So I will leave you with some photos and references (click on the links) to these great cakes from my friend's sunny back deck, and then suggest to you what I believe to be the best basic chocolate cake recipe around at the moment: Dana's Chocolate Cake. The recipe is found in Sophie Gray's Destitute Gourmet Stunning Food from Small Change, and the sample below was made earlier this week to celebrate the third birthday of the best little guy around.

So this is best chocolate cake recipe part one. I think there may be more.

Dana's Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
100 grams melted butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put all ingredients in to a food processor and mix.
Grease and line a 20cm cake loose-bottom cake tin (it's quite a liquid mix and you don't want it leak in to the bottom of the oven).
Bake for 50 mins at 180 degrees.

Nigella's Nutella Cake

Chocolate Cloud Cake

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Apple Fruit Bar

Reuben is a fan of those fruit bars that you can buy at the supermarket, and we have got them for him occasionally. But I do like homemade snacks for him, and thought I would like to have a go at making him something similar. I came across a recipe for Berry Shortcake Slice in the NZ Gardener magazine, and it was just what I needed to get me started. But I had a hankering to try it with apple rather than berries - perhaps because that is the flavour we have usually bought, and perhaps because apples are always available in our house when berries are not. I played around with the recipe a bit (including reducing the sugar) and think the results are way beyond a child's basic snack. This would do very well warmed with cream for pudding, you just might like to think of a more stylish name for for it.

I highly recommend that you don't make it late morning when both children need your attention and everyone is needing lunch. Believe me.

The mixture looked a bit dry so I played around with the butter to try and get it right. You may need to do the same but it will be really quite crumbly, so try this first. If you don't have mixed spice just increase the cinnamon a little.

Apple Fruit Bar

180g butter, softened
1 cup sugar (caster if possible)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
2 apples

Soften the butter and beat in a mixer with sugar and vanilla until pale and creamy. 
Sift in the flour and beat until the mixture becomes a crumbly dough. Add spices.
Set aside 1 cup of the mixture, and pour the rest in to a lined slice tin. Press down firmly, then grate 2 apples and pile on to the top. Crumble the remainder of the mixture over the apple.
Bake 40-45 mins at 180 degrees.

Update: I have tried this recipe again with apricots - one tin apricots + a handful of chopped dried apricots. I liked it more than the apple. Make sure you drain and pat dry the tinned apricots so the slice doesn't get too soggy.

This Fruit Bar recipe is my (first ever!) entry in to the Sweet New Zealand Monthly Blogging Event. This month it's being hosted by Plum Kitchen and you read can all about it here.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Chocolate Pudding in ya Mug

I think I am grateful to a friend who kindly sent me a link to a quick chocolate cake in a mug recipe late one night when it was just the sort of thing I needed. If you haven't come across this before I warn you now, it's dangerous knowledge if you are inclined to "need" chocolate pudding on a regular basis. The main point being that it is cooked in the microwave and it all happens so fast that it's on the plate (in the mug) in front of you before you can question whether or not it really is a good idea.

It's a very simple recipe, and this blog is not about the simple (for me) stuff. Mixing flour, sugar, cocoa etc is not a new challenge. However I felt I could make some improvements to the recipe I was using, so had a bit of a play and think this result is pretty good. I took out the egg, added baking powder and a little more liquid, added some chopped chocolate and reduced the whole thing so that it really could cook in a normal size mug, and fit in a normal size stomach. Not bad for a novice recipe fiddler. Remember, this is basic chocolate pudding cooked in the microwave, so aim your expectations at a reasonable level, but you can be eating it within 5 minutes of thinking about it so it has its merits.

Chocolate Pudding in a Mug

3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons milk
2 1/2 tablespoons oil
Drop of vanilla (optional)
A few chunks of chopped chocolate (optional)

Mix the dry ingredients. Stir in the wet. Add the chocolate.
Cook on full power in the microwave for 1 and a half minutes (in an 1100 watt microwave) or a little longer if needed.

Don't even think about sifting the dry ingredients. Just be approximate with the half measures if you like. Grease the mug if you want to slide the pudding out nicely on to another dish, but neither the greasing nor the sliding out are very necessary. The chocolate is optional but the added moisture makes a big difference. Try a blob of jam dropped in to the middle just before cooking instead of or as well as the chocolate chunks. Serve with cream or yoghurt. Or icecream, or milk, or whatever you like.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Sweet Chilli Sauce

I heard on the radio recently that now is the time to buy chillies, so decided now was the time to try making sweet chilli sauce. And this one really was easy-peasy - even more so than the mayonnaise. There is quite a range of recipes out there with more or less ingredients. I went for the most basic but the results were fantastic and I see no reason to mess with it. I love that four simple ingredients can create something better than you can buy, and that it's so easy.

But (I'm sorry there's a but). The challenge is with the chillies. Firstly, you need to find them. I rang Moore Wilsons to check that they had them in (they did), and I needed half of what they had on the shelves. It wouldn't have taken many sweet chilli sauce makers in town to have taken them all. And secondly, they're expensive. I made a small bottle of sauce and it cost me a whopping $7 in chillies. So, much as I would love to make this a regular in my house, it may have to be a rare treat. Give it a go so that you know what you're missing out on, and then we might all be inspired to grow our own chillies. Now there's a topic for another day. 

You'll need a stick blender, food processor or some kind of effective chopper for the chillies.

I used a recipe from but reduced it to one third to make a small bottle and save (quite) a few dollars. Below is the reduced version, it made me 1 cup.

Sweet Chilli Sauce

160g red chillies
1 garlic clove
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup caster sugar

Slice the chillies in half, and remove the seeds & discard from approximately 3/4 of them. Put all the chillies in to the blender, along with the garlic and approximately 1/4 of the vinegar. Process until finely chopped.

Put the chilli mixture in to a pan and add the rest of the vinegar and the sugar. Stir on a low heat for about 5 minutes (until sugar has dissolved), then bring to the boil. Turn down again to a low heat, and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

You may like to replace some of the chillies with red capsicum/peppers. I love my sweet chilli on eggs, on cheese and crackers for a 5pm snack, and mixed in with plain yoghurt and chopped fresh mint as a dip.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


I had a go at making mayonnaise a while ago, with the hope I would one day post about it on my future food blog... Here's what happened:

I love the idea of making cheaper, healthier, tastier versions of food I regularly buy at the supermarket. It's just a question of learning how, and hoping it's not too complicated. And hoping it is cheaper, healthier and tastier!

I've only been a regular buyer of mayonnaise in recent times, as I've discovered it's an essential addition to a hot chicken sandwich - a recent favourite in our household. I quite like to slip it in to a lunchtime salad sandwich too. But a read of the label made me wonder what mayonnaise really is. Knowing that is it egg based, and finding "egg powder" well down a very long list of ingredients made me think I could do better. Egg powder just doesn't sound that tasty, and there are a lot of things on that long list that I bet are not in the homemade version.

So I had a go. I decided to hand whisk rather than just use a beater as it sounded somehow easier to control and appealed to my old fashioned-ness. It was fairly quick but certainly took some muscle. And there it was, a jar of mayonnaise in our fridge, simple as that.

But. Well. The thing is. Well, you see... I didn't really... like it. What a terrible beginning to my new venture. Here I was, being a healthy, wholesome, back-to-basics, home-cooking queen, and, um... I just wanted the stuff in the jar. And funnily enough, the problem was that it tasted too eggy.

I dodged the issue for quite a few days, and hoped my husband would eat it up in his sandwiches (he did). But eventually I decided that this wasn't right, so I had a look at some more recipes and decided I would try again. One recipe suggested white wine vinegar as an alternative to lemon juice and suggested adding WAY more than my original recipe. And that, I realised, had been the problem. As well as it tasting eggy, there wasn't enough tang.  More lemon juice or white wine vinegar would certainly add tang.

So I had a go again. I divided my mayo mixture in half after adding the first 4 ingredients, and added plenty of lemon juice to one and white wine vinegar to the other. The white wine vinegar really gave the tanginess I was after where the lemon juice couldn't quite keep up, and I even added a little more. The added vinegar also turned the mixture from a rather distressing bright yellow to a beautiful, creamy buttery colour, and more importantly, it hid the eggy taste. Phew! I liked it.


2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
250ml oil (mildly flavoured, eg canola or groundnut)
2-3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Whisk egg yolks, mustard and a little salt and pepper together

Slowly add the oil in a thin trickle to begin with, whisking all the time, and continue to add in a steady stream. Continue to whisk for a few seconds after all the oil is incorporated. 

Add the white wine vinegar (or lemon juice), tasting as you go and adding more as you wish.

The Consumer recently tested supermarket bought mayonnaise and they had some interesting comments. The first being, "For a quick salad or a last minute sandwich there's no time to whip up a batch of real mayonnaise. So is there an acceptable version straight out of a jar?" But the verdict was "none of the mayonnaises came anywhere near matching the real thing." So I have to say, whipping up a batch of the real thing is pretty quick and, given the verdict, why wouldn't you?