Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hello again!

I'm alive! It's been quite a few months since my last post but I have a pretty good excuse - I moved to China. Yep, I now live in the grand metropolis of Shanghai and it has been a crazy few months. I started a new job at an international school, we settled ourselves into our new apartment and area, and made a whole group of new friends. There is never a dull moment in this city - the moment you step outside the apartment an adventure begins! It is exciting, but also very draining. There are so many people, the language and culture is so foreign and trying to accomplish simple things can be so time-consuming and stress-inducing. Just a visit to the supermarket requires the patience of a saint! Makes for plenty of stories, though.

My kitchen here is basic - a stove top, microwave and a tabletop oven (yup a little toaster oven thing). My cooking has become based on what is simple, quick and available. I've become good friends with my wok and am learning more about healthy Chinese cooking - 'when in Rome...' and all that! Phil is good enough to head down to the local wet market during the day to pick up unusual things like lotus root, fresh edamame and pomelo. He gets to practice his Chinese and I get interesting food, so everyone's happy :-) 

My Shanghai kitchen
So here is one of the things we made in our first few weeks here - classic potsticker dumplings. Over here they're known as 'jiaozi'. The Chinese have so many types of dumplings - boiled, steamed, deep-fried, pan-fried - but these ones are first pan fried on the bottom (that's where the pot-sticking comes into it) and then you pour water into the pan to steam them for a few minutes. They are served up with a yummy soy-vinegar dipping sauce. This is simple Chinese comfort food at it's best.

These are not particularly quick to make, but it was fun. I could have popped out to the local supermarket and picked up a dozen for a dollar, but where's the fun in that? Besides, I got to skip the ever present MSG by making them at home. This would be a fun thing to make with children or a bunch of friends. Gather them together for a potsticker party!

If you would like to follow us on our China adventures, check out our blog

Wrapping up - a little tricky at first, but it gets easier!
Aren't they pretty? Little bundles of Chinese joy.
Steaming away
The dipping sauce is a soy/vinegar combo

I used store-bought wonton wrappers to make these, but if you're feeling extra conscientious you can make your own with flour and water. Below are the ingredients I used, but don't be restricted by them! The variety in the fillings of dumplings over here is incredible. 

Potsticker Dumplings

Approximately 20 round wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil for pan frying


100g (about 1/4 pound) Chinese (Napa) cabbage
400g (1lb) lean ground pork (or substitute with chicken mince)

1 tsp salt
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1 tsp finely chopped ginger

1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp sesame oil

Dash pepper

Dipping Sauce*:

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp chilli paste (optional)
  1. In a large bowl, mix all the filling ingredients. Get in there with your hands to mix it up well.
  2. Place 1 tablespoon meat filling in the center of a wonton wrapper. Lift up the edges of the circle and pinch 5 pleats up to create a pouch to encase the mixture. Pinch the top together. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers until you have used up all the filling.
  3. Heat a non-stick skillet until very hot. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, tilting the pan to coat the sides. Place 12 dumplings in a single layer in the wok and fry 2 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown.
  4. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan. Cover and cook 6 to 7 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.
  5. To make the dipping sauce, combine the soy, vinegar and chilli in a small bowl. Serve with the dumplings.
* Ready made dumpling vinegar can be purchased at Chinese supermarkets.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Zucchini Season #6: Zucchini and Lemon Cookies

To finish our week of zucchini-loving, here is a recipe which I found most unusual when I first read it. Zucchinis in cookies?? Hmm, I don't know about that. After reading the reviews, however, I decided to give them a go. After all, I had been looking for unconventional ways to use zucchini.

I loved these cookies for both the taste and the texture. The pairing of zucchini with lemon zest brings a fresh and light flavour that most cookies lack, and they are airy and cake-like in their texture - so you can have a cookie and a slice of cake in one! Just the thing you need to go with a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea :-)

Zucchini and Lemon Cookies
Adapted from Food52

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch coarse salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp fresh lemon zest
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 tspn vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F). Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with electric beaters until light and fluffy.
  4. Add egg, lemon zest, zucchini and vanilla. Mix with a spoon until just incorporated (don't overmix or they will come out rubbery).
  5. Gently fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until all of the flour has been added and is completely mixed in. Again, be careful not to overmix.
  6. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls onto a prepared cookie sheet and bake for 14-16 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden.
Makes about 24 cookies.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zucchini Season #5: Grilled Vege and Tofu Stack

In an effort to be healthier, Phil and I like to have a few meat-free meals each week. We do not believe however, that this means having to sacrifice flavour or satiety. This recipe is a classic example of what I'm talking about: marinaded and barbecued vegetables and tofu stacked and served with a generous dollop of basil pesto. It can be served as a side dish or the main event, and looks so wonderfully colourful that you won't know whether to dig in straight away or just admire it for a moment.

Maybe you haven't branched out into the world of tofu yet and  the word alone sends shivers down your spine, but I urge you to give it a try. Together with the lightly charred veges and the mouth-watering balsamic vinegar and garlic marinade, you will be very glad you did.

You can use a wide range of vegetables for this recipe, so don't be restricted by what is listed in the recipe. We used zucchini, red capsicum (bell pepper) and portobello mushrooms, but eggplant, sweet potato and tomato would also be wonderful. While you're at it, why not add a slice of grilled haloumi cheese (yum!). Phil and I adored the meatiness of the big portobellos and agreed it was worth paying the extra for them - after all, we didn't have to pay for any meat!

When I made this dish we were house-sitting for Phil's uncle who had a basil plant crying out to be loved into pesto. I do plan on posting a homemade pesto recipe at some stage, although on that particular day I was not taking much notice of my quantities. If you have a food processor and are feeling adventurous, just have a play around with about a cup of fresh basil leaves, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup walnuts (or pine nuts), juice of one lemon, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, a drizzle of olive oil and enough water to get a creamy consistency. I just keep adding a bit of this and that until it tastes just right. Fresh basil pesto really is soooo much better than store bought and went perfectly with this dish.

Grilled Vege and Tofu Stack
Adapted from Epicurious

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1 package (approx 12oz/340g) extra-firm tofu, cut crosswise into 8 slices, drained on paper towels
1 zucchini, trimmed, cut lengthwise into four 4-inch-long slices
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), rounded ends trimmed, seeded, cut lengthwise into 4 pieces
4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed
Basil pesto, to serve
  1. Fire up your grill, aiming for a medium-high heat.
  2. Place vinegar and minced garlic in large bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Stir in sliced mint. Season marinade to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Working in batches, add tofu to marinade and turn to coat. Transfer tofu to baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add zucchini, bell pepper, and mushrooms to marinade and toss to coat.
  4. Place vegetables on grill and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until charred and softened, turning occasionally, about 6 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet.
  5. Place tofu on grill. Cook until tofu is charred, about 2 minutes per side.
  6. Stack tofu and vegetables on plates. Dollop a tablespoon of basil pesto on the top, drizzle with any left over marinade and garnish with mint or basil sprigs.
Makes 4 stacks.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Zucchini Season #4: Curried Zucchini Soup

I'm excited to post today's zucchini recipe because it is a recipe you can enjoy whether it is chilly outside (all you folk Down Under) or sweltering (like here in the US). This seriously tasty soup can be served hot or chilled, depending on your taste and the seasons. However you serve it, make sure you garnish it with toasted almonds as it takes the soup from tasty to YUM! Until I found this recipe I never would have thought to sprinkle nuts on soup, but take my word for it - it works.

I love to make soup, especially in the winter. There are few things more comforting than wrapping your hands around a steaming bowl of hearty soup. If you aren't usually keen on vegetable soups, give this one a go - it is loaded with flavour and the potato makes it smooth and satisfying.

Curried Zucchini Soup
From Martha Stewart

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Coarse salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp curry powder
3 medium zucchinis (about 700g/1.5lb), sliced 1 inch thick
1 baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and 1 tablespoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 4 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and curry powder; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add zucchini, potato, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. In batches, puree soup in a blender (do not fill more than halfway or you may have a zucchini-coated kitchen) until smooth.
  5. Serve immediately, or let cool, and refrigerate in an airtight container until chilled. Garnish with toasted almonds.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Zucchini Season #3: Zucchini Oven Chips

Here's a fun and easy way to eat zucchini - coated in a parmesan crust and baked! Serve with a marinara sauce (or ketchup!) and even the kids will gobble them up.

Zucchini Oven Chips
From Cooking Light

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp seasoned salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp milk
2 medium zucchinis, sliced into rounds
Cooking spray
  1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  2. Place milk in a shallow bowl. Dip zucchini slices in milk, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture.
  3. Place coated slices on an ovenproof wire rack coated with cooking spray; place rack on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake at 220°C (425°F) for 30 minutes or until browned and crisp. Serve immediately with a marinara sauce.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Zucchini Season #2: Zucchini Fritters

For my next adventure with zucchini, I found this recipe for zucchini fritters. With fresh lemon and coriander (cilantro) it was bound to be a winner. Phil, still harboring a little doubt regarding my zucchini-can-be-tasty campaign, was a little unsure if he was going to enjoy it. To his surprise he loved them, especially the extra crispy ones. We gobbled it up for lunch topped with this bean salad

Zucchini Fritters
From seven spoons

450g (1lb) zucchini (about 2 medium)
Zest of one lemon
1 small shallot, minced (I used about 1/5 onion)
1 small red chilli, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Using a box grater, grate the zucchini. Place zucchini between a few layers of paper towel and squeeze out the excess moisture.
  2. In a bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients, except for the beaten egg. While stirring, add the egg slowly and thoroughly combine. Gently fold in the dried zucchini.
  3. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, drop heaped tablespoons of the batter into the oil, flattening them slightly with the back of a spatula. Cook for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until golden brown and crisp. You can also tell when they are cooked by pressing slightly on the surface – the fritter should feel like a cooked pancake; firm but with a bit of spring.
  4. Repeat until all the batter is used. Keep warm in a low oven, or serve at room temperature garnished with lemons and a scattering of fresh parsley. Other tasty accompaniments are sweet chili sauce, sour cream or a fresh bean salad.
Makes about 12 fritters.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Zucchini Season #1: Zucchini Spice Bread

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of such a thing as zucchini bread. Maybe it's an American thing, but it sure was news to my Australian ears. I sampled a piece made by my friend, Caron, and was instantly keen to get on this zucchini-cake-baking train. After all, what did I have to lose with such enormous zucchinis crying out to be used up?

To a lot of people I'm sure it sounds like a recipe for those whose taste buds have gone on vacation, but give me a moment to persuade you. Think of this as more of a spice cake than a zucchini cake - think carrot cake, but better. The zucchini keeps the cake delightfully moist, and is the perfect backdrop to spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Yum.

Caron generously shared her mum's recipe with me, which I adapted a little. I exchanged some of the oil for apple sauce (such an easy way to cut the fat!), upped the spice and finished it off with a steusel topping. My version has more of a light cake consistency than the traditional zucchini bread, so it would lend itself well to being baked in a ring mold or regular cake tin. It's the perfect baked treat to take to work for morning tea. Tell me what you think!

Zucchini Spice Bread
Adapted from a recipe shared by Caron Peavy

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (or 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce)
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 cups white sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

For the streusel topping:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 165°C (325°F). Grease and flour two 8x4 inch loaf pans.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil and sugar (and apple sauce, if using). Stir in zucchini and vanilla. Combine flour, spices, baking powder, salt and nuts; stir into the egg mixture. Divide batter into prepared pans.
  3. To make the streusel topping, mix all the ingredients together really well with your (clean) fingers until it becomes crumbly and sprinkle over the batter.
  4. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until done.
Makes 2 loaves.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Zucchini Season!

It is zucchini (courgette) season here in the US and my friend, Cathy, gave me the biggest zucchinis I have ever seen. I was thrilled to receive some home grown veges and absolutely amazed at the size of them. They were three times the size of a normal zucchini and 14 inches long!

So for the last couple of weeks I've been looking for interesting zucchini recipes in an attempt to use up this mountain of vegetable. Typically I use zucchini grated into omelettes, sliced in stir fries or chunks in Thai curries, but this adventure opened up a whole world of possibilities for the humble gourd. Low in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals, I discovered that zucchinis, while being terribly undervalued in the kitchen, have so much potential. Did you know that you can even use zucchini to make cookies? Who knew?! For the next week or so, I will be posting different ways to use zucchini - sweet and savoury, baked, fried and grilled. What are some ways that you like to use zucchini?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rosemary Bread

“There is no smell in the world of food to equal the perfume of baking bread and few greater pleasures in eating than sitting down with a slice of freshly baked bread, good butter, and a cup of tea or coffee.” — James Beard, Beard on Bread

While we're on a rosemary kick, you NEED to know about this recipe. If you have a breadmaker then I strongly encourage you to give this one a go. If you don't own one, now you have a pretty good reason to invest. Alternatively, you probably have a friend or relative with a breadmaker collecting dust in a lofty cupboard. Do them a favour and borrow their appliance with the promise of bringing them fresh herb bread! Being somewhat of a gypsy at the moment I don't have a breadmaker myself (it's a tricky thing to fit into a suitcase) but I am fortunate that my mother-in-law, with whom I am living, does. My eyes really have been opened to the wonder of this kitchen appliance. They are so easy to use, make the house smell divine while they are cooking, and produce gorgeous breads and doughs. I'm itching to see how it goes with making pizza dough.

My mother-in-law, Molly, found this recipe at where it received 5 stars from over 900 reviews! That many people can't be wrong. If you don't have a breadmaker, read some of their reviews (link is below) as a few people give tips for making the bread in an oven.  If you are lucky enough to have fresh rosemary on hand, you can substitute a couple of teaspoons for the dried version.

The bread is fluffy and light and so full of flavour. It is amazing when made into simple open-faced melts (my husband's current favourite lunch), simply dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or smeared with buttery garlic and made into crusty garlic bread. Oh my, how my stomach aches for some right now...

Rosemary Bread

1 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  1. Place ingredients in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select white bread cycle; press Start.
To make the open-faced melts pictured above, cut the bread into thick slices and toast on both sides. Spread the toast with basil pesto and top with sliced tomato, freshly cracked pepper and sea salt, and a slice of Swiss  cheese. Toast until the cheese melts. Top with baby rocket (arugula) and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Flavour of the Moment: Rosemary

Who would have thought to put rosemary in a potato salad? I love trying something new that is totally out of the box but tastes amazing. My mother-in-law prepared this delightful potato salad to go along with the ribs we made for 4th of July. The recipe combines the tang of lemon and the vibrant flavours of fresh rosemary with the classic creaminess of a potato salad. Give this a go for your next picnic or outdoor barbeque!

Potato Salad with Pancetta, Lemon and Rosemary
Via Bon Appetit

5 slices pancetta (Italian bacon)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
2 tsp finely grated lemon peel
1 garlic clove, pressed
2/3 cup mayonnaise (we used an olive oil based one)
1.3kg (3lbs) Yukon Gold potatoes
3 large celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Arrange pancetta slices on a baking sheet, spacing apart. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes (do not turn). Drain on paper towels. Allow to cool before coarsely chopping pancetta.
  2. While the pancetta is baking, whisk lemon juice, rosemary, lemon peel, and garlic in small bowl. Gradually whisk in mayonnaise. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Place potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil then reduce heat to medium. Simmer with the lid ajar until potatoes are tender, 18 to 25 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Drain and let stand until cool enough to handle.
  4. Remove the skin from the potatoes, if desired, and then cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  5. Place the potato in a large bowl and add the chopped celery. Drizzle dressing over and toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold, at least 2 hours.
  6. Before serving, sprinkle the potato salad with pancetta and chopped parsley.
Serves 8

This can be made a day ahead up to Step 5 and refrigerated until needed. Store the pancetta in the fridge, but bring it to room temperature before sprinkling over the salad.

VARIATION: If you prefer a non-creamy potato salad, replace the mayonnaise with olive oil.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sab's Magic Ribs

When it comes to serving up amazing food and wine, it's hard to find a better team than our Aussie friends, Shayne and Sabine. Shayne knows more about wine that anybody I know and Sab has a knack for flavours and creativity in the kitchen. So it was no surprise when she cooked up these unbelievably tasty ribs for me and Phil last summer. Being the generous soul that she is, Sab was good enough to share her recipe.

Although they take a little forethought, these ribs are a snap to make because they just have to be marinated and then baked in the oven. No grilling required and no lengthy hours in the oven. And what takes them from average to sensational is the sauce. Far from your predictable barbecue flavours, it is a sweet Asian spiced sauce with a surprising blend of ingredients that taste amazing when combined. Elizabeth, my sister-in-law, says she could eat the sauce straight - enough said!

As I had never cooked ribs before, a little research was required to make sure I was on the right track. Check out this site for all you need to know about rib cooking. We decided to use baby back ribs, but side (spare) ribs would work just as well if given a longer cooking time. Either way it is important to remove the membrane that is on the underside of the ribs. With my mother-in-law's help we managed to peel it off pretty easily to allow the marinade to permeate through the meat. Here's a video how-to:

We served the ribs with potato salad and a tasty Asian salad, which is a regular favourite at many Aussie barbeques.

Sab's Magic Ribs
By Sabine Giles

2.5kg (5lbs) pork ribs

For the marinade:
2 cups apple juice
4 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tspn mustard powder
1/2 cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
a couple of broken up cinnamon quills
2 or 3 star anise
4 or 5 roughly chopped garlic cloves
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a large baking tray with foil.
  2. Mix together the ingredients for the marinade. Soak the ribs in the marinade overnight.
  3. Remove ribs from marinade and place in a large baking tray. Bake for about 1.5 hours or up to 2 hours if you are using side ribs.
  4. While the ribs are roasting, boil the excess marinade in a medium saucepan until it is reduced by about 1/2 to make sauce for dipping.
  5. When the ribs have been in the oven for about an hour, remove from the oven and baste both sides with some of the reduced marinade. Return to the oven.
  6. When ready, remove from oven and cut the ribs between the bones. Serve with dipping sauce and a tasty coleslaw.
N.B. In America we had some trouble finding star anise at our local grocery store. If you can't get to an Asian grocer, do what we did and substitute 1/2 tspn Chinese Five Spice powder for the star anise and the cinnamon quills.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Yay for family, fireworks and living in a free country! This afternoon, my sister-in-law and I cooked up some fun Independence Day cupcakes. We used a basic vanilla batter and iced them with vanilla buttercream frosting. The batter had lemon zest in it which was absolutely perfect with the vanilla. Everyone agreed that they tasted as good as they looked!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
via Joy of Baking

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 large lemon
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

Buttercream Frosting:
2 cups confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 17 - 20 minutes or just until set and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. (Do not over bake or the cupcakes will be dry.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
  6. To make the buttercream frosting, cream the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 4 minutes). Add a little more milk or sugar, if needed. At this stage you can tint the frosting if you want with food colouring.
  7. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing using a piping bag. I used a ziplock bag with one corner snipped off. Decorate with stars, sprinkles, coloured sugar, etc.
Makes 12 cupcakes.

These cupcakes are best eaten the same day they are made, but they can be covered and stored for a few days if necessary.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


I recently had dinner at a lovely Greek restaurant in Tennessee with my fabulous American family. We had quite a spread... avgolemono soup, gyros, moussaka and delightfully refreshing tzatziki. It inspired me to make  my own version of the refreshing cucumber dip. Tzatziki - tricky to say but so easy to eat!


1 cup thick Greek yogurt*
1/2 cup English/Continental cucumber (the long skinny type that usually comes wrapped), grated
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tspn lemon juice
sea salt and cracked pepper
  1. Strain the liquid out of the grated cucumber by placing it between a few layers of paper towel and squeezing. It is important to do this step otherwise the tzatziki will be watery.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, cucumber, garlic and lemon juice.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Add more salt/pepper/lemon juice/garlic to make it perfect for your tastebuds.
  4. Serve with warm pita bread and crudites.
* To make your own thick Greek yogurt (and save a few bucks), check out my previous post for some tips.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Date and Banana Muffins

This recipe for the truly health conscious. It is made with whole wheat, sweetened with dates and bananas (that's right - no sugar at all!) and contains no oil or butter. You'd think these muffins would be bland and dry, wouldn't you? The good news is, however, that they come out surprisingly fluffy and moist, and full of flavour thanks to the spices.

When I started using this recipe about four years ago, I made it as a cake in a silicon ring mold (bundt pan). I decided to start making the recipe into muffins instead so that I could freeze them easily. They are perfect to pull out of the freezer in the morning and will be defrosted and ready to eat by mid-morning. I like to zap them for 20 seconds in the microwave because they are even better warm. The cake version would be lovely drizzled with a light lemon or vanilla icing and served with tea for health conscious friends.

Date and Banana Muffins

3 bananas
1 cup dates, chopped
½ cup yoghurt
4 egg whites
1 tspn vanilla essence
1 ½ cups wholemeal SR flour
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 tspn mixed spices (or your own combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves)
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease muffin pans or line with paper liners. Alternatively, to make a cake, grease a ring mold or loaf tin.
  2. Mash bananas.
  3. Blend dates and yoghurt in a blender.
  4. Beat in one egg at a time.
  5. Add bananas and essence.
  6. Sift though flour, bicarb and spices. Fold through gently.
  7. Bake for 20 mins for muffins or 35-40 mins for a cake.
Be sure to eat these all up within a couple of days as they tend to dry out quickly. Alternatively, wrap them in Glad wrap and throw them in the freezer.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Strawberry Yogurt Parfait

I love yogurt. No really - I LOVE yogurt. I could probably live on the stuff. I love it so much that I used to go to the effort of making my own when I lived in China where it was hard to get my hands on an inexpensive natural yogurt. Occasionally I would strain my yogurt to make it thick and creamy in the Greek style.  And it only occurred to me recently that rather than paying the high prices for Greek yogurt here in the US, I could just strain store bought natural yogurt. I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure that out, but better late than never. 

So if you are also a Greek yogurt lover and fancy saving a few bucks, grab yourself a coffee filter or a piece of muslin (cheese) cloth to line a sieve. Let the sieve rest over a bowl (make sure the bottom of the sieve doesn't touch the bowl). Scoop as much regular yogurt, such as Dannon natural yogurt, as will fit in the coffee filter. All you have to do now is pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours. The longer you leave it, the thicker the yogurt will become. In a short while you will see a yellowy liquid gathering in the bowl - that's the whey. Apparently it's best not to remove too much of this whey because it contains loads of protein and amino acids, as well as much of the good bacteria that makes yogurt so healthy (read more). The whey also gives yogurt it's delightfully tangy flavour. A couple of hours in the fridge removes enough that the yogurt is nice and thick and ready to be used for all sorts of things. Just the other day I saw TV chef, Chuck Hughes, use yogurt that had been strained overnight (suuuper thick!) for frosting on a carrot cake. Genius! At the moment we can't get enough of Greek yogurt parfaits piled with granola...

Strawberry Yogurt Parfait

2 cups strained (or Greek) plain yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup strawberries, chopped
1 tbsp strawberry jam
6 tablespoons granola or muesli

1. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, honey and vanilla until evenly combined.
2. In another small bowl, stir the jam through the strawberries so that they are well coated. If you have a sweet tooth you may like to add more jam at this stage.
3. In small glasses, layer the yogurt and strawberry mix. I like to put some yogurt in first, followed by the strawberries and then another layer of yogurt. 
4. Right before you dig into your parfait, sprinkle the top with the granola. Enjoy!

Makes 2-3 parfaits

The combinations for these parfaits are endless. What is your favourite way to use yogurt?