Cauliflower & Ham Macaroni Cheese

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Sshhh… don’t tell Jamie Oliver… but we like this version of Cauliflower Mac N Cheese better than his. Full points for style, attitude, and flair, but that one gets the thumbs down – we found it too rich. Which is why I am cooking another version of the same, but with more veg. Lighter and better for you, this is Jamie’s with added vegetables. Added vegetables and ham.

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Not only is it healthy, it’s fast. This one-pot dinner comes together in a flash. Even with a cranky toddler demanding my attention, this cauliflower mac ‘n’ cheese was ready in a jiffy, in the blink of an eye… if you are short on time, this meal’s the one for you. The directions say to grill before serving, but seriously, it can be served straight from the pot. Salad is optional.

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Unlike most of my recipes these days, this one came not from the internet, but from a magazine; a free magazine, at that. I picked it up when passing through the supermarket checkout and immediately found three recipes I wanted to try. This one was first cab off the rank, and the vote is in: an easy, tasty mid-week meal that will be going on high rotation.

We were impressed. And the toddler eats each fistful with a “nomnomnom”, so we figure he approves as well.

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Cauliflower and Ham Macaroni Cheese {toddler approved}
With a hat tip to Jamie, I have added a little parmesan cheese to boost the flavour. And with the presence of pasta, cheese and white sauce, I couldn’t help thinking this would be just as nice with tuna instead of ham.

Makes enough to feed a small army
Preparation time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins

Ingredients
400g macaroni
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
200g shaved leg ham, roughly chopped
1 ½ cups frozen peas
1 ½ cups grated tasty cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
250g light sour cream
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Method
Grate the cheeses and combine in a medium bowl. Chop the ham, and measure out the peas.

Cook macaroni in a large pan of boiling salted water, according to packet directions, adding cauliflower for the final 5 minutes of cooking time. Drain over a large bowl, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid.

Return macaroni and cauliflower to pan. Add ham, peas, half the cheese, sour cream and reserved cooking liquid. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon mixture into a large ovenproof baking dish. Combine breadcrumbs and remaining cheese. Scatter over macaroni mixture. Drizzle with olive oil.

Cook under a pre-heated grill for 5 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Serve with salad.

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Adapted from Coles.com.au

Chocolate Chip & Coconut Cakes (gluten-free + dairy-free + egg-free}

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Call me a soft touch. But when I see a young boy’s face crumple with disappointment because he can’t eat the cakes all the other kids are eating, it calls for an intervention. These mini chocolate chip and coconut cakes are the intervention. They are super-easy, super-quick, and devoid of all those nasties that seem to be affecting much of the population these days. My family don’t have to deal with food allergies, but I know so many who do now, which is why I like to have a recipe like this up my sleeve! These are for sharing at play group.

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Theo and I make it our business to attend a mums and bubs group each week, and have done so since he was a wee young thing. It’s nice to have a place to go where you are accepted as you are; frump or no frump! There are comfy lounges and coffee, often chocolate, babies to cuddle and if you need it, a shoulder to cry on. The rapport you develop and the advice you are able to glean from those who have gone before is invaluable! To be frank, the group probably saved me from the loony bin more than once during those first few months.

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As a fair exchange, I make cake. Sometimes recipes I’m experimenting with, other times ones that are tried and true. We have an understanding that if there’s chocolate involved, it’s for the mums, and if it’s slightly healthy, it’s for the kids. Where then does this recipe fall? Somewhere in no-man’s land, I suspect… but I’ve found that if I make mini cakes the children just assume they’re kid-friendly, and there’s no stopping them! Now that I have this quick and handy recipe, there’s no reason why any little person needs to be missing out.

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Chocolate Chip & Coconut Cakes {gluten-free + dairy-free + egg-free}
Small enough to clutch in a chubby toddler fist, or demolish in two dainty adult bites, these mini coconut cakes have all the flavours of a Bounty bar, without any of the nasties!

Ingredients
1 cup plain (all-purpose) GF flour (I use White Wings brand)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup desiccated coconut (toasting is optional)
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 cup (250mL) coconut milk
½ cup dark chocolate chips, divided (can use dairy-free chocolate chips)

Method
Preheat oven to 180degrees C (350 degrees F). Grease a 24-hole mini muffin pan. If toasting the coconut, heat over low-medium heat in a large flat pan and stir until golden brown.

Sift flour and baking powder together into a large mixing bowl, and then combine with coconut, sugar and coconut milk; stir until smooth. Finally, fold in 1/3 cup chocolate chips.

Fill greased muffin holes three-quarters full and dot the tops with remaining choc chips. Bake in a moderate oven for 12 – 15 minutes, or until risen and lightly golden brown. Allow to cool in tin for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Stand back and let the kids at ‘em!

Adapted from my Lime & Coconut Cake

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What’s your go-to cake for sharing with the little folks in your life?

Baked Pumpkin Coconut Custard {dairy-free}

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Although I was once a dedicated pumpkin-hater, it turns out that this vegetable has become quite the staple here in this house since the boy started on solids a year ago. It was so easy to boil up half a pumpkin, mash it and then fill ice block trays to store in the freezer for quick baby dinners. Even today, though he eats (almost) everything we do, Theo still loves his mashed pumpkin. So, every now and then I’ll boil up half a pumpkin and mash it, while roasting the other half for adding to quiche, pasta salad or frittata later in the week.

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Meanwhile, I have my mother’s old, worn copy of More with Less on “permanent loan” and have been mining it for inspiration. This cookbook holds so many familiar and well-loved meals that Mum would make when we were growing up. Some of my favourites might even make it to the blog! What stands out most about this particular cookbook is the author’s philosophy of being a good steward with the earth’s resources; a theme common enough now but unheard of in the 1970s, when the book was originally published.

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The recipes were largely compiled from home cooks throughout the Mennonite farming communities in the United States, and though not fancy by any stretch of the imagination, they are economical, and tasty. They are also not meals that one would normally find on tables here in Australia, which makes them all the more fascinating to me! While flicking through, I found this recipe for pumpkin custard. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of pumpkin pie, but I was intrigued and earmarked it to try… and I’m so very glad I did.

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Baked Pumpkin Coconut Custard {dairy-free}
I’ve adapted the original recipe by using coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, and by serving it in individual ramekins (mostly because they look nice!).

There is a teensy, weensy little problem with using ramekins, in that there always seems to be just a little of the custard mixture left when all the ramekins are full. So if you are concerned about waste, by all means use a large baking dish (8-cup or 2-litre capacity) instead. It will still taste just as good!

Serves 6

Ingredients
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups coconut milk, scalded (I use a 400mL can of coconut milk)
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg

Shredded coconut, to garnish

Method
Preheat oven to 180deg C (350F). Line a deep 20 x 30 cm roasting pan with an old tea towel and boil the kettle for hot water.

Whisk all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Place individual ramekins* in tea towel-lined roasting pan. Pour custard mixture carefully into the ramekins, filling them ¾ full or near enough. Place roasting pan on the middle rack in your oven, and pour boiling water into the pan about halfway up the sides of the ramekin dishes. Bake for 30 minutes, or until set but still a touch jiggly in the centre when shaken. Remove from the pan and cool slightly before serving.

For garnish: Toast 1 cup of shredded coconut by placing in a heavy-based frypan over low to medium heat. Stir constantly, until coconut is nicely browned. Set aside to cool.

Delicious served warm with cream or ice cream. Even better eaten cold the next day (or in secret spoonfuls from the fridge at night)!

*The original called for one large baking dish (I suggest 8-cup or 2-litre capacity). If you use this, bake for 45 minutes.

Adapted from the More with Less cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.

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Rocky Road with a Turkish twist

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Holidays and road trips mean ice cream cones. At least, that is what my upbringing told me, and what my adult mind still tells me now. Ice creams were treats that my dad dished out generously on those special occasions when we were on a road trip or a holiday (generally both, as we lived a long way from anywhere)… Other times, we might find a chocolate bar on our pillow when we went to bed at night. These gestures always gave me warm fuzzies, because that was and still is my dad’s love language: he loves to give gifts.

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So when Dad learned that Alex loves Turkish delight, he made it his business to bring some every time he came to visit. And he buys the best kind; the fresh kind. He shops at a dried fruit and nuts wholesaler, and they sell Turkish delight. Not the type that’s been shipped from overseas, but batches that have been locally made and have not yet gone stale. I thought it was just Alex that liked Turkish delight; but it turns out that I do, too! It’s not unusual to find that I am the one polishing off a packet of the rose-flavoured confectionary.

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But I know that Alex prefers his covered in chocolate, so I’ve been good lately, controlling my cravings to make sure there’s enough to put into this slice. It didn’t take long to realise that everyone has a different recipe for rocky road, so this one is custom-made to suit hubby’s sweet tooth. Made with chocolate, marshmallows, Turkish delight, almonds, pistachios and fairy floss, it’s guaranteed to rot your teeth and give you a sugar high. It’s pretty ugly until you slice into it and the pink jelly of the Turkish delight shimmers and the green pistachio nuts shine.

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Rocky Road with a Turkish twist
Adapted from Karen Martini and Taste.com.au

Ingredients
200g dark chocolate, chopped
200g milk chocolate, chopped
150g rose Turkish delight, cut into 2cm pieces
150g marshmallows (a mixture of pink and white), cut in half with scissors
80g unsalted pistachios
50g toasted whole almonds, coarsely chopped

Pashmak* if you can get it

Method
Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm square cake pan with plastic wrap, allowing the sides to overhang.

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan half filled with simmering water; stir with a metal spoon until melted.

Place the Turkish delight, marshmallows, pistachios and almonds in a large bowl. Drizzle over the chocolate and use a metal spoon to gently stir to combine. Spoon into prepared pan and decorate with pashmak if desired. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Turn onto a clean work surface and use a large, hot knife to cut into portions. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Pashmak is a type of fairy floss that can be found in some Persian (Afghani) supermarkets.

Lemon Blueberry Polenta Cake in a Mug

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Spring has sprung!! The sun is out (most days) and the trees are blossoming. The birds are nesting, and all’s right with the world. Amazing, isn’t it, how the mood lifts when the sun is shining?! It does with me, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s even been warm enough to visit the beach, which always frankly feels like a holiday thing to do! Since then, the boy has added the word ‘sand-castles’ to his ever-expanding vocabulary, and we get frequent requests for “Castles, again!”

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Another new word is “Pa” (for Grandpa) and my father is thrilled! Every week we meet for lunch, and although Theo is now very stable on his own two feet, he still loves to ride Pa’s walker. We met down at the nursing home last week and Dad brought us a box of  lemons from his tree. This is always cause for celebration, and I immediately began scheming what I would make with them. Lemon curd was first cab off the rank. Then some luscious lemon curd cheesecake pots. And now this.

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Having long been an avid foodie blog reader, I had seen hundreds of recipes using lemons and blueberries, but had never made one myself. Now, with this gift of free lemons, it was time! I made a Lemon Polenta Blueberry Cake, and loved it. Meanwhile, I was distracted by a list of recipes for mug cakes, which of course led to me asking why I couldn’t adapt the cake to the mug… which I did. And it was good! So much quicker than a regular cake and no concerns about portion control!

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Lemon Blueberry Polenta Cake in a Mug
Enjoy the tang of citrus and burst of fresh blueberries in each delicious mouthful, without having to wait for company to have dessert!

Serves 1 – 2

Ingredients
3 tablespoons almond meal
1 tablespoon plain (all-purpose) GF flour
1 teaspoon polenta
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Method
In a large mug, combine almond meal, flour, polenta, baking powder and salt. Using a stick blender, process egg, sugar, oil, lemon zest and lemon juice until frothy. With a fork, whisk egg mixture together with flour mixture in mug. Gently fold in half the blueberries.

Microwave on High for 1 minute, and then scatter top with remaining blueberries. Continue to cook on High for another ½ – 1 minute or until risen and centre is just set (mine took 2mins). Exact timing will depend on the size of your microwave. Mine is 850watts.

Allow to rest and cool for 5 minutes before eating warm with whipped cream* or ice cream.

Adapted from boomerbrief.com

*If you’re really crazy about lemons, why not serve with a few dollops of lemon curd whipped cream? Just fold 1 cup of lemon curd into 500mL sweetened whipped cream and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Fragrant Chicken Noodles

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Some love affairs just seem to last forever. Like mine with Thailand. It’s been almost eight years now since I returned from there, and yet I still experience waves of nostalgia from time to time. Not purely for Thailand, but for Asia in general, as there were a couple of trips to the north as well. Take last weekend, while out shopping for strollers, and overhearing a couple of ladies having a conversation in Mandarin, I became a bit weepy and teary-eyed.

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Nostalgic. For living amongst a culture not my own. Nostalgic. For daily hearing a language not my own. Nostalgic. For hot, salty, spicy meals bought at a roadside stall for one dollar a bowl. Nostalgic. For my moto and being allowed to ride wearing flip flops. Nostalgic. For sounds, sights and smells now only a memory. Nostalgic. For a life and lifestyle that was perfect for a while, free and easy, where food was cheap and English not widely spoken.

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In honour of good times in the ‘Land of Smiles’, I’ve made a dish that I love but rarely eat. These fragrant noodles are salty and herby, with a little sugar and spice to round things out. Spiked heavily with fish sauce, this dish is not for the faint of heart. If you prefer a milder flavour, may I suggest substituting some of the fish sauce with lime juice; it will help balance out the saltiness. Alternatively, customise to taste with sugar, vinegar and/or chilli flakes.

How about you? What triggers nostalgia for you? Is it a song, a smell, a conversation…?

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Fragrant Chicken Noodles
Vermicelli noodles here soak up the flavours of red curry and fish sauce, and are garnished with lashings of fresh coriander and strips of stir-fried chicken.

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 teaspoons oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250-300g rice vermicelli (I used Chinese vermicelli or glass noodles)
1 ½ cups fresh coriander, chopped roughly
500g chicken thigh fillets, thinly sliced (use breast fillets if you prefer)
2 teaspoons red curry paste
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
4 spring onions, sliced (green scallions)

Method
Mix fish sauce with sugar in a small bowl. Set aside. Soak rice noodles as per directions on packet (do not boil). When soft, drain well in a colander.

Add 1 teaspoon oil to wok and fry garlic and curry paste for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add chicken and stir-fry until brown, adding more oil as required.

Finally, add the noodles, coriander, spring onions and fish sauce mix to pan. Stir and toss; warming all ingredients through before serving.

*Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime juice to help balance the flavours. Or, if you prefer, customise to taste with a sprinkle of caster sugar, a drizzle of white vinegar and/or a pinch of dried chilli flakes.

Best Ever Date & Banana Bread

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It’s kind of funny, but not really surprising, that some of my clearest memories of high school relate to food. I was already addicted to baking, and completely obsessed with collecting recipes. I remember staring out of the window during typing class, wondering how soon the lunchtime bell would ring so I could tame my raging hunger. There were the huge Valentine ’s Day cookies our class made and sold for a fund-raiser one year. And every Friday night, homemade burgers and thick shakes, and special sauce for dipping fries.

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Then there was the amazing Scandinavian-style birthday cake that is my only memory of a friend’s fourteenth birthday party. It was large, donut shaped and filled with custard. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Some twenty years later, and this friend and I are probably closer now than we were then. Recently, while watching our kids play, I mentioned to her how I remembered this cake (and little else), and she laughed. I couldn’t tell if she was perhaps just a little bit offended that I recalled the food more than I recalled anything else!

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And last but not least, there was this amazing banana bread, baked by a friend’s mother and served warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream. I’m not even sure what the event was or why; but I was in foodie heaven, and have never forgotten it. Perhaps that is why I love this date and banana bread so much. Another melt and mix recipe, the secret is in the method. By slowing warming the banana, butter, sugar and dates together in the pan, it fuses the flavours to create lush caramel undertones, which are best enjoyed while the cake is warm.

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Best Ever Date and Banana Bread
Brown sugar, butter, dates and banana fuse together to create warm caramel undertones in this wonderfully comforting version of your new favourite banana bread!

Makes 12 thick slices

Ingredients
3 ripe bananas, mashed (approx 1 cup)
120g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon bicarb soda (baking soda)
1 cup soft brown sugar
140g (1 cup) chopped dates
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups self-raising flour

Method
Preheat the oven to 180deg C. Grease and line a large loaf tin (based measures 10 x 20cm).

Place butter and mashed bananas into a saucepan and melt on low heat. Stir in the brown sugar, bicarb soda and milk and stir until the sugar appears to have dissolved. Add the chopped dates and let the mixture cool to room temperature before stirring in the beaten eggs and flour. Don’t over-mix.

Pour mixture into prepared loaf tin and bake for 40 – 45 minutes. (*Check at 30 minutes, and if the dome has cracked or split, cover loosely with a foil tent for remainder of baking time). Cake is done when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or cool with butter.

Banana cake slices can be frozen and defrosted (and then toasted for breakfast).

Adapted from the Cake Mistress