Essie’s Cobbler


It’s official; summer’s over (cue sad face). And with the cold stretch of wintry weather we’ve had this past week, all I’ve wanted to do is to hibernate: stay inside where it’s warm, beside the heater. No, make that the oven.


Because what better way to use one’s hibernation than to make a warming dessert?


Gather ripe blood plums, leftovers from summer’s bounty…


Add some of new season’s apples and pears, some sugar and spice…


And cook them up together to create a slightly tart, not overly sweet fruit base for our cobbler.


Cream butter and sugar; adding flour and milk to the mix.


Spread cake dough into greased baking dish and cover with fruit.


Sprinkle with sugar, or better yet, ask your eager helper to do it for you!


Bake until fruit is magenta and bubbly and cake is risen and brown.


Devour with glee (after first having taken copious photos of the beautiful mess)!


Essie’s Cobbler
Crust begins on the bottom, and ends on top. Consistency of cobbler varies depending on variety of fruit and amount of juice, but still tastes delicious.

Serves 6-8

¼ cup butter or margarine, softened
½ cup golden caster sugar
1 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
½ cup milk
1-2 tablespoons golden caster sugar, extra
½ cup fruit juice*

Prepare fruit first by washing and removing core/stones/pit. I used 450g (1 lb) blood plums, an apple, a pear and some frozen raspberries. Stew with one tablespoon of sugar, a splash of water, 3 bruised cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick. Simmer until softened (5-10 minutes) and then remove from heat. Discard spices. You will need 2 cups of stewed fruit.

Preheat oven to 180degC/350degF. Grease a 10×5 inch or 9×9 inch (2-litre capacity) baking pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl. Sift together in a separate bowl the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon (if using). Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Mix until smooth.

Pour batter into greased baking pan. Spoon over two cups of stewed fruit. Sprinkle with extra sugar and then pour over fruit juice*. Bake 45-50 minutes. Serve warm with yoghurt, cream or ice cream.

*The original recipe called for 1 cup of fruit juice, but I baulked at that and added less. It still turned out fine!

Adapted from the More with Less cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre

Great Spaghetti and Meatballs


What would your first thought be if you were asked to baby-sit your friend’s kids? Would you reply, “Yes, but only if they’re asleep”? Would you pause if it involved the changing of dirty nappies? Would you scan your bookshelves to see what DVDs you could take to keep them entertained? Would you check the forecast before deciding that a trip to the park was in order? Or would you go straight to your well-laden pantry and dog-eared cookbooks to find a recipe you could all make together?


Yep. That’s totally what I did. What I do, when asked to baby-sit (during daytime hours). Last time, the kids and I made chocolate crinkles while their mother slept. And yes, I would understand if you interpreted my plan as somewhat self-serving, but the truth is, kids love to help in the kitchen, and this time it was completely practical; we were making dinner. The family was flying out on an overseas holiday the next day, so this was my way of making their last evening just that little bit less stressful.


Not having any real idea of where the equipment was located, we winged it, and several pairs of little hands eagerly tore bread into breadcrumbs in the absense of a food processor. They happily mixed and shaped meatballs, though my original suggestion of making the balls large was over-ruled and we ended up with double the number of meatballs as a result! While the meatballs cooked, my helpers went outside to eat fruit and play, while I continued with crushing the garlic and making the sauce.


Once the meatballs were out of the oven, it was simply a matter of adding them to the sauce in a large pot, and leaving them to simmer for (at least) thirty minutes, until we were ready to eat. Meanwhile, a large pot of water was put on to boil, and the spaghetti cooked while my helpers set the table for dinner. Once their parents got home, dinner was ready and it was time to eat!


Great Spaghetti and Meatballs
I suspect any type of minced meat would work here. Apparently, pork mince is traditional. If you like, throw a teaspoon of fennel seeds into the pan with the onion and garlic – it adds a nice touch!

Rather than frying the meatballs, I prefer to bake them at high heat. This involves less oil and less mess. It also frees the cook up to get on with preparing the sauce.

Serves 6

700g (1 ½ lb) beef mince
1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs (3 slices bread)
1 large egg
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 x 800g tin crushed or diced tomatoes
1 x 150g tin tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
500g dried spaghetti
Grated Parmesan cheese to serve (optional)

(Begin about 1 ½ hours before serving)

Preheat oven to 220deg C (200deg fan)/440degF.

You can use bought breadcrumbs, but if you have a food processor it’s easy to make your own. Remove the crusts from day-old white bread slices and cut into cubes. Transfer the cubes to the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. (We used our fingers to break the slices up, but the end result was rather chunky, and I wouldn’t recommend it!)

In a large bowl, mix beef mince, bread crumbs, egg, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, and ¼ cup water or milk. Shape meat mixture into 18 meatballs (or more if you like them smaller).

Place meatballs on a lightly greased baking tray and cook for 10 – 15 minutes (10 minutes for small meatballs, 15 for large) or until well-browned.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a heavy-based pan and fry onion and garlic until tender, stirring often. Stir in tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste and ¼ cup water.

Add meatballs, and over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 30 minutes, turning meatballs occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, prepare spaghetti as label directs, and then drain.

Serve spaghetti with meatballs and sauce. Top with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Banana, Berry and Chia Seed Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free options}


The first time ever that I came across chia seeds was while teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to adult migrants and refugees. A relative newcomer, Tuoy (pronounced ‘Twee’) had lived in Australia for many years, but had next to no knowledge of the English language. The first day she entered the class I did my best to communicate with her, asking her the basic questions (e.g. Where are you from?) that most migrants would know how to answer… but not her! There was absolutely no comprehension in her expression, though she smiled sweetly. Only two months later, thanks to much repetition and the persistence of her new-found friends, Tuoy was able to hear, understand and respond in limited English.


It was she who came to class each day with a clear, plastic water bottle recycled to hold a solution of chia seeds suspended in water. This gloop is what she would drink throughout class and it piqued everyone’s curiosity. One of the other students enquired, and once they knew of the seed’s potent health-inducing properties, they all wanted some, too! Orders came in thick and fast! Ever the sceptic, I wasn’t convinced. It’s taken me several years before giving in to the hype and buying myself a packet of the ‘super-food’ seeds. And there is no way they’re going into my drinking water! But I will consider adding them to muffins.


Lately, I’ve been on an Instagram bender. Following foodie hash tags down the ‘rabbit-hole’, I’ve been discovering loads of lovely photos and other foodie bloggers along the way. This recipe was inspired by an Instagram post, with the recipe conveniently included in the comments below. I’d never really thought of adding chia seeds to muffins, though I had seen it done before. But one day when my gorgeous child was struggling with his emotions (hey, he’s 2!) and refused not one, but two perfectly good bananas, I decided it was time for another batch of muffins.


This time I wanted a recipe using oil, so that I could make them dairy-free, so I turned to my all-time favourite banana cake recipe: Lauren Zembron’s Strawberry Banana Bread. It already features on this blog, but these banana, raspberry and chia seed muffins are my new take on it, with raspberries subbed in because summer is over and strawberries are no longer on special. With ripe bananas and a little brown sugar for sweetness, raspberries for that pop of colour, and chia seeds for extra nutrition and crunch, these muffins are a strong contender for breakfast food, don’t you think?!


Banana, Berry and Chia Seed Muffins
I like these best made with wheat flour, but if you’re baking gluten-free, replace the wheat flour with your favourite mix of gluten-free flours, starches and/or nut meal {see below for gf recipe}.

Makes 16 muffins

1 cup self-raising flour
½ cup wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
2/3 cup soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil (olive oil or coconut oil could work here)
3 ½ over-ripe medium-sized bananas, peeled and mashed (about 1 ¼ cups mashed)
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
1 cup (approx 100g) frozen raspberries or fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
3 tablespoons chia seeds

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F. Grease or line 16 regular (½ cup) muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium bowl using a handheld electric mixer) beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

On low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Add in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract; mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture, fresh or frozen berries and chia seeds just until dry ingredients are fully moistened (no flour streaks should be visible).

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins. If you’re feeling fancy, slice some strawberries into 3 lengthways and place a slice on the top of each muffin. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top and dry to touch. Let cool in the tins for 5 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Recipe adapted from Healthy Food for Living


Banana, Berry and Chia Seed Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free}

Makes 10 muffins

1 cup plain (all-purpose) gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
1/3 cup soft brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed (a heaped ½ cup)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup frozen berries
2 tablespoons chia seeds
Banana chips (optional) for decoration

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F. Grease or line 10 regular (½ cup) muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium bowl using a handheld electric mixer) beat together the sugar and egg on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

On low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Add in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract; mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture, fresh or frozen berries and chia seeds just until dry ingredients are fully moistened (no flour streaks should be visible).

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins. If you have them, place one banana chip on the top of each muffin. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top and dry to touch. Let cool in the tins for 5 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.


Ham, Corn and Polenta Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free}


I enjoy being able to share what I know and love. Like when I was teaching English as a Second Language to adult migrants. As a native English speaker, you’re essentially passing on what you know and love about your own language (whilst trying to explain it!). The students I taught had been through so much hardship and were thrilled just to learn a few basics; everyday language that enabled them to negotiate life in a new country. It was my privilege to share some of my knowledge with them.


The same applies to sharing my love and knowledge of baking and all things cake. I’m no expert, but I couldn’t help getting a wee bit excited when a friend began asking me questions about baking; “Ali, what’s the difference between bicarb and baking soda…?” By her own admission, ‘a complete novice’, R wanted to know what equipment was needed, and what sort of thing would be best for a beginner baker to make. It didn’t take long to decide that brownies and muffins were the place to start.


A couple of weeks later we were ready, and with the kids playing at our feet, we began by making her husband’s favourite: Double Chocolate Raspberry Brownies… an excellent choice! Next up was Choc Chip Banana Muffins, which were almost healthy enough to share with young E (13 months). Then, because she is motivated to cook healthy food for her family, R asked if I had any savoury muffins in my repertoire. I was ashamed to admit I did not… which is really how these muffins were born!


Admittedly, there is no shortage of muffin recipes on the web, but sometimes it pays to know someone who has tested them out first. For these, I chose polenta as a base because it provides a lovely crunchiness to the texture, and when baking gluten-free, we’re already halfway there! Polenta always seems to taste better with sugar, so these are not sugar-free. Polenta, sugar, plus some ham, corn and chives, rounds out the flavours for a great-tasting, savoury muffin that is gluten and dairy-free.


Ham, Corn and Polenta Muffins {gluten-free + dairy-free}

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

¾ cup polenta
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 ¼ cups gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour (I used Orgran brand)
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil (olive oil or coconut oil is fine)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup dairy-free buttermilk* (see Notes)
1 x 125g tin (approx ½ cup) corn kernels, drained
1 bunch (approx 25g) garlic chives, finely chopped
100g (4 oz) shaved ham, chopped

Sweet paprika, for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400F/Gas 6).

Sift the polenta, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into a large mixing bowl. Place the oil, egg and buttermilk in a separate bowl, whisk together well and pour into the dry ingredients.

Add the corn kernels, garlic chives and ham, and stir together with a metal spoon until just combined. Do not overmix. The mixture should still be lumpy.

Spoon the mixture into twelve 125mL (4 fl oz/ ½ cup) non-stick muffin holes. (Or if yours are old and tend to stick like mine, then please, please line with muffin papers or baking paper! I cut 12 squares of non-stick baking paper, 15cm x 15cm each and used them to line the ungreased muffin holes). Sprinkle with paprika if desired, and bake for 20 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Leave in the tin to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Best eaten warm on the day they are cooked.

Notes. Polenta is available at most supermarkets and health-food shops.

*Here’s a tip: You can make your own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk (dairy, almond, soy or other). Allow to sit until it clabbers, about 10 minutes.

Adapted from Family Circle’s ‘Baking – a commonsense guide’ with some help from the Smitten Kitchen


Broccoli and spring onion slaw with buttermilk dressing


Aren’t holidays grand? Last month we managed to get away for a few days, and though it was only brief, it was refreshing. I could feel the stress dissolving as I soaked in the view; yellow post-harvest fields and wide red dirt plains up north. We drove nine hours to visit Alex’s grandmother, primarily so that she could meet her great-grandson. An incredibly resilient woman, Ona still lives in her own home at 93 years of age and took great delight in preparing a feast for us on Sunday after church.


The seaside town where we stayed was quiet after the craziness of the summer holidays, and we camped in a motel five minutes’ walk from the clear aqua blue of the ocean. As well as visiting Ona, we spent lots of time near the water, making sand castles, practising handstands and swimming. I treated myself to a foodie magazine, and enjoyed a few quiet moments alone while the boys were out walking. Chilling out with a magazine is a real treat, and those moments are precious.


Within the glossy pages, I found many drool-worthy recipes, but not many that were practical. Most of them were a bit out of my league; lots of meat, expensive ingredients and necessary equipment that I don’t have (e.g. ice cream churn). But I am always open to new ways with vegetables, and particularly salad on these hot summer days! We regularly buy broccoli, and I had half a packet of skinless hazelnuts already in the pantry, so with a bit of tweaking, we had this on the table in no time!


Broccoli and spring onion slaw with buttermilk dressing
The original included rocket and broccolini as well, but as hubby doesn’t enjoy eating rocket, and because broccolini is rather expensive, I’ve left them out. It suits us perfectly this way; but if you’re interested in the original recipe, it can be found here.

Serves 4-6 as a side

80g (approx ½ cup) hazelnuts
2 small head of broccoli (about 600g), cut into florets
3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Buttermilk dressing
125mL (½ cup) buttermilk*
1 tablespoon each lemon juice and white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Spread hazelnuts over a baking tray and roast until skins darken and nuts are fragrant (5-6 minutes). Tip into a tea towel, rub off skins (or buy the skinless version and save yourself the trouble!), coarsely chop and set aside.

Shave broccoli florets lengthways, using a mandolin (or if mandolins scare you silly, use a sharp knife instead). Place into a pot and pour over boiling water to blanch (broccoli will turn a bright green). Drain in a colander, rinsing with cold water to halt the cooking process. Once completely cool, add to a large bowl with spring onions and hazelnuts, reserving a few hazelnuts to serve.

For buttermilk dressing, shake ingredients in a jar until well combined. Season to taste and drizzle dressing over salad to taste, toss lightly to coat and serve slaw scattered with reserved hazelnuts.

*Here’s a tip: You can make your own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk (dairy or other). Allow to sit until it clabbers, about 10 minutes.

Adapted from Gourmet Traveller

Raspberry & Coconut Icy Poles


I made my first ever batch of homemade coconut ice cream the other day. It was creamy, sweet and refreshing, but I couldn’t help wondering why it tasted so familiar. Then I remembered. My mother had made coconut ice cream regularly when we were children, growing up in the steamy tropical lowlands of Papua New Guinea. Although a little more ‘ice’ than ‘cream’ (perhaps something to do with an old, kerosene-fuelled fridge/freezer), her version was made with coconut milk fresh from the source.


The local villages were situated on hills rising out of the lagoons and those ridges were covered in coconut palms. Whenever we wanted coconut, we simply had to take a long stick and knock some out of the closest tree. From there, a local friend would hack off the fibrous outer layer with a machete and pierce the shell with several holes. After catching the watery contents in a bowl, she would then, with practised precision, give the hard nut a swift whack with the back of the knife to split it in half.


Sitting on a purpose-made stool, we would grate the coconut meat into a bowl. I can recall eating this freshly grated coconut for breakfast, but more often than not, we would pour the reserved coconut water onto the grated meat and then squeeze it hard to remove the excess liquid. What resulted from this process was the freshest, richest coconut milk you will ever find! This milk then provided a base for creamy fish curries, or as mentioned above, for Mum’s homemade coconut ice cream.


Sadly, I don’t have access to fresh coconut milk these days, so canned coconut milk will have to suffice. It makes lovely ice cream, but because we like our ice creams to be portable, and because ripe, tart raspberries are the perfect complement to the sweet, creamy milk, we’ve made them into icy poles. These raspberry and coconut ice pops are as refreshing as a sea breeze on a summer’s day. Make them now… because summer is almost over, and these really need to be enjoyed today!


Raspberry and Coconut Icy Poles
The fresh tartness of raspberries is the perfect complement to the sweet creaminess of coconut milk in these deliciously simple summer treats!

Makes about 500mL or 6 x 83mL icy poles

1 x 400mL can full-fat coconut milk
½ cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
100g (approx 1 cup) frozen raspberries

Shake the can of coconut milk vigorously to combine contents. Open can and pour into a large bowl, scraping out all contents, especially the cream. Add the sugar and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.

Give it a quick taste. If you want to add extra sugar or more vanilla, now’s the time to do it.

Pour mixture into icy pole moulds until three-quarters full, and then add raspberries until mould is almost full, allowing some space for expansion. (I tend to shove the berries down with a long-handled spoon, as they don’t sink to the bottom without help).

Gently lower handles into pops or place in freezer for about 45 minutes, and then insert wooden sticks. Freeze for at least another 4 hours before eating.

To remove icy poles from moulds, simply run under warm water for a few seconds until you can twist and release.

Adapted considerably from The Hungry Mouse

Lemon-glazed Carrot & Pineapple Muffins {gluten and dairy-free}


Consistency. It can be a good thing. It can also not be a good thing. My dad always used to call me (or rather, my actions) like a “bull at a gate”. If you can imagine a bull at a gate, charging, not using a lot of logic. Running, crashing, with no real thought of the consequences. Yep. I’m still like that today. Consistently rash. Like when I posted about a carrot, currant and coconut salad and some muffins that were okaay… just because I “had” to blog that day or bust. But really, it should be about the food, and the food should be worth sharing. Well, this time it is.


Having had carrot muffins on the brain for well over a week now, I really wanted to adapt them to be gluten and dairy free. The oil was already coconut, and all I needed was to replace the yoghurt with crushed pineapple. The wheat flour has been replaced with a tri-fold mix beginning with plain gluten-free flour that you can buy in a packet at most supermarkets these days. It comprises tapioca starch and rice flour, but not much more than that. To add some nutrition and texture, I’ve also used brown rice flour and a bit of almond meal.


The idea of combining gluten-free flours with nut meal really came thanks to the consistently delicious offerings on the London Bakes blog. So, a hat tip to Kathryn for the inspiration! The rest of the muffin recipe is fairly standard, with carrots and pineapple providing sweetness and texture, the oats for added fibre, and spices to round out and complement all those flavours. These muffins are sweet but not too-sweet, light and moist as a carrot cake should be, and the lemon glaze adds a zesty sweetness to an otherwise pretty healthy cake!


Lemon glazed Carrot and Pineapple Muffins {gluten and dairy-free}
Deliciously light and moist, these muffins are all the good things – fruit and vegetable, healthy oils and spice, oats and almonds… and to top it all off – a zesty lemon glaze!

Makes 12 muffins

Wet Mix
2 large eggs
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained well and then squeezed to remove excess liquid
1 cup (150g) grated carrot

Dry Mix
½ cup plain GF flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
2 tablespoons almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ cup gluten-free quick oats, divided

Lemon glaze
½ cup pure icing sugar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice

Preheat oven to 210 degrees C/425degrees F. Grease muffins pans or line with muffin papers.

Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients (see note) minus the oats in a large mixing bowl. Beat together the eggs, sugar, and coconut oil. Add a handful of quick oats to the dry mix. And then fold the wet ingredients into the previously combined dry mix. Add the carrot and pineapple. Stir until flour is just combined, do not beat.

Place by spoonfuls into muffin pans, sprinkle with more oats and bake for 5 minutes at 210deg. Reduce oven temperature to 190deg and bake a further 15 minutes or until golden brown and firm to touch. Remove from oven and cool in tins for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Whisk together icing sugar and lemon juice, one teaspoon at a time until it is the desired consistency. Drizzle on cooled muffins using a zip lock bag with the corner snipped off.

Store in an airtight container.

The GF flour, rice flour and almond meal should together make up to 1 cup exactly.