Crank out the pasta

Inner italianWhenever you need some cooking therapy to break the work monotony, settle nerves jangled by irritating neighbours, or sooth away the rigours of, say, dealing with mindless bureaucracy, my strong recommendation would be to crank the handle on a pasta machine.  Embrace your inner Italian soul to make as complex or as simple a sauce as you like (or that the dramas of the day will allow), but the pasta making itself provides one of the most satisfying experiences with the least risk of disaster – literally a quick bit of mixing and then crank that handle.

Don’t bother with a recipe – for each person you’ll need 100g plain flour and 1 egg, and that will turn into plenty of pasta for a hearty meal.  Follow the steps in the photos below – basically mix the flour and eggs and as soon as it is all stuck together, start putting it through the machine.


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(No) rush


Get the recipe

On the way to Easter (in both traditions), we’ve had the fun of working our way through various breakfast possibilities in no rush at all, so I thought I’d keep going in that vein by posting the ‘how to guide’ for a few favourites.

First up – slow cooked baked beans and rice. The recipe is simple enough but I find most questions come because so many people are accustomed to cooking in a rush now – ‘how do I know if it’s cooking properly?’ or ‘what does it look like when it’s ready?’ ‘ how quickly can I make it cook?’ that kind of thing.  The main answer if you wan to do baked beans quickly, this is not the recipe!  This one takes time and you get a particular style of result.  But it is one from my whole food/no additives approach which is very hard to achieve if you don’t have time.  So you can make a very tasty dish for brekkie using canned borlotti beans but that doesn’t help if you have a problem with one of the ingredients used in the canning process.  If you do, then get a slow cooker and give this recipe a whirl – but you’ll need time.

In this set of ‘how-to’ shots, the last three are the money shots – after 4 hours cooking, 12 hours cooking and 14 hours cooking, all at 100°C.  Great breakfast, but then the rest became the basis for sauce to go on some ravioli.

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Sunday: Cuando una puerta se cierra, ciento se abren.

Spanish: When one door closes, a hundred open.

To wind up my look at how we revive each day, so we might try again with the being a good person and making a happy life, I thought I’d share my three part take on slow cooking.  There is something for all moods, whether it’s to go with contemplative cooking moments that seem to roll round on Sunday, a tasty morsel to make in stages as part of relaxing and recruiting your strength for the week ahead, or just a plate of heartiness ready when you want breakfast after an early service, an extended bike ride/walk/swim, or the massive sleep in that some favour at the start of a new week.

  Cooking slowly: roasted tomatoes  salty pretzels*   olive focaccia  fruit pies**  

   Slow starters: corned beef hash    Slow cooking: baked beans & rice

Whichever way gets you in the zone to see new doors opening, I hope you enjoy some of these!  See below for a bit more explanation.  *Sorry, these both need flour and my experience is that they don’t respond well to gluten free flour – in fact, the focaccia calls for high-protein bread flour. **Yippee! These are made with arrowroot (ground tapioca) – so gluten free, even if not guilt-free!  Everything else is flourless.

Cooking slowly: This is where getting the dish together just can’t be hurried.  With some it is heat – might not sound like much of a difference, but cooking delicious oven-roasted tomatoes takes at least an hour below 160°C; there is no point hurrying because at 180°C they disassemble into sauce that might be delicious but not what you’re looking for.  Enough said.  With others, each step needs time and there are multiple steps – like making anything involving yeast (which just needs time to do its magic, and you mess with that at your peril), or pastry items (which are usually complex, with multiple steps – but great fun, for example, if you are cooking down fresh fruit for a pie filling).

Slow starters: This is sort of a cupboard cooking approach – where if you have some parts already cooked, it won’t take long to have something on the table, but its not so easy to gather if you are starting from an empty bench.  Otherwise known to our friends as ‘advanced leftovers’ because many such dishes use up what is lurking from earlier meals.  Leftover spaghetti sauce can turn into topping for wrap pizzas for example – you probably wouldn’t cook the sauce just to make those pizzas, but … you get the idea.

Slow cooking: This is where all you need is lots of time, not because there is much to do but because you let a slow cooking oven or bench top slow cooker do the work.  The crucial thing to know is the temperature at which your appliance cooks, as most are a fixed setting.  My slow cooking oven, for example, works at 100°C, while most bench top slow cookers work at 115-120°C: as well as impacting cooking time, it will affect how much time it takes for consommé looking stuff to go first to a thicker soup and then to a full on sauce with properly cooked bits in it; also you need to factor in how much water is needed when you leave it go for a long time, like overnight.


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Saturday: Dywedwch wrthyf unwaith eto y chwedl …

Welsh: Tell me again the tale of …

Munchie breakfast

What is it about Saturday that seems to make us morph into hobbits – you know, needing first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper … ?

Well it probably starts with my family’s habit of getting together over a meal – our mum’s side of the gene pool gave us an auto-chinwag function that means we endlessly have stories to tell each other, and by the time one conversation finishes, we are hungry all over again.

Here in our house it is probably helped along by the fact that we have two who are very much the night owls, and two who are habitually up to open the door for the sparrows – so when we are together and not on a deadline for school or work, breakfast automatically goes to multiple rounds of grazing as each turns up at their leisure.

Any of that sound familiar? Then my approach to Saturday is for you, whether it’s for the family, itinerant visitors, or guests whose breakfast habits might be different from your own.

Essentially, at home when we make like hobbits* the aim is meals as much and as often as we want them – so I usually have various ready-to-eat things to stave off hunger pangs in the early risers, without making so much noise that sleepers-in are disturbed, plus a range of hot items for a more sustaining round once all have greeted the day.  Leftover ready to eat things can go out again later as elevenses or afternoon tea, and the hot items can magically also look a whole lot like lunch or dinner if need be – add some salad or veg as the season/weather suggests.

For the early risers, other than industrial quantities of espresso, having muffins on hand is a no brainer, or perhaps a loaf or two picked up from Friday-style breakfast.  You can cupboard cook some muesli, but that seems a little too prosaic for inspired relaxation at the weekend, so here are some others to put a ‘day-off’ flavour into your weekend:

Carrot bombs (gluten free)    Sticky malt loaves (moderate sugar hit)   

Fridge porridge (for a soft start)    Oatey slice  (politically correct)  

Biscotti (Italian for ‘essential to go with resurrective coffee’)

For hot items to share, we love all of the usual breakfast treats like bacon and hash browns, but if you are looking after a group, I’d suggest think in terms of my favourite snack meals – ‘Quiche’ muffins  or  Eggie muffins or Zucchini slice  – as a good basis to get started without stress.**

*Actually when we took the boys on a road trip to Perth years ago (when they were still in school), to see the other side of the family, it was at the height of the LOTR movies being released – and we really did end up playing hobbits for a day on the return trip.  Huge fun actually coming up with things for all those sessions that I could cook on the road using a camp stove à la Samwise Gamgee (the hobbit who travels with Frodo to the fires of Mordor!).

**See also ‘Sunday’ when I post that, as the slow cooking items are all highly share-able!

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Smile (even if just to make others wonder why)

The first wedding cake 4Several years ago I succeeded in making this wedding cake that was a) gluten free because it was made with almond meal and b) able to hold traditional white royal icing and so look like a regular wedding cake.  It absolutely made my day to see the happy couple smile at something all could share when one of the family had developed gluten intolerance – not only because it was a lovely wedding, but because I felt more than a little triumph at solving a complex problem for a cook, after being frustrated to see many with limits on their diet treated as seriously second class.*  Of course I later got a whole bunch of smiles at the reaction from my family at the thought that the wild child had morphed into the aunty who cooks wedding cakes!!!

So to make a few more of those smiles, I have been working on recipes that deal with food intolerances, such as to gluten or to food additives (those greeblies are laced into everything and cause a variety of issues that maybe are not true allergies, for example, but still cause skin or digestive problems when that item does not agree with a person’s physiology).

Some look at the wedding cake problem, of cooking without flour at all, some trial the use of gluten free flour to see what works and what is not worth the effort; others look at tricks to more easily working with whole foods and fresh ingredients rather than store-bought stuff that has greeblies hidden in a long list of ingredients written in ant-writing (that I now can’t read without glasses, lol).

My particular take on the problem is that we need food for life, but life has to be about more than just a list of diet limitations and never being able to visit for a meal for fear of inconveniencing the hosts, so it has to be food that we can make with less complexity than launching the invasion of Normandy or landing a man on the Moon.

To get the ball rolling, I have gone back and tagged my recipes accordingly, but also here is a sample recipe of a treat to make.  I smiled when I tried it, but I’m not entirely sure why – it has no added sugar, and no flour of any kind, but it is still somehow rather munchie or more-ish – for want of a better name, I call them carrot bombs (get the recipe) just because carrot makes up a lot of the ingredients.  It’s a two-spooner, but only because you’ll use a blender or food processor, and those should always be approached with caution.

*Don’t get me started about the time just a couple of years ago when I was at a huge (and pricey) conference dinner in Europe, supposedly a gala event with a seven course meal – and the vegetarian option was the same thing for all seven courses – grrrrrr!  I’m not a vegetarian, but it really got under my fingernails that in a place overflowing with wonderful produce, and with great chefs in no short supply, that was the best they could do for all the people present who were vegetarians.

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Friday: C’est un scandale! Ils ont dit quoi?

French: It is an outrage! They said what?

Carrot cake flourless done 7

Seriously, when I worked in the big end of town at a nameless international airline, Friday was not the day to chase productivity goals – it just about took surgery to remove people from the water cooler precinct and the coffee shop.  Heading to the weekend, gossip was the priority – the week was nearly a done deal, and there was always next week for the rest of the ‘to do’ list. It’s all about being sociable, not frantic for a deadline.

Even further back towards the dawn of time, when I was still in the RAAF, the standard Friday moment of celebration about postings and promotions was to have cake – which was not quite every week but close to that with all the comings and goings back then.

So one way and another, for me Fridays mean cake with a side order of gossip – which works just fine these days at uni or when our wee neighbour comes to say hello.

And let’s face it, who really wants to argue about whether cake for breakfast is a legitimate lifestyle choice???  Not me!  In fact, last year when I was in Italy for a conference, I found it altogether too easy to get into the habit of Ciambella for breakfast.  When I stayed at a convent across the road from the Vatican (no, really, I did) for my post-conference break, their baker had a particularly magic way with a lemon glazed Ciambella  which was only slightly less beatific than their lemon glazed croissant … but don’t get me started on those!  My lemon yoghurt loaf doesn’t quite reach those dizzy heights, but then again, you can have one without paying an airfare to Europe : )

Carrot cake (flourless)     Banana bread

Lemon yoghurt loaf      Maple date loaf    Honey gingerbread

These cakes range from the politically-correct, with relatively modest amounts of sugar (carrot cake, especially if you don’t glaze it), to the sugar rush specials (honey gingerbread a.k.a. ‘how many types of sugar can we pack into one cake?’).

PS If you are sharing, you could also head back to Monday and do a round of muffins, or reverse all the way back to Advent and make a chocolate fruitcake.


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Thursday: Kore rawa e rawaka te reo kotahi.

Maori: One language is never enough. (traditional saying)

Soda bread with herbs and olives

This is a variation on cheesy soda bread, made with sliced Spanish olives and fresh herbs.

The end of the week is looming; the pressure is on to close the deal, get commitments on paper, make reports, organise things for the following week and generally get working life into neat and eye-pleasing order.  It’s often all about speaking the other person’s language, and since bread is pretty much multilingual all on its own, I am sharing some of my favoured types here – take note though, these are all ‘three spoon’ rated.

Traditional scones   Buttermilk pancakes     Rye bread     Soda bread

Wherever I have travelled there has always been some kind of ‘bakery’ – from the exquisite emporia of France to the hand-pushed carts of rather less manicured locales. Typically, they sell the local staples, some the local delicacies, some just whatever they can get their hands on.  I have had great fun and enjoyment from trying them all!

Even when the fare offered is not recognisable as ‘bread’, it usually performs the equivalent function – fills the stomach and recruits your strength for whatever lies ahead. I’ve had a wonderful range of breakfasts on such days, not by asking for ‘bread’ but by watching what the local folks are buying and sampling the same thing – very often all done by using the international language of hand waving!

Of course, there was that one time on the Spain/France border where the nearest vendor was a boulangerie on the French side, serving croissants still warm from the oven and coffee fit to wake the dead …

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The other bread

Soda bread 12With another day of the Everyday Resurrection celebration of Easter coming up tomorrow, I was inspired to run a quick rehearsal for one of the items – soda bread.  I have a couple of great recipes, both of which are pretty forgiving compared to making bakery bread (which involves getting yeast to do its thing) or soda bread’s close cousins, traditional English scones (which are similar ingredients but also include butter, and can be leaden if you play with them too much in getting them cut out etc).

If you might fancy something savoury try this cheesy soda bread, or for something sweet, have a crack at choc chip soda bread. Either way, less than an hour from now you could be breaking open some steaming yumminess like this!

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The actual bread

Actual bread 2cIn among a bunch of posts about cake masquerading as ‘bread’, I thought I had better pump up my baker credentials by showing that I do make the actual bread from time to time – at least to the extent of setting up the bread-maker!

Over the years, I have made bread of various kinds by hand, but with kids under foot it was never particularly fun.  When my brother Ken received two bread makers as wedding presents, we took one off his hands and that was a great deal more rewarding as a kitchen adventure.  When we wore that one out, the old credit card loyalty points program provided a replacement, and then another.  So yes, making bread is great for filling the house with that lovely bakery smell, but I don’t feel any obligation to do all the hard work myself – just like I can make pasta by hand, but I enjoy it more using a pasta machine.

The only trick is to follow the instructions very precisely – I lashed out a few bucks and bought an electronic scale, so weighing the ingredients could be done easily and very accurately, and after that it was easy.

For preference, I make seed breads like this one – a light rye loaf that became Sunday brunch.  I use seeds that don’t need softening (for this load – sesame, caraway and poppy seeds), so its just a matter of putting those in with the water and oil (our machine has a seed dispenser, but to be honest, it has never worked very satisfactorily, and I probably wouldn’t bother with that feature on a new machine).

For a quick cupboard cooking lunch, it was a taste sensation with almond dukkah – dip bread cubes in a touch of olive oil, then the dukkah.

Actual bread 3b.jpg


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Battle of the favourites

Should I go for a walk or stay in and make the wee girl next door an Easter treat?  What tough choices we face sometimes : )

Asked about my favorite place I am not sure I could ever choose between:

i) staying at home in the kitchen, with the prospect of a really appreciative audience for kitchen products who gives a beatific smile every time, but the kitchen has a panoramic view of a brick wall, or

ii) walking out to see what I can see just up the street, when living close to the beach despite being in a big city.

Perhaps I’ll do both. Happy Friday!


Coogee coast walk 2



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