Food : Turkish pumpkin tart


For years I was not convinced that sweet pumpkin pies (or tarts) could be a real thing. I found this recipe in a recipe book of mine called Herbs, Spices and Flavourings, which is now an old and well-used book.  After I tried it, I was totally converted. I love Middle Eastern flavours, so I decided one day to try adding in  some rosewater, and tweaked a few of the other ingredients. The effect is superb ~ sweet, fragrant, and a bit earthy.


Turkish Pumpkin Tart

175g shortcrust pastry (you can use bought, or use my fave shortcrust recipe here, that I’ve used for a Pear & Ricotta Crumble Tart)
750g pumpkin, peeled & sliced
1/4 cup brown sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbs rosewater
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 ground ginger
2 eggs, beaten
150ml cream
50g crushed walnuts


Heat the oven to 200’C Roll the shortcrust pastry out to line a 20cm flan tin. Place a piece of baking paper over it, fill it with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Microwave or steam the pumpkin until VERY tender. Mash it until it becomes a super smooth puree, or blend it in a food processor. Then mix the puree with all other ingredients and half the nuts.

Reduce heat to 180’C. Spoon mixture into pastry case and smooth the surface; bake for 30 minutes until set. Sprinkle the remaining nuts on top and serve with whipped cream.


Food: Stinging nettle risotto {James Vickers}


It’s springtime!! The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the grass is growing…. and so are the nettles. Just looking at them makes me think ‘ouch.’ Like most folk, childhood experiences run deep.


james vickers - nettle risotto

james vickers – stinging nettles


I never knew until a few years ago that you could actually cook them. And they make such a wonderful green! Just remember you need to put some sturdy gloves on before you go out collecting them.

I love a good risotto; I love its creamy textures. And you can change the flavourings around and get an entirely different meal! This recipe with nettles, vegetables and parmesan comes from my friend James, who I met several years ago at uni. Now he runs a catering company in Wagga, and he generously shares this seasonal and wonderful recipe with us here.

The sting can be removed by briefly blanching the nettles in boiling water. You’ll need to end up with about 3 handfuls of blanched nettles, so pick a good-sized bunch of them.


Stinging Nettle Risotto

Bring a pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the stinging nettles, thus negating the sting.  Drain and keep the water for use in the risotto if required.

Make a quick clear chicken stock or use Massel Chicken Stock cubes or powder. You’ll need around 2 litres.

Sweat off 2 finely diced onions, 3 or 4 finely sliced celery sticks and 6 finely sliced garlic cloves in a liberal amount of olive oil.

Add 250g of Arborio rice (about 1 1/4 cups of dry rice).  Keep it moving until the rice starts to go a little opaque, not brown!  add more olive oil if necessary.

Add stock, ladle by ladle, waiting for each ladle to be absorbed, moving the rice continually with a wooden spoon.  If you run out of stock, use the blanching water.

When your risotto is thick and creamy and your rice is al dente, stir through up to 125g of grated parmesan to taste and then stir through a few good handfuls of chopped nettles.   Season with a good squeeze of lemon juice.  Remove from heat and serve with extra nettles on the side and a couple of parmesan crisps!


AND a bonus Secret Ingredient – if you think that your dish needs salt, add a few good glugs of fish sauce!

james vickers - nettle risotto

james vickers – nettle risotto


James provides catering around the South West Slopes, the Riverina and Mt Hotham in the Victorian Alps. You can find him on his website,


Food : Mandarin almond cake with chocolate butter frosting


As I mentioned a little while ago, our twin boys turned 7 recently. For their birthday cake, I adapted the classic Middle Eastern orange and almond cake, the recipe for which is in the equally classic cookbook by Claudia Roden, A Book of Middle Eastern Food. I chose this recipe because one of them has recently been diagnosed as gluten-intolerant (but not Coeliac), and I needed to expand my repertoire of kid-friendly gluten-free cakes, because it’s mandarin season and they’re fabulous at the moment, and just because.

I cut the recipe down in size a little, just in case the kids didn’t like it (well, what on earth would I do with all that cake?). I also discovered that the mandarin skin is slightly more bitter than orange when boiled, and hence I’ve used proportionally more sugar. The resulting cake has the same texture as the orange, but the mandarin elevates it with its richer perfume.

And a kid’s birthday cake has to have icing, and so I made up some chocolate frosting to top it with. The cake turned out pretty good. Better than jaffas.


mandarin almond cake with chocolate butter frosting

mandarin almond cake with chocolate butter frosting


Mandarin and almond cake

5 medium mandarins (I prefer imperial)
4 eggs
150g almond meal
200g sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Wash and boil the mandarins (unpeeled) in water for around 1.5-2 hours until they’re quite soft. Let them cool, then cut them open and remove the pips. Leaving the skins on, mash the mandarins with a potato masher until they are pulpy (I prefer the texture of this, rather than the smoother result achieved with a blender).

Heat the oven to moderately hot (210deg C).

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients, mix thoroughly, and pour into a spring-form tin (if you don’t have one, make sure you butter your tin and line it with baking paper).

Bake the cake for about 50 minutes, then have a look at it. If it is still very wet, leave it for a bit longer. Cool in the tin before turning out. It should still be quite a moist cake.

Chocolate butter frosting

100g cooking chocolate
100g butter
1 tblspn icing sugar

Melt chocolate over a low heat, then add in melted butter and combine. Stir through icing sugar. Wait until it cools a bit before spreading it on the cake as it will be quite runny when it’s warm.


Food : Chocolate fudge brownies ~ gluten-free


tractorgirl - gluten free choc fudge brownies

gluten-free choc fudge brownies – out of the oven


It has only been recently that we have been introduced to the world of gluten-free. One of our 6yo twin boys (ah yes, well they’re almost 7, birthday next week and we’re not being allowed to forget about it) was recently diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. We are so very fortunate that it is simply an intolerance – it causes him an uncomfortable and very itchy rash, but that’s all. I also have friends with coeliac’s disease, and that is a severely different story.

You don’t realise how reliant our society is on wheat-based products until you’re struck with something like this. Wheat and wheat flour are in SO many foods – that includes the vast majority of breads, biscuits, pasta, couscous etc, and being used as thickeners and bulkers in a huge number of other products – I check all the labels on foods these days. (And it’s all a bit ironic, considering we have a wheat farm.)

Anyway, we’ve been taking time to explore a bunch of gluten-free foods, and it seems there is a reasonable range out there. It has been difficult though to try and get a 6yo to change his eating habits. One thing we’ve discovered about GF wheat and wheat flour substitutes is that they taste different (well, duh). The texture is also different. Adults, who understand the long term ramifications on health better, are probably more inclined to accept these changes in their food. Sadly, not so with young children.

School lunches have been a challenge – gone are the sandwiches (the GF bread available in Wagga is not to his liking as bread – toast is OK), and many other things. We’ve got onto making fried rice for lunches, he’s liking that OK (at the moment)…

With its texture and taste differences I’ve not found GF flour very good for pastry. Cake for treats is also a challenge.  Strongly flavoured, dense cakes have the best chance of getting past children’s detection – hence this gluten-free brownie recipe. My kids all know about it now though, and more than just accepting it, they love it!

It’s easy too. The recipe is adapted from one I found on a wonderful forum for Australian crafters on Etsy called DUST (where I met many of you good people a couple of years ago!)

Julie x


Gluten-free chocolate fudge brownies

1 cup plain gluten-free flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tspn baking powder
125g softened butter
1 1/2 cups (275 grams) brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 tspn vanilla

100g extras if you wish – things such as nuts, cherries, dates, raisins…

Heat your oven to 180deg C.
Sift dry ingredients together a few times (this is especially important with gluten-free flour, as I have found there is often a bit of coarse rice husk in it).
In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar together for a few minutes until it becomes paler. Mix through eggs one at a time, then vanilla. Mix in the sifted dry ingredients in two batches, and ensure it is mixed thoroughly. Line a small greased tin with baking paper (I like to use one that’s about 28cm x 16cm – don’t use anything much larger, as your cake will be too thin), and then spoon the mixture in, smoothing out the top of the cake.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is just firm in the centre.

Cool before cutting into small pieces – it’s rich!


choc fudge brownies - bon appetite!

choc fudge brownies – bon appetite!



Food : Ciabatta {it’s not as scary as you think}





After a discussion about bread on Twitter, my good friend Kellie from 74LimeLane requested that I share my favourite ciabatta recipe here. And why not? Good bread is GOOD.

Ciabatta is Italian in origin, and the word literally translates as “slipper.” Not sure why – they don’t much look like footwear to me. And it’s certainly more flavoursome. Lumpy and rustic, a well-made ciabatta is a wonderful thing – crusty on the outside, chewy and delicious on the inside. Just smell, taste, and feel that golden homey goodness in your mouth… Perfect with soup, and fab for mopping up the last bit of sauce from your plate of pasta. Or just rub it with garlic, and add a drizzle of good olive oil. Yes, yes, YES!

Now listen, good ciabatta takes time. Don’t use those recipes that say you can make the whole lot in your breadmaking machine in a few hours – it will NOT have the same flavour and texture. You will need to take 24hours + 5 hours to do it right – it’s the development of the small amount of yeast over time that works the magic. The bread gets made in two parts – the biga or sponge is prepared first, and then it is added to the rest of the dough the next day. The dough is quite wet and gloopy to handle too (a bread machine is handy for this particular stage of mixing).  However, I’d still only rate its overall difficulty as moderate – have a go if you know your way around the kitchen. Weighing your flour is a more accurate way of measuring it than using a cup measure.

{If, at this stage, you’ve decided you’d like to try something easier, here’s my very favouritest basic bread recipe. It’s the simplest, only 4 ingredients, and very satisfying to make, I promise!}


Like most bread recipes, there are countless variations on the basics. Ciabatta is no different – so here’s my version, adapted from a recipe here.

Biga (the morning before the baking) 

1/2 tspn active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (about 40 deg. C)
330g breadmaking flour
3/4 cup water extra (see method for temperature)

Sprinkle the yeast into warm water, stir and let stand for 5-10 minutes.

Place the bread flour in a bowl. Stir the yeasted water again and then measure ONE teaspoon of it into the flour. (That’s right, throw the rest away – you only need 1/100 teaspoon yeast at this stage.)

Add in the extra 3/4 cup of water, using ice water in the summer and warm water in the winter. Thoroughly mix the biga; it will be stiff, but it has a long fermentation and will soften considerably. Add in an extra tablespoon or two of water if you absolutely must.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the biga ferment for 24 hours in a cool spot in summer, or a warm spot in winter. Don’t worry if it does nothing for several hours, it should still double or triple in volume and smell aromatic the next day.

Bread (baking day)

325g breadmaking flour, plus an additional 1/3 cup for flouring dough, board and towels.
1 tspn dry active yeast
2 3/4 tspn salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (about 30 deg C)
the fermented biga

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer or bread machine. Stir in the water. Break the biga up into small bits about the size of a 5 cent piece, and add into the mix. Beat the mixture in your machine until the dough is fairly smooth, around 10 minutes. The dough should be quite sticky and soft, and easy to spread. If it is not, add a little more water until it is.

This next step takes around 3-3 1/2 hours all up. Firstly, scrape the dough into a bowl at least 3 times its size and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment for about 20 minutes. Then, sprinkle the top of the dough and your work surface with flour. Using a scraper to help, tip the dough out onto the work surface. Sprinkle the dough with flour again and then gently spread the dough out, trying not to deflate the bubbles. Fold it up into a tight bundle by folding the left side into the centre, then the right into the centre, then the top and the bottom. Place it into the bowl, smooth side up, and cover tightly again. You need to repeat this turning process a total of four times. After the fourth turn, cover the dough tightly again and leave it undisturbed for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it has about doubled in size.

Flour the top of the dough and the work surface again, and then turn the dough out. Cut the dough in half. Gently stretch the pieces out to about 30cm x 20cm, and fold them loosely into thirds, to form rectangles about 20 x 10cm. Try to handle the dough as little as possible to avoid deflating it.

Use some baking paper, or thoroughly flour a couple of teatowels and place one rectangle of dough on each, then sprinkle the dough with more flour. Place another piece of baking paper over the top and then gently fold a teatowel over to cover the lot. Leave the dough to prove in a warm spot for about 45 minutes, until they are soft and springy.

Heat the oven to very hot, 230deg C. When the dough is ready to bake, line a tray with baking paper, and gently flip the dough onto the tray, seam side up. Stretch them slightly until they are rectangular and dimple the dough all over with your fingertips. Bake the bread until they are well browned, about 35- 40 minutes.

Let them cool on a rack before slicing.

{OK. So that sounds like a lot – but it’s not really. It all comes down to these basic steps-

1. Prepare the biga. Knead and let it rest overnight.
2. The next day, mix the biga through with the rest of the dough, and knead it until it’s smooth.
3. Rest and fold the dough; rest and fold; rest and fold; rest and fold.
4. Rest for a couple more hours.
5. Fold the dough again, shape it and give it another short rest.
6. Bake.

See? Easy!}


SO worth the effort! Delicious.