Sunday, 10 November 2013

Fennel and Orange Salad with Organic Tasmanian Mussels

This simple and delicious recipe is from my favourite New Zealand food magazine called "Dish". Perfect for a weekend lunch.

The crisp slices of aniseed flavored fennel and juicy oranges work beautifully with the tender organic Tasmanian mussels. 

Ingredients for the salad

Serves 2

30 organic Tasmanian mussels
2 baby fennel bulbs
2 oranges
2 baby cos lettuce
1/3 cup caper berries or
2 tablespoons capers
zest of 1 lemon

Ingredients for the dressing

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon tarragon
2 teaspoons honey
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste.

Method for the dressing

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl

Method for the mussels 

Scrub the mussels and pull off the beards.

Place in a large saucepan with a little water. Cover and cook over a high heat until they open.

When cool, remove the meat from the shells and place in a bowl. Toss with half the dressing then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Method for the salad

Trim the fennel and reserve a small amount of the fronds. Slice very thinly on a mandolin or with a very sharp knife.

Peel the oranges with a knife, removing all the white pith. Cut into 1/2cm thick rounds.

Wash, separate and dry the lettuce leaves.

To assemble

Make two to three layers of lettuce, fennel, oranges and mussels. Scatter over the caper berries and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Grind a little black pepper and top with the reserved fennel fronds and lemon zest.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

The history of chocolate is an interesting read. From its ritual uses as a bitter drink in Mayan and Aztec civilisations to the present day sweetened and solid form most of us love to consume. However, for me, personally, eating chocolate in any form always ignites feelings of guilt.. too many calories, bad for my skin, unhealthy, emotional eating, the list goes on. I have never really mastered the discipline of just eating 'a little bit' of chocolate and have always been amazed and slightly suspicious of people who say 'just a tiny bit for me thank you'.

My double chocolate cupcakes are not for the 'just a tiny bit' people. No, these cakes are for people like my gorgeous husband, who say, when dessert is offered,  'just a lot for me thank you!'

These luscious cup cakes are made from the highest quality chocolate. Take a bite and allow the flavours to release on their own as it melts in your mouth. You will notice how the smooth, rich, velvety ganache contrasts with the slightly grainy texture of the cup cake and leaves a satisfying taste that lingers.


makes 12

for the cupcakes

12 cup muffin pan
12 paper cup cake liners
220 grams of unslalted butter, ( I use Lure Park)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
450 grams of high quality dark chocolate
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 eggs
1 cup plain flower
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon high quality cocoa powder

for the ganache

100 grams high quality dark chocolate
1/3 cup of pouring cream
50 grams of unsalted butter

Method for the cupcakes

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees fan forced.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown and white sugar on high speed for about 5 to 8 minutes or until it looks pale and creamy. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while mixing.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat for another 2 minutes or until well combined

Melt the chocolate by breaking it into pieces and then place then into a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water for at approximately 8 to 10 minutes, stirring continually until melted . Allow to cool slightly and then add to your butter and sugar mixture and gently stir with a wooden spoon.

Now add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa and vanilla essence and again gently combine all the ingredients. It is important not to over mix.

Fill the paper liners 2/3 full and place in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or just until the cupcakes have risen. Try not to overcook the cakes as they will taste dry.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes then remove the cupcakes from the pan and allow to cool throughly.

Method for the ganache icing

Break the chocolate into pieces and place them along with the cream and butter into a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water for 5 minutes, stirring continually. Allow to cool.

Once cooled beat the icing on high speed with electric beaters for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Now spread the cooled cakes with the icing.

Note: These delicious cupcakes can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. However they are best eaten on the day you make them. The perfect treat to share with friends and family.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Organic Tuscan Chicken

For as long as I can remember cooking has been a part of my life. Growing up as I did in post WW11 Australia, what we ate was influenced by the strong, determined and frugal  women who learnt to feed their families well on very little. My grandmother, like many of her neighbours at that time, raised, butchered and prepared her own meat, mainly rabbit and chicken, as it was a viable and sustainable way to live.  Whole roast 'Tuscan' chicken was a meal we ate on a regular bases with the only reason given by my nonna for it being called 'Tuscan' was in relation to the quality of the ingredients.

This is a simple recipe where we will be using fresh seasonal produce because we won't be hiding   the flavours with sauces or engaging in elaborate preparations. The low temperature used for cooking the chicken for the first hour enhances the flavour by allowing the herbs and vegetables to infuse into the meat. 


Serves 4

1 whole organic chicken
2 ripe organic tomatoes
1 organic brown onion
2 cloves garlic
1 lemon, juiced
sprig of fresh lemon thyme
sprig of fresh rosemary
5 or 6 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper to taste
cooking string 


  • Preheat your oven to 160 degrees fan forced/ 180 conventional .
  • Finely chop the tomatoes, onion, garlic and herbs and place in a small bowl.
  • Combine the ingredients together with a spoon.
  • Add a little salt and pepper and stir through.
  • Stuff all the mixture into the cavity of the bird making sure to firmly pack down the ingredients.
  • Tie the legs of the chicken together. This will prevent the mixture falling out during the cooking process.
  • Finally,  pour the lemon juice over the whole bird and then rub salt and pepper into the skin. This will keep the chicken moist as it cooks.
  • Place the chicken on a rack that fits into or over a baking tray and place about one cup of water in the bottom of the tray.
  • Now into the oven for approximately one hour (depending on the size of your chicken)
  • After the first hour turn the temperature up to 180 degrees fan forced/200 conventional and cook for a further half an hour.
  • Be sure to turn the chicken every half hour or so. This promotes even cooking.
  • Chicken is cooked through when juices run clear after being pierced with a knife and the skin is a beautiful golden brown.
  • Serve with either a delicious green summer salad or seasonal roast vegetables.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Rocket Salad with Organic Edible Flowers

When I stepped outside into my garden early this morning the air had that familiar sweet earthy smell. The one that instantly lifts my mood as it has done since childhood and leaves me in no doubt that spring has arrived. It is time to throw open all the windows and celebrate with fresh and colourful produce that reflects this season and the beauty it brings.

I feel that few foods bring as much to the table as edible flowers. They are visually stunning and  flavours range from sweet to savoury. Edible flowers add texture, fragrance and colour to green salads and it is wonderful to see that they are enjoying a resurgence in the culinary world.

At my local Farmers Market, Janelle Johnston of Byron Bay Organic Produce ( is one of the only if not the only certified organic edible flower producer in Australia.  Janelle is a qualified botanist and is passionate about her produce. When I  picked up my flowers from Janelle for this weeks salad, she said that she hoped more people would feel confident about using edible flowers in conjunction with their cooking.

 If you haven't used edible flowers before this sweet and delicious salad is an easy introduction for your palette. The secret of success when using them is to keep the dish simple. Adding too many flavours will overpower the delicate taste of the flowers.

Ingredients for the salad

2 bunches of large leaf rocket
1 small cos lettuce
2 cups organic edible flowers

Ingredients  for the dressing

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons raw sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard


Wash the rocket and cos lettuce and dry using either a salad spinner or pat dry with clean tea towels
Set aside.

Pour all the ingredients into the bottom of the salad bowl you are using.

Now use a whisk  to thoroughly combine all the ingredients making sure the sugar is completely dissolved.

Putting it all together

Place the rocket and cos lettuce into your salad bowl on top of the dressing and when you are ready to serve mix the dressing through the greens.
Now gently scatter the gorgeous organic blooms over the top. Try not to mix the flowers with the dressing as they are easily bruised.

I hope you will enjoy using these gifts of spring to add flavour and aroma to your next meal.

Buon appetito  xxx

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Carrots with White Wine and Herbs

There is nothing more glorious than a fresh bunch of deep orange carrots with their rosettes of finely divided, fern-like leaves sprouting from the swollen fleshy taproots. These wonderful vegetables are so underrated and in my view deserve a much higher billing.

However, carrots did not start out so orange. Originating in middle Asia, some historians believe that they were known as far back as Ancient Egypt over 5000 year ago and records dating back to the 10th century in Afghanistan show that the colour of carrots was indeed purple and yellow. It wasn't until the 17th century that Dutch farmers grew the first orange carrots in honour of the House of Orange. (House of Orange - princely dynasty that derived its name from the medieval principality of Orange, in old Provence in southern France. It is the Netherlands nation's royal family)

We are beginning to see more of these exquisite purple and yellow heritage carrots appearing at Farmer's Markets and in some supermarkets.

So to celebrate the end of winter here in Australia I would like to share with you a very simple and delicious way to prepare and serve carrots.  They can be eaten warm or cold and make an ideal accompaniment to antipasto.


900g organic carrots
6 tablespoons olive oil
250mls white wine
120mls white wine vinegar
250mls water
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 sage leaves
2 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh mint
4 garlic cloves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Chop the carrots into thick long pieces and put them into a large saucepan

Now add all the other ingredients and bring to the boil.  Cook uncovered for about 10 minutes so that the carrots are cooked but still retain a bit of crunch.

Lift the carrots out of the pan with a slotted spoon and put them to one side in a bowl.

Boil the liquid rapidly to reduce the liquid. Once the liquid turns a beautiful deep gold colour turn the heat off.

Pour the liquid over the carrots and leave to marinate for 48 hours

Alternatively you can place the carrots into a sterilised preserving jar and keep until you need them. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Food, wine, music and arguing the ingredients for making perfect Passata!

Many years have passed since my family came together to make passata - the traditional Italian celebration of bottling the last harvest of tomatoes. It was a ritual that we recapitulated with much pomp and ceremony every year . No matter where in the world we were living our nonna would call us to arms and no one would dare say no!

Excitement would bubble throughout the family for weeks before the event took place. And even though  passata day was carried out with military precision, all adult members of my family would argue about ' how things should be done'. The same heated conversations accompanied by animated hand gesticulations would be reenacted every year with comforting repetition.

I feel this simple tradition carries with it a great deal of significance in a society that appears to be increasingly disconnected from the sacred relationship between food, the seasons and sometimes each other. So this year I decided that this wonderful ritual deserved to be revived.  As I called each member of my family I could hear the timbre of my voice resonate with determination,  just like nonna's did. Surprisingly, everyone responded with enthusiasm and it warmed my heart.

You certainly don't need to be Italian to enjoy bringing family and friends together to make passata. However there are a few extra ingredients that you do need, besides fresh ripe tomatoes, to make the perfect brew  - delicious freshly made pasta that will later be cooked and combined with your passata to reward the workers, a few bottles of rich full bodied red wine, Luciano Pavarotti's gloriously warm and romantic voice pouring through your work space, passion for the task ahead and a deep appreciation for each other.


Vine ripe tomatoes which are at the peak of the season. I used Roma tomatoes that were supplied by my dear friend Heather from Coopers Shoot Tomatoes.  One kilogram of tomatoes will make approximately 750mls of passata. We used about 50 kilograms of tomatoes for our passata making day and this yielded enough passata for our families to last a year.

Fresh basil leaves


A tomato press, either manual or electric. A hand operated mouli is a good substitute if you are making small quantities of passata.

A few funnels for filling the jars.

Preserving jars. I use the 1 litre Mason Jars (supplied by Heart of the Home Byron Bay)

Large stock pot for cooking the tomatoes.

Method for the tomatoes

Wash the tomatoes making sure to remove any dirt or grit. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for about 5 minutes then scoop them out with a slotted spoon or strainer. The skins should be easy to pull away from the flesh at this point.

Now gently place the tomatoes onto a clean dry tea towel to drain away excess water.

For small quantities of tomatoes peel the skin from the flesh and run through the mouli. For large quantities run the tomatoes through the tomato press which will separate the juice from the skins and flesh.  Give the left over skins and flesh another run through the press to extract any juice that is left and then discard.

Place all the passata into your large stock pot and bring to the boil. As soon as bubbles start to appear reduce the heat to low and simmer for approximately 20 minutes then turn the heat off but leave the pot on the stove.

Method for sterilising the jars

While the passata is simmering wash your preserving jars, seals and lids in warm soapy water and then rinse throughly. Leave to dry on a wrack or clean dry tea towel.

Once dry place the lids seals and jars on a tray in a cold oven and turn the heat to 110 C. As soon as the temperature is reached turn the oven off.

Carefully take a couple of jars at a time out of the oven and place one or two basil leaves in the jars

Now funnel the hot passata into the jars leaving a 4cm space at the top, seal and lightly screw the lids in place. There is no need to screw the lids on tightly until the seal depresses and the vaccum is created. This should only take about 15 to 20 minutes at the most. You can test that the jars are correctly sealed by pressing down on the lid. If there is no movement then the job is done.

Preserving the passata in this way will keep for about two years but can of course be used immediately.

I would like to thank

Coopers Shoot Tomatoes is owned and operated by Heather and Hugh Armstrong. Their property has been in the family since 1882 and is nestled in the hills between Byron Bay and Bangalow in northern New South Wales, Australia. Hugh and Heather are the fifth generation of their family to manage the property. Coopers Shoot grow a large variety of gourmet and heritage vine ripened tomatoes that we are truly fortunate to experience in our local area.

Mason Jars provided by Heart of the Home a stunning home wares boutique in the hinterland of Byron Bay.

The wooden boxes and photo props were supplied by Karen Dyson who is a designer and colour specialist. Karen is the owner of a beautiful and sophisticated boutique in Banglow, New South Wales, Australia.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Russian Salad with an Italian Twist

Whenever my grandmother Louisa made Russian salad, she always, without fail, would tell me the following story. As she peeled the skin from the boiled potatoes and passed them to me to be quartered, I would see her head begin to tilt slightly to the right and her sharp green eyes focus into the distance.

'You know my darling, your grandfather was a descendent of Catherine the Great. She was his great, great, great grandmother and your middle name (Alexandrovna) was given to you because it was the name of Catherine's daughter.'

I knew the story well - how the marriage of my grandparents was an arranged one between two aristocratic families and how at the age of 16 years she had to leave her beloved family and home in Emilia-Romagno (Italy) and come to 'such a foreign place' (St Petersburg).  At this point Louisa would settle her loving gaze upon me and continue - 'It was the first Russian cuisine I ever tasted, a little heavy perhaps in its dressing, but nevertheless enjoyable.  The nobility were mad for it you know, all because of the secret ingredients that Lucien Oliver put into it'.

It would be many years later when I was studying a module in Russian history at university that I discovered, Lucien Oliver was the owner of the Hermitage restaurant in the center of Moscow in the early 1860's. He had a secret recipe for Russian salad and jealously guarded the ingredients of its dressing.  The secret died with him and according to Louisa, was the reason why every Russian family made it differently.

So here is Louisa's recipe for Russian salad with an Italian twist - the fourth and final salad in my winter series.  What gives the salad its twist is the dressing - a much lighter Italian influenced one rather than the traditional creamy Russian recipe. However, I will include both options for you to choose from.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients for the salad

1 kilo of new potatoes or small dutch creams if you can find them
4 large or 6 small fresh beetroot
400g  butter beans, or a high quality tinned one. (I use Annalisa butter beans if fresh ones are not available)
6 hard boiled free range eggs (optional) 

Ingredients for the Italian dressing

2 sprigs of fresh mint
3 tablespoons of fresh dill
1 small clove of garlic
1 red onion
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste.

Ingredients for the creamy Russian dressing

3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
200ml sunflower oil
4 tablespoons of finely chopped dill
6 spring onions
2 tablespoons sour cream.


Method for the salad

Place the potatoes in a deep saucepan and cover with cold water, bring to the boil and then continue to cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or just until the potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a skewer.
Then drain the water and leave to cool.

While the potatoes are boiling preheat your oven to 180C.  Wash and peel the fresh beetroot and then cut each one into quarters.

Line a baking tray with baking paper and place the beetroot on the tray. Lightly brush the beetroot with olive oil and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes. The beetroot needs to be still firm but cooked through.

Now if you have decided to use the eggs place then in a saucepan and cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. When the eggs are cooked drain and rinse under cold running water. Remove the shells and roughly chop the eggs.

If you are using fresh butter beans place then in pan and cover with cold water. As soon as they begin to boil, remove them from the heat and rinse under cold water, drain then set aside. (For tinned beans all you need to do is give them a good rinse under cold running water and leave to drain).

When the potatoes and beetroot are cool enough to handle, gently remove the skin and then cut into quarters or finely dice.  

Place the potatoes, chopped eggs, diced beetroot and butter beans into a large bowl and gently mix together.

Method for the Italian dressing

Finely chop the mint, dill, garlic and onion and then combine the herbs with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

Method for the Russian dressing

Place the egg yolks, white wine vinegar and mustard into a food processor and blend on medium speed until the mixture looks light and creamy. Now add the sunflower oil in a slow steady stream and continue to blend until the mixture looks thick and pale.

Remove the dressing from the food processor and gently fold through the sour cream and finely chopped spring onions.

Putting it all together

Add whatever dressing you have chosen to the salad and very gently stir together.  The roasted beetroot adds an earthy flavour to the salad and when mixed through gives the paler vegetables a beautiful blush of pink.  Scatter a few of the finely chopped herbs as a garnish and you now have a meal that is both satisfying and pleasing to the eye.


Catherine the Great was the longest ruling female leader of  Imperial Russia and reigned from 1762 until her death, aged 67, in 1796.  Intelligent and ambitious she was renowned for bringing Russia into the modern world.