Chai-Spiced Brownies (gluten free, dairy free, low sugar)

Hey there….. it’s been a while I know. 

More than 3 months to be exact, since I sat and wrote to you and shared a new recipe from my kitchen. 

After posting a new recipe nearly every week for the past 2 years, I can’t believe the last 3 months have come and gone so quick. 

How have you been? 

I’ve been doing Life With a Capital L. Probably the same as you. 

I remember vividly sitting down with a cuppa towards the end of January and thinking through what was to come over the next few months and wondering How On Earth We Would Get It All Done. 

But as sure as the sun rose this morning, here I am. Sitting down in my quiet house, next to my warm fire and writing once again, with the last few months already in the past. 

There was no magic formula to managing the mayhem of the last few months. We tackled it the old fashioned way – one day at a time. 

We’ve had a few firsts in our house this year. 

My husband started a new job which has been super exciting and I finally got the courage up to enrol in a Masters of Teaching so I can take my love of food and cooking and teach it to high school students. I have been dreaming of doing this since my early 20’s, but each time I thought I about it seriously, it just didn’t seem to be a good time. 

That doesn’t mean now is a great time either. Life, Marriage and Motherhood have taught me that nothing is neat and straight forward. It’s messy, a juggle and full of lots of give and take and compromise and sometimes you just have to dive in and figure it out as you go. It dawned on me late last year that if I kept waiting for the perfect time, when all my ducks were in a row, I would never do it. 

So I am 2 subjects in and filled with excitement and sheer terror at the thought of getting through the next 4 years. I have been talking to myself a lot lately, and I am trying to follow the advice I often give the boys – don’t look too far ahead. Do what is right in front of you and tomorrow will take care of itself. 

Just to keep things interesting, we added 2  x children surgeries, 1 x child’s broken wrist, and decided to put our house on the market and sell it. 

We tackled it like any normal person would. With loads of lists, help from family and many more take away meals than I would usually admit to. Oh.. and lunch orders too. 

There was no spare time for coming up with new meal ideas or playing in my kitchen. If I wasn’t using my own website for recipes that take less than 20 minutes, I was sitting in our local shopping village, feeding the boys Subway at 6pm on a Wednesday night. 

It hasn’t been all chaos and drama. Recently we celebrated my husbands ‘special’ birthday, the one that starts with a 4….My husband loves the water, so after he spent a day sailing with a bunch of mates, the boys and I joined him for a night on a boat. It was a fun thing to do as a family after a pretty stressful few months and a great way to celebrate him. 

Despite still having uni work to do over Easter, we enjoyed a change of scenery at the Farm. A few days of rest and reflection and country air did us all the world of good. 

So that brings us to today. 

The idea for these brownies popped into my head while working on one of my assignments. 

Inspired by a recipe from Bourke St Bakery, I wanted to make a brownie that was moist and chocolatey, but didn’t have the normal 2 cups of sugar that are in most brownie recipes. 

The chai-soaked prunes are the star of this recipe – whilst you can’t actually taste the prunes, they are what makes these brownies ultra moist and sweet. The longer you can soak the prunes for the better. Overnight at the very least, but up to 3 days if you can handle waiting that long!

Replacing butter for almond butter, normal flour for gluten free flour, using good quality 70% chocolate (with no dairy) and using rice malt syrup to sweeten it just a little means that this becomes a recipe people on restricted diets can enjoy. 

My boys LOVE these brownies, but to make it school friendly, I will need to use normal butter instead of almond butter. I think 200 grams of unsalted butter would probably work fine. 

It’s great to be baking again.

E x

Chai-Spiced Brownies (gluten free, dairy free, low sugar)
A moist chocolate brownie with a hint of spice from chai tea.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups pitted dried prunes
  2. 1 chai tea bag
  3. 250 gram jar of almond butter
  4. 200 gram 70% or 85% good quality dark chocolate, chopped
  5. 1/2 cup rice malt syrup
  6. 4 eggs
  7. 1/2 cup gluten free plain flour
  8. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  9. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
Instructions
  1. Place prunes in a heatproof bowl with the chai tea bag.
  2. Pour enough boiling water over to cover the prunes, no more than 2 cups.
  3. Remove the tea bag after 5 minutes.
  4. Cover with cling wrap and sit at room temperature for 2-3 days.
  5. Preheat oven to 170 degrees celsius.
  6. Line a rectangular slice tin with baking paper.
  7. Place chocolate, almond butter and rice malt syrup in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until chocolate is melted. (This mixture will be stiff and not 100% smooth, but it doesn't matter.)
  8. Place prunes and soaking liquid in a food processor, add the chocolate mixture and blitz for a few seconds till smooth.
  9. Add eggs and blitz till combined.
  10. Add remaining ingredients and process for 1-2 minutes.
  11. The mixture will be mousse-like and quite thick.
  12. Pour into tray and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until risen and it springs back when pressed lightly.
  13. Cool in tray for 15 minutes.
  14. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
Notes
  1. This will keep for a few days in an airtight container.
  2. Place in fridge to extend it's shelf life, but eat at room temperature or slightly warmed for maximum flavour.
Adapted from Bourke St Bakery Cookbook
Adapted from Bourke St Bakery Cookbook
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One-Pan Chicken Margherita

It was a Monday night. 

The boys had just recently started back at school, with our youngest boy, home from his first day of Kindergarten! He was a mixture of hot, tired, bothered and slightly bewildered at what this whole school thing was really all about. “Do I have to go back tomorrow?” he asked.

It was 44 degrees celsius and I looked out from my kitchen window to my green sludgy pool, as the pump had recently decided to give up and we were still waiting for it to be repaired. 

No-one could swim, it was still too hot at 6pm for anyone to go outside and so naturally, the only option for our eldest 2 was to engage in a Nerf gun war, in our small living space directly off our kitchen (insert eye rolling here).

With bullets flying overhead, I could barely hear the whimpers of our youngest boy, who was more than ready for dinner and bed. 

Rushing to get this pan of Chicken Margherita out of the oven, I didn’t quite check that my oven mitt covered the entire handle, so it was a miracle that when the handle touched my bare forearm and I heard it sizzle, that I didn’t a) swear or b) drop the pan and all of our dinner on the floor. 

You know those moments when you wonder if you just quietly slipped out the back door, maybe no-one would notice and your occasional dreams of running away from home would finally come true?

That was one of those moments.

But it was the kindness of my eldest son who, once he realised how badly I had burnt my arm, tried to help me in the kitchen and calm the others down, that saved me that day. 

One minute I am dreaming of the escape, the next, I realise that despite the drama and chaos of family life, every now and then our kids surprise us with kindness and empathy and a little voice in my head says ‘Don’t give up, think of the adult you want them to become. Hang in there, it won’t be chaos for ever.’

Reflecting back as I write this, I realise that the incidents of that Monday night were small, incidental and ever so normal, but it’s sometimes those very moments, that tip us over the edge as mums.

I am eternally grateful that our evenings are not video recorded for anyone to witness.

So why do I often write about the mess and mayhem? 

Increasingly our world is worshipping at the altar of stylised perfection and the mess and mayhem rarely gets any air time.

Celebrating the wins, the good, the beautiful, the fun and the joys are so important.

But it’s when I look into the weary eyes of fellow mums, who dare to whisper ‘am I the only who is struggling here?’ that I realise we need to be brave to share ALL of it, the great and not-so-great moments of raising kids and family life. 

On a side note, everyone ate this dinner without complaints, which is a WIN to celebrate! 

Think thin slices of chicken breast baked in a rich tomato sauce, with garlic and basil doing all the talking. A smattering of grated mozzarella for those who love cheese and then finished off with fresh basil or spinach leaves. 

Hang in there friend x

One-Pan Chicken Margherita
Serves 5
Thin slices of chicken breast cooked in a garlic and tomato sauce, with basil and spinach.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 large chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally, to form 4-5 thin pieces.
  2. 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
  3. 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  4. 1/2 a 700ml jar of Tomato Passata (tomato cooking sauce)
  5. 1/2 bunch of fresh basil leaves (or a tablespoon of dried basil), some reserved for serving
  6. a handful of grated mozzarella (more or less depending on your family tastes)
  7. a handful of baby spinach leaves (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees celsius.
  2. Heat olive oil in a medium oven proof frying pan, over a medium heat.
  3. Add garlic and stir for a minute, till a little golden.
  4. Pour in tomato passata, add most of the basil leaves and bring to the boil.
  5. Place chicken in the pan, making sure they are sitting snug, but in a single layer so they cook evenly.
  6. Throw a few more basil leaves on top of each piece of chicken and sprinkle grated mozzarella over each piece.
  7. Place pan in a preheated oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
  8. Remove from oven, garnish with extra basil leaves and spinach.
  9. Serve with vegetables or a salad.
Notes
  1. Cutting chicken breasts as evenly as possible will mean they will cook at the same time.
  2. Place the rest of the tomato passata into a container and freeze for later use, as it only lasts a few days in the fridge once it's been opened.
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Crispy Skin Salmon, Mango Salsa and Coconut Rice

Happy New Year to you!

I feel like I have blinked and we are already 2 weeks in to the new year. 

I had grand plans of blogging some beautiful Christmas recipes with gorgeous photos, but the season came and went in a blur and as a host for my extended family this year, I got so caught up in organising, cooking and serving that day that I did not take ONE photo of any of our Christmas day food. Truth be told, it was only a few days after Christmas that it occurred to me that I didn’t take any photos. Oh well, there’s always next year. 

This photo of my table, taken on my phone before the hordes arrived, was all I managed. 

With a little furniture re-arranging and chair borrowing, we managed to get 19 into our small dining room! Using fresh rosemary from my herb garden and stuff I had at home already, I only spent $20 on the table setting!

Blogging fail aside, we had a wonderful day. My brother-in-law Jeremy, does the best BBQ prawns which we enjoyed with a Raspberry , Mint & Prosecco Cocktail on the back deck. My sister Jo’s Fig, Halloumi and Pomegranate Salad was one of a few beautiful sides to the 6kg Turkey I stuffed and roasted. Boy, that bird was big!  My sister-in-law Sara’s Chocolate, Cranberry & Pistachio fudge was incredible and as always, Mum’s pudding was perfect. 

We caught up, swam, laughed, chatted, opened presents, did loads of dishes and reflected on our Saviour’s birth and what it means to us all. 

Our second Christmas celebration was held at my husband’s family farm and was a relaxed affair. Kids slip ‘n’ sliding down the grassy hill in between games of cricket while the adults caught up over cheese and champagne. 

Fast forward a few weeks and I am stealing a couple of minutes alone to write and catch my breath.

I love January – it’s the month of saying YES to everything. Puzzles, late night swims, spontaneous catch up’s, lazy mornings, adventures and day trips to the beach, midday movies, countless park visits, ice blocks and BBQ dinners eaten outside late into the night. 

My one dining table is covered most days with puzzles and activities, forcing us to eat every meal outside or on our laps in front of the TV.  The kitchen bench is covered in water bottles, cups and empty cracker packets. Active boys are hungry boys!

It’s fun, noisy, fast and a different kind of busy to the school term. 

I feel like I barely cook in January, there is just so much else to be doing. 

When I do, it’s quick salads, wraps and different meats on the BBQ each night. 

This quick mango salsa is fresh, has a nice crunch and is easy to throw together, making it a perfect accompaniment to a simple piece of salmon. Whether you BBQ it or cook it in a frying pan, the secret to a crispy skin is to rub oil on the skin of the salmon and season it with salt before cooking, skin side first. 

Crispy Skin Salmon, Mango Salsa and Coconut Rice
Serves 5
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 5 boneless salmon fillets
  2. Olive oil
  3. 1 cup basmati rice
  4. 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  5. zest of 1 lime
  6. Mango Salsa
  7. 1 mango, flesh finely diced
  8. 1/2 red capsicum, de-seeded and finely diced
  9. 1 cucumber, finely diced
  10. juice of 1 lime
  11. 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  12. a handful of fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
Instructions
  1. Cook rice according to directions.
  2. Heat a non stick pan over medium heat.
  3. Add desiccated coconut and toast till golden and fragrant. This will only take minutes, so don't walk away from the pan.
  4. Fold coconut and lime zest through the rice and set aside, keeping warm.
  5. Lightly rub each side of the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Place the same pan back on a medium-high heat and cook salmon fillets, skin side first.
  7. After a few minutes, turn the salmon fillets and finish cooking to your liking.
  8. Combine all salsa ingredients in bowl and toss gently.
  9. To serve, layer the salmon on top of the rice and spoon over the salsa. Serve with extra wedges of lime.
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Spiced Chocolate Crackle Biscuits

These ‘brownie-like’ biscuits make such a pretty Christmas gift.

With their snowy appearance and hint of orange and spice, your family and friends will love these chocolate treats. 

There are only 2 simple steps involved, melting the chocolate and flavourings and creaming the eggs and sugar. For the creaming part, you will need electric beaters to get the mixture as pale and thick as possible. Using a hand held whisk will simply not cut it. 

These biscuits really do require a good quality dark chocolate such as 70% cocoa, as their base. But if you must, you could substitute it with milk chocolate. They will be lighter in colour and not quite as rich. 

A batch of these have said thank you to my son’s teachers, who have patiently encouraged, inspired and believed in my boys this year. 

I think another batch is in order soon, as my husband is complaining he didn’t get any and they just really do make the cutest gifts. Placed in a beautiful bowl or wrapped in cello bags, they will be a hit I promise. 

Thanks to the Australian Women’s Weekly for another great recipe. 

Happy Baking friends x

Spiced Chocolate Crackle Biscuits
Yields 25
A brownie-like chocolate biscuit with a hint of orange and spice.
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
42 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
42 min
Ingredients
  1. 200 grams dark chocolate (70% cocoa) chopped
  2. 40 grams unsalted butter, chopped
  3. 1/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
  4. finely grated rind of 1 orange
  5. 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 egg white
  8. 1/2 cup castor sugar
  9. 1/3 cup plain flour
  10. 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  11. 3/4 cup icing sugar for rolling
Instructions
  1. Place the chocolate, butter, spread, rind and spice in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until melted and combined. Set aside.
  2. Beat eggs, egg white and sugar in a small bowl with electric beaters for at least 5 minutes, or until very pale and thick. When you lift the beaters, the mixture should fall in ribbons.
  3. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until well combined.
  4. Gently fold in the sifted flour and cocoa powder.
  5. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until firm.
  6. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius, 160 degrees for a fan-forced oven.
  7. Sift icing sugar into a large bowl.
  8. Using a dessert spoon of mixture, carefully form a ball with your hands and drop the ball into the icing sugar, tossing it around the icing sugar so it's coated thickly.
  9. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper, leaving room for them to spread.
  10. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until firm.
  11. Stand on trays for a couple of minutes, then cool on wire racks.
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Rocky Road (and what Celebration means to me)

I am a celebrations person. 

There is no denying it and the older I get, the more I want to embrace celebrating everything. 

Birthdays, anniversaries, milestones, Friday night, Hump Day, going on holidays, coming home from holidays, the start of a new season, the end of a season, new friends, old friends, a new season of my favourite TV show, public holidays, a new house, the end of a job, graduations….I could go on. Do you get the picture? 

A few months back, I decided to light a candelabra and put it in the middle of the dinner table, that had been set with my favourite grey and white striped place mats. 

“What are we celebrating?” my middle son said as he came to sit down. 

“The fact that it’s Thursday and we are all home for dinner at the same time.” I said.

This past year we have celebrated many special birthdays of family and friends. 40, 50 and 70th’s and some milestone anniversaries. They have all looked different, but one constant has been the presence of champagne and tears at them all.

Champagne and Tears.

The good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet. 

When I talk about celebrating, I am not Pollyanna, declaring everything is happy, perfect and sparkly, clinking glasses with a big fake smile. 

Celebrating to me, is often the defiant stance of remembering, pausing and giving thanks for something or someone inspite of our circumstances, the difficulty or cost. 

This brings me to December and I am declaring this the month of Celebration. 

I am challenging myself to keep my celebrating spirit alive, despite my weariness and a to-do-list that feels unattainable and sends me into a mild panic from time to time. 

As surely as the sun rises each morning, Christmas comes to us in December each year. Not to overwhelm us and send us into a state of chaos and exhaustion, but indeed to remind us to pause and remember and give thanks. 

For every event and get together that keeps the calendar full, I celebrate the gift of relationships and the family and friends who do life with us. 

For every gift purchased, wrapped and given, we get to say thank you to a teacher, coach, neighbour, minister or friend who has enriched our lives this year. 

And for me, surpassing all of those wonderful things, I get to crank the music loud and with arms raised high sing 

JOY TO THE WORLD, The Lord Has Come!

There is no greater reason to celebrate in all the world, than the fact that Jesus came. For me. And for you.

So to kick off a month of Celebrating, today I share with you a very simple recipe that says ‘Christmas’ in our house. 

On a night close to Christmas Day, we bundle the boys in the car in their PJ’s after dinner. With a tin of rocky road on my lap, Christmas carols playing and my husband at the wheel, we drive our surrounding suburbs with the windows down in search of the best Christmas lights. The boys look forward to this night so much, I am not sure if it’s the thrill of being out in their PJ’s at night or the rocky road that they love the most. 

Each week till Christmas I will share my favourite celebrating recipes. Simple ideas perfect for giving away as gifts or sharing with family and friends at this time of year. Most of them will be yummy, fun and not overly healthy. But then that’s what celebrations are for right? 

Rocky Road
Yields 40
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Prep Time
15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 200 grams dark eating chocolate, chopped
  2. 200 grams milk eating chocolate, chopped
  3. 2 x 180 gram packets pink and white marshmellows, chopped in half
  4. 2 x 180 gram packets red raspberry lollies
  5. 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  6. 150 grams real turkish delight, chopped
  7. 90 grams pistachio nuts, shelled
Instructions
  1. Mix all ingredients except chocolate, in a large bowl.
  2. Place both chocolates in a heat proof bowl and melt for 1 minute on HIGH in the microwave.
  3. Remove, stir and keep heating in 30 second increments on HALF power, stirring in between, until melted.
  4. Pour melted chocolate over ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Press into a lined square or rectangular tin.
  6. Refrigerate until set.
  7. Cut into small pieces and store in the fridge in an airtight container.
Notes
  1. Use your favourite eating chocolate to make a yummy Rocky Road, this is no place for 'cooking chocolate'.
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