Florentines (gluten free)

I created this recipe a few weeks ago when I was asked to bring something for dessert to a friends house, whose family is mostly gluten free. 

As usual, it was after a forage in the pantry where I spied flaked almonds and craisins that needed using and suddenly the idea of a florentine biscuit came to mind. 

Because I have tried to create a refined sugar free version, you will find that the usual ‘toffee-like snap’ of a florentine isn’t there, but my taste testers assured me that it didn’t matter at all. They still taste like nuts and caramel and chocolate!

Putting a plate of these in the middle of the table at the end of big meal was just the perfect, not too sweet way, to finish. 

Florentines
Yields 20
A thin, chocolate coated biscuit of nuts and dried fruit.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. 200 grams flaked almonds, finely chopped
  2. 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  3. 1/2 cup craisins, (dried cranberries) chopped
  4. pinch of sea salt
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest
  6. 3 tablespoons gluten free plain flour
  7. 50 grams butter
  8. 2 tablespoons rice malt syrup
  9. 100 ml double cream
  10. Coating
  11. 100 grams good quality dark chocolate, (70-85%) chopped and melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat fan forced oven to 160 degrees celsius.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Place butter, rice malt syrup and double cream in a small saucepan.
  4. Stir until butter has melted and bring to the boil.
  5. Once boiling, pour over dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  6. Leave mixture to sit for a few minutes.
  7. Place heaped teaspoon amounts on baking trays lined with baking paper. You many need to use your hands to help shape each circle.
  8. Flatten each one with your hand or the back of a spoon. I like mine thin, so no more than 1/2-1cm thick is good. Make sure you leave enough room for them to spread a little.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, or until spread a little and golden.
  10. Leave to cool completely on trays.
  11. Once cool, dip one side of each biscuit in melted chocolate and leave on a wire rack (with a tray underneath to catch the drips!) until set.
Notes
  1. Store biscuits in an airtight container for 3-4 days. They will get softer over time. If it's very hot, store them in the fridge.
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Torta Chocolate (and Tales from Tuscany)

Every now and then, dreams come true. 

Ever since I was a little girl, I had dreamed of one day visiting Italy. There’s always been something about Italy that has had me captivated; it’s food, people and their love of big-hearted hospitality are just some of the things I love about it.

So, when we were invited to join some friends for a holiday to a Villa in Tuscany, it finally felt like the right time to pack up the family and head to Europe. 

Like everyone, we’ve had our fair share of holidays that haven’t quite lived up to expectations. 

But from the moment we landed, this one met and exceeded them at every turn. 

After 3 days in glorious Venice (recipes to come from there later), we headed to Tuscany and embarked on a week of sight seeing, walking, touring, eating, drinking and immersing ourselves in everything Italy. 

Our base was Villa Gourmet, an old but beautifully restored villa with ample space for our 3 families. Surrounded by acres of olive groves, vineyards and sunflower fields, this Villa felt like home from the moment we arrived. Most meals were eaten at the pool house, which had it’s own kitchen and wood fired pizza oven. 

We cycled through the walled city of Lucca, walked along the top of a 13th century Castle in Montalcino, wandered museums of Florence, and drank Prosecco looking over the fields of Tuscany. We tasted local olive oils, balsamic vinegar and wines and ate at restaurants with no menu where the owners just cooked what they loved and served it. 

We ate pizza, gelato, bruschetta, seafood and the famous Florentine Steak that Tuscany is known for. After long days out touring, evenings were spent with antipasto and wine by the pool where the kids swam until the sun went down, just after 10pm!

On an extra special day, which had been planned by my sneaky friends as a surprise for my 40th birthday (which happened to fall while we were away), we found ourselves Truffle hunting in the woods. 

We were then driven to the beautiful home and vineyards of a family who welcomed the 14 of us into their home and proceeded to cook us a 5 course lunch, with our truffles as a star ingredient. 

We ate Truffled Ravioli (the likes of which I may never have again), Truffled Burrata, and the most amazing veal I have ever had with a truffle sauce. 

When we truly felt we could eat no more, our hosts brought this slim yet decadent Chocolate cake to the table. Named ‘Torta Chocolate’, it is made with 5 ingredients and cooks in just 9 minutes. It is a rich and velvety cake, that looks quite humble, and yet is decadent to eat. 

The Italians we met and ate with on our trip truly welcomed us with a warmth and generosity of spirit that you don’t find everywhere. Their attitude is that life and food is to be celebrated and enjoyed, not just on special occasions, but on even the most ordinary of days. 

Our beautiful hosts happily shared their recipe with me and here I am, passing it on to you. My hope is that you will cook it for a stranger or a friend sometime soon and spend some time with those people, celebrating life around a table.  

Torta Chocolate
Serves 8
A rich, velvety chocolate cake that cooks in 9 minutes.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 eggs
  2. 150 grams butter
  3. 250 grams good quality dark chocolate (minimum 50% cocoa solids, 70% works the best)
  4. 1 tablespoon sugar
  5. 1 tablespoon plain flour (this also works with gluten free flour or almond meal)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius or 160 degrees fan forced.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate together, either in the microwave, 1 minute at a time, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the mixture is smooth and combined.
  4. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined round cake tin (approx 23cm) or the size of a dinner plate. It is supposed to be very thin.
  5. Cook for 9 minutes.
  6. As all ovens are a little different, at this stage you can check by moving the pan gently. The cake should be set on the outside, but have a very slight wobble right in the centre. Remove it from the oven at this stage and it will set further as it cools.
  7. If it doesn't seem set enough, put it back in for 2 minutes more and check again.
  8. Dust with cocoa or icing sugar to serve and enjoy on it's own or with double cream and berries.
Notes
  1. This cake can be eaten warm or at room temperature.
  2. If you do happen to over cook it, it will still be edible, but will taste more 'cake' like instead of velvety and smooth.
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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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