Zucchini, Mint and Yoghurt Fritters

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It’s been a long summer and a warm autumn in Melbourne and zucchinis are in abundance right now. This is a really lovely weekend breakfast that takes very little effort for maximum reward.

  • 1 medium sized zucchini, grated or processed in food processor
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup plain yoghurt (please, use full fat)
  • 1 egg
  • About 1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
  • About 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil for shallow frying

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until combined.

Heat the olive oil in a frypan until hot, drop in large spoonfuls of the batter and spread a little. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. You might need to lower the temperature a little so the oil doesn’t burn. Drain on paper towels and serve with your favourite breakfast accompaniments.

Makes 6-8 fritters, depending on the size you make them. This will be enough for 3-4 people. I freeze any leftover fritters for an after school snack.

Spiced Christmas Biscuits

IMG_5426These lovely biscuits can be made into whatever shape you like, used to decorate the Christmas tree (it’s fun to hide them for kids to find), or given away as gifts.

This is basically gingerbread with other spices added to make it more Christmassy.

  • 125 g softened butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 2.5 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • Raw sugar, egg white and icing sugar for decorating.

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Cream the butter and brown sugar with electric beaters until creamy, just about a minute. Add the golden syrup and beat in. Sift the flour and bicarb and add the spices. Fold into the butter mixture and mix together with a spoon or with a dough hook attachment if you have it. Turn it out onto a floured surface, knead a little then press together to form a dough.

Roll out in batches on a floured surface to your desired thickness, at least half a centimetre works well. The dough will be crumbly so take care when cutting out and transferring to the baking tray. You might think it will fall apart when baking but it will be ok!

If you like the sugared decoration, brush with a little egg white and sprinkle with raw sugar before putting in the oven. If you’re decorating with the white royal icing, just bake as is. If you want to make a hole to hang them, use a plastic straw, and don’t make the hole too close to the edges.

Bake for approx 10 minutes, until golden on the top. Transfer carefully to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To decorate with royal icing, mix a little egg white (not the whole egg white, just a small amount of it, start with about a teaspoon depending on how much icing you want) and add icing sugar until you reach a desired consistency – a smooth pliable icing that is neither runny or too pasty.

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Savoury Polenta Cake

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This is a great recipe for Christmas entertaining. It’s as easy to make as a batch of muffins, and the batter can be baked in a cake tin and cut into squares for serving, or as little mini muffins. This recipe comes from my lovely friend Stephanie who first made it for me. It’s really versatile… you can use the basic batter (ie the ingredients below up to and including the eggs) and create any type of savoury cake you like by changing the ingredients that come after it.

  • 1.5 cups polenta
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for the top
  • 2 eggs
  • Two tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs such as chives, parsley, basil and dill (use a single herb or a mixture of at least two).
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons black pitted olives, sliced
  • 1 cup mixed small diced vegetables, such as zucchini, capsicum, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels (I like to use one red and one green vegetable to get some nice colours going)

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Grease and flour a square medium size cake or brownie pan, or a 24 capacity mini muffin tin (if using the muffin tin I just grease with a little olive oil). Don’t worry too much about the size of the cake tin, as long as it’s not very large or small it will be fine.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, polenta and baking powder. Add the vegetables, olives, shallots and herbs and combine. In another bowl mix the eggs, milk, yoghurt, oil and cheese and beat with a fork until combined. Add to the other ingredients and mix gently to combine. You should have a batter of muffin-type consistency but if it’s dry, add a little extra milk. Don’t overmix.

Pour into the cake tin or muffin tin and sprinkle some extra parmesan cheese on the top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes for a full cake or 15-20 minutes for mini muffins. Test by inserting a spaghetti stick or skewer into the middle.

Allow to cool a little then turn out. If making the cake, cut into squares and top with anything that takes your fancy – I like a little basil leaf and halved cherry tomatoes. You could wrap each mini muffin in a sliver of prosciutto or just scatter with some chopped herbs.

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Mince Tart-orama!

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Seasons greetings, friends! While my commercial website (theabbotsfordkitchen.com) is undergoing an update and temporarily down I’m using my blog to let you all know about some news from me on the mince tart front.

First, I’m tickled pink to tell you that my mince tarts have made it onto Wendy Hargreave’s website – Five of the Best - in her Top 5 Mince Pies this year. Wendy is the former food editor for the Sunday Herald Sun and now has her own fantastic site devoted to the best of all things food that Melbourne has to offer. Thanks for the inclusion, Wendy, I’m so flattered!

My other news is that my mince tarts will be available at the swanky new Rathdowne Village Deli from early December, and possibly other locations – stay tuned.

And if you’re in Melbourne and you’d like to order directly from me, I’ll be taking limited orders so get in quick! Email me: rebecca@theabbotsfordkitchen.com.

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School Lunch Box Biscuits

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I try to come up with snacks for my son’s school lunch box that meet both his and my criteria. Ideally, the snacks are:

  • Wholesome/healthy/nutritious (mine)
  • Delicious (both)
  • Able to be carried outside in one hand and don’t require spoons, containers etc (his)
  • Able to be made in batches and frozen (mine)

After experimenting with muffins with no success (putting too many healthy ingredients into them makes them dense and unappetising) I came up with this biscuit and it’s a real winner.

It’s packed with healthy ingredients – oats, wholewheat flour, dried fruits and seeds – yet it is based on a traditional biscuit recipe so it’s as delicious as it is wholesome. The little bit of chocolate makes it very appealing, and importantly for schools, it is nut free.

My son has been taking this biscuit to school for his morning tea almost every day for a while now: he’s happy he’s got something yummy that he can easily walk around with and I’m happy that he’s getting some wholesome foods into him.

This batch makes about 8 decent, morning tea-size biscuits, but you could make them any size you like. I roll them into balls and freeze them individually, then pop one in the oven as I need.

A word on muscovado sugar: if you can get hold of this, it will improve your baking out of sight. It gives a mouthwatering, melting crumb. Look for it in good supermarkets, delis and grocery stores.

  • 120 g butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed light brown muscovado sugar, or light brown sugar if you can’t find muscovado sugar.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup each of dried cranberries and sour cherries (you can substitute with other small dried fruits if you wish, such as blueberries, currants or sultanas)
  • 30 g dark chocolate chopped into small pieces (or use dark choc chips)

Preheat the oven to 180c

In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar for about a minute until it has turned pale and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in another bowl and mix. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and combine to form the biscuit dough.

Line a baking tray with some baking paper, roll out into balls of whatever size you choose and place however many you need on the baking paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how big they are, until golden and brown on top. Let them sit for a minute or two, then carefully slide biscuits onto a wire rack and allow to cool. They will fall apart if you try to pick them up too soon.

Wrap the remainder, uncooked, in cling wrap and freeze. When you need to use the frozen biscuit dough, you can put them straight from the freezer onto the baking tray and in the oven, but you will need a few extra minutes’ cooking time.

Praline Brownies

Sometimes I hear about a recipe and I can’t get it out of my head. And so it was when the words “praline brownie” were dropped into a conversation recently. For weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing such a thing might be.

To get the brownie out of my head, I had to make it. The results were a triumph, so naturally I had to share them.

This is the most toothsome, fudgy and utterly divine brownie I’ve ever tasted and I highly recommend making it for a special occasion.

Buy the praline if you don’t fancy making it, but once you master it, it is extremely easy.

For the praline:

  • 1 cup sugar (caster or regular white sugar)
  • quarter cup of water
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts – eg hazelnuts, pecans or almonds
Stir the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan over a low heat until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Increase the temperature until the mixture is bubbling, and boil (not furiously, but happily bubbling) until it’s changing colour, about 8 minutes. While it’s cooking, place a large sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.

Take the mixture off the stove and let it cool down a little for a minute and add the nuts. Pour onto the baking sheet and spread until you have a thin layer. Let it set for about an hour. Smash it up (hit it with a rolling pin between two pieces of baking paper) and set aside.
This will make more than you will need for one batch of brownies, but I find making it in smaller quantities doesn’t work as well. You can store it in an air tight container and use it for another batch of brownies, or other desserts.
Tips: When you get it right, it’s very easy to make praline. But I know from experience it’s also easy to stuff it up, usually by crystallising. Use a good heavy based saucepan and a wooden, not metal spoon to stir. Avoid splashing on the sides of the pan. It will often crystallise if the temperature is too high but I have crystallised it on a low heat too. Never scrape the crystallised bits on the edge back in. If you mess it up once, like I have many times, just try again (it’s not like it’s expensive) and experiment with your temperature. Soak crystallised pan in warm water to remove the hardened sugar.
Brownie recipe:
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 200 g good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
  • 200 g butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 120 grams flour
  • 1/3 cup praline
Grease and flour a square, approx 27 x 20 cm baking pan (won’t matter if it’s a little smaller, but you don’t want much bigger than this) and line with baking paper so it’s hanging over the sides. This will make the brownie easy to lift out.
Preheat the oven to 180c. Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave (or over a boiling pan on the stove if you prefer -microwave is quicker and easier, I find).
Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and creamy. Stir in the slightly cooled down butter and chocolate mixture, and the vanilla. Fold in the flour – don’t be tempted to add more flour as I have done in the past, thinking the mixture was too runny. Too much flour will dry it out. This is not a cake, it’s meant to be a fudgy slice and the mixture should be quite runny.
Fold in the praline. Now, you can add as little or as much as you like here. I find that about a third of a cup is enough, noting that I’ve adjusted the sugar in the recipe to account for it. By all means add more but bear in mind it will become very sweet. The pieces will melt into the brownie as it’s cooked, so you don’t have to make them very small, but no bigger than about 3 cm is ideal.
Bake for approx 25 minutes, taking care not to overbake which will dry the brownie out. If you check with a skewer/spaghetti stick it will be moist and a little sticky when it’s ready, so also check by touching the middle and making sure it’s not wobbling.
Cut into squares and dust with icing sugar or cocoa powder. Decorate with little shards of praline if you like.

Puy Lentil, Pork & Fennel Sausage Stew with Juniper Berries

Last winter I visited some friends who live in country Victoria and they made this delicious stew for me – a simmered sausage and lentil dish with juniper berries. I never got the recipe from them, but I came up with my own and I’ve been making this ever since. This is an incredibly tasty dish – the flavours are intense and piquant, and the combination of sausages and lentils is one I find irresistable.

It’s really important to get good quality sausages for this. You don’t have to use pork and fennel, but I’ve made it with other types of sausages and I can tell you it won’t be quite as good. Whatever type you choose, just make it is the best quality you can find.

Don’t be tempted to cut corners by using tinned lentils, or substituting the Puy lentils for red or green ones – you won’t get the same result unless you use the little black dried lentils that hold their shape when cooked.

Serves 5-6

  • 500 g good quality pork & fennel sausages (from a continental butcher, if you have one near you)
  • 2 cups Puy (French) lentils
  • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (use malt vinegar if you can’t get sherry vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed a bit to release their flavour
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • water

Wash the lentils in cold water, place in a large pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for ten minutes, strain and set aside.

While the lentils are simmering, slice the sausages into approx 10cm pieces and set aside. Chop the onion and saute with olive oil in a large heavy based saucepan or casserole dish for about 5 minutes. Dice the celery and carrot, and add to the onions with the garlic clove, finely chopped and the rosemary. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are just softening.

Add the sausages cook, turning, for approx 5 minutes until the sausages are just browning on all sides. Add the vinegar and cook until it’s slightly evaporated – just half a minute or so –  then add the red wine and do the same. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, lentils, chilli, juniper berries, and bay leaves. Swish the water around in the tomato cans and add. Season with salt and pepper.

Simmer the stew on a low heat for approx 45 minutes – checking frequently to ensure it’s not catching on the bottom, and to add more water if required.

I like to serve this with big hunks of sourdough bread and steamed silverbeet chopped and tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. And a glass of red wine, of course :)

The Simplicity Project ~ Jenn Pike

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