Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Baked Custard Tart - a family tradition

When we were small children we had the occasional holiday at my Nana's (my Mother's Mother) home in Moorland.

There was a big swamp at the back and we would climb trees to try to get over it without walking through it and getting our feet wet. These were fantastic holidays as we had cousins who would come from near and far and my Great Aunt Betty lived across the road from Nana.  Playing hide and seek in the small town was an endless source of fun too, it was only a small group of houses in those days.

In season we would pick blackberries or macadamias and stay out until it was definitely dark.
Great Aunt Betty even had an outdoor toilet, it was so 'country'.  Even though a modern bathroom was installed inside during the 70's inside the house the good old 'thunder box' was quite a novelty.

The garden was filled with fruit trees which backed onto the forest and then the large swamp. My mother told me she had seen small fairies in the swamp when she was young so I was always keeping an eye out just in case I was lucky enough to see a fairy go flying by...

My wonderful Nana would alternate between cooking baked custard and creamed rice pudding for desserts when we visited her and it was always welcomed after a busy day playing outside.  Nana, her name was Doris Belle did not make a pasty case but baked the custard in a glass pie dish and it was amazing.  I think many of us can remember baked custard tarts from way back when we were young.

This is a modern twist on this classic family tradition.

On the left is the pastry case lined with baking paper and baking 'beans' (weights) to keep the pastry from rising during the initial bake.  To the right is the uncovered pastry case after 5 mins more of cooking.


Baked Vanilla Custard


200g plain flour
100g butter, cubed
1/2 tspn salt
50 - 60g iced water


4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1/3 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Place flour, butter and salt into a food processor.  Whizz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Then add the water with the motor running, until it comes together in a ball.
Knead lightly and place in a bowl, covered in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Turn your oven to 180C fan forced and line a pie dish with non stick baking paper.
Roll out pastry until 3mm thick and place in your lined pie dish with the pastry up the sides.
Place baking paper inside and fill with baking beans, then bake for 15 - 20 mins.  Remove paper and weights and cook for another 5 minutes.

While the pastry is baking prepare your custard filling.

Whisk 4 eggs with a 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste and 1/3 cup sugar. 
Slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups milk and keep whisking until combined.

Remove pastry tart from oven and carefully pour in the custard mixture.
Sprinkle with a little grated nutmeg and bake at 180C for 20 minutes or until just set.

Remove from oven and try to wait until it cools before cutting - well at least 10 minutes.


Tell me, do you have fond memories of holidays with your grandparents?

Buon appetito, enjoy Merryn xx

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Quick and Easy Jamu - a traditional medicinal drink from Bali

If you have ever been to Bali the chances are you have tried Jamu, a lovely turmeric and ginger infused drink that is good for your immunity and health.   Cafes and street stalls alike offer this refreshing and healthy turmeric based drink.

The weather is turning cooler in Australia. Although Autumn has just started soon there will be winter diseases spreading and the better equipped our bodies are to deal with germs the better off we will be.

This is the wikipedia explanation of jamu.  Here is my friend Karen's recipe for Jamu and she makes an excellent, delicious version.   This is absolutely beautiful but last night I wanted to make some and did not have any fresh turmeric on hand so I created an 'instant' version which is also amazing.

Karen's JAMU
200 – 250 grams grated or finely chopped fresh Tumeric
200 - 250 grams grated or finely chopped fresh Ginger
2 heaped Tablespoons Tamarind Paste – or if no Tamarind paste you can use lemon juice or lime juice. Probably juice of 3.
2 ½ ltrs water - approx
2 teaspoons or so of ground black pepper
2 heaped tablespoons of honey
Put it all except the honey into a large saucepan or boiler and Boil in pot for at least 30 mins – (I will do it for say 45mins.)
Cool then strain and stir in honey.

Bottle up and it keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge quite well.
(Tip – if you are grating –then wear some gloves – your fingers will be orange for at least a day otherwise)     Enjoy K

Just look at the beautiful colour of this turmeric and ginger Jamu drink.

Quick Jamu

1 tablespoon organic dried turmeric
2 small knobs of fresh ginger about 5cm each, peeled and finely chopped
A few grinds of black pepper
2 tablespoons tamarind puree
1/3 cup raw, organic honey
1 litre water

Place the turmeric, ginger, pepper and water into a pan and bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer with lid on for 15 minutes.    Add tamarind puree and cook for another 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and add honey to your taste - between 1/3 - 1/2 cup.
Let cool, then strain into a bottle and refrigerate.
This will last about a week in the fridge.  
Drink at least 150ml daily for maximum health benefits.

What is your best defence against winter germs?
Do you have a go to tonic to boost your immunity?

Buon appetito, enjoy Merryn xx

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Ricotta Gnocchi in tomato sauce with parmesan cheese

Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Parmesan Cheese
It is the simple things in life which often give us the most pleasure, like walking on the beach, singing along to music or watching a magnificent thunderstorm roll in ....

Eating Ricotta Gnocchi is like having a chat with an old friend who is comfortable and familiar.

We had a visit from some lovely friends who were visiting from France last Saturday night.  We dined at a local Thai Restaurant as they had never eaten Thai food before but thankfully they enjoyed the meal and not a grain of rice was left behind.

Then we went to our house for coffee, liquer shots and copious amounts of green tea.
Shortly after coffee a lightening storm came over accompanied by gentle drizzle of rain and our guests were so excited they kept taking videos and photographs as their storms are very different to our own storms.

It reminds me how we take the smallest things for granted which really give us great pleasure.


Whilst grocery shopping on the weekend I saw a 1 kilo tub of ricotta and immediately thought to have ricotta gnocchi.          

Although ricotta is easy enough to make yourself sometimes ready made is convenient and saves time.

This wholesome meal is always appreciated in our house.


Ricotta Gnocchi

500g fresh ricotta
2 eggs
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl mix everything together gently until combined.
Divide mixture into 4 rounds.
On a lightly floured surface take 1round and roll into a log shape 20cm long.
Cut into 2cm lengths and light press with a floured fork to make a light pattern.
Place onto lightly floured large plate.
When you have completed rolling all of the gnocchi dough cover and place in fridge for at least 1 hour.  You can leave overnight if you plan to cook it the next day.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and gently drop in about 1/4 of the mixture, cook for 3 -4 minutes.  They will rise to the top of the water.  Gently scoop out with a sieve and place in a warm serving bowl while you cook the remaining gnocchi.
Drizzle over your favourite freshly made tomato passata and sprinkle with sliced parmesan.
Serve with a fresh garden salad and a loaf of crusty bread.


Tell me, what's your favourite homely meal and what are the simple pleasures that you really enjoy?

Buon appetito, enjoy Merryn xx

Monday, 23 January 2017

Spinach and Ricotta Polpettine in Tomato Passata

The temperature is between 25 and 30 Celsius at the moment and my spinach was looking a bit sad and droopy. 
I picked all that I could, washed it and cooked these delicious polpettine - a vegetarian delight.

This is a quick but delicious luncheon or entree dish that looks very impressive yet remains rustic.
 spinaci e ricotta polpettine di passata di Pomodoro

During the supermarket shop on Saturday morning I noticed 3  bottles of goats milk on sale. Because I make soap and cheese I always keep an eye out for milk specials and this was a great bonus!

I made some goats milk cheese, chevre which is basically a firm, moulded ricotta with a superb flavour.  While that was cooling in the fridge I proceeded to blanch the spinach to make the polpettine.

 I kept a few lovely polpettine aside planning to have them for lunch the next day.  One youngster came down for a midnight snack and told me the next morning that they were really nice.  "I felt a little ripped off when I realised they weren't meat balls Mum," he said " but they were good anyway".

Spinach and Ricotta Polpettine

1 bunch of spinach, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, then cooled and drained.
200g ricotta cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley 
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
375ml tomato puree (passata)
1/4 cup water 
salt and pepper to taste

 Extra grated parmesan for garnish

Squeeze the excess water out of the drained spinach and roughly chop before placing into a bowl.
Add the cheeses, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley and seasoning (remember that ricotta is salty so go easy with the salt).

Fry the onion in a pan in a little olive oil with the garlic and fry for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato puree and water and bring to a light simmer.   

Roll small balls of spinach mixture lightly with your hands and place into the tomato sauce.  When they are all rolled and placed on top of the tomato mixture grind a little black pepper and a tiny sprinkle of salt over the top.    Gently spoon a little sauce over top of the balls.   Turn pan to very low, cover and let cook for about 8 minutes. 

Remove lid and let cook for 1 more minute for the excess water to evaporate (only if needed).
Sprinkle with extra grated fresh parmesan.

Serve with crusty bread and a fresh green salad.


Does your family go searching in the refrigerator for the evening leftover food dishes?

Buon appetito, enjoy Merryn xx

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Sake - Cultured and Home Made

I have had so much fun creating the most amazing Sake in my pantry and then my laundry.
It is enjoyable producing products at home but even more so when you have to research the ingredients and method and still occasionally have to improvise to create perfection.
I wish I could attach a small cup of Sake to this post so you could enjoy the magnificent taste and aroma.

Every good idea starts with a dream or a need ... for example;

 I commented "oh darn it honey I'm out of sake"
followed by "I know you can't even buy it in our town".
"That's a shame "my very patient and long suffering husband replied
"can we pick some up in Newcastle next time?"
Knowing how keen I am to get ingredients when I need them, not in 3 months time.   I replied "surely we can make Sake?"

"Considering I brew wine, mead and limoncello and you make other alcohol surely between us we can make sake - what's the difference?"  I asked my now intrigued husband.

"Of course you can make sake" hubby replied, "we can do anything".

So here I am, the proud owner of 5 litres of divine home brewed Sake, well actually only 3 as I have already given away 2 litres of Sake.

As with all new recipes or hobbies you research the method and ingredients.  Luckily we have the internet and interest pages where we can talk to like minded people about our hobbies.
So I read on how to make sake.  It seemed all a bit too difficult, so I read some more, asked friends and ordered the one ingredient that seemed easier to order than to make at home called 'Koji'.
Koji looks very much like rice bubbles as I ordered it in the dried form as it was sent from interstate.

Koji is innoculated rice spores, an essential with which to make sake, miso or shubo miso.

I found the recipe for sake that I followed here;
and I will not reproduce it here, but the instructions are very involved and I treated this sake like a baby from start to finish.  Treating it with respect, dignity and ever so gently.

I stirred vigorously and measured the temperature of the liquid morning as well as night, adding a frozen ice brick underneath when it was time to cool the liquid down.  It went from bench top to laundry floor and then into the laundry sink at times and it was always covered by a towel in a darkened room to keep the light out.

This was truly a labour of love and I was so happy with the end result and when the ABV measured 17% alcohol with a pleasant rice flavour, I deemed it to be a huge success.

It is definitely best to make over winter in the cooler months.

My son brought back 2 expensive bottles of sake from Japan in December and although they are smoother than mine; my sake is still very acceptable and most pleasantly drinkable by comparison.

The liquid is so clear it could be mistaken for water.

You have a small amount in a kind of cupped saucer to drink for a quick pick-me-up.

By the way, I predominantly made this Sake to have on hand for cooking so it will last many years.

Buon appetito, enjoy Merryn xx

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Simple but delicious Pork Sausage Rolls

It was my hubby's birthday recently and as we were going out for dinner that evening I suggested afternoon tea to family and friends to celebrate his day.  I made sausage rolls and red velvet cake as well as spending the previous afternoon cooking crostoli so there were all on the menu.
Afternoon tea was better than the meal out we had at a local restaurant in town (it happens) so I am glad we ate well beforehand.

Sometimes you hit onto a winner, simple comfort food that is perfect for parties or dinner with family.  Home made sausage rolls are amazing and even better when you use pure free range pork mince and add your own flavourings to create an amazing filling for the pastry.

I occasionally make my own puff pastry but the convenience of store bought frozen puff pastry is great and hard to pass up, especially in the heat of summer where you have to work quickly with pastry.

This recipe is a variation of the classic Bourke Street Bakery sausage rolls recipe but I have tweaked it to suit our taste.


Pork, Vegetable and Fennel Sausage Rolls

This recipe will make 4 trays of sausage rolls, approximately 60 sausage rolls of 6cm lengths.

1 kilo pork mince, preferably free range
4 celery stalks. finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped or grated
2 rashers bacon, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 white or brown onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons fennel seeds, whole
1 teaspoon dried, mixed herbs
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
6 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg mixed with a little milk for an egg wash.

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, celery, bacon, carrot and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion and carrots are softened.
Take off the heat and mix in the herbs, breadcrumbs and seasoning.
Let cool.
Mix the pork mince into this cooled mixture until well combined.
Heat oven to 200C
Place the thawed puff pastry sheets on your bench and cut each sheet in half so  you have 12 rectangles of roughly 15cm x 30cm.
Place mixture  in the middle third of each sheet using 2 spoons to spread a rough line in the middle of each sheet about 4 cm wide.  Roll one side of the pastry on top of mixture, brush with beaten egg and fold the other side of pastry on top to just overlap so you have your filling enclosed with pastry.
Cut each roll into 5 pieces and place onto baking paper lined baking tray.
Brush with egg wash and place into hot oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, rotating trays half way through until the sausage rolls are puffed and light golden brown.
Serve with sweet chilli sauce or tomato sauce.
These also freeze well and can be reheated from frozen in your oven for 45-50 minutes at 170C.


Do you find occasionally that your home cooked meals can be better than restaurant dishes?

Buon appetito, enjoy Merryn xx