Christmas Traditions – A Mother’s Legacy

It is with sadness that I write this post, but I feel compelled to do so in the spirit of sharing and Christmas. My dear mum passed away last week after a lengthy illness and won’t be here to join us this year for our family get-togethers. However the traditions she started will be with us for many years to come. Mum loved Christmas and would prepare weeks ahead by cooking port wine jellies for gifts, soaking the fruit for the Christmas cakes, decorating the tree on the 1st December and making these little morsels of sheer deliciousness and richness…..Rum Balls!

 

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Mum has been making these rum balls at Christmas for approx 40 years and was very seceretive about the recipe and its origins. She has hand written the recipe in my childhood recipe book under threat if I was ever to reveal it to strangers! I will cherish it always but feel the need to share it with you all now, in mum’s honour. Besides, its a simple little recipe that we can all make very quickly and have any little helpers assist. The original recipe came from a lady named Judy Orr, who was the mother of my best friend at the time, Jenny. Judy happily parted with the recipe, not realising the tradition she would create. They have been called Judy Orr’s rum balls ever since!

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They are my preferred rum ball in that they are more truffle like and do not have the cakey consistency and texture of other rum balls. By sheer accident, they are therefore gluten free! The recipe is easily doubled, with the base recipe making approx 20 teaspoon size balls. My neice Phoebe ( a budding little chef herself) and I made a batch the day before Mum’s funeral and decided that the recipe is due for an overhaul and that we need to experiment with other flavours including a mint essence. The rum flavoured ones keep well though and make terrific gifts.

So Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you can all be with the ones you love and share some of your traditions this year. If not start your own and be prepared to hand them down to future generations. To my own Mum I say thank you for all the love you provided me and our family. For teaching me all about food and for sharing your kitchen with me as I grew. Standing side by side with you, I learnt how to prepare and cook food, discover flavours and tastes not known and to provide a meal to my own family. Christmas will always be a special time for me despite your passing, because you made it special with all your traditions.

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In terms of the Rum balls, I don’t think Judy would mind, but I’m renaming them Mum’s rum balls….

Peace and love to all this Christmas….TBH XX

 

 

Memories of Christmas’ gone by – Cous Cous Salad

I feel inspired to write and post the recipe for this salad for two reasons. Christmas is just around the corner and this salad has featured heavily on our Christmas lunch table since our early days in Newcastle. Secondly I have just been to visit my elderly mother who has been unwell for many years, and as she struggles with the grip of dementia taking hold of her remarkable mind, this salad brings fond memories of family get togethers and flavours long shared between us. This couscous salad has been a favourite of hers and one that I made for her each Christmas. Mum always loved the flavours of the Middle East, pungent with cumin and coriander seeds, ginger and garlic.  Although her mind may not remember now,  she still has a sense of taste and smell which brings her memories back to me. Mum was always at her best around Christmas time, feverishly slaving away in the kitchen making a wonderful spread of food for her family and friends. Over the coming weeks I will try and post a few more of her favourite recipes as an ode to her and her love of Christmas.

So to the recipe for CousCous Salad. This recipe was originally shared with me by a fellow health professional over 20 years ago. She made the salad for one of our themed dinners and I can only assume this one was a Moroccan theme. I believe the original recipe came from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and although I don’t have the original, I have copied this recipe for many friends and family to enjoy. It is a true crowd pleaser and feeds that said crowd with leftovers aplenty (perfect for Boxing Day!). It can also be made well ahead of time and just add the dressing at the last minute. I tend to make the dressing in a screw top jar, so it is ready for a shake and pour. The salad travels well for the family BBQ’s and develops flavours over a few days (if it lasts). In terms of Christmas, it looks the festive part if you choose to use the colourful capsicums and can be a wonderful accompaniment to most of the necessary baked meats and glazed hams.

 

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I do hope you enjoy this salad and can add it to your own repertoire and family traditions. It has served me and my family particularly well and will always provide a smile on my face when I think of mum consuming copious amounts of this salad with her ham on Christmas day.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Enjoy TBHxx

The Recess Cupcake…marking milestones and creating memories.

Today has been just a tad emotional for me. My son Liam left school today and after 13 years, it seems surreal that this part of his life is all of a sudden over. I attended the final school assembly for year 12 and being a natural “sobber”, started tearing up as the first words of farewell left the school captains mouth. I kept saying to myself, am I at the right presentation day? Surely he is still in primary school? Wasn’t I just helping him with the prototype “fax television for the visually impaired complete with braile print out” assignment in Year 8. But alas as I looked over to him and saw the wonderful young man he has become, resplendent with his “Grizzly Adams beard” , I knew it was  me that also needed to say goodbye. To say goodbye to the little boy who happily attended his first day at school, to say goodbye to Saturday morning soccer games and sausage sizzles, to say goodbye to birthday parties with lolly bags, to say goodbye to canteen rosters and sports days, to say goodbye to eagerly awaited school holidays, to say goodbye to ironing school shirts and shorts, to say goodbye to carefree days of changing friendships, hormonal surges and awkward growth spurts. My boy was at last a man……

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And yet as I sit here and blubber my way through this piece there has been a constant in his life. One that was there at the start and again here today. Recess cupcakes! Those morsels of dense vanillary goodness, topped with melted white choc and the compulsory sprinkles (even in Year 12). I suddenly realised I have been making cupcakes for the last 13 years for play lunch, little lunch and recess. I have been making them before they become the cake de jour. I have been making them since cupcake companies and dedicated market stalls have popped up in our lives. They have always graced the lunch box and have also made appearances at birthday parties, P and C events, and sporting carnivals. They are Liam’s preferred lunch box treat and I dare say will follow him into adulthood…. nothing could please me further.

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The recipe is such that a batch can easily be whipped up on a Sunday night and make a decent amount, depending on your preferred size of cupcake. As Liam has grown, I have taken to making larger muffin size cakes for his ever increasing appetite. The recipe is a “bung it all in” type and mix for 4 mins. That’s it. So easy.

So as an ode to the completion of 13 years of fine public education schooling….I happily share my favourite cupcake recipe with you. May many others share their school memories whilst eating one of these at recess!

Enjoy …..Proud TBH xx

State of Emergency threatens Clucas lineage

A state of emergency was called in the Clucas household this week as the 18 year old proclaimed “there is no food in this house for me to eat”. Yes you read correctly, apparently there was not an ounce to eat in our house. Those of you that know me well, will be completely shocked at this announcement as I often have difficulty closing the fridge door at times. So like any good emergency response coordinator, I thought we need to get to the root of this disaster to see how it started. I questioned the beloved son further and it would appear that it wasn’t so much that there was no actual food in the house, (acknowledging the wealth of condiments that seem to be breeding in the said fridge), more that there was no “sugar loaded”, or “salted beyond belief” or “deep fried concoctions” to his liking. So to appease the heir to the Clucas dynasty, I have today baked up a very quick and simple batch of Choc Chip muffins……. but not to fully give in to his Lord’s demands, I have switched the self raising flour for wholemeal to at least give him a “fibre sensation” in his current diet. The recipe comes from a much thumbed/crumbed and used book called “Leiths Baking Bible” (2006). It is just that, a bible for all things baking and I use it religiously (pun intended). It was given to me by a good friend as a thank you for the hospitality he and his family had received whilst staying at the Clucas abode. I do use it at least weekly and these muffins have been a staple for the play lunch/recesses in recent years.

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Seeing that the golden child was getting his needs met, I thought the Food Techy might also get snippy, if some baked goods weren’t also presented to him. So he got some Banana, Date and Orange muffins instead. The recipe for these are based on Belinda Jeffreys recipe from her book “Mix and Bake” (2007). I did however swap a 1/2 cup of oil for sour cream as that needed using up. The secret to all muffin recipes is not to overmix your batter. Most recipes are very easy to make with the basic formula of mixing all your dry ingredients together, then your wet and then combining both with limited folds. Leiths tells me 20 folds of your wooden spoon should do it.

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You can find the recipe here for the Choc Chip and the Date, Banana and Orange muffins here. Thanks to Belinda and Leiths for saving the heirachy to the throne. Peace has once again returned to the Clucas lands.

Enjoy TBHxx

BBQ Pork with Asian Greens

Sincere apologies to my loyal TBH followers for my non posting recently. My new job in Aboriginal Health (which I’m loving) has kept me busy in recent months, culminating in a wonderful, hectic and chaotic NAIDOC week at the beginning of July. During these busy times, I take to cooking really simple meals for the family to complement the wonderful curries that the Food Techy cooks up for me and the hungry 18 year old on the weekends.   I thought I would share one of my family’s favourite meals, that also happens to be one of the quickest things I can cook, and therefore gets relegated to Friday nights. Like most busy families, Fridays signal the end of a week full of juggling commitments and are often the excuse required for takeaway. Our takeaways are usually based around the Asian food influences with the occasional pizza thrown in. If I dont feel like going out for takeaway, then I’ll cook this dish with the knowledge that I have most of the ingredients in the cupboard and freezer, and it takes 20 minutes to get to the table.

Now a word about BBQ pork. You can choose to make your own using the plethora of recipes around, but I couldn’t be bothered! I have tried on several occasions, but have never managed to quite obtain that wonderful ruby coloured , charred sweetness found at Asian restaurants. Instead I head to my local food hall in a shopping centre where, you invariably find a takeaway noodle place with rows of BBQ pork, ducks and chickens hanging on hooks at the front of the counter. I order two pieces of pork, have it chopped and placed in two containers. At $18 kg, it works out to be cheaper than buying your own pork fillet and cooking yourself. The other tip is that this cooked meat can be frozen and defrosted for use in all sorts of dishes including soups and noodles. Hence why I buy two lots!

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A word about cooking rice. Unlike many of my friends, I cant cook rice. I have tried all methods including stove top absorption and microwave, but just end up with “glug”. I have been using a rice cooker (again a nod to the many Asian restaurants who also use them) for as long as I can remember and it makes the best rice in terms of flavour and texture. All rices can be cooked in it and it can be kept warm on a setting for several hours for parties etc. My current rice cooker cost $29 at K-Mart and has been with us for at least 10 years. A worthy investment indeed but equally cheap to replace if the need arises!

And lastly a word about the Asian greens. I use baby buk choy, gai larn and plain broccoli in this dish, but basically you can use what ever greens you want. It is the sauce that draws this dish together. The greens (apart from being good for us!) are a carrier for the sauce. It is delicious and I use it regularly.

 

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So here’s the recipe….. simple and quick for those nights when you need a tasty meal without all the palava!

Thanks for staying with me, I hope to be able to post a little more regularly again! Enjoy TBHxx

The Aussie Lamb Chop gets “Cultcha”…..

I have lately taken to the social media platform of Twitter and have thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of speech it brings and the wealth of information that flows around the world, right into my iPad! Naturally my opinions have been made and in turn people have responded, mainly in respectful and measured terms. However every now and again, the “great idiot of the world” replies to one of your comments. A reply came to me just last week in response to an article about the state of refugees and those seeking asylum in our country. He wrote stating that he wished “they would all go back to their countries and take their f’ing culture with them!”. I and several others responded to him and then promptly blocked the Twit so as never to see his ignorance again. In short my reply was – no you Knobhead…. I’d like you to go back to your country and take your culture of genocide, disease, unemployment, and poor education with you……that’s right we are all visitors to these shores! Yes it was difficult to get that into 140 characters as per the Twitter guidelines, but I think he got my message.

This little exchange got me thinking about what sort of country Australia would be without the beautiful and diverse array of cultures we have welcomed. Certainly I would probably be 20kgs lighter, but imagine the wonderful foods we would be missing from our diets! Think of our shopping lists and how boring they would be without the Italian delis, the Asian supermarkets, the Middle Eastern Spice Shops, the French Patisseries…the list goes on. It also got me thinking about my time growing up in Ryde with my brother, before our mother remarried. We were living in some pretty grim apartments which on the surface looked in disrepair and probably housed some fairly dodgy individuals. Except ….when you scratched beneath the surface it was also home to some of Sydney’s first wave of Lebanese and Vietnamese migrants, who brought with them the strange and exotic ingredients of their respective countries and cooked the most amazing food! My mother who was a cook before her time, embraced these new arrivals and their recipes. To this day, mum loves the dips and salads of the Middle East and the freshness of flavours from Vietnam. Needless to say, my brother and I never went hungry and were always invited to join the tribes of kids for lunch with their families. These early days I’m sure have shaped my taste buds and the desire to eat well with good ingredients. This is the type of food I love to eat now, dishes brimming with flavour and intoxicating aromas, to be shared with family and friends.

 

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And so…….. with some cold weather descending on Newcastle this weekend, my mind turned to making something warm and yummy for dinner. I had some BBQ lamb chops to use up and instead of throwing them on the iconic Aussie BBQ, I thought bugger that, its “Tagine time” for these little beauties. I pulled out a book I had bought last year at the op shop – Claudia Roden’s “Tamarind & Saffron, recipes from the Middle East”.

 

 

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It seems Claudia’s cook books revolutionised Western cultures to the food of the Middle East in the 1970’s, so it seemed fitting that I use her recipe for a simple Lamb and Apricot Tagine as a base for my take on something similar. You can find my recipe here and how I used the Ras-el-Hanout I’d previously purchased from My Souk Drawer in Newcastle. Serve it up with a pile of Cous Cous and some greens. This is a very teenage friendly dish and can make 8 lamb chops go the distance!

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To the Great Idiots of the world I say this – you can keep your meat and three vege!! I’ll stick with the wonderful food and cultures that surround me,  and embrace the people that through sometimes difficult means brought them to this amazing country.  As an after thought, I suspect my Twitter friend is a regular at his local kebab shop…..bags me tell him its owned by Mohammed and his family!

Cheers….TBH xx

Stormy weather equals comfort food…..

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that Newcastle and the Hunter have been hit this week by terrific storms with cyclonic winds and flooding rains. Its during this time that as a home cook and baker, I like to turn my mind away from the backyard strewn with tree and leaf debris and concentrate on some comfort food for the family. In particular the 18 year old likes some home cooked treats and likes to have something nice to eat for his school lunches…..2 more terms to go! So I have spent the weekend cooking Roast chickens and baked veges, Italian meatballs, pea and ham soup and some all time favourites “bills” choc chip cookies.

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The food techy and I literally stubbled upon the newly opened “bills cafe” in Darlinghurst way back in the early 1990’s and were suitably impressed with the breakfast menu items which were a world away from the normal items on offer at the time. I remember tasting the now famous ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and having a delicious flavoursome cup of coffee. The cafe was tiny and was one of the first to brave the communal table, but was soon so popular that we were only ever able to get back in again for one more breakfast. We haven’t been back since leaving Sydney, but Bill Granger has gone from strength to strength and now boasts a global empire of cafes, cookbooks and TV shows. For me I have bought 3 of his books and continue to make some regular recipes……the choc chip cookies for one. Bills recipes are simple and easy to follow….but don’t go buying the books, his website and your local library are fully stocked!

As I write this post, I’m acutely aware of the fact that, though the Hunter has been hit with an incredible storm and many people are still without power and other services, lets spare a thought and some much needed cash for the people of Nepal, where latest estimates are of 1800 people losing their lives and terrible devastation is to be found everywhere.

Lets be grateful for the small comforts we can still enjoy this weekend.

TBHxx