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!




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!


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.


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.



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……

photo (2)       IMG_6117 - Copy

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.


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.

Muffins 1

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.

Muffins 2

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!

BBQ Pork

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.


Asian Greens

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.




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”.






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!



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.


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.


The Bountiful Hunter in….Haberfield

I’ve just returned from a wonderful Italian Gourmet Safari around Haberfield with my good friend Fiona. Our guide to the delights of this foodie suburb was the passionate and effervescent Sam, a local Italian boy who has his roots firmly entrenched in the magic of gelato making and drinking good coffee. He regaled us with stories of his family which were driven by his culture and connection to food. Wonderful stuff…..


We started the morning with excellent coffee at the Haberfield Post (previously known and loved as Il Goloso) and this would be our base and lunch spot for the day. I was delighted with our first stop being the Paesanella cheese shop, where we tasted the freshest of ricottas, bocconcinis laced with 30 year old balsamic and a ridiculously rich and hedonistic “cake” of layered mascarpone and blue cheese, topped with fig sauce, known as Figaro.

Peppes Pasta followed with tempting duck and prosciutto ravioli and rocket lemon zest angel hair, with all pasta being made fresh, along with accompanying sauces. Raphaels bakery next door was laden with bread and sweet creations of all grains, shapes and sizes, and the ladies behind the counter were friendly, cheerful and loud in their enthusiasm for their beautiful baked goods.





Onto Lamonica IGA, where 3 businesses exist under the one banner…. An italian butcher, a burgeoning deli and fresh fruit and vege displays. The place was packed with locals buying their weekly supplies and Italian women seemingly bickering about the best olives…. Sam assured me this was the norm. This place certainly would give the two big supermarket giants a run for their money and I know where I would rather shop.

Over Ramsay St we crossed to Zanettas 5 Star deli, possibly the jewel in the crown for Haberfield with every possible brand of dried pasta available and a small goods counter that would make any Italian swoon with delight. Here we tasted the impossibly green Sicilian olives, San Daniele proscuitto (absolutely delicious and well worth the $70kg!) and several varieties of pecorino cheese. Sam explained the importance of good olive oils and the heritage of aged balsamic vinegars – like champagne, true Balsamic is only made in the Modena region of Italy. I indulged and bought the 8 year old vintage for special occasions.



It was then back to the Haberfield Post for a generous and filling spread of breads, pasta, authentic pizzas and a glass of Italian Sangiovese. This was a relaxed affair and we were able to chat with our fellow tour guests plus meet the humble Tony, owner of the restaurant and a proud Roman.

Lunch was followed by a trip to Rino Saffioti’s chocolate shop where the man himself spoke with love of his passion for excellence in chocolate making and the delicate balance of tempering this often temperamental ingredient. Rino also specialises in gelato and has just started roasting his own coffee beans. A true artisan indeed.



Our tour concluded with a shot of prosecco and limocello from the Haberfield cellars….a celebratory end to a wonderful day.

My thanks to Sam for sharing his Haberfield with us and to my good friend Fi, who shares my love of eating well and seeking out the good food. Our next adventure looks to be the Vietnamese Cabramatta jaunt. Cant wait! I need to also say thankyou to Celia from Fig Jam Lime Cordial, for meeting us for early morning coffee in her beloved “Haby”. It was a pleasure to finally meet her face to face and as always, she was generous in her time and in many other ways!

TBH xxx


Jackie’s Chocolate Cake – Worth a 100 bucks!

So here is the second of my high rotation chocolate cake recipes. Fondly known as “Jackie’s”, this recipe came from my friend Katherine in Brisbane and was in celebration of my baby boy turning 1. Katherine sent me a copy of the recipe so that I had a decent choc cake for creating those damn childrens birthday cakes, that tend to lose their complexity as the child gets older. Jackies makes a huge slab cake, perfect for sculpting and cutting into 3D Ninja turtles or characters from Frozen at 2am in the morning, prior to the onslaught of 5 year olds the next day. My son will be turning 18 very soon and no doubt I’ll cook a Jackies….it will be simply iced and if lucky a spray of sprinkles and “18” shaped by smarties will be placed lovingly on top!


The other part to this little story is about Jackie herself. ‘Jackie’ sent in this recipe to a women’s magazine and promptly won $100 for her “original” recipe. However according to Katherine, she had seen the recipe elsewhere and felt Jackie was not really deserving of the prize…Katherine wrote this on my copy, along with the fact that my baby boy at the tender age of one, would be quite happy with an iced shoe box, but that this recipe would come into its own one day…..and so it has. The recipe has been copied in its entirety (including Katherine’s scathing words regarding Jackie) to many family and friends, resulting in children all over the world eating a “Jackies”. Perhaps she deserved the 100 bucks after all!


Once again it is a very simple melt and mix recipe and the fudge icing makes a good topping. Its dense and flavoursome, and though lacking the intensity of the melted chocolate flavoured cakes, the 5 years don’t seem to mind!

Enjoy! TBH xx

Thelma’s Chocolate Cake – a quick go to cake

As Easter is just around the corner and thoughts are turning to chocolate, I thought I would share the four chocolate cakes in my life over the coming weeks. Despite not being an avid fan of chocolate like some, (my preference is the brulees, pannacottas, and citrus tarts found on menus) I do enjoy a slice (aka large door-stopping wedge) of chocolate cake at children’s birthday parties and with a cup of tea! Thelma’s chocolate cake recipe is one of the many things the food techy brought to our marriage. There are many quirkier things he brought but wine needs to be involved before discussing and disclosing those items.


From all accounts Thelma was a past employee of the food techy’s workplace and made this cake for staff morning teas. It has become a favourite in our family and the recipe has been passed to many friends to continue the tradition. I will honestly say, it really is just a “jujjed” up version of a packet cake and I make no apologies for sharing that information. Sometimes we all just need a quick and easy go to recipe when chocolate cake is required within the hour.


To my friends in the northern hemisphere climes, a word of warning……this recipe calls for a packet of instant chocolate pudding. This is NOT the self sauce variety. Your pudding mix should only have 1 sachet inside! Here in Australia I use the Cottees brand of instant choc pudding.


I also tend to use a higher quality cake packet mix, and if you can buy one with the frosting included, all up this cake comes out at a very economical price with a good flavour. I bake it in my kugelhopf cake tin but have also had success in the standard 20-22 cm round tins.


Enjoy! TBH XX