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

 

 

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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

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

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Enjoy! TBH XX

Panforte time – a dedication to my friend Cate

It is not only a change in season and temperature that one feels around October each year, but also a change in focus from my wonderful friend Cate. Each year around October she starts to casually (or not so casually ) drop into our conversations the subject of panfortes and have I started my preparations for making them this year? Her concern is not one of unease for the burden this might place on me, but more out of will she be receiving hers again this year and when might that event occur?

You see, Cate loves her panforte and devours it wholeheartedly and avariciously each year at Christmas……..and for this I love her dearly! A cook can not ask for any better compliment than seeing the sheer joy on the face of a good and trusted friend, as a cellophane wrapped round of panforte is presented to her.

The gift of a Panforte

So, my beautiful Cate, this post is dedicated to you and your love affair with Panforte. Its a love affair that has lasted at least 17 years…….May you always be in my life so that I can continue to experience the joy that this small gesture of a gift provides you.

As an aside, Cate gave birth to another Panforte lover 7 years ago….the legend will continue to the next generation with our beautiful Bella. I can see myself making these damn cakes at 80!

I have provided the recipe on my recipes page and realise that this may be a little late for some readers to make for Christmas and or gifts. However Panforte is made and available in Italy all year round, I just happen to make it at Christmas so that I can limit the amount that Cate consumes in a year, and it does make for a lovely gift. I have no issues in doubling the recipe and making two at a time. The results are generally good. If you are going to be making several panfortes then I would recommend buying your glace fruit and nuts in bulk from a warehouse. My Hunter friends should head to Bibina in Warners Bay. Sydney friends head to the treasure troves found in the Greek warehouses and wholesalers in Marrickville.  Perhaps readers have other suggestions? Panforte is delicious served in thin wedges with a strong espresso or a cup of tea. You can dust your finished cake with icing sugar for a lovely effect.

For our historians, I consulted the food techys Larousse Gastronomique and found that Panforte di Siena was created around the 13th Century in Tuscany. Its earliest forms included pepper, and some panforte recipes still have this listed as a traditional ingredient. I prefer the non pepper variety (and I suspect Cate does too) and opt for more cinnamon type spices. Again as I am not a lover of mixed peel I eliminate it from the recipe and add more glace fruit. I have provided the original recipe, but feel free to experiment.

The term panforte literally means ‘strong bread’ and relates to the spices used in the recipe. It is also a durable bread or cake, and history notes its use in the crusades and quests of the era. The sugar and honey provide a “preservative function” for the cake, so that it can last for several weeks without spoiling. I doubt that Cate’s panfortes have ever been put to this test!

Enjoy! TBH xx