Easy Fruit Cake

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A quick ‘foodie’ blog today for a recipe which has turned into a favourite for Hubby, and as I am the No-Cook Cook, you can bet it’s going to be easy! It’s a fruit cake I baked this past Christmas, thanks to a friend who gave me the recipe. Of course, I have tweaked it a bit as I do with all recipes, to suit our tastes. Something I am sure you will do as well if you try it.

When Hubby was growing up fruit cake was a staple. His mother made boiled fruit cake every single week. I have her recipe somewhere, but in thinking back to the days when I made it, it was somewhat crumbly and not nearly as moist. This cake is so moist you could almost call it a pudding. It’s because the recipe is chock-a-block full of fruit, which to be honest, is what Hubby and I prefer to a dry fruit cake.

I’ve been meaning to post it for ages. Then the other day, we had an unexpected visit from old friends and out came the fruit cake. It was such a success, I promised I would pass on the recipe. So here it is.

Easy Fruit Cake

Easy Fruity Fruit Cake

Easy Fruity Fruit CakeIngredients ~ Makes 6 small tin loaves or 3 medium tin loaves 

  • 1kg mixed dried fruit
  • 650m white coffee, chocolate milk or any kind of plain milk ~ I use oat milk
  • 280g -300g self-raising flour

Other options:

  • The addition of rum or brandy is nice for Christmas
  • Adding lightly crushed walnuts gives a good texture
  • Adding dark chocolate chips makes for a lovely rich cake
  • Note: if you prefer your cake to be less fruity then alter the recipe accordingly

Method:

  • Soak the fruit in milk overnight in the fridge in a covered container. The longer the better. I soak mine for about 3 days ~ it makes for a super moist and much nicer cake. Check the fruit each day to ensure it is still covered with milk, give it a good mix and add a little extra liquid if needed.
  • When you are ready to bake your cake, add the flour to your container of fruit and mix well until combined. If the mixture is too liquid then add a bit more flour, and vice versa if too dry. The consistency has to be sticky.
  • Spoon mixture into prepared tins and bake for about an hour at 150 degrees, or until the skewer comes out clean, for the small loaf tins and longer if using the medium loaf tins. If you are making one large cake, then you will need to bake it for about an hour and a half, but being the wonderful cooks that you all are, I am sure you will know exactly when your cake is cooked!

I hope you enjoy it ~ Hubby does, nearly every day. Happy cooking!

Inara Hawley © 2014

My Nigella Moment ~ Pumpkin Blinis

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It was a stinking hot night when I had my ‘Nigella’ moment. I had cooked dinner earlier for Hubby ~ one of my own creations from leftovers … you know the kind which desperately needs using up, or it ends up in the bin.

Anyway, I was feeling creative, and like Nigella, I relished each ingredient as I reached for it in the fridge ~ golden pumpkin mash, glistening sweet chilli sauce, a perfect white round egg and luscious smoked salmon.

So I set to work. I drained the mash, cracked in the egg, added the sweet chilli sauce and mixed with gusto. I was getting hotter by the second, but I was on a roll. I dusted in a snowfall of flour and a sprinkling of seasoning, mixed some more and it was ready to cook.

My Nigella Moment - Sweet Chilli Pumpkin Blinis

Sweet Chilli Pumpkin Blinis with Smoked Salmon

Out came the pan and on went my sweet chilli pumpkin blinis. The mixture made quite a lot so I ended up cooking for a while, but it was worth it. Served with smoked salmon and salad, Hubby loved them, and I was happy too. I’d used up the leftover mash and enjoyed my burst of creativity, but apart from a quick taste before they went onto the plate (and yes, they were really good), I didn’t partake. I was far too hot to even think about eating.

Then later ~ much, much later when the house was quiet, and Hubby and the cat were both snoring, I had my Nigella moment. In bare feet I padded into the dark kitchen, opened the fridge and suddenly it happened … camera, lights, action! There on the middle shelf sat my inviting delicious little blinis topped with twirls of smoked salmon!  With a hugely satisfied smile on my face I popped one into my mouth, closed my eyes in delight, reached for another, shut the door and toddled off to bed … my sensual ‘Nigella’ moment was complete! And here’s the recipe as far as I can remember it!

Inara’s Sweet Chilli Pumpkin Blinis

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups well-drained pumpkin mash
  • 2-4 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce depending on taste
  • About ½ cup of flour ~ add till you’re happy with the consistency
  • Seasoning to taste ~ I use Marigold Swiss Organic Veg. Bouillon Powder

Method:
Mix all ingredients together. Spray a large frying pan with oil and cook smallish dollops of the mixture over a medium to high heat for a few minutes on each side until cooked through. This mixture makes about 18 blinis. Serve warm with smoked salmon and salad, or cold topped with soft white cheese and twirls of smoked salmon or anything else that takes your fancy, and please, in-joy!

Inara Hawley © 2014

What Matters Most

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On Friday, a very dear friend came to visit me. We have been heartfelt mates for over 25 years. We studied natural therapies together, as well as other very interesting things, as you do when you step into the alternative lifestyle! It’s probably been more than ten years since we have seen each other. It’s actually hard to remember the last time we met, as even though we only speak a few times a year, we are always present in each other’s life. Much has happened during that time, and as true friends do, we have shared the sorrow and the joy. Yes, we indeed have a special friendship, and it seems to weather every storm.

We had spoken to each other earlier in the week to organise the day, but we didn’t set a time. And as we’re quite a distance from where she and her lovely new man were staying, they set out rather early. The result was that they arrived mid-morning ~ just as I was starting to prepare lunch! The kitchen was covered with uncooked food, there was stuff everywhere, and the vacuum cleaner was still sitting unused in the hallway … definitely not my style when greeting guests! Generally, I am Mrs Organised. The only thing we had managed to do before they arrived was set the table!

But you know what? We were so happy to see each other it didn’t matter a scrap! Between hugs, introductions, laughter, non-stop talking, the chopping of vegetables and the clanging of pots and pans, it all got done. I’m usually not good with people in my kitchen space. I like to get the cooking done on my own, by myself! So I created an imaginary no-cross line, and fortunately, they hung with Hubby on the other side of the kitchen counter while I got on with it.

When lunch was finally cooked, my humble offering was a winter vegetable soup served with beef rissoles, bread buns and chutney, and for dessert, we had chocolate cake with ice cream and strawberry sauce. When it comes to cooking I’m a taster and I add seasoning and flavour as I go along, so my recipes are never quite as exact as they should be, however, here they are:

Winter Vegetable Soup

I think everyone knows how to make vegetable soup ~ it’s pretty basic cooking. I generally make it with whatever I have in the fridge ~ the vegetables I used were as per the ingredients below, but I often also add peas, zucchini, and bok choy about 10 minutes before it’s cooked. It’s really up to you as to what you use and the quantities. I generally like lots of greens, but I used what I had. You can top each bowl with your favourite grated cheese and add sun dried tomatoes as shown below on the right, or add cooked sliced sausages, pork belly or chicken. That’s the beauty of a big pot of vegetable soup ~ you have an excellent base for a different meal every night from the leftovers in the fridge.

Veg Soup1

Veg soup with Sun Dried Tom and Swiss CheeseIngredients:

  • 3 parsnips
  • 1 smallish turnip
  • ½ large butternut pumpkin
  • 5 small new potatoes
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 200-300 grams green beans
  • 1/4 cauliflower
  • 1 small broccoli
  • 20 snow peas
  • 1 large leek
  • 20 asparagus spears trimmed
  • 2 bay leafs
  • A few peppercorns
  • Enough water to cover the vegetables
  • Your favourite stock ~ mine is Marigold Swiss Organic Vegetable Bouillon Powder which is available at most health food stores and also online.
  • 1 tin of baked beans ~  butter beans are also good
  • 1 tin of creamed corn ~ if you want to use fresh corn then add it at the beginning with the other vegetables
  • Bunch of chopped flat leaf parsley

Method:
Chop all vegetables to about the same size, except for the leek which should be cut into half rings. Place all the vegetable bar asparagus, broccoli and snow peas in a large pot and add the water. Add a few tablespoons of stock powder and then taste about half way through the cooking to see if it needs more. Alternatively you can use pre-prepared liquid vegetable stock if you’re happy with the flavour. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, then add the asparagus, broccoli and snow peas and cook until tender. When ready mix through the baked beans and creamed corn. If you want to thicken the soup a little, blend some of the pumpkin and the potato. I served each bowl topped with flat leaf parsley, or as mentioned above, you can add almost anything you like! Also, note that soup is generally better the next day when all the flavours have had a chance to meld, and had I been energetic enough the night before, I would have made it then!

My Mother’s Rissoles

These are very yummy and also very tender. You can use any minced meat, even chicken mince, and add your own flavours and spices.

The Buns and The Chutney

My Mother's RissolesIngredients for 16 Rissoles:

  • 500 grams of medium minced beef
  • 4 slices of bread ~  either white or wholemeal
  • Enough milk to cover the bread ~ if you have dairy issues, use oat or soy milk
  • 2 eggs ~ I usually whisk them before adding to the mix
  • 1 large onion finely chopped ~ either brown or white
  • Seasoning to taste with stock powder, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce
  • Flour for rolling the formed rissoles ~ I generally use rice flour
  • Olive oil or butter for frying ~ butter, of course, is more flavoursome

Method:
Soak bread in milk till it’s very soft, then squeeze out all the moisture. If the crust is not soft enough or a bit lumpy, then remove it. Cook the chopped onion till tender. When the onion is cooled slightly combine it with the bread and all the remaining ingredients, and mix together well with your hands. The mixture must be a sticky consistency. If it seems a bit sloppy then add some flour. Also, now is the time to taste it for seasoning. The mix needs to be fairly well seasoned, or the rissoles will be bland. Form mixture into rissole size balls and roll each one in flour. You can season the flour if you feel you want more flavour. If you will be cooking them later, then don’t flour them yet. This must be done just before cooking. Melt enough oil or butter (or both) on a medium to high heat to cover the base of the pan, add 4 to 6 rissoles at a time depending on how large your pan is, flatten them with a spatula, and brown on both sides. Then cook them on low heat for 3 minutes until cooked through. I served my rissoles on buns with the soup, but if you’re serving them on a plate with vegetables, you may want to make them a little special. When they are cooked, pour the fat off the pan, add back all the rissoles, and then add enough double cream to make a sauce. Be warned, everyone will love this so don’t skimp on the cream. Simmer covered on low for a few minutes. Taste the sauce to see if it needs seasoning. Generally it doesn’t. This makes a very rich, but beautiful, sauce.

Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Sauce and Ice Cream

This is so easy. It’s my favourite chocolate cake, and it’s a bought mix too ~ just follow the directions on the box. I always choose the ‘full fat’ ingredients as below, as I find the reduced fat option is a bit springy, and I don’t like it.

Choc Cake and Strawberry SauceChocolate CakeIngredients for Cake:

Ingredients for Strawberry Sauce:

  • 2 punnets of chopped strawberries
  • Water to cover half the strawberries
  • Castor sugar to taste
  • Squeeze of lime juice

Method:
Place all ingredients into your saucepan and cook for a couple of minutes till strawberries are soft but still have their shape. Remove strawberries and reduce liquid by half. Add strawberries back into the reduced liquid and blend with an electric hand mixer. Taste, and add more sugar if required. Serve warm or cold with chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

So that’s what we ate, and it was delicious! I must admit that I’ve never been caught out before not ready to greet my guests, but as I said, it didn’t matter. We spent our time lost in laughter and memories, and not for a second did we focus on our surroundings or how the meal came to the table. What matters most is the friendship ~ it’s what made our time together special. My friend lives in another state, and it’s quite likely it will be another ten years before we see each other again, but that’s OK! We had enough hugging and joy to last us a very long time.

P.S. We finished the soup three days later and the very last bowl was definitely the best!

Inara Hawley © 2013

A Winter’s Lunch

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Last weekend we had friends to lunch. Now I know I’ve said I’m the No-Cook Cook, and as a general rule, I am. I would rather do something else. That doesn’t mean though that I won’t make an effort ~ I will, as long as it’s a quick and easy effort! Every time I think I might make something a little more special (which really means a little more complicated) I just cast my mind back to last winter. I had a week of madness where I decided to make proper pies ~ you know, the kind with two different pastries. Meat pies, apple pies … large ones, small ones … all very nice, but a nightmare ~ so fiddly and time-consuming! And whilst I was in the middle of crimping the pastry around the edges and popping on the egg wash, I suddenly thought, what am I doing? Am I mad? It’s like the time I decided to make crab-apple jam from our fruit-laden tree. The heavy branches were begging me to cook those luscious little apples! And it was delicious ~ I froze it and we had it over ice cream for two whole summers (it didn’t set like jam so we had lovely crab-apple sauce instead). But never again! Have you ever tried to core a couple of buckets of crab-apples … it’s painfully slow but has to be done ‘cause them little pips do not dissolve by themselves no matter what the recipe says!

Now back to our lunch! As I said, I’m happy to make a quick and easy effort, but having read my blog post about not cooking, I think our friends arrived with perhaps a touch of trepidation as to what they were going to get! They were after all bringing the wine, which by the way, was wonderful. But while I may not enjoy spending hours cooking on a daily basis anymore, I am happy to cook a beautiful meal for beautiful friends. Long gone though are the days when I want to impress anyone ~ what I put on the table these days has to taste and look good, but what’s most important of all, especially to me, is the heartfelt sharing of food with friends. It can make the simplest meal the most memorable and delicious.

So then, what to cook? Being winter, it’s still quite cool and as it was lunch it had to be warming and light. And as our friends love their food and wine I decided on four courses. He is a wine connoisseur currently writing a book on the subject, and they both love to cook, so I wanted to make my offering just a little special, and finally decided on French Onion Soup ~ delicious, Salmon ~ always good, Poached Pears ~ yum, and a Cheese Platter. And here are the recipes:

French Onion Soup with Cheesy Ciabatta Bread

Wine:
1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon which won 5 Gold Medals

It’s been years since I’ve made French Onion Soup, and it was truly delicious! Even though this took a bit of time, it was worth it and it was also very easy. I didn’t have to stand over it and was able to do lots of other things while it was cooking.

A Winter's Lunch ~ French Onion Soup

Ingredients for 4 People:

  • 60g chopped butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 thinly sliced onions (about 1kg) ~ I used 3 white and 3 brown
  • 2 teaspoons of brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 4 cups of beef stock ~ I used ready made beef consommé
  • 1 loaf of sliced ciabatta bread
  • 1 block of Swiss cheese

Method:
Heat butter and oil in a heavy-based saucepan (this is important as you will be cooking the onions for quite a long time). Add onions and salt, and cook uncovered on a medium to low heat for 45 minutes stirring often until onions are very soft. Stir in sugar and cook for another 10 minutes stirring until onions caramelise. Then add the flour and continue to stir for2 minutes. Add the stock and about 1½ cups of water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. For the cheesy bread top the ciabatta with Swiss cheese and heat in 180 C oven until melted.                                 

Salmon, Potatoes and Mushrooms with Honey Mustard Sauce, Asparagus and Carrots

Wine: 2011 New Zealand Babich Sauvignon Blanc
Salmon with asparagus is a favourite in our house, but I wanted to give it a bit of zing so added baked potatoes and mushrooms with honey mustard dressing. All of this was also very easy to make ~ one just needs to be organised so everything is ready at the same time, and organised is something I’m always on top of!

A Winter's Lunch ~ Salmon

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 4 skinless salmon steaks
  • 6-8 small new potatoes scrubbed and quartered
  • 1 bag of medium sized button mushrooms cut into quarters
  • 4 bundles of asparagus with woody ends removed
  • 3 carrots julienned
  • Olive Oil, Butter, Salt and Pepper

Ingredients for dressings ~ Serve over salmon, potatoes and mushrooms:

  • 3 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoon of whole-grain mustard
  • 3 teaspoon of honey
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Method:
Toss the quartered potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in 200 C oven in a large bake-to-table dish until tender. Cook the quartered mushrooms in a large pan until slightly browned, and add to the potatoes in the oven when done, to keep warm. Cook the asparagus and julienned carrots, and toss in butter. Sear the salmon on both sides and cook as desired from rare to pink. Serve salmon with the potatoes, mushrooms and dressing, and the asparagus and carrots in a side dish.

Poached Pears with Raspberry Sauce and Ice Cream

Dessert Wine: 2006 Riverina Wolf Blass Gold Label Botrytis Semillon
Poached Pears done in red wine were always a favourite in the seventies, but raspberries sounded just right for lunch. Again, an easy dish to make especially as it was done in the slow cooker. I switched it off when it was done and turned the pears a couple of times so the colour was pink all the way around. As for the dessert wine, I’m not a great wine drinker these days but I did try it, and it was really good. Perfect with the pears!

A Winter's Lunch ~ Raspberry Poached Pears

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 4 pears
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 150g frozen raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 1-2  cups of water depending on how strong you want the mix

Method:
Combine sugar, juice and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook stirring until sugar is combined. Add vanilla and raspberries. Place pears in the slow cooker and add enough of the juice mix to cover halfway up the pears. Cook on high in slow cooker for 1¼ hours or on the stove top until the pears are tender turning every now and again so the colour is uniform all the way around. Place the balance of the mix in a saucepan and slowly reduce to a thick sauce. Serve pears with the reduced sauce and ice cream.

Coconut Milk Ice Cream

I even made some coconut milk ice cream for myself (I tend to get cow belly), and it turned out very well and was great with the pears though I don’t think I’ll make it again. It took practically all day having to blend it every hour. An ice cream maker would have made it lot easier of course. I used to have one, but never used it so gave it away. I think my sister might have it, and I don’t think she uses it either!

A Winter's Lunch ~ Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 can of coconut cream
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • ½ cup of honey

Method:
Blend all ingredients with an electric hand blender and pour into a large freezer-safe bowl. Freeze covered for about 30 minutes, take out and re-blend. Return to freezer and blend again every half hour until ice cream is creamy and frozen through. This takes quite a long time so start making it early in the day. Then pour into a freezer dish, smooth down with a spatula and press plastic wrap to the surface. Freeze overnight. If it freezes rock solid, which it’s not supposed to but mine did, leave it out for 15 minutes before serving and it will be perfect.

Cheese Platter

A Winter's Lunch ~ Cheese Platter

It’s always nice to linger over coffee with a cheese platter, but at the end of the day, it was a touch too much food. It was, however, was absolutely delicious for dinner that night as we sat in our comfy chairs and thought about how nice it was that friends made the effort to come such a long way to see us. It was well worth cooking something just a little special!                       

Inara Hawley © 2013

The No-Cook Cook

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That’s me ~ the no-cook cook! I simply don’t enjoy cooking anymore. If it’s not easy, I don’t cook it. In fact an in-house chef, possibly named Herb or Basil, is on my wish list!

When I think back on the huge amount of cooking I used to do I can’t imagine being there now, so as this is a post about how much cooking has changed in my life it’s very appropriate that it is the first in the category of ‘Food Glorious Food’.

The reason cooking has had such a metamorphosis over the years is simple ~ it has changed with the changing chapters of my life. They say there is a time for everything, and when I think back that’s certainly been true for me. I’ve had my glamorous years when I was at the beauty salon regularly having top to toe sessions, my creative years when I painted, sculpted and sat with my mother sharing quiet winter evenings with only the sound of our clicking knitting needles, my craft years when I marshalled a whole school community into making all manner of things for annual fairs, my volunteering years where I spent much time joyfully giving, my gardening years when I turned a barren hillside into acres of magnificent garden, my studying years when I buckled down and became a herbalist and got a teaching degree. Yes, there are most definitely special times to do certain things in one’s life, and in looking back, my culinary endeavours have moved with those times.

Formal Dinner Party TableSo back to cooking! In the seventies my world was a whirlwind of formal dinner parties, and they were very, very flash! Never ending four course dinners with no less than ten guests sitting under sparkling chandeliers was the norm! I usually started preparing two days in advance. Why? Because we were all on a merry-go-round of cooking authentic French food … rich, creamy and delicious!

In reality, we were all absolutely crazy in the seventies with our over-the-top dinner parties. I even kept a guest book so I knew not to serve the same dish twice! My table was set with crystal glasses, silver cutlery and linen serviettes. The soup was served in the finest tureen, the crepe suzettes were cooked at the table and there was a different wine for every course, including after dinner liqueurs served with frozen grapes, Turkish delight and brie. It was grand indeed, but to be fair, for us, many of those dinner parties were business related ~ we often had overseas associates at our table and the bank manager was a frequent guest ~ so being on top of my game was rather important. There was a five year period where business was so brisk we had a formal dinner party every Friday and Saturday night. It didn’t take long before I could make the perfect boeuf bourguignon and crème brûlée with my eyes closed! Life was very impressive and quite often, rather extraordinary.

The No-Cook Cook - On The BBQThen came the eighties, and it was all about el fresco outdoor dining. Cooking became far more casual. Hubby was king with the barbeque tools and I swanned around with an outstanding afro perm, big earrings and shoulder pads! Upmarket barbeques with dips, fabulous salads, trifles, cheese boards, quiches and cask wine were all the rage, but as I was studying and dispensing herbal medicine in the early eighties, everything in my house was made with the biodynamic and organic food which filled my cupboards. A juicer and a seed sprouter had pride of place on my kitchen bench. My life was immersed in motherhood, school, craft, volunteering, the alternative lifestyle and lots of good healthy food. But there was also lots of fun too. We were all youngish parents with growing children, and together we all had a ball ~ life was one big party! It was an exhilarating time.

And then came the nineties and I was studying again, this time for a teaching degree. We also had a new business and were building a new house, and for the first time in my life I was creating a garden, so life was extremely busy. Cooking was still healthy, but it had to be simple and quick ~ there was no time beyond getting it out of the cupboard and onto the table. Yes, the nineties were demanding and proved to be very challenging, and apart from special occasions, cooking food was almost an afterthought.

And now in the two thousands, I have more important things to do than cook! I would raThe No-Cook Cook - Banana Pancakesther sit and write. That doesn’t mean we don’t eat beautiful food, we do! Just last night I cooked pancakes ~ 1 banana, 2 eggs, honey, vanilla and cinnamon. A quick whiz, on the pan and ten minutes later they were done! Easy peasy is what it’s all about in my kitchen these days. The crystal glasses, the silver cutlery and the wine carafes have long since been given away and now grace other tables. Life is quiet and joyful, and food is quick, easy and simple. I have however, kept my three dinner sets and bouillabaisse dishes just in case. So Herb and Basil, if you’re out there and can hear me, my home is your home!

Inara Hawley © 2013