Minestrone Soup

Winter is well and truly here in Melbourne, which means that soup is definitely on the menu again.

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Minestrone soup is a well known, hearty Italian soup, which can be made in many ways with many different ingredients and I would like to share mine with you.

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Minestrone soup can be made using any vegetables really, from potato and pumpkin to zucchini and squash, as well as carrot, peas and broccoli. There is always a carbohydrate component in minestrone soup, usually pasta or rice, and meat is completely optional. I have used bacon, but other recipes call for pork or pork rind (same animal!). Minestrone can often go gluggy or mushy the next day, which is due to the pasta or rice continuing to take on water, losing its structure. What I would recommend to avoid this is to cook the pasta or rice separately and add to each bowl before serving. If you have enough for leftovers, store the extra rice/pasta in a separate airtight container in the fridge and add to the bowl of hot soup just before serving.

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I think that the key to this minestrone is the pesto. I added a teaspoon of bought pesto, although I have included the recipe for pesto below to each bowl, along with some shaved parmesan just before serving and it enhanced the flavours immensely.

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The kids absolutely loved this soup, Mark even said “Mum, this is the best soup I’ve ever had” and asked a second bowl after his first was demolished in about 2 minutes. Claire enjoyed it as well and was asking for it for days after it was all gone….time to make some more!

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This soup really is very easy to make, it uses up whatever vegetables are in the house, it is hearty, nutritious and filling and it is great for leftovers. You can serve it with crusty bread if desired, although, it is not necessary as there is already a carbohydrate component in the soup.

Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

Serves 6

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3 rashers bacon, fat trimmed and diced
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 parsnip, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 150g savoy cabbage, sliced (purple cabbage also works)
  • 1 large sprig rosemary, finely chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 1 tbs thyme, chopped
  • 400g passata
  • 2.5L chicken or vegetable stock
  • 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 150g spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked pasta
  • Grated parmesan cheese to serve
  • Pesto to serve (recipe below)

Pesto

  • 2 large handfuls of basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. Make the pesto by placing all ingredients into a food processor and blending until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the food processor and blend for a further 30 seconds. Place into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat a large pot with a lid over medium heat, add olive oil and bacon and fry for 2-3 minutes until the bacon begins to caramelise. Add the leek, carrot, celery, parsnip and cabbage and cook for a further 2-3 minutes to allow the leek to caramelise.
  3. Add the chopped herbs, passata and stock and season to taste. Bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and place the lid on, slightly ajar and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil and once boiling add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.
  5. Once 30 minutes has passed, add the zucchini and cannellini beans and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the chopped spinach and cook for 5 more minutes.
  6. Place 1-2 tbs of pasta into each bowl and top with soup. Add a small handful of grated parmesan cheese and 1 tsp of pesto to each bowl and enjoy!

Pumpkin Velvet Pie

Last week we were given 2 massive pumpkins, so I have made pumpkin soup, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin and apple muffins, pumpkin scones and roast pumpkin in salads and we still had 3/4 of a pumpkin left, so I decided to try a pumpkin pie. This recipe came from my sister, who was given it by one of her clients. It is easy to make and so smooth.

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Pumpkin pie is traditionally an American dish that is prepared for Thanksgiving. It is often eaten in Autumn and early Winter when pumpkins are plentiful. It is a dish that is made with a sweet pie shell and a pumpkin based custard. The spices in the custard can be played around with and usually consist of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, but cardamom and vanilla can be used also.

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I have used a little bit more spice in this pie than what the original recipe suggested as I personally think that a little bit more spice in things like this and hot cross buns, muffins, carrot cake, etc is better. My measurements are reflected in the recipe below.

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Needless to say, the kids are completely over pumpkin, to the point where I told Mark that we were going to have risotto for dinner and he said “Please no more pumpkin”! However, they thought the pumpkin pie was great! As did I.

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Serve the pie with a dollop of thickened cream or ice cream if preferred.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cold butter
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp water

Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin, cooled and mashed
  • 1 cup sour cream (I used natural yoghurt)
  • 3 eggs, separated

Method:

  1. To make the pastry, place the butter, sugar and flour into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Mix the water and egg together and with the motor running, gradually add the egg mix to the flour and run until it comes together. Once a ball is formed, turn the motor off and remove from the processor. Flatten out into a large disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a 18-20cm pie dish.
  4. Once the 30 minutes has passed, remove from the fridge and roll out to fit the pie dish. Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  5. Blind bake by placing baking paper over the pastry then baking beads or dry beans or rice and bake for 15 minutes covered, then a further 10 minutes with the beans and baking paper removed. Once cooked, remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 160°C
  6. While the base is cooking, make the filling by placing sugar, salt, spices and pumpkin into a large bowl.
  7. Beat the egg yolks and add to the pumpkin mixture along with the sour cream.
  8. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the pumpkin mixture.
  9. Place into pie case and smooth out the top. Bake for ~40 minutes. Check that it is cooked by slightly shaking the dish. There should be a slight wobble, yet still be firm.

 

 

Pork and Fennel Bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese, a winner in every household!

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Spaghetti bolognese, along with homemade pizza, sausages and tacos are guaranteed meals that we can enjoy without encouraging (nagging) the kids to keep eating. So, I decided to mix it up a bit. We only had pork mince in the freezer, so I thought I’d use that in place of the usual beef mince and add some different flavours and here we have the pork and fennel bolognese, also a winner!

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Pork and fennel are a fabulous match, whether it is fresh fennel or fennel seeds, it works, which is why this dish works so well. And the chilli flakes, a necessary addition (maybe not for the little people though), however, you could use fresh chilli instead if wanted and add it in before adding the meat.

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Whenever I make a pasta dish, unless we are having a salad with it, I like to add in veggies wherever I can to make sure that we all get close to our 5 serves per day and so that we get out portions right – 1/2 plate veggies or salad, 1/4 plate protein and 1/4 plate carbohydrate. With a pasta meal like this, it can be a bit tricky to get the portions right, which is fine, as long as you’re aware of it. This bolognese has onion, celery, zucchini and spinach, which work really well with the flavours. I was contemplating adding eggplant, but decided against it….maybe next time.

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The best thing about this meal is that it is quick and easy and it can be made earlier in the day or the night before if work, family or life commitments mean that you are time poor just before dinner. It also freezes well, so you can make a double batch and have a meal waiting in the freezer for a later date!

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If you’re looking for a delicious alternative to a regular spaghetti bolognese, this is your dish.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely diced
  • 1 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (plus more to serve
  • 500g pork mince
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 x 400g tinned crushed tomatoes or passata
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cups baby spinach leaves, roughly torn
  • 250g spaghetti
  • Grated parmesan cheese to serve

Method:

  1. Heat a large frypan, with a lid over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, celery and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add garlic, chilli flakes and fennel seeds and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the pork mince and cook until browned, ~ 5 minutes, breaking up the big chunks as you go.
  3. Add the tomato paste and stir, followed by the tinned tomatoes and balsamic vinegar as well as 1/2 a tin full of water and stir. Bring to the boil and once boiling, reduce the heat to low, place the lid on and allow to simmer away for about 30 minutes.
  4. With 10 minutes to go, remove the lid to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Cook for a few more minutes if needed.
  5. Stir through the baby spinach leaves and mix until wilted. Season to taste. At this point the sauce can be frozen or refrigerated.
  6. To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook as per the packet until al dente.
  7. Divide the pasta between the bowls and top with sauce. Serve with parmesan cheese and extra chilli flakes.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Lasagna hasn’t always been a favourite dish of mine, but the more I play around with the way I make it, the more it is growing on me and now I can say that it is something that I look forward to eating…sorry Dad 🙂

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Before Elise was born, I made a big dish of lasagna and froze it for quick dinners once she arrived. That batch had a pretty basic red meat sauce with layers of pasta, grilled vegetables and a béchamel sauce. Then, recently, I made a lasagna for good friends of ours, who are vegetarian, so I made a vegetable based red sauce and added in a spinach and ricotta layer. I received excellent feedback from that, and then this lasagna was born.

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This lasagna has a dozen layers, including red meat sauce, packed with veggies, pasta layers, grilled vegetables, béchamel sauce and layers of the spinach and ricotta mix. The result being a delicious and very nutritious lasagna that is probably heavier on the protein than the carbs, as there are only 3 layers of pasta. With all the veggies in here, this lasagna can be eaten on its own, as a meal or if you want more veggies you can serve it with a salad.

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If you are concerned about the creamy sauces in this lasagna, the béchamel and the spinach and ricotta mix, don’t be. Béchamel is simply a small amount of butter and flour and the rest is milk, which I would recommend using low fat milk to keep the overall fat content down, and similarly with the ricotta, use a reduced fat variety to lower overall saturated fat.

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The best part about this lasagna, and any lasagna, is that the kids absolutely love it! They are also fans of salad at the moment, with a simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, so I try to basic lettuce, tomato, cucumber, etc salads quite often to keep them interested in them. Claire especially likes it when she can add her own dressing!

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Lasagna does take a little bit of time to make, but I suggest that you make a full baking dish worth whenever you make it and have leftovers in the coming days or freeze into portions for a later date as it freezes exceptionally well.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 500g lean beef mince
  • 1 tbs EVO oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 swiss brown mushrooms, diced
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 x 400g tinned diced tomato
  • 1 tbs basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs sage, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 375g lasagna sheets
  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 0.5cm slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into 0.5cm slices
  • 300g pumpkin, sliced into 0.5cm slices
  • 20g grated parmesan cheese

Béchamel

  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • 2 cups milk

Spinach and Ricotta

  • 250g fresh or frozen spinach
  • 375g reduced fat ricotta cheese
  • 30g grated parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 200°C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Start by making the meat sauce. Heat a large pot, with a lid, over medium heat and add olive oil, along with the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook for ~5 minutes. Add diced zucchini and eggplant and cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the beef mince and cook, stirring to break up any lumps. Add the mushrooms and chopped herbs and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  4. Add the red wine and tomato paste and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, along with about 1/2 a tin of water. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir well to combine.
  5. Increase the heat to bring to the boil. Once boiling, place the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer for about an hour, checking every 20 minutes or so and stirring if needed.
  6. Meanwhile, place the sliced pumpkin, eggplant and zucchini into a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Stir to coat. Arrange on baking tray and cook for about 30 minutes or until tender. Once cooked, remove from oven and set aside.
  7. After an hour, the meat sauce should be relatively thick with little excess liquid remaining. Remove from heat and set aside.
  8. To make the béchamel, heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and allow to melt, add the flour and stir continuously for 2 minutes to cook the flour. Add the milk, about 1/2 a cup at a time, whisking vigorously to prevent the formation of lumps. Once this milk has been absorbed, add another 1/2 a cup and repeat until 2 cups of milk have been added. Season to taste and set aside.
  9. The final element to make is the spinach and ricotta. If you are using fresh spinach, roughly chop the spinach and cover in boiling water to cook. Drain. If using frozen spinach, cover in boiling water to defrost, then drain.
  10. Place the spinach into a medium sized bowl, add the ricotta and parmesan cheese. Stir well to combine.
  11. To assemble the lasagna, place a layer of lasagna sheets on the bottom of the dish. Top with 1/2 of the meat sauce, followed by 1/3 of the béchamel, then a layer of roast pumpkin. Top with 1/2 the spinach and ricotta mix and then another layer of pasta. Repeat with meat sauce, béchamel, zucchini and eggplant and spinach and ricotta mix and another layer of pasta.
  12. By this point, there should only be meat sauce and béchamel left, so top pasta with remaining meat sauce and béchamel then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
  13. Cover the dish with foil and place into the oven for about 40 minutes, removing the foil after 20 minutes.
  14. Eat once cooked or refrigerate or freeze for a later date.

Roast Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad with Tahini and Orange Dressing

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On Sunday night, I went out for dinner with 2 of my closest friends. We went to a place in East Melbourne called The Tippler and Co, right near the MCG, it is a place which if not for its sign would be very easy to miss, as it is just a door. They have a great menu of share plates and we had a lovely Cauliflower Grain Salad, which has inspired me to create this dish.

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Quinoa is a great addition to a salad as it adds some protein and bulks out the salad, making it suitable as a meal on its own, if desired. It also adds some warmth to a salad, making it suitable to all seasons of the year, especially Autumn. By adding the small amount of cumin to the veggies, it really lifts the flavour and adds a hint of Middle Eastern flavour, which pairs really well with the tahini dressing.

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The night that we had this salad, I didn’t even attempt to offer it to the kids as I was having one of those days where I wasn’t feeling like another battle, so I asked them what they wanted with their fish and they asked for a normal salad, so thats what they got. Not surprisingly, they both wanted to try some of this salad off my plate, especially the feta. I think if I served it up to them, it would have been one of the dishes that they say they don’t like, but go ahead to eat it and enjoy it.

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This salad is quite simple to make and it can be made ahead of time, just leave the dressing and the nuts until just before serving. It is great by itself, or with some form of meat, chicken or fish.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 300g pumpkin, cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 300g cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 3/4 cup tricolour quinoa
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tbs coriander, chopped
  • 1 tbs dill, chopped
  • 1 tbs parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 50g feta
  • 1 tbs pinenuts, toasted
  • 1 tbs flaked or slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 tbs pepitas, toasted
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 an orange
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Dressing

  • 2 tbs orange juice
  • 1 tbs tahini
  • 1 tbs natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Place the cut pumpkin and cauliflower into a bowl and add 1 tbs olive oil and ground cumin and mix to coat. Place onto baking paper and cook for ~35 minutes or until starting to turn golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the quinoa, by placing rinsed quinoa into a small saucepan along with 1.5 cups of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat once boiling. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the quinoa starts to fluff (see picture above of fluffed quinoa). Place into a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Place the currants into a small bowl and cover with boiling water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add to quinoa.
  5. Chop the onion and herbs and add to the quinoa, along with the currants. Add lemon and orange juice and olive oil and stir to combine. Add the pumpkin and cauliflower, gently toss to combine and place into serving dish.
  6. Toast the nuts and seeds in a small frypan over medium heat until they just start to colour. Sprinkle over the salad.
  7. Crumble the feta and sprinkle over the salad.
  8. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients into a small bowl and stir to combine. Drizzle over salad and serve.

Rice Paper Rolls

Rice paper rolls are a fantastic little bundle of flavour! They are a Vietnamese dish, which are so light, fresh and nutritious. The only negative is the time consuming nature that is rolling individual rolls, especially when making them for more than one. I used to make these every one or two weeks, but since having kids this is the first time we’ve had them. The kids enjoyed them a lot, but theirs did fall apart.

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These rice paper rolls have been made with shredded chicken, but pork or chicken mince works well as does prawns, and they can also be made vegetarian. I also will sometimes include the peanut dipping sauce into the actual roll itself, for a greater spread of flavour, and other times use it as a dipping sauce.

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There is an art to soaking the rice paper and successfully removing it from the water without it sticking to itself. This is something Aaron has always struggled with – this and getting the amount of filling right so that the rice paper doesn’t break :). The key, I have found, is to use hot, not boiling water, so that the rice paper slowly softens and you can handle it in the water without burning yourself. Less is more when it comes to the filling of the rice paper rolls. Too much filling and the rice paper will definitely tear, leaving quite a mess.

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As far as portion goes, for dinner, I will usually have 3-4, Aaron will generally have one more than me, and the kids had 1.5-2 each. If you wanted to reduce the carbohydrate content, you could omit or minimise the vermicelli noodles and pack it out with the salad  and add a bit more of the chicken.

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If you’ve never tried rice paper rolls, please try these – you will not be disappointed!

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Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 1 chicken breast fillet
  • Rice paper rounds
  • 1 small packet rice vermicelli noodles
  • 1 medium sized carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium red capsicum, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 1 cup coriander leaves
  • 1 tbs sesame seeds
  • 1 long red chilli (optional)

Cucumber and chilli salsa

  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, diced
  • 1 long red chilli
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tbs lime juice

Peanut dipping sauce

  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 2 tbs hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup peanuts, chopped

Method:

  1. Heat a medium frypan over medium heat, add ~1tbs olive oil and cook the chicken for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Set aside, and once slightly cooled, shred the chicken.
  2. To make the salad, place the bean sprouts, mint leaves, coriander leaves, chilli, sesame seeds into a large bowl and toss to combine.
  3. To make the salsa, place cucumber, chilli, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice into a small bowl and stir to combine.
  4. To make the peanut sauce, place sesame oil, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice into a bowl. Mix to combine. Add the chopped peanuts and stir to combine.
  5. Prepare carrot and capsicum.
  6. Place vermicelli noodles into a medium sized bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to sit for 5 minutes or until the noodles are soft. Set aside.
  7. To assemble the rice paper rolls, fill a large bowl with hot water. Place rice paper rounds, one at a time, into the water until soft. Remove, using two hands to keep it flat and place onto a plate. Place a small amount of noodles, salad, salsa, a couple of sticks of carrot and capsicum and peanut sauce (if desired) into the centre of the rice paper, being careful not to over fill.
  8. To fold the rice paper roll, fold the side closest to you over the filling, followed by the left hand side then the right hand side and roll away from you. Repeat with remaining rice paper rounds.

 

 

ANZAC biscuits

Anzac biscuits….A classic biscuit that have stood the test of time. Delicious! Simple! Lasts ages! Lots of boxes ticked. Last time I made ANZAC biscuits, I added some chocolate and they were great, recipe here.

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As most people are aware, the good old ANZAC biscuit is associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which were established during World War 1. The ingredients used in ANZAC biscuits do not spoil easily and transport well, so were made by women back home and sent as a food source to the soldiers fighting at war. Today, ANZAC biscuits are made for enjoyment and commonly sold all year round.

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The ingredients are oats, flour, sugar, coconut, golden syrup, butter, water and bicarb soda. Once combined, these biscuits will last for quite sometime and I’d be very surprised if an ANZAC biscuit ever went bad, unless it wasn’t cooked properly.img_0188.jpg

There are 2 types of ANZAC biscuits that people migrate to – crunchy/crispy or chewy. If you like your biscuits crunchy, then I suggest flattening the mixture out to a thinner biscuit before cooking and make sure they are golden before taking them out of the oven. If you prefer them chewy, then don’t flatten them out before cooking and cook them for a few minutes less. Everybody can be happy!

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I’ve always been amazed at the ‘science’component to ANZAC biscuits. When the boiling water is added to the bicarb soda then poured into the butter and golden syrup mix, it bubbles up and you need to make sure your vessel is large enough or you will have a big mess! The kids love this part.

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If you are yet to make a batch of ANZAC biscuits this year, here’s your reminder.

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Enjoy xx.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups traditional rolled oats
  • 1 cup plain flour (you can use wholemeal if you wish)
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup golden syrup
  • 125g butter
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda
  • 2 tbs boiling water

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Combine oats, flour, sugar and coconut into a large mixing bowl and mix to combine.
  3. Place the golden syrup and butter into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture starts to bubble slightly.
  4. In a small bowl, place the bicarb soda and the boiling water, mix quickly and pour into the golden syrup mixture. This will start to bubble and foam. Quickly pour this mix into the dry ingredients. Mix well to combine.
  5. Form mixture into balls the size of a ping pong ball and place onto the tray. Press each biscuit down gently with a fork.
  6. Bake for ~10 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave on baking tray for ~ 5mins before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Store in an airtight container until they are all eaten!