When a husband turns 40!


Life is good when there is sunshine, good food and a reason to celebrate! Andrew, my husband of just 18 months has just turned forty . . . Perfect conditions for a celebration

So, with our very modern blended family (that includes a pug called Watson & a western highland terrier called Winston),  we held a long lunch on our deck one Sunday in May.

The menu ;

  • Indonesian style BBQ pork spare ribs
  • Vietnamese style BBQ chicken wings
  • Deboned oven roasted chickens stuffed with rice, shallot, ginger,water chestnuts & black sesame
  • Vietnamese noodle salad
  • Fresh king prawns
  • Steamed rice
  • And for dessert – chocolate coffee mousse with ginger snaps, fresh fruit salad,
  • And the cake – strawberry & rose shortcake with mascarpone icing

The pictures can tell the rest . . .


A daughter to be married

Hannah is my beautiful 20 year old daughter who is getting married to Luke Crouch at the end of this year.

To celebrate her birthday and engagement we had a family dinner at a great Italian home style trattoria ‘ Bannerman’s’ in Glenhaven, which is a hinterland suburb of Sydney.

The food here was wonderfully authentic, the service was truly welcoming and the pride of the establishment was heartfelt. They also hold a growers market in their car park once a month followed by a long lunch.

After delicious platters of antipasto, pasta, spatchcock & beef we headed back home to sing and cut cake. Not just any cake, but one inspired by Emma Galloway from blog site  ‘My Darling Lemon Thyme’.

I have been in awe of Emma’s genius since I started blogging. When I saw her recent post on flourless chocolate wedding cake, decorated with meringue icing and purple lisianthus, that she made for her own wedding, I was taken.

I modified the recipe just a little by using less butter in the frosting  – it still worked perfectly and as lisianthus were temporarily unavailable at the Sydney flower Markets due to Mothers Day, I used my homegrown pink iceberg roses instead.

The cake making was time consuming but I enjoyed every minute of it & the cake was the talk of the evening- a perfect way to end the Italian meal and bring the celebration back home.

.  .  . Guess who’s making the Wedding Cake???


Finding nice food stores in new places

Don’t I just love a new food store find! The joy of discovering little foodie gems in local malls and unpretentious places is nourishment for the soul.

Such was the experience recently at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, 2 hours west of Sydney.

After a lovely coffee in a converted Post Office we found a little store called ‘the Blue Elephant’ which specialises in sub-continental & Asian spices, condiments & foodstuffs.

The first thing, after the heady smell of curry powder struck you, was how much somebody/somebodies loved this shop.

It was set up with care and lots of thoughtful planning by people who genuinely love food and equally love sharing it with others.

There was a handsome handmade model of a blue elephants head suspended over the main serving counter and the service was friendly & enthusiastically informative.

The staff were making some Vietnamese rice paper rolls on the back counter, which we purchased making a delicious snack for the car ride home.

I was inspired that night to make my own rice paper rolls!  That’s what a good food experience does to you.

The other great find for me was these small packets(pictured) of Sina Ginger Candy – a great natural sugar hit with a perfect punch of ginger.

Buy these any way you can – they are worth stocking up on and apparently have health benefits too!


Donna’s Rice Paper Rolls

Version 1

  • shredded chicken breast
  • cooked drained vermicelli
  • pan fried beaten egg, cut into thin pieces
  • finely julienned carrot & cucumber
  • fresh coriander
  • Version 2
  •  peeled cooked prawns
  • avocado cut into strips
  • cooked drained vermicelli
  • fresh mint
  • Version 3
  • For this version I create a mix of brown rice, tofu, oven roasted pumpkin with honey and walnuts
  • and then mix through a combination of garden herbs.



Donna’s Dessert 4

The first place my mind goes to . . . the dessert!

In quiet moments alone in the car, under the shower or sipping on a coffee my thoughts drift to the possibilities, the seasonal availability of produce, the likes & dislikes of the intended recipients.

This is a creative & expressive process for me and I probably enjoy it more than the actual cooking. I just love anticipating how it will look & how it will taste!

Pears & pastry with ginger chocolate and honeycomb/passionfruit ice-cream or Donna’s Dessert 4

  1. Fresh pears, peeled cored & halved – gently poach in a sweet syrup & serve some of the syrup with the pear( For my syrup I used low GI sugar, spice mix from pastry twists-below, dash of red wine, splash of masala, juice of a lemon)

        2. Chopped glace ginger mixed with melted dark chocolate & set into small free forms

      3.  Sweet pastry twists – brush strips of puff pastry with a little butter, sprinkle with spice mix(cinnamon, ginger,cardamom, all-spice) & panella. place crushed pinenuts & pistachios on pastry &     then twist. Place on lined baking sheet and again brush with just a little butter & sprinkle with sugar & spice.

     4. Homemade ice-cream – vanilla, cream, yoghurt, fresh passionfruit & crushed chocolate honeycomb


Good quality commercial vanilla ice-cream

Assemble all 4 components on a large plate & encourage eaters to use pastry to mop up pear juices & melting ice-cream


The birthday cake was made by the very lovely Alex, partner of my very talented musician/artist brother. It is a dark chocolate(she used a block of 70%cocoa lindt)and pumpkin cake.

Perfect with coffee and perfect for post party late night snacks for this happy but tired cook. I await the recipe & will include on my next post.


Early Autumn, Prawns & Peaches

I am still wading my way through the pile of Australian Delicious magazines

left by my lovely ex-next door neighbour,  after vacating their home of 25 years.

Except for my first cookbook read when I was about 8 years old that was highly instructive, I have mainly cooked by a combination of intuition and inspiration.

This has resulted in some mistakes, occasional disasters  but lots of happy times that I can never replicate!

I have really enjoyed immersing myself in the array of recipes & photographs, having so many magazines at my fingertips at once has fed inspiration to this cook’s soul!

Running on this inspiration I decided on this platter for dinner, making the most of what’s fresh and available now.

Early Autumn Dinner Platter                                                                                                        DSC_0296

  • 6 whole peaches
  • 1/2 kilo tiger prawns
  • tub fresh bocconcini
  • large handful of walnuts(roasted with honey & balsamic vinegar)
  • rocket lettuce & baby spinach leaves
  • Dressing – white balsamic vinegar, seeded mustard, apricot jam & lemon juice)

Peel, halve & de-stone peaches. Place on baking paper with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, walnuts & honey and bake in slow oven for 25 mins. Assemble all ingredients together on platter & pour over peach juices & dressing.

Panfried Swordfish

Cut swordfish into large chunks. Season with lemon juice, olive oil, rock salt, black pepper & lemongrass(optional). Pan fry or barbeque until cooked.


Love, gratitude and sweet things

This post is a compilation of three separate food experiences this week.

The first is a dessert I made for my parents on Wednesday night. I love being able to utilise seasonal produce in my kitchen and this weeks fresh figs were ripe for the picking.

A whole box of these gorgeous little bursts of flavour and texture for a few dollars at my local greengrocer, Martellis was to good to pass by.

Another foodie thing I love is being able to eat something just as you like it, not as it it should be or as it’s expected to be but just as you like it. . . allow me to explain.

Remember when you were seven years old and you ‘licked the bowl’ as a cake was being made. My best friend and I did this and vowed it definitely tasted better uncooked. We further added that when we grew up our cakes would be served uncooked, a la pudding style! I recently had the same experience with my step-son when we were making a cheesecake mix for his birthday and have since been longing for that sweet smooth creamy mix to be consumed in an appropriate dining experience. The opportunity presented itself with the prospect of my parents coming to dinner mid-week and my lovely little figs crying out to be consumed in the next day or two. I was to make a sweet cheese mixture to be eaten with figs & peaches.

Sweet  Ricotta  with  Fresh  Figs  &  Peaches

400g ricotta cheese(I used low fat on this occasion but I think full cream is yummier)

2 eggs

lemon syrup(juice of 1 lemon cooked over low heat with 1/4 cup sugar)

Combine ricotta & eggs in food processor until smooth and gradually add cooled lemon syrup

Serve with platter of seasonal fruit.


The second experience was a lovely surprise from an ex-student of mine, a very beautiful lady called Antoinette who comes from the Philippines. She had remembered that I liked her coffee jelly dessert and had made a generous batch for me to take home to my family. I just love it when people remember what brings joy to others and the spontaneously act on this memory, presenting you with some un-expected delicious morsel to savour in your own time.

This jelly is made from gelatin & coffee(instant & no sugar) and set in a tray, then cut into cubes and placed in a mixture of evaporated skim milk and a little condensed milk. Refrigerate.

The magic happens when the coffee jelly and milks combine overnight, the coffee flavour infusing the milk.


And the third sweet thing wrapped with gratitude was a food gift from Luke(my 19 year old daughter’s boyfriend). One afternoon as he arrived into my kitchen he gave me a ripe banana that he thought I could use in my cooking . . . he is so lovely! So this morning when I was having one of my  frequent ‘I just have to cook something moments’, I thought banana and I thought muffins. The only problem was I got to the end of the muffin making, the muffins were actually baking when I realised I had forgotten to add the banana.. . which was still in the fridge. However they were still great-oatbran & honey work harmoniously together with whatever flavour combinations you use.


Banana,  date   &  apricot  oatbran  muffins

1 ripe mashed banana(remember to include)

1/4 cup each chopped apricots & dates

1 cup oatbran

1&1/4 cup SR flour

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup raw sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp baking powder

(seed mix for topping – optional)

Combine all ingredients except seeds together in bowl until combined.

Bake at 160 degrees in muffin papers/tin sprinkled with seeds for 20 mins or until cooked & golden.

Ginger Sticky Parkin


Just the name of this alone had me in a state of instant intrigue. Who calls a cake a ‘parkin’?

As I sit here with my favourite red benzer dessert bowl full of the stuff, I am still deciding whether I actually like it!

I definitely like the name. I definitely like the ingredient list. . . more intrigue with use of backstrap molasses. I love the purchase of a new ingredient, so with my recently acquired Berenberg molasses and a recipe from Delicious Magazine that my lovely neighbour Barb was about to throw, I was ready.

The ginger parkin was fun to make, forming a thick brown mix that did not present as anything vaguely edible. With an edibility rating scale scoring no more than a 2.5., the joy was definitely in the mixing of butter with the sugar, molasses & the adding of spelt flour was comfort cooking transporting you back to Anglo baking traditions of the 17th Century.

The verdict of the parkin was weighted between various family members. Here’s a taste of their comments:

“Would taste good with a cup of chai tea, I’m not just saying that to be nice”

“Ginger, no way!”

“Will try some a bit later mum”

“Its really great mum. I like it”

And from me now that I have finished my sampling “Very  nice with a good scoop of vanilla ice-cream, followed by a chai tea”

However all this aside, we all need to try & do new things and enjoy the process of doing so. In a world that is so results orientated let’s never forget the fun of just getting in and having a go.

And at this point a special thanks to my husband for his awesome photos and for never complaining about having to pull out the camera on demand.. .Love you hun.

 Ginger  Sticky Parkin 

1 cup wholemeal spelt flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup black strap or regular molasses

125g unsalted butter

1 cup rapadura or brown sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

Pre-heat oven to 160 degrees and line a slice tray with baking paper.

In a bowl combine butter, sugar & molasses and gently melt in microwave. Mix with spoon and then add all dry ingredients until combined.

Combine milk and egg together in cup and add in to parkin mix.

Pour into cake tin and bake for 30-40 mins or until tests clean with skewer.

(recipe adapted from June 2011 edition of Delicious magazine, credit to Barossa foodie Sherie Hausler)

Everyone loves surprises

DSC_0230After a 6 week break from teaching, going back to work was difficult.

However true surprises are always good medicine, and for me the best surprise or gift is that of the food variety.

So I walk into the staff room and there in my pigeon hole is a bulging brown paper bag wedged tightly amongst a large pile of folders to be marked. . . instant intrigue!

Excitedly  I grabbed the brown paper bag and looking inside revealed my hopes fulfilled – a new and colourful cooking ingredient from a lovely, lovely ex-student.

One of the things I adore about my role as Child Studies Teacher at Nirimba is the rich eclecticism of this place. Western Sydney is truly a cornucopia of cultures colliding within acceptance and learning.

The gift was from a Chinese Student Yan Ping Ding, known as Sunny to me and her classmates. She had remembered I was interested in a Chinese chilli sauce that she had used in a dish as part of our end of year class celebration.

So grateful was I for her thoughtfulness, I was inspired to use it that same night. I stopped off after work at the Cherrybrook local(which has an excellent fresh produce)with the idea of Sang Choy Bow in my head. Fresh chicken mince(I don’t eat pork for ethical reasons), an eggplant(cheap & good atm) and crispy iceberg lettuce later, I am armed and ready for work.

I made the chicken filling by stir frying the mince with garlic, ginger, Sunny’s chilli sauce and a little oil & sherry. I removed this from the wok and then wok fried finely diced shallots,eggplant and broccoli, water chestnuts & bamboo shoots. Added the chicken back in with the veges and thickened with some stock & cornflour. My stepson Mattie insisted on a new technique for cutting the carrots. So they were done ribbon style and lightly stirred through just before serving. Seasoned with a little soy and into lettuce cups dinner was done.


This is a great way of getting lots of veges into younger people, knowing you are nourishing their bodies and not being subjected to complaints or sour faces is surely a win-win.

And there were left overs for when Grandma visited the next night.

Great beginnings and happy endings


It’s well known in literary circles that if you have a good start and strong finish it does not mater too much as to what happens in between.

There is of course a culinary parallel about to be made here!

We started with bruschetta and drinks. I like informal starts to entertaining where everyone gathers around the main hub – usually the kitchen island. I take the inside position where I can deal with still to be attended to main course cooking matters and everyone else spills to the outside positions of the island, where they can watch & converse and unwind from the day that has preceded. . . the atmosphere begins!

I used italian pane de casa bread rolls brushed with a mixture of olive oil, butter, garlic and lemon juice lightly oven grilled until golden. Tomatoes were particularly flavoursome this week and I always enjoy making oven roasted tomatoes as they are so versatile – on bruschetta, pasta or as an accompaniment to schnitzel or meat dishes, oven roasted tomatoes make an easy but high impact statement to a meal. These roma tomatoes have been halved and placed on baking paper with a splash of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and few grinds of rock salt(diced shallots are optional). They are then roasted in a slow oven for about 30 mins or until they start to look soft & caramelised. The mushrooms are cooked at a high heat in a cast iron pan(cast iron is my favourite for pan cooking)with a little olive oil. I wait until they are almost cooked and then add some rock salt, squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice and a small handful of lemon thyme from the herb pot. The trick is to slightly squash the tomato onto the bruschetta just before eating so it doesn’t all fall off as you put into your mouth, as well as strategically placing the mushroom pieces so they look good.

DSC_0220 DSC_0227

The desert is a coconut rum granita that is based on a recipe from the  food dept blog but I have added some mango juice to the mixture. My husband arranged a tropical fruit platter with papaya, pineapple, longans, peaches(okay, not so tropical) all squeezed over with lime & mint.

The main course – the ‘non-event’, was a barbeque with marinated meats so this dessert was welcomingly refreshing and sweet. . . the perfect happy ending.

The downside. Well, there were three . . .concern of the bacardi to the non-drinkers, the sugar to the diabetics, the cold night that left everyone shivering after their icy indulgences! But then. . . as long as the cook likes it, all is well.

Tribute to Luke Nguyen

Probably my  favourite celebrity chef, Luke’s simultaneously down to earth and passionate approach to food always inspires me.

And how good is Vietnamese cuisine with its fresh and fresher approach to ingredients!

So, Luke has prompted me to create lots of heavily herbed, astringent tasting salads that just cut through the protein & fat of any meat you are eating.

DSC_0205 DSC_0202

Tonight’s salad is a combination of the following; green mango slithers, finely julienned cucumber & ginger, avocado in tiny cubes, with lots of fresh mint, coriander & cress. The salad is dressed with a mixture of fresh lime juice, finely chopped lemongrass, fish sauce & sugar to season – all shaken together in a salad dressing jar.

The fish is more like an accompaniment to the salad in my eyes rather than the other way round. I have cooked some fresh barramundi fillets – lightly coated in plain flour then pan fried in a half-half  butter/olive oil mix and seasoned with rock salt.

The enjoyment lies in getting mouthfuls of the fish and salad together – watching the creation of the morsel forming on the fork and then straight onto your tastebuds. Divine . . .