Healthy chocolate and red currant muffins (in five minutes)


We sent Alice back to pre-school this morning with one of these in her lunch box. They are a regular output of our little kitchen and here's why...;
  • They take take five minutes to throw together;
  • They belong to the 'melt and mix' family so are a great for kids to make.
  • They are healthy...well except for a little sugar and small amount of butter... and you can throw in loads of good things to pimp up the goodness factor. I like walnuts and LSA mix and sometimes add a little grated carrot;
  • You can add any fruit that's in season. For these I used some red currants from Mum's garden, here's me (left) mid-pick...
  • The raw cacao powder gives a deep chocolate flavour and extra health benefits. Nutritionist and blogger Sarah Britton converted me to raw cacao powder via this post on her amazing blog My New Roots. Her raw brownie is amazing (head over here to read the recipe then please try it). I generally use Loving Earth cacao powder which is available in lots of health food shops or online (also try their chocolate spread...amazing); and
  • They freeze really well so are great for school or work lunches. Just pack them frozen and by morning tea time they should have thawed completely.
So in sum they really tick every box; the health one, the taste one, the convenience one and the feel-good one. Nice one!

1 cup wholemeal flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2 cup caster sugar
3 tbsp LSA powder
3 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
50g melted butter
1/2 cup red currants or any other fruit
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 180C. Mix dry ingredients together then in a separate bowl mix the egg, milk and butter together. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ones. Lightly mix then add the walnuts and fruit. Spoon into muffin cases and cook for about 15 minutes. Makes about eight medium-sized muffins.

Venison carpaccio and peach brioche for a picnic


Orange’s Slow Summer festival closes tomorrow a big family picnic at Lake Canobolas. We often go to there for picnics as our kids love to swim from its little sandy ‘beach’ and the surrounding views of Nasdhale valley are some of the prettiest in NSW. So here’s what will be in our picnic basket this Sunday. Or on the table for lunch if it rains...

If the venison recipe appeals and you happen to live in Sydney, come and see us (Mandagery Creek Venison) at the Pyrmont Growers Market next Saturday, February 4th.

Seared venison carpaccio with pickled cherries, horseradish cream and thyme
This is an ideal recipe for an easy summer dinner at home or a picnic. It looks and tastes beautiful and comes together very quickly. Please do try it one day, this is the kind of recipe that lets venison really shine and makes the most of the meat's beautiful tender texture and subtle flavour. If making for a picnic, have everything ready to then sear the meat and assemble just before heading out. We are going to pack a couple of baguettes too and make up carpaccio ‘sandwiches’ with a little rocket salad on the side. Fancy!

400g Mandagery Creek Venison leg piece*
1 tbsp juniper berries
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp horseradish cream
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup pickled cherries (recipe here), you could also use thinly sliced fresh figs or even fresh cherries here
1/2 cup shaved pecorino or parmesan cheese
Thyme (to serve)

Crush the juniper, black peppercorns and sea salt together in a mortar and pestle. Rub the spices over the meat and set aside for a moment. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a frying pan over high heat. Add meat and brown on each side for a minute on each side. Let rest under a tent of foil. Mix the horsedradish cream and creme fraiche togehter with a squeeze of lemon to taste. Slice the meat thinly and place on a serving plate. Top with the cherries, shaved pecorino, creme fraiche mix and thyme. Beautiful. Serves 4.

*I cut one of our 1kg leg pieces in half across the grain for this. The other half I sliced into steaks, wrapped each one in plastic and stashed them in the freezer for a dinner next week.

Peach Brioche
Not too sweet but soft, rich and delicious, this brioche recipe is great with any kind of fruit. It holds together well and is great for a picnic as you can serve it in nice big wedges and forget the plates. If we remember on Sunday we’ll pack this with some natural yogurt to dollop on top before eating. This recipe asks only ten minutes of your time but needs up to three hours to prove.

2 tsp dry yeast
2 tbsp warm milk
90g caster sugar
280g plain flour
1 tbsp salt
3 eggs
150g butter, softened
3 peaches, halved and thinly sliced
3 tsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together

Place the yeast and milk together in a small bowl and whisk together. Leave for five minutes until frothy. Add the flour, sugar, eggs and salt and beat with the dough hook attatchment of an electric mixer or briskly by hand with a wooden spoon. Add the butter a little bit at a time, waiting until each nob is completely incorperated before adding the next. Keep kneading/beating until the dough is smooth, glossy and elastic. Turn out into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a dry tea towel. Set aside in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

Knock back the dough a little and roll into a ball (you might need to coat your hands with flour to do this as the dough can be quite sticky). Place on a floured baking tray and gently push down so you have a disc about 3cm thick. Leave to prove again for another hour or so.

Preheat oven to 180C. Top the brioche with peach slices, dust with cinnamon sugar and brush edges with eggwash. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until edges are golden.


Visitor's Book - Sarah's apricot upside-down cake


Welcome to Local is Lovely’s brand new ‘visitor’s book’! And our first entry is a pearler; Borenore baker Sarah Quigley's caramelised apricot upside-down cake. Sarah is is a fantastic cook, her macaroons are award-winning, her cakes beautiful and pretty much everything she bakes for brother Jeremy’s fab new Byng St Local Store (here in Orange, lucky us) sells out by mid-morning.

Also, she lives about 200 metres from the orchard responsible for growing the apricots that star in this can’t get much more local - or lovely - than that!

So here goes. I tried it on the weekend with some Angelina plums from the Orange market and it was beautiful. Sarah says you can substitute the apricots with other stone fruits, berries or even softened apples.

Caramel and apricot upside-down cake

For the fruit:
3 tablespoons butter 

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup cream

6-8 apricots, cut into quarters

For the cake:
115g butter

3/4 cup (150g) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups (210g) flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup (125ml) buttermilk
Line a 24cm cake tin with baking paper and grease the sides. If your cake tin can go on the stovetop melt the butter in that or use a separate saucepan. Add the sugar and cream and cook until sugar is fully dissolved and you have a smooth caramel. If you did this step in a saucepan, pour the caramel into a cake tin then arrange fruit in a pinwheel pattern and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla then the eggs, mixing well between additions. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and then add to the cake batter in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Fold together gently and take care not to over-mix.

Spread the batter over the fruit and bake for 45 minutes, or a little more depending on your oven.
Let cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before turning out. Gently slide a knife around the cake’s edges and then, carefully place a plate on top of the cake tin and flip the cake over - be careful that any of the hot caramel doesn’t spill onto your hands (oven mitts would help here).
Serve warm with some ice cream, yogurt or cream.

What $50 gets you at the Orange markets


Farmers markets are a great opportunity to source seasonal produce at great prices, plus interesting, beautifully made and unique foods you’d never find anywhere. I sometimes hear people say that markets are too expensive to shop at regularly and really don't an effort to debunk this perception am starting a new monthly post here on Local is Lovely called What $50 gets you. I am writing to friends around the world and now waiting for them to send in ‘guest posts’ for this section and even this exercise has been interesting. A friend in Japan came back saying that his basket would be fairly empty if he spent just $50 in one produce shop while a school friend now living in Bali replied that they'd have enough food for a small army if they spent $50 at their local market.
But today we are starting with my local markets We never do markets in January so it was so lovely to go yesterday as a ‘normal’ person. And because we are heading off for a few days at the beach on monday I stocked up on foods that will travel with us and hopefully help me pimp up some basic holiday cooking.

100g jar of Conapaira capers from the Riverina, $7
Punnet of sour cherries from Nashdale, $2.50
1kg Angelina plums from Borenore, $5
1 bulb Russian garlic from Morganics at Mt Canobolas, $1.50
1 bulb Mediterranean garlic from Morganics at Mt Canobolas, $1.50
1x 500g jar ginger honey from Cabonne Country Honey in Orange, $5
1 x 500g jar Bloodwood honey from Goldfields Apiaries near Orange, $5
1 bunch rainbow chard from Waru Organics in Orange, $3.50
Pot of fresh organic hummus from Waru Organics, $6
200g Fresh goat’s curd from Jannei dairy near Lithgow, $10
Plus a coffee! $3.50

The next Orange market will be held on Saturday morning, February 11. For lots of information about all the stallholders of Orange Markets, have a look at their website


Getting figgy with it...four recipes for figs


Warren Bradley is a busy man. The fourth-generation Borenore fig grower is half way through his orchard’s first crop and is combing the orchard daily for ripe fruit then driving it almost immediately to market in Sydney and somewhere in there he also finds time to make to make endless batches of fig ice cream which is sold by the scoop at the farm gate. We visited a couple of days ago and tried a couple straight from the tree, they were perfectly ripe and had that deep caramelised flavour of really great figs.

Unfortunately but understandably Warren keeps his ice cream recipe to himself. So once we got home I fiddled around with a few different recipes for our own version. Consensus from Tim and the kids is that the one below was the best.

Caramelised onion and fig pizzas
Makes one large pizza or four individual ones

For the pizza dough
2 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp warm water
2 cups (250g) flour

For the topping
2 red onions
100g bocconcini
4 figs, sliced thinly
fresh rosemary
olive oil

Mix yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Place the flour in a large bowl, add salt to taste and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and bring the whole lot together. Knead by hand or in a mixer with dough hook for about five minutes or until the dough is smooth and springy. Place into a oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel.
Leave in a warm place for a couple of hours or until the dough doubles in size. Preheat oven to 200 and place a pizza stone or baking tray in the oven. 

Add the onions to a warm a saucepan with a little olive oil. Make sure the heat is only low to medium and let them cook gently for about twenty minutes then set aside. If making indvidual pizzas, divide the dough into four balls and roll out until each is a disc about 1/2cm thick, or just roll out into one large pizza.  To assemble the pizzas, first cover with the onions, then the sliced figs and bocconini. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary and seasoning to taste then cook for about 15 minutes. These are great hot but also travel well to picnics and that kind of thing.
Roll out dough and transfer to pizza tray. Press down with fingertips to dimple surface. Smear over caramelised onion and cover with mozzarella and figs. Sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt, grind over pepper and dot with cheese. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and bake for 15 minutes until edges are very crisp and cheese is bubbling. Slip onto a board and cut into quarters.

Fig and honey tarts

I had never had much success with pastry until this recipe. It comes from the beautiful book, A Year’s Worth, written by the clever team behind New Zealand’s Dunsandel Store. The book is a constant source of inspiration for me, full of easy and reliable seasonal recipes. These tarts are just delicious and can be made year-round with whatever fruit is in season or the freezer. I added a little honey to their custard recipe and reduced the sugar, just to add some extra depth of flavour.

For the sweet shortcrust pastry
250g flour
85g icing sugar
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg

For the custard
1 cup cream
2 eggs
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp caster sugar 
2 figs, thinly sliced  

Pulse the flour and icing sugar together, then add the butter and egg and pulse until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Tip mixture out onto a lightly floured bench or board and bring together with the heel of your palm until the mixture is a lovely, smooth yellow ball. Wrap this with plastic and pop in the fridge for about half an hour or more if you have the time. 
Roll out till about 1/2 m thickness and cut so the pastry fits into six individual tart tins or one 26cm (or thereabouts) tin. Carefully drape the pastry over the rolling pin and gently press into the tin. Prick the bottoms with a fork and then return to the fridge for another half an hour. 
Preheat oven to 180C. Line the pastry with baking paper and fill with beans, rice, little rocks from the garden, whatever you have on hand and blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove weights and bake for another five minutes or until pastry is just turning nice and golden. 
For the filling, whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, honey and cream. Let the pastry shells cool completely before filling them up. And to do this, just pour in the custard mixture, not too much or it will overflow, and top with a slice of fig or any other fruit you have at hand. 
Bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the custard is set and golden. 

Fresh Fig ice cream
Puree six fresh figs with a squeeze of lemon juice. Make the basic ice cream mixture given here, omitting the apple mint, and just before you have finished churning swirl the fig puree through the mixture and then freeze. Yum.

Fig, basil and mozzarella salad
This salad is simple, beautiful and with some warm crusty bread and a few slices of prosciutto on the side makes a pretty perfect summers lunch. Thank you to Maggie Beer for it’s inspiration.

500g fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 cup milk
Juice and rind of one lemon
6 ripe figs
2 tablsepoons honey
Olive oil
Fresh basil

Slice the mozzarella thinly and place on a large platter. Mix the creme fraiche, milk and lemon juice and rind together and pour over the mozzarella. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 12 hours. Turn slices over and return to the fridge for another few hours.

An hour or so before you are ready to serve the salad remove it from the fridge and let come to room temperature. Slice the figs and place these on top of the mozzarella, drizzle with the honey and then top with the herbs and a final drizzle of olive oil.

Pump pump the jam


Orange’s orchards are going gangbusters this weekend all full of pickers harvesting cherries, peaches, figs and apricots. We bought four kilos of apricots from Wally Mastronardi in Borenore yesterday and wowsers they’re good. The Mastronardis only have a few rows of apricot trees, being predominantly apple and pear growers, but those they do grow are just beautiful, particularly when still warm from the sun. So aside from using them in a some sweet little honey tarts (pictured above and recipe coming on Tuesday), most of our haul was bottled this morning as apricot jam.

The kids and I had some on bread for lunch today. Not at all nutritious I know, but the bread was warm and the jam fresh and it was too good to be bad.

The bread recipe comes via the New York Times and is awesome. It requires NO KNEADING (at all), is incredibly easy and yields bread you’d be happy to pay good money for. There’s even a quick video (here) of Manhattan baker Jim Lahey making up a batch, it’s only a couple of minutes and I found it helpful. Click here for the full recipe.

Apricot Jam
1kg fresh apricots
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
One lemon, halved

Halve apricots, remove pips and slice halves into half again. Place these in a big saucepan with the water and cook on medium high until the fruit has softened right down. Squeeze the lemon juice into the saucepan, toss in the squeezed halves, and add sugar and the vanilla bean, scraping the seeds into the hot fruit. Place a small plate in the freezer and cook  the fruit mixture for about 5 minutes at a rolling boil. To test if it’s ready, just drop half a teaspoon-ful of the jam onto your cold plate. Let it sit a minute and then push your finger through the middle of the jam. If it wrinkles and is feeling nice and thick then it’s ready.

The jam recipe has been adapted from one by David Lebovitz. If you haven’t yet discovered David’s blog about cooking, eating and living in Paris, have a squizz here. His ice cream recipes alone are worth a visit.

A goat dinner for a hot night, snakes and tractors


Tim has spent the past couple of months working with local goat farmers to bring this beautiful meat to a few of the chefs we already supply with venison. For my part, I am putting together a little library of recipes for this beautiful meat. Not having loads of experience with it, I wanted to start out with something clean and simple, a recipe that allows the flavour of the meat to come through.

Last night we had a barbecued backstrap with couscous, flat bread and a cool yogurt dip. It was beautiful and perfectly easy for such a hot evening. The recipes are all below, and of course if you can’t source goat, a venison or lamb backstrap or nice piece of beef would also be great.

On the farm front, Tom is developing a serious tractor obsession and seems to be happy to just sit on a stationary tractor as long as we let him. This is him with his Grandfather Andrew...there was a slight meltdown when Grandy had to get back to work and Tom was forcibly removed from the drivers seat. This week has been hot and dry and the farm seems to be instantly showing it, we’ve seen a few snakes these past days no doubt pretty happy to be able to sun themselves properly after the cool summer so far. The deer are looking terrific, their coats glossy and their babies beautiful and there’s just enough water in our creek to swim or rather paddle. The kids are fearless as they tramp downstream, me less so – the thought of leeches and other, larger slithery things just doesn’t do it for me. Hopeless I know, but the local pool and its clean, chlorinated glory holds more appeal. Otherwise we are loving having lots of suppers in the cool orchard and heading to the commercial orchards around us tomorrow and Friday to pick apricots and figs – will post recipes from this weekend’s jam session soon.


For the goat
1 x goat backstrap (or venison, lamb etc)
2 tsp Persian spice mix (I used one from Herbies Spices in Sydney, they do online sales too)
2 tbsp olive oil

Rub the meat with spices and oil and set aside. Heat barbecue or a grill pan to high and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Let rest for a few minutes before cutting across the grain into nice, thick medallions.

For the couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup couscous
2 tsp barberries
2 wedges preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind finely chopped
handful of mint and parsley, finely chopped
1 cup peas or broad beans (cooked)
1 red capsicum, finely diced
other vegetables to your taste
2 tbsp olive oil

Pour boiling stock over the couscous, cover with plastic wrap and leave for five minutes. Spread couscous over trays to cool and then combine with remaining ingredients. Taste and then add some lemon juice if you feel it needs more acidity and maybe some dried chilli for some kick.
(Recipe inspired by one by Ian Hempill)

For the yogurt dressing  

1 cup natural yogurt
1 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and let sit out of the fridge for a little while to let the ingredients get to know each other.

For the flat breads
1 1/2cups strong flour
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp honey
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup  warm water
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs sea salt flakes

Preheat oven to 220°C and combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the water, half the oil and stir well. Knead by hand or using a mixer with a dough hook for about 10 minutes. Place in a clean bowl and cover with a damp tea towel, leave in a warm place for one hour.
Turn dough out onto a floured board. Divide into four portions, roll each one into a disc of about 1/2cm thick. Let sit for about half an hour and preheat the oven to 200. Drizzle the remaining oil over each disc and dust with the salt. Bake for 15 minutes.

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