Full of vitamins: vegetable and speck soup


I have been craving vegetables lately, and making a big pot of soup is the perfect way to get lots of vitamins and vegetables into your body. This soup is not a vegetarian version – as I have added speck ham (dry cured smoked ham – you can substitute a smoky bacon or ham hock), you can certainly omit the speck to make it vegetarian – you will just have to add a bit more salt to your taste.

This soup just feels like it is doing you so much good. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand – add turnips, potatoes, tomato, capsicum, beans, kale – anything goes.

Vegetable and speck soup

  • You will need a chunk of speck or bacon or ham hock is good too (or if making a vegetarian version you can omit this).
  • 2 carrots
  • 2-4 Beetroot (2 if small – 4 if large)
  • 3 Sticks of celery
  • 3 Small onions or 2 large ones
  • 1 Fennel
  • 3 Leeks
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 3-4 Cups of vegetable broth/stock
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Cup of cooked cannellini beans (or a 400g tin)
  • 4-6 Garlic cloves

How to make

Prepare your ingredients
  • Make your stock as per the instructions below.
  • Remove the skin from the speck (or the rind from the bacon) and save it for later – then dice up the speck.
  • Peel and slice the onions, chop the garlic.
  • Peel and dice the carrots and beetroot.
  • Slice the celery and leek.
  • Remove the tough outer leaves of the fennel and dice it.

Make your soup
  • Fry off your speck and onion, add the speck skin/rind too. Add the garlic. Fry it slowly until it begins to caramelise.
  • Add your diced vegetables and stir them into the onion and let them sweat for 5 minutes with the lid on – stirring occasionally.
  • Add your broth to cover the vegetables. Add the bay leaves too. Add salt to taste.
  • Let simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • Serve – delicious. Just feel the goodness. And isn’t that pink colour from the beetroot pretty!


First though you will need to make some stock. You can use some of your frozen beef or chicken stock (that I am sure you keep handy) or you can easily and quickly and cheaply make up some vegetable stock.

To make vegetable stock:

  • Take all your vegetable peelings, carrot tops, celery tops, leek tops, an onion, soft last weeks vegetables and put them all in a pot – any left over vegetables, peelings etc will do). Chop the veg into a pretty small dice – no need to peel them, just scrub them first. add the peelings from the vegetables you are preparing for your soup too. Mushrooms are great in vegetable stock too.
  • Add a little butter to your stock pot and throw in your vegetables, stir them around and then pop on the lid and let the vegetables sweat for 5 minutes to release the flavours. Stir occasionally.
  • Add some fresh herbs (bay leaves, parsely etc – whatever you have handy), some pepper corns and even maybe some fennel seeds and top up with cold water. Bring to the boil and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Strain out the soft vegetables, make sure to squeeze out all the juices, then feed the soggy veg to your chooks if you have some or else compost them, and keep the stock to use in your soup. You can use it straight away or you can freeze it for later.
  • Its a great idea to make a pot of veg stock at least once a week with all your soggy veg. Keep a bag in your freezer or fridge where to throw in your wilted vegetables, the tops from leeks, peelings etc.  When your bag gets full – make a pot of stock and store in the fridge for a few days or freeze in batches. Here is another nice recipe to try out too.

Chocolate bean brownie recipe

Ok this is going to sound really weird – I thought so too when I first saw the genesis of this recipe at 101 cookbooks. I made that recipe exactly as it was (except for the agave nectar because I didn’t have any – I used a combo of maple syrup and honey instead) - and it worked really well – was delicious and had a wonderful texture – and as advertised – not a speck of beanie flavour. But because I like to tweak and I because I wanted to make this recipe a little faster and less fussy I changed it a bit – here is my version.

Chocolate Bean Brownies

  • 2 tins of black beans (or one tin of black beans and one tin of white beans) – drained and rinsed and then use a whiz ding to mush it to a pulpy paste.
  • 4 eggs beaten to a light froth
  • 3/4 cup of stevia powder (or a maple syrup and honey combo or agave nectar)
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder mixed into a 1/2 cup of melted butter – make a paste.
  • 2 tablespoons of ground Linseed/almond meal or finely ground nuts/seeds.
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

To make:

  • Mix your pulpy bean paste with the stevia powder, add the nut meal and baking powder and lastly the frothy eggs and use a whisk to mix it all together.
  • Place in a lined baking tin and bake for 30-40 minutes at a medium heat.
  • Leave in the tray to cool and then slice.

This is gluten free and sugar free (if you use stevia), so it is practically a health food. I love making these and giving them to the kids for breakfast – the healthiest chocolate snack you are ever going to find!




Afternoon tea & Madeira cake

I do like a Madeira cake – eaten warm straight from the oven – it’s moist and chewy and light – and oh so homey and delicious. This recipe has a cup of ground almonds added which gives it that slightly chewy texture, and the subtle flavour comes from the addition of lemon rind. Of course I only use real butter and free-range eggs. Here is my recipe – served with earl grey tea in my grandmother’s best china. Lovely.

What you need

  • 180g (6oz) plain flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 100g (3.5oz) almond meal
  • 180g (60z) caster sugar (finely ground sugar)
  • 180g (6oz or 1.5 sticks of) softened butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3 eggs, lightly whisked
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • A little milk (optional)

What to do

  1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy (3 min).
  2. Add the eggs and beat until lightened (1 min).
  3. Sift the flour and baking powder and zest the lemon.
  4. Fold in the flour, baking powder, almond meal and lemon zest until combined (add a teaspoon or two of milk if it is too thick to get a lighter consistency – so it drops off the spoon).
  5. Line a baking tin (loaf or square tin) with baking paper and spoon in the mixture, smooth it down.
  6. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour at 160°C/325°F – let cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out and serve while still warm.

This cake is also really good to serve the next day with cream and raspberries or else keeps well frozen. Makes a great base for trifle too!

Chocolate mousse cake recipe for the birthday girl

So my baby turned 11 while we were camping over the Easter weekend and I promised her a chocolate mousse cake when we returned. After much hunting around I just couldn’t find a recipe that I liked the look of and was easy to execute, so I decided to work it out for myself. What could be so hard – chocolate cake base with chocolate mousse top. I turned to good old Delia Smith for her all in one sandwich sponge cake and added a tablespoon of cocoa to make it chocolate flavoured. I only wanted a thin base so I halved the recipe and it turned out just fine.

Then I had to decide on what sort of chocolate mousse to make for the topping, light and delicate yet firm enough to hold its shape. After some research I came across this article which compares 5 different classic chocolate mousse recipes – and the Elizabeth David classic got the thumbs up. However my daughter requested it be light and sweet rather than dense and dark, so I took the reviewers advice and added a wee bit of sugar, I also added a tiny bit of whipped cream too, and used a mixture of milk and dark chocolate instead of all dark – to lighten it even more.

Here is my final recipe:

For the cake base

  • 2 oz (55g) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2oz (55g) butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons of warm water
  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa. Then put in a mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients and whip for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.
  2. Line a cake tin with paper (I used the butter paper) and a 7inch (18cm) spring form round cake tin.
  3. Put the mixture in the tin and level off with a spatula then bake for 10 minutes or until the cake comes away from the sides of the pan.
  4. Turn out carefully onto a wire rack and let cool. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes while you make the mousse to speed up the cooling process and firm up the cake base.

For the mousse top

  • 6 eggs separated
  • 4 teaspoons of caster (fine) sugar
  • 60 g pouring cream
  • 180 g of good quality (either milk or dark – or a combination of both as I did here)
  1. Separate the eggs.
  2. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave in 30 second bursts until just melted.
  3. Whip the egg whites until light and fluffy.
  4. Whip the egg yolks and sugar then add the melted chocolate and whisk (with a hand whisk) until just combined and slightly thickened.
  5. Add the beaten egg whites a little at a time to the egg and chocolate mixture, fold the rest in carefully to keep it light.
  6. Whip the cream until just thickened and then fold in to the chocolate mixture.


Put the cake together

  1. When the cake base is cool, place on a plate and place the ring form pan back around the cake (without the base) line with baking paper.
  2. Pour the mousse in over the cake base and place in the fridge to set for 3-4 hours.
  3. When set remove the spring surrounds and the paper and decorate with curled chocolate.


Beef broth recipe {make no bones about it}

We buy our meat from an eco source – its beautiful beef – free from chemicals and certified organic and biodynamic – straight from the farmer. We get it at our local farmers market – I recommend you do the same! When we placed our most recent order we decided to get bones too – they give for free – I wanted to try making beef stock. And oh my goodness – I am doing this again – it might take a whole day to cook – but you don’t have to stand over it or anything. Just spend a bit of time in the preparation, leave it for 6 hours, then spend a bit more time at the end. What an amazing result!

You will need:
Beef bones
1/2 a celery
2 onions
2 carrots
3 tomatoes and/or a tin of tomatoes
Fennel bulb or fennel leaves
5 bay leaves
Teaspoon of fennel seeds
A few sprigs of thyme and sage or other herbs of your choice
Teaspoon of peppercorns
A big pot
A baking tray

What to do:

Step 1: Place your beef bones – chopped or not, into a baking tray and bake on high for 1 hour – until browned – turn over half way through if you like. Save the rendered fat for cooking later.

Step 2: While the meat is baking, chop your vegetables and fry them in your big pot – add a little butter or fat get them started. Fry until soft and a little golden. Add the herbs, fennel seeds and pepper corn and tinned tomatoes.

Step 3: When the beef bones are browned add them to the pot with the vegies too and cover the whole thing with water. Let simmer slowly for 4-5 hours. Skim the fat off occasionally.

Step 4: After 5 hours – remove the bones from the broth, strain the vegetables out with a sieve. Then strain again with a finer sieve or even a muslin cloth for super clear broth.

Step 5: Leave the broth to sit in the fridge overnight, remove the rest of the hardened fat from the top of the broth (you can keep this and use it to cook with later if you like – its excellent to fry meat). You can now freeze the broth in batches, use it as a base for soups, sauces, stews and casseroles.

Weekend Bread Baking

I just spent about 4 hours in the kitchen baking for the school week. I am hating buying any sort of processed biscuit, cookie, cracker, bread or cake from the supermarket. If I do buy bread or a sweet treat its from the artisan baker at the farmers market, but it doesn’t usually last past the afternoon I bought it. So what to do for school?

I baked Tessa Kiros’ [FromApples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook] Chocolate Bread, and her banana bread and her zucchini bread. All pictured above.

My daughter is also really into baking and as we have a new cookbook in the house [Williams-Sonoma Family Meals: Creating Traditions in the Kitchen]- we had to try a new recipe – Otilija made some cinnamon scrolls – they are proving overnight in the fridge and we plan to have them for breakfast!.

Everyone has their

Latvian Piparkukas (Pepper cookies) recipe

My mother-in-law is Latvian and so we have had the (not as often as we would like) pleasure of making and eating these traditional Latvian Piparkukas. They are a crisp, thin Christmas spiced cookie, they take a bit of time to make and very delicious to eat. This Christmas I had a hankering for some and so asked for the recipe and Otilija and I got to baking. The first batch we made were slightly too thick and not crisp enough – delicious still – but didn’t have that ‘snap’ when taking a bite that is required. So the second batch we made sure to roll them thinner and I think we got them right the second time around. (My authentic taste tester is my husband who can remember his Grandmother’s Piparkukas.)

I also did a little research and found some variations to our recipe – some using orange peel, some add nutmeg, black pepper or mace to the spice mix, you can substitute honey or molasses for the syrup, and also substitute some lard in for the butter - here is one recipe – and here another and this recipe is in Latvian. But the main thing that is the same is freshness of the spices – cardamon spice is a very dominant flavour – also you must roll the dough out very thin. Some recipes recommend using a pasta machine to roll out the dough – and we might try this next time – seems like a very good idea.

My husband remembers these with half an almond pressed into them. They don’t need any added sweetness – the spices are a perfect accompaniment with coffee.

Here is our family recipe

100g golden syrup : 100g brown sugar : 100g butter : 2 egg yolks : 350g plain flour
Spice mix – 1 teaspoon each of ground: cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, coriander, ginger
+ 1 teaspoon each of bicarbonate of soda, cream of tarter & lemon zest.
Glaze: 1 egg white lightly beaten with a teaspoon of sugar

Warm the butter and syrup and blend in the spices.

Add the sugar, egg yolks and flour and knead thoroughly (we used the dough hook on our kitchen aid for this step as it is a very stiff dough).

Roll it out while still warm (it stiffens up quite a bit more when cool) – roll very thin and cut out with cookie shapes. You can store the dough up to a week in the fridge, the flavours will intensify, just warm it up a little before rolling it out.

Place onto your trays – they will not spread so you can place them near each other. Brush with your glaze.

Bake in a hot oven (200c) for about 4 mins. They cook very quickly and each oven is different so be sure to watch them carefully.

easy shortbread

This recipe is so easy that a child could make it – in fact a child did make it! I love that my daughter is now old enough and interested enough to bake on her own. I do still supervise, but mostly I check consistency and textures, keep a gentle eye on how things are going and help out with hot trays and generally just keep things from burning.

The recipe for these shortbread came from a new favourite cook book called Gran’s Kitchen (published by Hardie Grant). It is a collection of recipes from a 95 year old New Zealand Nana – Dulcie May Booker, collected and lovingly tested by her granddaughters. The author, Natalie Oldfield, runs the Dulcie May Kitchen.

We (my daughter and I) were especially enamoured of the chapter on morning tea – with lovely old favourites such as passionfruit sponge cake and anzac biscuits – but with plenty more old fashioned recipes that we are wanting to try out (making your own canned spaghetti really stood out for me) – this book brings back fond memories of cooking in the kitchen with my lovely nanna, but my daughter (10 years old) is also loving this book because of the excellent photos and the simplicity of the ingredients – and the ease with which the recipes are written.

So to test out this book we made ‘Flo’s Shortbread’ (we doubled the recipe and it worked a treat). I love when you cook something and it turns out exactly as it was supposed to – recipe follows:

‘Flo’s Shortbread’
1/2 lb (225g) butter at room temp
1 cup icing sugar (we used caster sugar [finely granulated sugar] as we had run out of icing sugar – and it worked perfectly well)
1 cup flour + 1-1/2 cups cornflour + pinch salt – sifted together

Beat the butter and sugar until it is soft and creamy – about 5 minutes with an electric beater.
See how the butter and sugar mixed together has gone a very pale yellow and looks a lot like whipped cream

Fold in the sifted flours and salt until just combined.

The dough is still very soft

(… and delicious – there were quite a few taste tests at this point)

Roll into a log (its best to do this in glad wrap as the mixture is very soft) and let rest in the fridge for 10 minutes to harden up. Then cut into rounds about 1.5cm / 1/2 inch thick. Place onto baking trays and bake at 330 F or 150 C for 30 minutes.
The relatively long slow cooking time allows these biscuits to become crispy without darkening.

I am not sure how well these freeze – as they usually don’t last long enough to bother. But they do keep well for a week in an airtight container and are a perfect accompaniment to your morning cup of tea – and go really well into lunch boxes too. (I think these would make excellent christmas gifts – boxed up prettily and tied with ribbon.)

home baked bagels

Every weekend we head down to the farmers market and stock up on yummy home baked goodies, grass fed meat direct from the farmer and locally grown in season produce. We also love the locally freshly roasted coffee beans, homemade chai concoctions and when we are low on eggs we go to the farmers market to meet the demand. One of our favourite things to buy is fresh bagels, and we usually get them in bulk and freeze them for school lunches. The kids take a frozen bagel from the freezer and it is perfectly thawed and ready to eat for lunchtime. Nothing on it – they are wonderful just as is. However this last weekend we didn’t feel up to traipsing to the market, we were all just a little pooped from a long week and really needed a pyjama laze around the house kind of morning. But what about the bagels my kids exclaimed. So I thought about it and looked up a recipe and decided they couldn’t be that hard to make. And they weren’t! And they were delicious. We had a bagel feast weekend.

First of all you will need bakers flour and yeast, butter and eggs (its a rich and delicious dough). Recipe is below and is from the classic series of books (Time life The Good Cook ‘Breads’) that I learned to cook from as a child.

To make 40 bagels
800g strong plain flour :: 30g fresh yeast :: 1/2 litre milk :: 100g butter :: 60g caster sugar :: 1 tsp salt :: 2 eggs separated :: poppy seeds, sesame seeds and/or rock salt

Boil the milk then turn off the heat and add the sugar and butter. Let the butter melt in the hot milk and let the milk cool down to tepid. Add the yeast and mix in thoroughly and let sit somewhere warm to allow the yeast to activate.

Meanwhile measure out the flour and add the salt into a large bowl. Separate the eggs and leave the yolks aside to brush the bagels with before baking. Once the yeast mixture has begun to bubble, add the egg whites and mix.

Add the liquid mixture into the flour and mix (with your dough hook or with a wooden spoon). Once it has come together it will be a soft and sticky dough.

Knead with your dough hook for 5 minutes or by hand for 15 minutes. It will change from the initial sticky mixture to a glossy stretchy dough. Let rise somewhere warm covered with a tea towel for an hour.

Once risen, punch it down and gather the dough into a ball. Divide the dough in half and then divide each half into 20 even pieces. Roll each piece into a small ball. Then to shape into a bagel shape, poke your finger through the centre of the ball and make into a ring shape. Leave the rings to rise for 10 minutes. Turn your oven on to heat. (200 degrees C or 400 degrees F). Mix the egg yolks and thin with a little milk ready to brush onto the bagels before putting them in the oven.

Using a wide pan, boil some water. And poach the shaped bagel dough rings for about 15 seconds each – do a few at a time. They will puff up a bit more. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them before placing them on the baking sheet.

Brush the bagel dough rings with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, rock salt or poppy seeds. Bake for 15 mins (200 degrees C or 400 degrees F). And eat warm. They also freeze really well and are perfect for school lunches.

Healthy chocolate chip cookies

Well are they really healthy – with all that sugar and flour and butter and chocolate? They sure are yummy though and the addition of oats and eggs and the fact they are actually homemade – without chemical additives makes them a health food in our house.

We have never really bought much in the way of biscuits and cakes from the supermarket – but lately we have really been paying attention to all the additives that are in everything – the kids especially are quite addicted to reading labels and then checking the additives with this great iphone additives app. So each week – or more often I like to make a big batch of some sort of cookie or slice that can be easily frozen and popped into school lunch boxes. I like a recipe that is easily adapted – change out the nuts and add oats, incorporate some ground linseeds and hazelnuts for added flavour and healthfulness – that sort of thing.

So when I received this new recipe book The Commonsense Kitchen: 500 Recipes Plus Lessons for a Hand-Crafted Life, to review from Chronicle books I thought I would test it out with some chocolate chip cookies – I always straight away double the recipe as its just as easy to make a double batch and freeze them. The book had done all the math for me – as it gives a double batch option too. Perfect!

Recipe: Ella’s chocolate chip cookies (double batch to make 5 dozen cookies)
2 cups butter : 1.5 cups granulated white sugar : 2 cups soft brown sugar : 4 eggs : 1 tablespoon vanilla : 3 cups walnuts (optional) : 4 cups chocolate chips : 4 cups sifted flour : 5 cups finely ground oats : 1.5 teaspoon salt : 4 teaspoons baking powder

To make:
- Cream butter and sugars until creamy with your electric whisk. Then add your eggs and vanilla until softer and creamier.
- Add the nuts, chocolate and oats – mix some more.
- Then add the flour and baking powder and salt and by this time you might need to use a dough hook or mix with a wooden spoon as the mixture gets stiff.

- Then roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls and place on tray – refrigerate for 10 mins before baking – this helps them hold their shape better in the oven.
- Bake on a med/high oven for 10 mins until golden brown.

These freeze well as cookie dough – roll them into balls before freezing – then just get out a dozen – place on a tray to defrost a couple of hours before you plan to bake them. They also freeze really well cooked and are perfect then pop into school lunches.

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