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Remember when lamb shanks were the cheap cut of meat? They’ve moved up in the world and have a reputation for being fantastic slow cooked cuts of meat. When you’re eating them and the meat is falling off the bone and is tender enough that you could just about chew it with your tongue is there little wonder? Our butcher has good quality lamb shanks and I recently decided to grab a couple to make the shanks recipe in French Kitchen by Serge Dansereau. Served with cauliflower gratin and potatoes from the same book, this was a divine meal.

Making it all was easy, though I admit that I struggle with the waste associated with vegies used simply to flavour the dish and then discarded.  The cauliflower gratin was one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. This dish required gruyere which is a very smelly and strong cheese. Being the first time I’ve used gruyere and finding it so strong I substituted half for tasty. The result was still a creamy cheesy dish with the layer of cheese on top baked til it was crisp, this was a delicious dish and definitely something I’d make again.

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I have had lots of oranges in my fruit bowl of late. These oranges came to me by way of orange picking from the house next door to the kids I recently minded when I did a stint of nannying. The orange picking was a lot of fun, and I took tonnes of great pictures of the kids. But then I was left with 2 huge bowls  of oranges.

So I got to wondering about what I could make with oranges.

Of course, there’s plenty of things you can make with oranges, but I’ve made 4 orange cakes. 2 were orange and poppyseed, one buttery orange cake with glace icing and the other was an orange cake with orange sauce.

All of these cakes were good. The orange and poppy seed I’ve made before. And it was made again due to a request, but out of the 3 cakes it’s my least favourite.

The orange cake with the sauce was so divine. A real adult sort of cake. The cake itself was tangy with rind, but the sauce was marmalade and orange juice and served with double cream it was just divine. I wish I had taken that recipe down.

The buttery one is a real sweet cake. It was easy, really easy to put together, but then these days I make so many cakes that your basic cake is easy to me. It’s a bit of softened butter with sugar creamed, add your eggs, add your flours and then add anything else that goes in it. These days this takes me literally less than 10 mins-from getting the book out of the cupboard to putting the mix in the pan. As long as it doesn’t include grating and juicing 8 oranges that is!

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed cooking all over again, and getting back into again lately has been fabulous. There’s something to be said for the labour of love that you can eat.

Though perhaps not very adventurous, that I would make 4 orange cakes when there’s lots of other things I could have done such as used them to make sangria, with fish and fennel, in a roast, marmalade, made juice, caramelised them and serve them with cream, the cakes all served their purpose.

And inspired me.

And I needed a good dose of inspiration. So that was good.

Have you ever baked with children and noticed how excited they are about it?

They are just so eager to help you crack eggs, stir, pour, measure, decorate.

And of course, they love licking the beaters and eating the final product.

Cooking with children is one of the most rewarding things I do with kids. I love watching their little hands work the sifter, their requests about whether what they’re doing is correct, particularly when measuring. The concentration on their faces when they crack an egg. How good they are at holding a cup while you pour liquid into it if they aren’t grown up enough to pour it themselves. And of course, how good they are at helping you taste test.

Cupcakes are one of the best things to make with kids. They get so many options they really feel like they’re part of the process. What flavour cupcakes? What colour/flavour icing? What, if anything goes on top.

When I bake cupcakes with kids we often form a production line for the icing part. Those who are able to ice ice, those who aren’t do the rest of the decorating. Mind you, anyone who wants a go at icing is totally allowed to. It’s so wonderful watching them acquire new skills, and it doesn’t matter if the end result isn’t perfect to our eyes. It is to theirs and considering their developmental stages they do a darn good job!

Yet working in the kitchen with kids can be hard. Yes it will take a little longer. But there’s no reason you can’t make it one of your activities.

Here’s some hints and tips make your cooking experiences with kids go to plan:

  1. Put your patience hat on. This is imperative. If you can’t be patient and demonstrate, support and congratulate as appropriate you will hate it and so will they.
  2. Be organised. Have everything you need for your recipe out. If the kids are old enough get them to help you get things out the fridge/pantry.
  3. Set up a space that you can all work together. It is important that on some tricky things you can intervene if you need to to save your dish. But you don’t want to be hovering either.
  4. The kids will be excited, but you need them to be calm enough and patient enough to follow instructions and wait for their turn.
  5. Take turns. If there’s parts of the recipe you aren’t comfortable letting them do then that’s your turn.
  6. When cracking eggs give the kids a little bowl/dish to crack eggs into. Crack one a time. This makes checking for and removing any shell so much easier. Once you’re satisfied there’s no shell let them tip it into your dish/bowl etc. Be warned, the younger the child the more likely they are to want to squash the egg. Let them crack eggs for the first time when you have multiple eggs in a recipe. You crack one slowly, talking them through it and then do the others together. Make sure the cracks are deep so it’s easy for them to pull apart. And when it’s time for them to pull it apart reminding them not to squash it, but to open it up like they’re opening a book to read it can be helpful. Demonstrate with your own hands if you need to.
  7. Let them stir/mix first. They’ll get to a point when they’ve had enough and you’ll be able to check that it’s all mixed together.
  8. If you’re doing something like making cupcakes scooping can be tricky. I like to use two spoons-1 to scoop and the BACK of the other to push your scoop off your first spoon. If the kids are quite young try sharing this-you do the scooping or the pushing off and they do the other job.
  9. When it comes to icing small bowls with knives of a size appropriate to their hands are important.
  10. Small bowls with different colours or different decorating things are a great way to let them pick what to put on. Ramekins are ideal and you’re not likely to have huge amounts of leftovers that you’ll need to waste.

I love good pastry. Which means I love a good pie. I recently had some ricotta to use and decided to find something sweet to use it on. I had no inspiration though so I trawled through some recipe books and found the perfect thing in a gem of a book by Campion and Curtis. An apricot, ricotta and almond free form pie.

I’ve never made a freeform pie before. But now that I have I must say I like them. They’re a bit easier than a pie in a dish. Don’t have to worry about the dish. No greasing, no trimming and you don’t need to worry about attaching the top of the pie and how you’re doing that, slitting it etc. You just need dough that holds together enough that you can curve it around the filling without it splitting.

When you place your filling inside you need to make sure you leave a good 4-6cm around the outside free. This is the part of the dough that will form the sides and cover part of the top. The dough in a freeform pie doesn’t traditionally meet in the middle though, so don’t worry about that.

The most basic filling will be stewed fruit. But you can take any pie recipe you have that has a filling that’s firm ie not runny and it will work.

I would never have thought to combine ricotta under the apricots with a few extra bits but the result was fantastic. I’d make two small changes to their recipe. I’d add sugar to their pastry. just a tablespoon. And I’d finely grate the lemon zest rather than finely dice. I’d also make it 10 apricots instead of 8. There just wasn’t quite enough.

But still, it was delicious. The pastry was so short. It was amazing. A truly great and inspiring pie. I’m looking forward to making a lot more of these!

Ok, we all know I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth. So when I made this recently I substituted some of the dark chocolate for some milk. I did this primarily because the last bitter chocolate thing I made was so bitter in the chocolate that it was virtually inedible.

So, I used 2/3 dark chocolate and then substituted 1/3 of milk. And it was amazing. Contrary to popular belief, this actually worked really well and made the tart more creamy.

It was just delicious.

And even better, the pastry was good. I’ve been struggling with pastry lately, it’s not really been working out so well. This was light and not too short. A good match for the tart.

I had some pastry and filling left over so I made two small ones and then made some meringue to put on top. This was even better. Yummm.

In fact, I’ve still got more filling left, and I’m considering having it for breakfast…;)

I made a coconut cream pie on Sunday and it’s very disappointing. The crust on it is horrible, dry and just not good at all. The texture of the filling is good but the flavour is weak. It’s just so boring to eat it that I am tempted to just throw it out.

Very very disappointing.

At least the trusty old anzac biscuits and chocolate weetbix slice worked out beautifully.

What an amazing and easy dessert.

Seriously, this is a really simple dessert packed with flavour. I’ve made a couple of different flavours of clafoutis this year and each has been good, but this is the best so far. The flavour of the orange permeates through the egg and the blueberries but is not overpowering at all.

Just delicious and so darn easy I’ve got the recipe ingrained in my head now.

This french country dessert is perfect with a dollop of double cream either warm or cool (though I prefer slightly warm).

Yum.