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Greek Yoghurt Pies

This is a real Spring recipe.  You need 24 very young and fresh and tender vine leaves.  These cook fast, so  they don’t work with older tough vine leaves.  We’re not really in grape growing country here.  Some years we are lucky and get a good crop.  Many years it rains right around when the grapes are ripening and they all split.  Or the brush turkeys get them.  But the grape vines pay their way anyhow in leaves for cooking, and for shade and cooling.  Our pergola of vines is on the north western side of the house.  All winter it is bare and the winter sun streams in.  All summer it is a dense green evaporative air conditioning system.  If there’s grapes, that’s just a bonus.

The Recipe:

Makes 12 little pies.  Two or three make a good serve for lunch or dinner, or they go well in lunch boxes. I made these in large (Texan) muffin tins, but you could also adapt the recipe for one large pie in a sponge cake tin.

Steam 24 young vine leaves for a few minutes while you make the filling. I just put them in a pot with a tight fitting lid and a tiny bit of water. How long depends on the variety and age of the leaves.  Too long and they’ll disintegrate, too short and they’ll be tough.  These ones took just 3 or 4 minutes steaming to be soft and tender.

In a food processor, blend together:

  • 2 cups of Greek yoghurt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup fine semolina

Pulse in:

  • ½ cup packed of fresh mint leaves
  • ½ cup packed dill
  • 2 spring onions, whites and greens
  • a good pinch salt
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

If you have preserved lemon, you can leave out the salt and lemon juice and zest, and substitute a couple of pieces of preserved lemon.
You want the greens chopped fairly fine but not blended.

Oil 12 large muffin cups generously with olive oil.  Line each cup with two vine leaves, stem end at the bottom, overlapping, and with enough leaf out the top to fold over.  To get the nice star pattern when you turn them out, you need to put them top side of the leaf up.  Like this:

vine leaves

Pour the yoghurt mix in and fold the leaf over the top to make a nice little parcel.  Brush the top with olive oil and bake them in a medium oven for around 20 minutes till they are set. Turn out.

They are good hot for lunch or dinner with a salad and pita bread, or cold in a lunch box or picnic.


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platter 2


My friends Jamie and Camilla are off to Tamworth today to debut “Bush Ranger School” – their new album of country music for kids. And we got to hear the brand new hot off the press CD on the weekend.  Which was a great occasion for the second of my “Food to Share” series.

This one was served with three kinds of Tuscan flatbread (schiacciata), which sounds (and looks) much more elaborate than it is.  I just made one batch of sourdough and mixed a third of it with olives and thyme oil, a third with semidried tomatoes and garlic oil, and a third with black grapes and rosemary oil (an idea stolen from Maggie Beer). I shall try to get round to posting the sourdough schiacciata recipe some time soon, but any kind of focaccia or  Turkish bread would work well too .

griddle pan


  • sliced fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber
  • chargrilled zucchini, capsicum, tromboncino, eggplant, and mango
  • grilled garlic and yoghurt dipping sauce/spread

I’m big on the idea of minimal kitchen equipment. I’ve been seduced by specialist tools enough times. They have a brief honeymoon then sit on the shelf, gathering dust, cluttering space, while I go back to using the same basic kitchen stuff.  It’s a real mission for a new piece of equipment to win a place in my kitchen these days. But the love affair with my griddle pan has now lasted long enough to be called a real relationship.  Summer vegetables suit chargrilling so perfectly.

The Recipe: Chargrilled Summer Vegetables with Grilled Garlic and Yoghurt Sauce

The Yoghurt Sauce:

Thin, dipping sauce is nice too, but I think this is best with strained, labneh style yoghurt.  So the first stage is to put some Greek yoghurt into a colander lined with cheesecloth (or a clean, chux-type dishcloth) over a bowl.  If you have time, simply leave it for a few hours or overnight. If you are hurrying it up, let it drain for 10 minutes or so, then put a plate on top weighed down with something heavy to speed it up.

Roast some garlic, in its skin, on the  griddle pan, until the skin is charred and the garlic is soft.  Squash it with salt to make a paste.

When the yoghurt is nice and thick and spreadable, mix with the roast garlic paste to taste.

The Chargrilled Vegetables:

Slice the eggplant into 1.5 cm thick slices lengthways.  Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for a few minutes.

Slice zucchini and/or tromboncino diagonally into similar thickness slices.

Chop a capsicum into big chunks and de-seed.

Pour a little olive oil onto a plate and add a pinch of salt and some crushed garlic.  Dip the vegetable slices in the garlic oil and grill, in batches, till they are just tender. Don’t overcook. If you can restrain yourself from moving them around too much you get the nice bar marks.

Besides serving on an antipasti platter, chargrilled vegetables are really good as a side dish, or as a topping on pizza, or in sandwiches.




I’m not sure what this is called. I tried to look it up – I’m sure there must be some traditional bread on this kind of recipe – it’s such an obvious Spring excesses recipe. I think Bulgarian Kolach uses these ideas but in a neater way!

What I have is a unbleached sourdough enriched with eggs and yoghurt, baked free form with poppy seeds on top. It’s crusty, rustic, moist and dense and toasts magnificently.  My everyday bread is much heavier wholegrain, but this made a wonderful Father’s Day breakfast under Lemony Mushrooms and Spinach with 2 Minute Hollandaise.

The Recipe:

Step One:

Put 1½ cups of fed sourdough starter in a bowl and leave, covered, on the benchtop for around 8 hours.

Step Two:

Then add:

  • 2 big dessertspoons of low fat Greek yoghurt
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1½ cups of baker’s flour

Tip more baker’s flour on the benchtop, and knead for just a few minutes to get a smooth, not sticky dough.

Put a swig of oil in a bowl, and swish the dough around in it to cover, and leave it to prove in a warmish spot for another 8 hours or so.

Step Three:

I figured the sourdough bugs would have enough to do rising the bread with eggs and yoghurt in it without salt as well, so I held the salt to add late.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt on the benchtop and tip the dough onto it.  Knead in the salt, adding flour as you need to to stop it becoming sticky (but if you make it too dry the poppy seeds won’t stick). Sprinkle a good dessertspoon of poppy seeds on the bench top and roll the dough ball in them till they are well stuck.

I just put the dough ball, seedy side up, on a pizza tray.  Because I didn’t slash the top, it developed the moonscape texture, but I quite like that. I brushed the top with a bit of milk to glaze.

Leave, covered, in a warmish place for another hour or so, until it is well risen, then put in a cold oven set to medium.

Bake for around 50 minutes till the crust is golden and it sounds hollow when knocked.



If  you’ve been following The Breakfast Challenge then you’ll know I’m a bit ambivalent about porridge.  I’m trying to like it.  Oats for breakfast are hugely healthy – low GI, cholesterol busting,  lots of  B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – but regular old porridge is a bit bland for my tastes, unless it’s loaded up with brown sugar and cream, which sort of defeats the purpose.

So this is my kind of porridge – porridge with the flavours cranked right up.  But it needs a warning. Half the people I’ve tried it with love it (including me), half find it too confronting.  I think the test is, do you like pickled ginger? Or crystallized ginger? That sweet-hot combination? Then you will probably like this.

I’ve also added my recipe for skim milk yoghurt.  There are quite a few good recipes for yoghurt online, including Christine at Slow Living Essentials and Rhonda at Down To Earth.  I’ve avoided posting mine because I’m not sure which bits are really necessary to make it work and which bits are superstition!  But someone asked me in a Comment for my Skim Milk Yoghurt recipe, so here it is.

First the Spiced Strawberry Porridge Recipe:

For a single serve:

In a small pot, over a medium heat (too high and it will boil over) cook for around 5 minutes:

  • 1/3 cup plain (not quick) rolled oats 
  • 2 cups of water
  • ¼ teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger (start with ¼ – I like a bit more)
  • 1 good teaspoon of honey
  • good pinch salt
  • good pinch freshly ground black pepper ( Not as strange as it seems -strawberries and pepper are a classic combination)
  • little pinch powdered cloves

While it is cooking, hull and halve a cup of strawberries.

When the porridge is nearly thick enough, add the strawberries and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes longer.  You want the strawberries to be just softened and the porridge turning pink.

Serve with a dollop of:

Skim Milk Yoghurt

Ok, this is deceptively simple but there’s lots of chemistry involved.

  • You want skim milk with the whey proteins denatured by heat.
  • You want slightly more milk solids than in regular liquid milk.
  • You want as little dissolved oxygen as possible.
  • You want the yoghurt bug and no others.
  • And you want a nice warm environment for the yoghurt culture to grow in for 10 to 16 hours.

So, my method is to use powdered skim milk.  This already has the the proteins changed in the process of powdering, and I can make it a bit strong.  If you use fresh skim milk, you need to add a spoonful or two of powdered milk, and heat it up till it just starts to rise, then cool it down again.

I mix it fairly gently by shaking, not using a blender or eggbeater, to avoid incorporating air, and once it is made, I leave it right alone – no shaking, stirring or hassling at all.

I use boiled water to mix it, and I sterilized the jar I make it in (by pressure cooking it for 5 minutes) originally, so as to eliminate competition from other cultures.  (I have tank water with no chlorine, so maybe you don’t need to do this.) Then I just make another batch in the same jar, using the last of the last batch as the starter.

And I use a variety of methods to keep it all warm long enough – the warming oven in the wood stove, a wide mouthed thermos filled with hot water, a blanket and the dashboard of the car out in the sun.

The Recipe (Adapt to Suit)

If you are making it for the first time, sterilize a jar and its lid.  Once you have a jar going, you can just keep using it.

In the sterile jar, put

  • 2 big spoonfuls of plain yoghurt from your last batch, or bought yoghurt of a similar kind (I used Yalna Low Fat Greek Yoghurt)
  • ½ cup of skim milk powder, plus 2 dessertspoons more powder.  I make these last two spoonfuls full cream milk powder, just to add that little bit of richness, but it works with all skim milk powder.
  • 1½ cups of boiled water, cooled to just a bit warmer than “baby bath” temperature.

Put the lid on and tip the jar upside down then up again enough times to dissolve the powder and the yoghurt, without getting it all frothy.

Tip a kettle full of nearly boiling water into a wide mouthed thermos and put the jar, with its lid on, in the thermos.  Put the lid on the thermos, wrap the lot in a towel, and leave it sit without disturbance for 8 hours.  Check. If the water has cooled down, refill the thermos with nearly boiling water and leave it alone again.  It takes between 10 and 16 hours to set, depending, I think, on how vigorous the original culture was.

When it is set you can put it in the fridge, or use it to make labne.  Don’t forget to leave the last two spoonfuls in the jar to make the next batch.



Mulberry season is so short and so prolific, of all the things I am tempted to make jam from, mulberries are it.  But even mulberries don’t make it these days.

Once upon a time I used to make jam, when I was in my twenties, when I was doing 16 hours a day of physical work, when I was breastfeeding.  Several slices of bread loaded up with jam for breakfast, and another couple to finish off lunch.

But then my kids got to jam-eating age and trying to keep the sugar down and get them to really appreciate the more subtle tastes of fresh fruit, and filling the pantry up with home-made jam seemed a bit contradictory.  I’d make it, then go crook at them for eating it. And without breastfeeding or 16 hours of physical work to peel off the calories,  I lost my sweet tooth, and my partner banned his, so jam tended to just sit decoratively on the shelf for years.

So I stopped making it.

We are lucky.  In our climate there is seasonal fresh fruit available year round.  For a few weeks, mulberries are in everything. The birds get most of them but still there are unlimited amounts.  Then mulberry season is over, but just as the mulberries finish the blueberries start, then it’s on to the early stonefruit, then the grapes and mangoes and lychees and kiwis.  Then the passionfruit, apples and pears, then the mandarins and oranges.

Luckily I didn’t make any marmalade while citrus season was on. Otherwise I’d have to think about not letting it go to waste, rather than put mulberry not-jam on my toast.

The Recipe:

To get a nice variety of texture – whole chunks of mulberry in reduced mulberry syrup – you just need to cook the mulberries for different lengths of time.

Put a small pot on the stove with just a teaspoon of water and a little squeeze of lemon juice to start it off. Pinch the stem off and add mulberries one by one, giving it a stir every so often.  Add a teaspoon of sugar for each half cup of mulberries, just to get it turning jammy. As they cook, the mulberries will release juice, and at the same time evaporate off water.  So the amount of liquid should stay fairly constant and low.   Stop when you have enough or you run out of mulberries. The purple will wear off your fingers in a few hours, but don’t try this in a white shirt.

It will keep in the fridge for a while.  I really don’t know how long.  I’ve never tested it beyond a few days. But it is fast to make so I tend to just make what I need.

To make the yoghurt cream cheese, just leave some yoghurt (I use my homemade skim milk yoghurt) to strain through a fine cloth in the fridge overnight.  In the morning you will have yoghurt cream cheese in the cloth and an almost clear liquid strained out.  Transfer it to a clean jar and it will keep in the fridge for several days.



I found this gem iron in an op shop.  It took me several months and quite a few goes to learn how to use it, but now it is one of my favourite kitchen tools.  It’s a heavy cast iron baking tray for tiny little cake-scone-muffin bites called gems. It’s an old fashioned implement designed for the days when any self-respecting cook was expected to be able to whip up a batch of baking at a minute’s notice. Which makes gem irons due for a resurgence in these days when time poverty beats money poverty every day.

Once you get the hang of gem irons, this can be done in less than 20 minutes – 5 minutes preparation and 10 to 12 minutes cooking time – making it feasible to be a domestic goddess (or god) and bake on weekday mornings.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to medium high and put the gem iron on the top shelf. It needs to be sizzling hot before you put the batter in.

Use an egg beater to beat together

  • 1 egg
  • 3 dessertspoons of plain low fat yoghurt
  • 1 dessertspoon of honey
  • pinch cinnamon

Stir in

  • half a cup (4 good dessertspoons) of dried fruit, seeds and nuts.  I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, chopped macadamias and sultanas, but you could use dates, dried apple, almonds – whatever you have and is in season.
  • half a cup of rolled oats
  • 3 dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour

You will end up with a thick batter. Like muffin batter, it is best not over-mixed.

Take the hot gem iron out of the oven and put a tiny dob of butter in each hollow.  You only need a small teaspoonful altogether.  It will sizzle.  Tilt the iron to spread the melted butter.

Working quickly, spoon the batter into the hot gem iron and put it back in the oven, near the top and up fairly high. Bake for around 10 minutes till the gems are almost cooked.

The Syrup

Meanwhile, in a small pot, melt a good dessertspoon of butter and a good dessertspoon of honey together. Working quickly, spoon a little syrup over each gem and put them back in the oven for another few minutes.

They’re best hot, straight from the oven, but if you make a double batch, you may even have leftovers for lunch boxes, making this double as a Muesli Bar Challenge recipe as will.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, andtaste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)




On Mondays I travel an hour and a half to work, and I car pool which means I can’t be late.  So Monday mornings are somewhat rushed (to put it mildly!)  To make matters worse, it’s a full on day when I really don’t want to be fuzzy brained, and I often end up with a rushed and less than perfect lunch. I also work in a room full of people so I’m exposed to every  germ going round.

Fruit smoothies are a perfect breakfast solution.  There’s one for every season.  This is my current winter version. I have a tree full of navel oranges to get through. Custard apples are in season, and though they’re hard to go past just eating as is, to my taste the acidity of orange juice and yoghurt actually improves them. Custard apples are a good source of vitamin C (actually just as rich as oranges), and the magnesium and calcium in them are good for staying centred under stress. Add in some yoghurt for the protein and its a good balanced breakfast for on the run days.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

The Recipe:

Blend together

  • 1 small peeled and seeded custard apple
  • Juice of a large orange
  • two or three heaped dessertspoons of plain low fat yoghurt

That’s it. Pour into a glass and drink it, in the car on the way if you have to!




Blueberries are right in season up here in northern NSW, and with three major ingredients (blueberries, oats and yoghurt) in my superfoods list, this week’s Muesli Bar Challenge recipe blitzes the healthy criteria.  It is also really easy – literally 5 minutes to make then 25 to bake.

Oat bran is specially healthy, loaded with the kind of soluble fibre that stablises blood sugar,  iron that helps blood carry enough oxygen, protein, and Vitamins A and C.  Blueberries are another of those dark coloured fruit that, like mulberries, contain phytonutrients that are protective against a whole range of chronic conditions caused by free radical damage, including cancer, inflammation, diabetes, and infections. And yoghurt has the calcium benefits of dairy foods along with probiotic bacteria that would be very good for you except that they probably don’t survive the baking!

The Recipe

Turn your oven on to heat up.  Grease an 8 hole muffin tray.

In a bowl, mix together:

  • 1 cup of wholemeal self-raising flour
  • ¾ cup of oat bran
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder

In a food processor, blitz together:

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 dessertspoons of raw sugar
  • 1 dessertspoon of lemon juice
  • ¾ cup plain low fat yoghurt
  • 2 dessertspoons of macadamia or other light flavoured oil

Fold the wet mix into the dry mix, then fold in ¾ cup of blueberries.

Bake in a medium oven for around 25 minutes until the top is golden, they bounce back to the touch, and a skewer comes out clean.



My strawberry patch is laden at the moment, but despite the netting many of the berries are pecked. It’s pretty hard to beat a strawberry just as is, but they don’t travel that well in a lunch box, and this recipe is a good way to use the less than perfect ones.   Strawberries are one of the best sources of folate which is important for cell division, so growing kids know what’s good for them!

This recipe also has decent levels of protein and calcium in the cottage cheese and yoghurt, and of course eggs are a super-food rich in a whole range of nutrients.

If you liked the Passionfruit Cheesecake Slice back in Term One, this is the same concept.

This is the last Muesli Bar Challenge recipe for Term 3 –  recipes for lunch box baking based on  in-season fresh ingredients that are  healthy (low in sugar and saturated fat, low GI, wholegrain),  easy, and that my school age reviewers rate as preferable to the overpackaged junk food marketed as lunch box food.

The Recipe

For this recipe you need a shallow cake pan that is 21 cm diameter, or (preferably) a similar area in a square or rectangular shape, eg 18.5 cm square, or 14cm by 25 cm rectangle. Grease it with butter and line with greaseproof paper.

The base:

In the food processor, blend together:

  • 60 gm of butter,
  • 1 ½ dessertspoons of brown sugar,
  • ½ cup wholemeal SR flour and
  • ½ cup shredded coconut.

Press into the base of a pan so that it is about 1 cm thick.

The filling:

Rinse out the food processor, and blend together:

  • A scant ½ cup low fat cottage cheese or ricotta
  • A scant ½ cup low fat plain yoghurt
  • 2  eggs
  • 1 good dessertspoon cornflour (or cornstarch in US)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1½ dessertspoons brown sugar.
  • 200 grams of ripe strawberries.

Pour the filling over the base and bake in a moderate over for about 45 minutes until set. It will firm up a little more as it cools. Cool before cutting into 8 squares.