vegan dark-chocolate + salted caramel cheesecake

Deception is a funny thing. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan, especially when at my own expense, and surely I speak for the majority of the human race here. However, deception is most welcome in one particular instance: dessert. Deceive me all you like. Tell me that dessert is going to be flowing with caramel, studded with crunchy, chocolatey pieces. Brag about its creamy texture and how it can wash my tears away. Tell me its deceptively wholesome – two harmoniously, co-existing words. I’m a big fan.

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Deception describes this very recipe which I’m passing onto you, one that will seem naughty, indulgent, decadent, and believe me, it is, but for all the right reasons. You’ve got cashews and coconut cream lending to the filling’s creamy texture; there’s unrefined rapadura in the silky caramel topping. Oh, and that crunchy base? Heart-healthy nuts and magnesium-rich cocoa. You can’t go wrong. This rich little number is so silky, so smooth, so filling that you’ll only need a little piece to make the world a better place. All the while, you’ll be deceiving yourself.

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vegan dark-chocolate + salted caramel cheesecakeย – gluten free, vegan + almost raw (caramel topping is cooked) – makes 1×7″ cheesecake – loosely adapted from Deliciously Raw and Bojon Gourmet

you’ll need…

for the caramel topping:

  • 3/4 cup coconut cream (what’s remaining of a 270ml Ayam-brand can after removing 1/4 cup for the filling below)
  • 1/2 cup rapadura sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • cocoa nibs and sea salt flakes, for presentation

for the base – adapted from Deliciously Raw:

  • 1/2 cup macadamias
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1.5 tsp dark cocoa (increase to 3 or so tsp if using regular/raw cocoa)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla powder (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 3 Medjool dates, pitted
  • pinch of salt

for the filling – adapted from Bojon Gourmet:

  • 300g cashews, soaked for 8 hours or overnight, drained
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 4 tblsp dark cocoa (increase to 6 is using regular/raw cocoa)
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream (I use Ayam brand – the remainder is used in the caramel above)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup melted cocoa butter

here’s what you do…

  1. Begin the caramel by combining all ingredients in a small saucepan and bringing to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and stir occasionally for 20 or so minutes until the caramel has reduced and thickened, then set aside to cool.
  2. While the caramel is cooking, prepare the base. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until mixture is finely chopped and begins to come together. You want the mix to stick together when pressed between your fingers – add another date or two if this does not happen. Press the mix into the bottom of a lined 7-inch springform tin and freeze for now.
  3. For the filling, combine all ingredients except the cocoa butter and blend until smooth. Quickly add the cocoa butter and continue to blend until no more lumps remain (you may need a tamp to keep the mixture moving). Pour the mixture over the base and refrigerate until set (4 hours) or place into the freezer to hasten the process. Keep in the fridge once set.
  4. Spread the cooled caramel over the set cheesecake and sprinkle with cocoa nibs and sea salt upon serving. Lasts 4 or so days in the fridge – if you can keep it that long!
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fig, hazelnut + cocoa granola spiked with espresso

I have a torrid love-hate affair with coffee. Love the taste, loathe the after-effects: racing heart, sweaty palms, inability to sit still. It’s never agreed with me, despite my love for everything coffee. It marries beautifully with cocoa, cardamom and vanilla, to say the least. It’s the epitome of social catch-ups. It makes sleepless nights (and the unavoidable morning to follow) that much more bearable. I watch my Italian family knock back espresso’s like water, while I slip slowly on my chamomile tea, because Italians think you’re a martian if you ask for decaf. But luckily, in the safety of my kitchen walls, away from confused barista’s glances, I can use decaf freely, and it works a treat.

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I mentioned espresso pairs so well with cocoa, and this is key in this recipe. With both having a rich and earthy flavour, they play off each other wonderfully. You can’t taste the espresso explicitly as it more so lends an intensity to the overall chocolate flavour, and the figs lend the sweetness that roasted, dried fruit brings. The hazelnuts and nut butter give it a Nutella-esque feel, while also giving you a great hit of protein and good fats. A little goes a long way with this batch, so top a handful with fresh fruit, creamy yoghurt and your favourite milk to give you a deliciously naughty but nutritious breakfast (or midnight snack).

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fig, hazelnut + cocoa granola spiked with espresso – vegan, gluten-free (if using certified oats) – loosely adapted from the kitchn

you’ll need…

  • 120g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1.5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1/2 cups finely chopped dried figs
  • 1/4 cup pepitas
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (70% cocoa content – sub cacao nibs or omit if you don’t have)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1.5 tsp dark cocoa (I use Cacao Barry Brute – sub 2 tsp regular cocoa if you don’t have)
  • 2 tblsp hazelnut butter (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 fresh espresso shots (60ml – I use 2x decaf pods – if you prefer a less intense bitterness, use only 1x30ml shot)

here’s what you do…

  1. Preheat oven to 160C (fan-forced). Place hazelnuts, oats, buckwheat, figs, pepitas, chia and choc chips in a large bowl, stirring to combine.
  2. Place remaining ingredients into a small saucepan and heat on medium, stirring just until mixture comes together. Pour contents of pan into the bowl of oat mixture, stirring to coat thoroughly.
  3. Spread mixture onto a lined baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until mixture starts to dry out slightly and brown up. Allow to cool on the tray before storing in an airtight container.

Note: I’m not a fan of super sweet granola, preferring to add sweetness in the form of fruit (this pairs wonderfully with fresh strawberries and banana). If you prefer it sweeter, up the maple syrup content during prep, tasting as you go.

cinnamon, maple + yoghurt pannacotta with roasted banana

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a rule breaker; drinking red wine with fish, making u-turns at the traffic lights, mixing recycling with the non-recycling. Yeah, I’m wild like that. And it only gets wilder with my obsession of eating dessert for breakfast (see exhibit A). I’m all for blurring the lines between what is and isn’t suitable to eat in the morning. A chocolate cupcake for breakfast? Surely not. A chocolate muffin? Satisfying chocoholics in an acceptable manner since the dawn of time.

IMG_1177 (1)Now, when you think pannacotta, you may think it’s what wobbly, cream-laden dreams are made of. And while that is certainly true, and may it forever and always be so, let me introduce to you an alternative, most acceptable manner in which to devour pannacotta in the mornings; with thick, creamy yoghurt. This breakfast-cum-dessert is so simple to whip up, and you can rest assured knowing you’ve got your morning meal sorted for a couple of days ahead. Plus, it’s a fabulous probiotic-boost for your gut. Feel free to play around with the spices and even the toppings; we’ve made vanilla and berry versions before, and even chai-spiced treats. Granola pairs with them wonderfully, lending that crunchy texture to juxtapose with the soft yoghurt. Who said you can’t have sweet, creamy jelly for breakfast? I suppose I’m *wild* like that.

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cinnamon, maple + yoghurt pannacotta with roasted banana – pannacotta adapted from Taste.com.au – gluten free, serves 4

you’ll need…

  • 1 cup full cream milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (if you have more of a sweet tooth, or are making this as dessert, increase to 1/3 cup)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnnamon
  • 3 tsp powdered gelatine
  • 500g plain, greek yoghurt, at room temperature
  • 2 large, ripe bananas (or 3-4 small ones)
  • 2-3 tbsp coconut or rapadura sugar
  • 1/3 cup flaked almonds, toasted

here’s what you do…

  1. Heat the milk, maple syrup and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the maple dissolves.
  2. Place 1/4 cup of boiling water in a ramekin or small dish, sprinkle over gelatin and mix until gelatine has dissolved. Add to the milk mixture and mix well, then leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
  3. Combine the milk and gelatine mix with the yoghurt in a large bowl, whisking thoroughly. Place into 4 ramekins or greased dariole moulds and chill for 4 hours, or overnight.
  4. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 200C (180C fan forced). Cut bananas lengthways, leaving skin on, and sprinkle over sugar, ensuring a nice even layer. Place on baking tray and roast until tender and sugar has melted/caramelised, about 10 or so minutes (depending on size/ripeness of banana). Slip off their skins and discard.
  5. Serve pannacotta with roasted banana and flaked almonds.

green bean, pea + asparagus salad with vanilla vinaigrette

I’ll admit I’ve never felt strong feelings towards green beans, most likely something I’ve carried through from childhood. Surely the only green things children like are green snakes, green smarties, green leaves (yeah, not that spinach stuff, I mean the sugary spearmint leaves) and so on and so forth. I often scream with excitement when my children eat a couple of green peas (on the inside of course; on the outside I’m truly too scared to even breath or even move in case they sense my satisfaction and then proceed to spit it out and completely ruin my moment of triumph). So when my son saw me eating my vanilla greens, he was quite confused as to how it wasn’t in the shape of a cake. Can you blame him?

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I thought it was about time I put my big girl pants on and acquaint myself with green beans, because if I can love other green veggies, why not spread the love ’round? And if there’s a recipe for persuading even the most stubborn greens eater, this is the one. The warm vanilla vs the zingy apple cider vinegar vs the mint…it just works. These three greens go fabulously together but you can choose whatever you like, such as leek, snow peas or even just simple spinach. I’ve served this salad with fish and even red meat, but it is delicious in it’s own right, not to mention super healthy. It’s safe to say I won’t be neglecting the humble green bean anymore.

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green bean, asparagus + pea salad with vanilla vinaigrette – serves 1, or 2 as a side

you’ll need…

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 100g green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla powder, or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • handful of mint leaves, to serve

here’s what you do…

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil and add a few pinches of salt. Once boiling, pop in your asparagus, beans and peas and put your timer on for 3 minutes (if your asparagus is quite thick, you might need to cook for longer, in which case put it in before the beans and peas and time accordingly). Drain and refresh in cold water.
  2. Meanwhile, for the dressing, combine the oil, vinegar and vanilla and season well.
  3. Assemble greens on the plate, slicing some asparagus spears and beans lengthways in half for presentation. Drizzle over the dressing, scatter with mint leaves and season accordingly.

honey + roast macadamia ice-cream

I was scared of the dark, as most wee ones are, with each and every bump in the night amplified in my head. I would often have a sleepover at my Nonna’s house, and with my Nonno having passed many years earlier, her queen-size bed was only half full. It was my spot when I’d come to stay. She would let me cuddle up next to her, allay my fears by promising (read: fibbing) her toy poodle would scare off any monsters, and just before bed, we’d have a mug of warm milk and honey. Milky-sweet and soothing, it was to help me sleep, and it often did. If I could embody this home remedy in an ice-cream, this is the one.

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Although it’s only the end of winter, I felt it fitting to use up the egg yolks in my fridge in this ice-cream recipe I’ve wanted to try for years. The page had been ripped from a very old issue of New Idea (thanks, Mum) and has significantly yellowed, totally vintage. Creamy, rich and oddly warming, the roast macadamias give it a real grown-up touch, perfectly complementing the honey. Try to use good-quality honey that can lend a distinctive taste as well as sweetness. Serve in your finest waffle cone, or eat straight from container (guilty, as charged).

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honey + roast macadamia ice-cream – adapted from New Idea – refined-sugar free, gluten free

you’ll need…

  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup macadamias
  • 4 whole eggs, plus 2 extra egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup good quality honey

here’s what you do…

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Place cream into a medium-sized sauce pan and gently bring to a simmer.
  2. Place nuts on a baking tray and roast for 8 or so minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. You want them to be slightly golden brown. Chop roughly.
  3. Place the eggs, yolks and honey in a medium-sized bowl and whisk until combined. Once cream has come to a simmer, slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so as not to curdle the eggs. Pour the entire mix back into the saucepan, and place over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens (about 5-8 min). You want the mix to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Strain the custard and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, popping the nuts in about 10 minutes before the end of the freezing cycle (once the ice-cream has significantly frozen and thickened up so the nuts don’t fall to the bottom of the mix). If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, pour into a deep tray, cover and freeze until there is a solid rim of frozen custard around the rim. Transfer to a chilled bowl, beat vigorously with electric beaters, and stir in the nuts. Return to the tray and freeze until firm.

chorizo, fennel + leek soup

I always felt cheated to have been born in June, the beginning of winter. It meant no pool parties for my birthday, not even a drop of sunshine. It meant no ice-cream cake, because who wants to eat frozen goods when they can’t feel their fingertips. It also meant no flaunting that cute summer dress you always wanted to wear to impress your high school crush. Basically, an all round miserable affair, when you’re 13.

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It rains, without fail, each year on the 23rd of June, as if Mother Nature is still quietly chuckling to herself. While I’d once frown at the thought of blustery birthdays, I adore them, becoming quietly introverted throughout the winter months. I love the change in daily habits, especially our eating, welcoming more heartier meals, such as rich soups and slow cooked stews. I never thought I’d convince myself to love winter, but I guess wisdom comes with age, right?

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Rich, warming and nourishing, this soup will get you through your coldest days, when you’re certain you lost a toe due to frostbite overnight. It’s a quick one too, taking around 30 minutes from prep to table. The key is to using a really good quality chorizo, as well as using homemade stock. The latter really is a non-negotiable – you’ll reap plenty more health benefits, not to mention its superior taste, compared to powdered/cubed stocks. You’ll find a recipe for chicken stock here, for which you can omit the celery, and replace with the leek and fennel tops for minimal wastage.

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chorizo, fennel + leek soup – serves 4-6 – loosely adapted from Woman’s Day – gluten free

you’ll need…

  • 1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 good quality chilli chorizo, halved lengthways and sliced
  • 1 small leek, white part only, sliced (reserve top for stock, if desired)
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly (reserve top for stock, if desired)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1.25L homemade/good quality chicken stock
  • 400g tin of chickpeas (or 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, then simmered on stovetop for 1 hour and drained)
  • 1 bunch of silverbeet, leaves roughly chopped (stalks can be reserved for this fab recipe)
  • 4 very ripe roma tomatoes, chopped (if you cannot find ripe ones, 1 tin of tomatoes would be better than underripe tomatoes)
  • pepitas, for garnish + crunch factor

here’s what you do…

  1. Heat a large saucepan on high, adding oil and chorizo. Fry for a few minutes, until chorizo is crispy and golden.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low, adding leek, fennel and garlic. Fry gently for 10 minutes, or until fennel is softened and caramelised. Add paprika and fry for a further 1 minute, or until fragrant.
  3. Add chicken stock and chickpeas and bring to the boil. Simmer on low, covered, for 15 minutes. Season well.
  4. Add the silverbeet leaves and tomatoes, simmering for a further 4-5 minutes or until leaves are wilted. Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and pepitas.

chewy pistachio shortbread + lemon curd sandwiches

I adore the gorgeous green hue pistachios lend to whatever they pair with, whether it be a buttery biscuit or as a pesto rubbed into chicken. It’s vibrancy can brighten up anyย  dish, and they are fabulously delicious. Whilst craving a quick sweet last night, I envisaged something teaming with the fresh lemon curd I had made earlier in the week. Crispy and short, these biscuits were the perfect fit, and because the only thing better than a biscuit alone are biscuits with delicious things between them, right?

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I made a beeline for the kitchen, annoyed I hadn’t thought ahead and allowed the butter to come to room temperature for any upcoming baking. Then I found this recipe calling for cold butter, prompting a small victory dance. Said dance was repeated when I devoured the finished product. You’ll soon see why!

The silky lemon curd has the perfect acidity coupled with the buttery biscuit, and these babies are so light and more-ish you’ll be tempted to finish the entire batch, which is totally not what we did, honest. Lies aside, these make the perfect midweek treat, being quick, simple, and the best part, they only use one appliance: your trusty food processor.

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chewy pistachio shortbread + lemon curd sandwiches – makes approx 30 ‘sandwiches’, or if done in a half batch, 15

you’ll need…

pistachio shortbread – adapted from epicurious

  • 1.5 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup golden icing sugar (simply unrefined icing sugar, sub in regular icing sugar if you cannot find)
  • 1/2 cup unshelled/unsalted pistachios
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 170g chilled butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

lemon curd – adapted from Sweetapolita

  • 4-6 lemons, depending on their size/juiciness
  • 2 whole eggs plus 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup raw/golden caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

here’s what you do…

  1. For the shortbread, process flour, sugar, pistachios and salt until nuts are roughly chopped. Add butter, egg yolk and vanilla, processing until dough comes together into a moist ball.
  2. Weigh the dough, and divide equally in half. Roll each half into a 20x3cm log and wrap in cling film. Freeze for 30 minutes or until firm. For 30 cookies/15 sandwiches, use only one log. For 60 cookies/30 sandwiches, use both.
  3. Preheat oven to 160C (fan forced). Slice log into 0.5cm thick rounds and place onto a lined baking tray, baking until slightly golden on edges (approx 14 min). Cool on trays completely.
  4. For the lemon curd, finely zest lemons until you have 2 tsp of zest and set aside. Juice lemons until you have 160ml of juice. Place into a large heatproof bowl with the zest, eggs and egg yolks, sugar and butter.
  5. Bring a large saucepan to the boil with 1 inch of water (one that fits the heatproof bowl over the top snugly) and then turn down to a simmer. Place the bowl of lemon mixture on top and whisk constantly until thickened, approx 7-10min. To test if it’s ready, put a wooden spoon into the mix and see if it coats the back of the spoon, meaning it’s cooked. Strain into a large bowl, then place into sterilised jars.
  6. To assemble, spread curd onto cooled biscuits and sandwich with another biscuit. Enjoy!