Friday, May 22, 2015

Chocolate Cashew "Uncheese Cake" Slice

My kids call this "fudge slice" when it is straight from the refrigerator because it is quite firm, but as it comes to room temperature it becomes softer, more like a cheese cake.  It has a nice, cashew flavour.  It is not a healthy slice - it is treat food.  But it is gluten-free, vegan treat food, so useful for all sorts of diets and allergies.  There is cane sugar and margarine in the glaze (icing) so you could just leave that off if necessary

Before I give you the recipe, just a quick note about the equipment used.  I used my Vitamix blender for the cashew filling (the main part of the slice).  I started it in a food processor (because I had that out for another recipe, and I used that for the base) but that didn't work.  The cashews were still gritty, and I wanted it to be completely smooth like a cheesecake.  It worked quickly and easily in the Vitamix.  If you don't have a Vitamix, I would suggest soaking the cashews overnight and then draining them well.  I haven't tried this yet though, and will edit this post once I get a chance.

The slice has three layers.  You could leave the top layer off, but it neatens it up.  Each layer is very quick but after the filling (the second layer) you do need to give it time to set in the freezer.  You could even just put it in the freezer overnight and add the glaze (the top layer) in the morning - this sets almost instantly.

Chocolate Cashew "Uncheese Cake" Slice

There are three layers on this slice.  You could leave the top layer off if you really wanted to.

Prepare a slice tin by lining it with parchment paper.


1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/3 cup raw cacao powder
4 1/2 (90 ml) tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or pulse them in a blender - you don't want to end up with nut butter!  Just mix enough to end up with something that looks like cheesecake biscuit base. Spoon this into your lined slice tray and press it down as evenly as you can.  Set aside.


2 1/2 cups raw cashews
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup raw cacao powder
3 medjool dates (remove the seeds)
1/2 cup water

In a Vitamix (or other high powered blender - see note above) blend together all the ingredients until the mixture is completely smooth and you can't tell from the texture that there are nuts in there.  Scrape this on top of the base in the slice tray and smooth it out.  Put it into the freezer until it is solid (about 2 hours).

It is easiest to remove the slice from the tray before adding the glaze as you wont spoil the look of the top (even if you have to turn it upside down) because it is frozen.  The glaze is easy to add out of the tray.  So, once the slice is frozen, remove it from the tray and set it aside while you make the glaze.


This is my standard smooth chocolate glaze for cakes.

1/2 cup sugar (I use raw organic sugar)
3 tablespoons (about 60 grams) margarine
1 1/2 tablespoons (30 ml) non-dairy milk
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder (sifted)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients except the vanilla in a saucepan.  Put over heat and stir with a wooden spoon - bring it to the boil.  Keep stirring while the glaze simmers for 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir continuously for 5 minutes.  Stir in the vanilla.

Working quickly, pour this over your slice and spread it.  Because the slice is so cold from the freezer the icing will set very fast - perhaps before you have it spread neatly (it goes smoothly onto room temperature cake).  You can have some boiling water ready in a glass to dip your spatula in to help with spreading if necessary.

CUT THE SLICE into squares and serve.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lessons in Jam Making: Part Two - Choosing Fruit

This is part two of the series on jam making.  Today we will talk about how to know if your fruit will be suitable.  This is a much shorter lesson then part one.


This is my non-scientific explanation of how to chose your fruit, and why some don't work on their own. 

For jam to set it needs to have both acid and pectin.  Jam works best with fresh fruit, because the pectin lessens as fruit is stored.  Pectin is the thing in fruit that makes jam set, so when choosing fruit, you need to make sure that it is a type with plenty of pectin.  It also needs to have some acid.  If the type of fruit that you are using is lacking in either acid or pectin, you can add some lemon juice, because it is high in both, or you can use something like "jamsetta" (which I think is made by Fowler's Vacola) or some other jam setting additive, in which case, you should follow the instructions on the packet.

Fruit with both pectin and acid

This fruit can be used without adding any lemon juice.

Citrus fruit
Crab apples

Fruit that is low in pectin

Add two tablespoons* (40 ml - Australian tablespoons are 20 ml each) lemon juice to 1 kg fruit.

Sour peaches

Fruit that is low in acid

Add two tablespoons* (40 ml) lemon juice to 1 kg fruit.

Sweet quinces
(These fruit go brown when exposed to air)

Fruit that is low in both acid and pectin

It is generally best to make jams that have this fruit mixed with other fruit, use added jamsetta or a similar product or lots of juice.

Sweet peaches
Most berries

You might notice that lots of our favourite jam flavours come into this category of low acid and low pectin.  That is why many of the recipes for these jams use a jam setting additive.

*In Australia, our tablespoons are 20 ml.  In the US, a tablespoon is 15 ml.  To complicate things, many kitchenware shops in Australia seem to sell US tablespoons (and perhaps don't even realise that there is a difference), and of course, Australians often cook from US recipes.  I like to give a measurement in millilitres where possible to avoid confusion. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lessons in Jam Making: Part One - The Basic Method

Today, we will start with a basic lesson in jam making, and later in the series I will give you some jam making recipes to get you started.  If you have never made jam before, I would suggest that you read through the information in today's post, and perhaps keep it handy for your first jam making session, but use one of the recipes to make your first batch or two.  After that you should be able to use this basic method to make jam with whatever fruit you have in abundance.

The lessons will be:
Part One - The Basic Method
Part Two - Choosing Fruit
Part Three - Processing Sealed Jars (Using a Water Bath)
Part Four - Tomato Jam
Part Five - Apple and Strawberry Jam
Part Six - Apple Jam

Basic Jam Making Method


Fruit (there is more information about fruit selection following) - about 2 kg
Sugar - about 2kg


LARGE SAUCEPAN - Currently, I have a "maslin pan" - this is a wide pan made especially for jam making.  I love it because my jam can be shallow in it and thus reduce down quickly, and because there are measurements on the inside of the pan so I don't have to measure my fruit cup-by-cup.  I have been making jam for years though, and only got this pan in the past year or so, using the large saucepan that I also use for soup previously.  Don't feel like you have to buy a special pan.

SPOON - I use a wooden spoon

JARS - For years, jam recipes said that you could reuse clean jars from supermarket purchases, sterilise the jars before using, and just seal them quickly after filling.  This is what I did.  Now, recipes say that the jars need to be processed in a water bath after filling - like when you preserve a jar of peaches or similar (called canning in the US or preserving in Australia).  So this is what I do now.  In my case, I use Ball Mason preserving jars and a Ball Mason brand preserving pot.  When I have a smaller quantity I use their little starter kit with a stock pot purchased elsewhere - for three jars or less it takes a lot less time to boil the pot of water then the full Ball Mason pot.  If you have this set up, you will probably already know how to do this.  Otherwise, I will give a few details.  I would suggest buying the Ball Blue Book of preserving for accurate information about times, etc.

PRESERVING POT AND OTHER EQUIPMENT - This is discussed above.  If you don't have all this equipment already, it should not stop you from making jam.  It is only recently that jam recipes added the recommendation to process sealed jars of jam in a water bath.  It will ensure safe food, and is what I do.  You could keep jam (even sealed jars) in the frig.  I am not going to recommend skipping the step of processing jars that will be kept out of the frig, but you will still find many recipe books that say that you don't have to do it.  I will describe the processing equipment in more detail when I explain how to do it.

OPTIONAL - JAM THERMOMETER - This is not necessary, but is very useful in telling that the jam is ready.

Knife, chopping board, measuring cup or jug


1)  Prepare the fruit - cut off bad bits, peel, core, remove seeds, chop up, etc.  Make sure you are using good fruit. 

2)  Put the fruit into your saucepan - it should only be about 5 cm (2 inches) deep so that later the liquid can evaporate better.  Don't get too fussy with this measurement - its just to give you the idea.

3)  Cover with a little water if necessary (I generally wouldn't use water or would only use a tiny bit for tomato jam and strawberry jam as they are already pretty watery).

4)  Boil the fruit until it is as soft as you like it on your toast.  Once you add sugar to cooking fruit it wont soften any more.

Meanwhile, prepare your jars.

  • Wash the jars well and rinse them in hot water.
  • Now you have to sterilise the jars.  You can do this in the oven or in boiling water. 
  • Before I started using Ball Mason Jars and processing after bottling, I use to sterilise jars in the oven.  To sterilise them in the oven, put them the right way up, open, on an oven tray that has several thicknesses of newspaper on it.  Don't let the jars touch each other.  Put this into a cold oven.  Turn the oven on to about 120-150 degrees Celsius and leave the jars until you need them - 30 minutes at least.  Put the lids into a small saucepan, cover with water and boil them.
  • My current method is to follow the Ball recommendations.  My jars are washed and put into my preserving pot on a rack so they don't touch the bottom, and completely covered in water.  This is brought to the boil and the jars are boiled for 10 minutes.  It takes longer then you expect to bring that quantity of water to the boil, so start it early and then reheat the jars in the water when the jam is almost ready.  The Mason Jar lids (new lids for each batch) need to be put into a small pot and covered with water, and then brought to a simmer (not a rolling boil) for 10 minutes.
5)  Measure your fruit mixture in cups and add one cup of sugar for each cup of fruit.  Add this off the heat.

6)  Return the mixture to the heat and stir it until ALL the sugar has dissolved.  Test this by feeling it between your clean fingers (but don't burn your fingers).  Make sure there isn't any undissolved sugar on the side of the pot - you can brush down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush or scrape them with a silicone bowl scraper/spatula.  It is important that your jam doesn't boil until all the sugar is dissolved.

7)  After the sugar is dissolved, bring your mixture to the boil without stirring.  From here on, don't stir your jam.  If you are worried about it sticking, occasionally use a wooden spoon to move it gently about.

8)  Boil the jam without the lid on until it is ready when tested.

  • Have a clean saucer ready in the freezer.
  • When you first start boiling the jam, if you get a spoonful of mixture and tip it back into the pot, it will run off the spoon like water.  Wait until jam blobs seem to come together a bit before dropping off your wooden spoon.
  • Put a small amount (about a teaspoonful) of jam onto your cold saucer, and put it back into the freezer until the jam reaches about room temperature.  While you wait for it to cool, remove the rest of the jam from the heat or it may overcook. 
  • When at room temperature, the jam should be a good spreading consistency.  If it is too runny, boil it more and test it again.
ALTERNATIVELY:  use a jam thermometer (this really is easiest, although I still like to use the saucer test).  The jam will be ready at 105-106 deg C (220-222 deg F).

9)  Remove the jam from heat and your jars from the oven or the boiling water.  You want the jam and the jars to both be very hot or the jars will crack.  If there is any froth on the top of the jam that would look bad, skim it off (put it into a bowl for spreading on bread later - it looks bad but tastes good). 

10)  Fill the jars right up with jam and put the lids on.  In part three of this series I will describe the processing of the jars after they are filled with jam.

Refrigerate after opening.


Friday, May 8, 2015


Edited to add:  I decided a while ago to start a new blog, so that it had a more general focus - my old blog had started with mostly sewing and similar things.  Below is the introduction for that new blog.

But you will see that I have written very few posts.

So I decided to merge the two blogs.  I should delete the introduction now because it is completely out of place, but it does sort of explain the change in direction of the blog, so for now, it can stay.


Welcome to my blog. 

Right now I'm sitting at my dining room table, wondering what to write for my introduction.  I know what I'm going to write for my first "real" post - I've just finished a batch of tomato jam, and I have the photos to prove it.  But before I can write that post, I have to introduce myself.

Two out of four of my children are in the room.  They're talking.  They're wrapping presents for me (behind my back) for mother's day in two days.  They say its fine to wrap in the same room as me because I can't see them.  My husband is across the table trying to give me suggestions of what to write.  I can see his mouth moving, but can't hear a thing he is saying, because another of my children is playing the piano (beautifully) in the next room which is only a couple of metres away.  The final of my four children is off riding his bike with his mates.

On the table are the crumbs and empty plates from afternoon tea, an empty glass bowl that had tomatoes in it that have now become jam, and sixteen jars of preserved pears from earlier in the week, waiting for labelling so they can be put away.  There are also numerous books, catalogues, lists, pens, and little bits of shopping that have yet to be put away - the table was clear last Saturday, and today is Friday.  It stayed mostly clear for most of the week, but Saturday is our big tidying day, so it will be good again by the end of tomorrow.

In this blog I will write about our efforts to "live with awareness".  I told my husband that if I wrote that here I would need to define it - "awareness of what?".  He said "that's the point".  Hmmm.  We try to be aware of many things in our decision making - the environment, our health, God, community, the future, the impact on the kids, etc.  This brings us to doing things like moving backwards down the production line when buying things - that is, buying fruit to make jam instead of buying jam, making some of our clothes, making healing salves for simple things, trying to grow some food, etc.  We also look to minimise harm to others with our purchasing decisions, so we buy fair trade and/or organic when possible.  I will include recipes, methods, patterns and ideas.  I hope that you will find something useful.

Present wrapping is now happening right in front of me - I'm keeping my eyes glued to the screen as I type so that I don't see what is being wrapped.  Its time to clean up the afternoon tea, put into the oven the bread that is still rising and heat up leftover minestrone soup for dinner.