Tag Archives: food

’tis the season…

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… mini fruit mince pies….

…to make Christmas Fruit Mince Pies!

I love Christmas food… don’t we all?… but most of it is off my diet, so over the last few years I’ve tweaked a few recipes to make my own Niquie-safe versions.

 

 

 

These mini mince pies are one of my favourites. They are very rich, so you only want to make them small (this, I discovered by trial and error), and they fit beautifully in those little mini-muffin cases.

Pie Casing Ingredients:

(to make 24 mini fruit mince pies)

  • 200g / 2cups almond flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 30g butter (or equivalent of sweet macadamia oil)
  • 2 tablespoons honey

This year I am experimenting with ‘natural’ almond flour, that is, almond meal that has been ground with the almond skins on, and I have split the quantities to add 1/2 cup of coconut flour. I’ve also added a teeny amount (very scientific measurements) of ground spices, just to add a certain piquancy to the flavour. Talking of piquancy, I’ve also used a gorgeous macadamia oil that has been infused with lemon myrtle.

Method:

  1. Measure out and mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Since sieving natural almond flour is rather beside the point, I crushed any lumps of flour or bicarb between my fingers as I mixed.
  2. Pour in the honey and oil together, and mix it all together with a fork or a spoon. Check consistency. I added a bit more oil, possibly due to the ‘natural’ nature of the almond flour.
  3. Knead gently to form a smooth ball, then pop it into the refrigerator for about half an hour to firm up a bit before you start rolling out.
  4. Knead gently to ease it out, then roll between two pieces of baking paper.
  5. At this point, I discovered, it is easiest to use a small cutter to determine the size of your bottom pie case, then just roll it into a small ball and squish (another example of scientific terminology) into the mini-muffin case, using your thumb to create a sizeable dent in the middle. If you want, you can ease a neatly cut circle into place, but I decided this was getting a bit fiddly.
  6. Spoon in your favourite fruit mince to fill the dent (I use my Mum’s home made mince, but you do have to make this in advance for the flavours to have fully seeped into the mix).
  7. Cut a tiny circle from the dough to make a ‘lid’ for each of the pies – I use a vodka shot glass that I somehow ‘inherited’ from our older children when they left home. Very handy. And I poke some holes in the top with a toothpick. Of the pie lid.  Not the shot glass.
  8. Bake for about 15-20 minutes at about 180oC. Think about popping a piece of baking paper over the top to prevent burning and be prepared to let it cook a bit longer if necessary. The art of cooking with almond flour is a lesson in flexibility.
  9. Let cool (the hardest part… waiting, waiting) and enjoy with a glass of your favourite Christmas cheer (or a cup of tea… chai tea goes well…)

 

As far as Christmas traditions go in our family, when I was growing up the mince pies were for celebrating Christmas Eve, generally taken with a smidgen of dry sherry (or ginger ale for the kids), usually after attending a vigil service at church. I still do this with my Mum, but it isn’t quite the same here in Australia, because we rarely (okay, never) have to trudge through snow to get to the church… and then I drive home, so I don’t partake in any alcoholic beverages at this stage. I usually have a tot of fine whisky (a fine single malt for preference) when I get back to Seventy Seven Acres, along with another mince pie with Matt and Will. After all, Christmas is all about family.

Christmas Fruit Mince Pies are also brilliant for Afternoon Tea on Christmas day, if you still have any room left after Dinner, or any time during the day at all really, especially on Boxing Day when nobody ever eats proper meals but spends the day grazing happily on leftovers.

NB. Whilst it’s probably too late now if you are looking for something to make quickly for Christmas, for future reference this is the basic fruit mince mix my Mum makes, although it tends to change a bit each year:

1 cup raisins, I cup sultanas, 1/2 cup chopped (pitted) dates, 1/2 cup (or more) mixed peel*, dark honey (about that much – mm – several dessert spoons full?) or dark brown sugar, if you prefer, whisky to taste (a good slosh – sorry, getting all scientific again), a half to full teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg or any other spice that you like… and you can add a goodly spoonful or two of your favourite marmalade, too, if you feel so inclined. And some chopped almonds or walnuts can be a nice addition, although the pies are very nutty as it is.

*crystallising your own can be much fun, too

Put it all in a bowl and mix it all up (a very quick whizz in a food processor is okay, but VERY is the operative word, or you get mush not mince), then transfer to an airtight container and leave in a cool, dark place for at least a week to develop the full flavour.

Mum recycles jam jars and hands them out to interested rellies. Whilst this is not strictly according to my diet, Mum goes all out to make it as Niquie friendly as possible and I tell myself it is only once a year. Although the mince does keep quite well in the fridge, so I usually have some left over ready for Christmas in July (mmm…you’d have to be Australian [or possibly from some other country in the southern hemisphere] to understand).

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas full of love and peace and joy… or, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, wishing you a happy holiday season with pretty much the same sentiments.

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… a little bit of summer

flowers against a blue sky

flowers against a clear, blue, February sky…

February in this part of the world can either be the height of summer, with soaring temperatures and long, dry days, or a time when autumn winds make an early appearance, bringing drizzly weather.

early signs of autumn...

… and early signs of autumn’s approach

The year Will was born, February was a sizzler… I remember it well, because, Will being Will, he was late.  You really feel the heat when you are 9+ months pregnant.

This summer, not so.

It’s definitely been summer, with plenty of summery storms, but the temperatures have been mild.  The most you can really say is that it has been February…

…Will’s birthday month.

 

 

February birthdays can be a bit awkward. Being only just back at school makes it hard to provide friends with an adequate time frame for party invitations, and lots of families are too busy trying to get back into the swing of things to want to make the effort of a lengthy drive out to the bush.

This year felt like a bit of an anti climax for Will, too, as he had a very expensive Christmas gift that was also supposed to be for his birthday, as well, and many of the relatives that we usually rely on to be part of a family celebration were away on various holidays (one on the other side of the country).

I’ve promised that once the start of year madness has settled down we’ll organise a day at the go kart track or try our hand at some archery again, but for the time being it was just him and us. Our plan for fish and chips at the lake (take-away food is a rare event in our household) was cancelled due to an impending storm, but, since Will has recently discovered calamari rings, Matt decided to ‘do’ some calamari at home for something a bit different.

This might seem straightforward until you realise that prepared calamari is all highly gluten-y and way off my diet. Hey, you say, but weren’t you about to eat fish and chips down at the lake? No, not I.  I would have been bringing my own home-made salmon salad to eat while the boys had the fish and chips.

And… only ‘controllable’ gluten products usually make it into our kitchen (into a separate cupboard where only the brave dare go), so this calamari was going to be a Seventy Seven Acre special.

Matt went into the kitchen innocent of any major plan and, after some time turned out a dish that, to be honest, I had to be suspicious of… isn’t it a well known fact that squid has to be cooked incredibly quickly? Well, this took hours!

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It. Was. Delicious. Tender. And. Juicy.

And I could eat it. Yay.

So here it is: Seventy Seven Acre ‘Calamari’ a la Matt

You will need…

  • squid (one tube was sufficient for the three of us)
  • lemon
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper
  • chilli powder (or fresh chilli if you prefer, we didn’t have any on hand)
  • garlic
  • a decent sized mango (!)
  • small red and small green capsicum (peppers)
  • olive oil
  • white wine (enough to splash)

And so it begins…

  • get some squid rings (or a tube to slice up yourself) from a fishmonger who sells it (relatively) fresh – we live about 140 km away from the sea as the crow flies, and about 240 km via a windy road – so we had to take that the squid was fresh on trust – I’ve learned to be wary of frozen products which often have flour around them so they don’t stick together)
  • 4 hours (yep, that’s a 4) before you plan to serve it, marinade in lemon juice (about half a lemon freshly squeezed), freshly ground coriander and black pepper, chilli powder and garlic (to taste)
  • slice up the mango and add about a third of it to the marinade
  • let it all sit for 2 and a half hours (or so, while you head off to do something vitally important)

Later…

  • roughly dice the capsicum (peppers)
  • heat a minimal amount of olive oil in a pan suitable for sauteing (stainless steel is best)
  • saute capsicum, add the rest of the mango
  • add white wine to make a very wet sauce
  • bring to simmer
  • add the (by now well-marinated) squid
  • bring slowly back to a simmer and cook long and slow to reduce the sauce (this is the bit that made me suspicious, I was expecting a ‘throw it in and swish it around a few times’)

Much later…

  • Serve with salad of choice.
  • And / or rice if you wish.

PS Gran was good enough to make Will a superb birthday cake – my attempts having failed due to a lack of conventional oven and the little convection oven we’ve been using until we can afford to replace the now dead oven in our kitchen apparently being completely unsuitable for baking nut flour based cakes. Sadly. And expensively.

 

PPS the quote “…a little bit of summer” that I used for the title is actually about winter:

“One must maintain a little bit of summer,
even in the middle of winter.”

~Henry David Thoreau

but it seemed quite appropriate to our summer this year, which has seemed to be only a little bit of summer (although, I have loved our milder, rainier weather this year… really).

Computers, Catastrophes, and Comfort Food…

I think I’ve recovered, now, but a few weeks ago I had one of those horrible moments when my old computer (read: very old) had been decommissioned and the new machine decided it was going to throw a tantrum.

My new computer, lurking beside my desk....

My new computer, lurking beside my desk….

Matt had been very careful building the new ‘box’ and had moved all my vast amounts of work across before the old computer had been gently put out to rest, but things weren’t going smoothly… so he decided to rebuild.

Fine so far.

He did a big back-up of all my data, and backed out of the first build, tweaked some of the open source installations and brought the newby back up.

Except it didn’t.

When he came to bed after the late nighter, he had mumbled something indistinct about something I didn’t quite understand, and promised me it would all be okay, but, when I rose early to do some writing, what I got was an unintelligible message basically telling me that, well, everything had gone away and the computer didn’t want to speak to me about it.

I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it would be okay. I knew that I had copies of my work on a USB stick and an external hard drive, it was just this restore that had gone awry, and, even if it couldn’t be fixed, it was really only the last couple of weeks of work that had been lost forever.

It is hard, however, to be rational when your brand new computer is behaving like a dead fish and your computer support person is snoring peacefully away at the other end of the house.

I did the only thing I could.

I went for a walk.

And then I made some apple crumble.

And ate it. For breakfast. With vanilla yoghurt. Which all went a long way towards making me feel a lot better and wasted enough time for Matt to wake up and revive my computer, complete with all the data, intact, and (vaguely) happy to speak to me again. Not right away, you understand, but eventually.

I love computers. I’ve been hooked since the day I told my (then) still fairly recently acquired husband that I needed a new typewriter and I rather fancied those clever ones with a little screen that let you type a couple of sentences and make sure there were no typos before it tapped it out onto the paper.

He said, that no I didn’t, and I begged to differ, but he came home with a PC with word processing software, and I quickly learned that this was the answer to all my typo infested dreams.

And then came the internet, and email, and after that, well, me and my computer were inseparable.

Of course, it has been a rocky relationship, with ups and downs and moments of intense frustration, fraught with catastrophes of varying intensity, and times when I could gladly pick it up and throw it out the window… but, on those occasions, a little comfort food goes a long way…

Individual Apple Crumble Comfort

Ingredients:

...apple crumble comfort straight from the oven...mmm...

…apple crumble comfort straight from the oven…mmm…

large apple, peeled, cored and sliced

handful of sultanas

tablespoon of honey

dash of water or apple juice

ground cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg to taste

cup of almond and coconut flour combined

generous splurge of macadamia oil

tablespoon of honey

Method:

Combine the apple, sultanas, honey, water and spices in a pan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the apple has ‘fallen’ (a word my mother uses to indicate that something like apples or potatoes have basically gone all mushy – I don’t know if it is genuine technical term….)

– make sure it doesn’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan because this only adds to the sense of catastrophe.

(If you are in need of extra comfort and like that sort of thing, you could add a dash of whisky close to the end of the cooking time.)

Meanwhile combine the flour, oil, and the other amount of honey in a bowl and rub them gently through your fingers until you have a sticky breadcrumb consistency. I also add a smidgen of extra spice, but it is a fairly rich topping, so it is up to you.

Pop the cooked apple into a mini-casserole dish and sprinkle the flour mixture over the top.

Bake in a slow to moderate oven just long enough for the topping to develop a nice golden colour – about 15-20 minutes – keep an eye in it, though, because nut flours burn easily.

While it is baking, measure out a portion of plain yoghurt and mix with a little honey and vanilla to dollop over the top when you serve it up, piping hot from the oven.

I ate half for my breakfast and half later on in the day, but you can save it in the fridge for a day or two if you want, and, of course, you can increase the ingredients to make enough to share. I made enough for Matt and Will, too.

If nuts are not part of your diet, you can use any plain flour that works for you, and substitute a different sweet oil or even butter for the macadamia oil. You could also use sugar instead of honey.

My ingredients are SCD legal to meet my peculiar dietary requirements. Unless you can’t eat nuts, it wouldn’t hurt to try it and you will find the richness of the almond and coconut flour adds to the decadence of the treat – all part of the comfort food experience!

Oh, and for the record, me and my computer are back on cordial terms and I am getting used to the new set of quirks that makes this computer an individual in its own right.

Camping and Cockatoos

My first encounter with the enigmatic Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo was early one morning when a small flock flew overhead and scattered amongst the trees at a camp site up on the edge of the Brindabellas.  I was there as a young teacher with a group of intrepid Year 5s, and a select group of us were collecting wood to make the fire to cook our breakfast.

It was cold and we were stamping about to keep warm, looking forward to Toad in the Hole (Aussie camping style)* and hot tea.  I guess we were a bit preoccupied, and the first thing we knew about the cockatoos was the sound of their eerie cries echoing through the forest.

At first I thought that perhaps seagulls had been blown inland, but the sound wasn’t quite right.  And there were too many answering calls for it to be eagles or hawks.

My confusion was quickly abated as the willowy, black shadows weaved their way through the trees and into sight.  It was breathtaking, and they have ever since remained a firm favourite for me amongst the cockatoo family.

We occasionally hear their haunting cries or catch a glimpse of them here at Seventy Seven Acres.  They are beautiful, elegant birds, and so solemn and graceful compared to their louder cousins: the familiar, white, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Perhaps you can imagine my delight this morning, then, when a pair came to rest in one of our Brittle Gums by the back gate.  I slipped outside as quietly as I could, for these birds are shy creatures, and quickly took a photo before they went on their way.  They only hung around for a few moments, and one very purposefully hid behind a large branch, but the other remained calmly aloof with his back to me, long enough for me to snap my pic.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

The Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo is reasonably common in South Eastern Australia, although I’m given to understand that numbers have declined as old growth forest has been logged.  Apparently they need large, old, hollow trees for nesting and breeding, so loss of these trees from their habitat has impacted on their ability to retain the larger flocks that were reported in earlier times.

These days they are more likely to be seen as pairs or in family groups of up to about 10 or 12 birds, although they may still form large flocks in winter.  They are semi-migratory, ranging to find food through the changing seasons.  Predominantly seed eaters, preferring casuarina, eucalypt, hakea, banksia and xanthorrhea, they will also search out and eat wood boring insects and bugs in a variety of trees.  As with most of the cockatoo family, they have taken a liking to the introduced pine species, and will happily pry the seeds out of the cones or rip the bark away to find bugs.

At about 60cms they are the one of the largest of the cockatoos, but with their streamlined shape and long wings, they look smaller than the Sulphur Crested White Cockatoo – and are certainly less raucous!

(Includes information from Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds – a fabulous resource.)

Aussie Toad in the Hole (camping variety)

This is one of those amazing meals that just isn’t the same if you try it at home… I think you have to be cold, tired after a sleepless night in a tent, and truly hungry for it to work properly, and it is definitely best cooked over a smoky, wood fired barbecue.  Luckily it is also very simple and quick to make.  Warning: this bears only a minimal resemblance to the classic English recipe containing sausages and batter.

Ingredients:  Sliced bread, egg, butter, salt and pepper to taste (per serving).

Method:  First cut or tear a hole in your slice of bread (a circular cookie cutter works well if you have remembered to bring one) and melt a large dob* of butter on a the hot BBQ plate, using the tip of a knife to spread it around.  Drop your bread on top of the butter and immediately crack an egg into the hole.  Cook until the first side is done then flip over to cook other side (time varies depending on how well-done you like your egg – generally, it is not recommended to have your egg too runny unless you are happy to wear it on your clothes for the day).  Season with salt and pepper to taste and eat while piping hot. Totally delicious! ( a real shame that I can’t eat bread any more)

*dob – in this context, ‘dob’ is a technical term meaning an amount of butter large enough to grease the hot plate, but not so large that the food is swimming in it.

…when the bough breaks

There is always something that needs doing around the property.

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

This little project has been waiting for a while, but really needs to be sorted out, sooner rather than later, to protect the pump that makes sure the garden water tank is always full.

In the background is the large tree that fell on it, another ‘little project’ that we are still working on clearing up.

There is some nice wood in the old tree, so we aren’t too keen on relegating it directly to firewood.  Matt thinks he can do some rough planks to make a bench and possible picnic table if we can be patient enough to let it dry out properly.

In the meantime, the tarpaulin that we threw over the top of the old pump house to keep the weather out keeps getting blown off, and when I went out to measure the concrete pad it sits on this morning, I really couldn’t be sure what might be lurking amongst the alluring blue folds.

I maintain a healthy respect for some of the more slithery brands of wildlife that we share our home with.  The tarpaulin has to go.

We haven’t been able to source a replacement shed of the same size at a reasonable price, but Matt found some fairly cheap prefab sheds at the local hardware store.  The one he snapped up looks like it might be too small to fit the pump and all its bits and pieces inside, as well the power point, but, it’s okay, he already has alternative plans for that shed and has his eye on another ‘bargain’ in a slightly larger size.

While the original pump house was just tall enough to fit the pump, the new shed will be able to house some tools as well so that we can leave a few things down near the dam.  We have plans to build a garden on the north facing slope that runs down to the water – maybe a small orchard or some grape vines , or possibly even an extended veggie patch.

Whatever we decide on, the first job will be to erect some kind of enclosure to keep ‘the wallaby’ out.  He doesn’t just eat the fruit, he eats the entire plant, as we have found to our detriment with a cherry tree, an apple, a green gage, and our pear tree (which was doing so well) in our back garden.  I chased him off the peach tree the other day, but some of the lower branches are looking a bit sad.

The impromptu chicken wire fences around the existing garden beds have done their job at keeping young Wally, the possum(s), and the goats at bay, but, sadly, were unable to repel the late frosts that killed off our tomato plants and seriously stunted everything else, or the hot, dry days over summer that took their toll on our veggies.

I’d like to spend more time in the garden, bringing on more edibles by preference, but when school is in, time is regrettably short, so the garden just isn’t looking all that bright at the moment

If nothing else, there’s a lot of weeding to get done.  Not Matt’s favourite job, so it generally comes down to me.  That, and putting up scrappy looking chicken wire fences (that sag, so the possums don’t feel confident climbing over them).  Still, the roses are starting to recover inside their wire-y prison, so I can’t complain too much.

a couple of brave roses putting on a show...

a couple of brave roses putting on a show…

I’ll let you know how the shed project goes.

Hot days and sticky nougat

 So, this was one of those lazy days when I intended to spend the afternoon sitting in the shade, drinking in the breeze, sipping cider and reading a book to while away the time until the thunderstorm arrived and brought more cooling rain.

That was what I intended to do.

What I ended up doing was quite different, although it all started quite well. There I was, under the vine covered pergola, glass in hand and several books to choose from…

... a shady spot under the vines

… a shady spot under the vines

…so tell to me how it was that our son’s growing interest in cooking turned into me whipping egg whites to firm peaks, explaining how to check that the sugar syrup has reached ‘brittle thread’ stage, and advising that blanching the almonds and organising the cooking tray would have been better done before starting to heat the syrup?

Needless to say, I had worked up quite a sweat by the time the tray of nougat had been installed in the fridge. I was actually quite envious. Of the nougat. Was there any chance that I could fit in amongst all the Christmas leftovers?

I can’t even eat the finished product – not without some serious tweaking that I can’t expect an over-eager 11 year old to work out. He had already made a passable and very simple toffee – slightly crystalline in texture, but given the tick of approval by Dad – but this was rather more… complex. Nougat. He found the recipe in a book entitled ‘Cooking Class’, so you’d think it would spell out all the steps. Or I would, anyway.

At this point I might add that this book was my bible back in my Uni days when I was living away from home in Hall and trying to work out a hundred and one things to do with a pound of mince (the title of a different book, that I didn’t own). At the time, I didn’t notice that it wasn’t quite as helpful as you – okay, I – might expect. I had apparently learnt something from the dreadful cooking classes that I had been forced to take at school. Horrors.

Anyway, this book helpfully lists the ingredients then explains the preparing of nougat in 4 steps, leaving out one or two, um, helpful things that a mildly experienced cook might know, but a raw beginner could do with having pointed out in no uncertain terms.

Which explains why I am the one who was beating the eggs to firm peaks. He was stirring the boiling syrup. 

Ah well. The nougat is in the fridge, and I am excited that Will is embarking on his cooking adventure. Hot, but excited.

The rain didn’t arrive either.

Things didn’t turn out quite right, and I have rewritten the recipe for him with a couple of extra steps and hints thrown in that might help next time:

Recipe for Nougat (slightly amended)

Ingredients:

2 cups of sugar                           2 egg whites

1 cup of glucose syrup                1 tsp vanilla

½ cup of honey                            125 g of butter

¼ tsp of salt                                 60g whole blanched almonds

¼ cup of water

Method:

Start by preparing a tray in which to set the nougat – either grease a lamington tin or line it with baking paper (my preference – less washing up) – and getting all your ingredients together.

  1. If you have to blanch your almonds (ie get the skins off) do this now by soaking them in boiling water. Once the water has cooled enough to touch, the almonds should slip easily out of their skins. Don’t let them slip all the way onto the floor.
  2. Now is also a good time to chop your butter into little cubes and let it sit around getting soft.
  3. Beat your egg whites. Now. Not when the syrup has reached ‘hard ball’ stage. It’s too late then. You can stop when they form firm peaks (this is a cooking lesson all of its own – and great exercise if you’ve broken your electric whisking device). Set aside.
  4. Make syrup by putting sugar, glucose, honey, salt and water in a pan and stirring over a low heat until dissolved. Bring to boil and cook, stirring, until the mixture forms a hard ball when a tiny amount is dropped into a glass of cold water (it should take approximately 8 minutes or reach 122o C if you are lucky enough to own a confectionery thermometer).
  5. Pour about a quarter of this hot syrup onto your egg whites – beating constantly. Keep beating until the mixture is firm enough to hold its shape.
  6. Continue to cook the remaining sugar syrup until it forms ‘brittle threads’ when you drop a small amount of it into the glass of cold water (5 minutes / 157o C ).
  7. Pour the syrup over the egg mixture, beating constantly until the mixture is very thick.
  8. Add butter and vanilla and keep on beating until mixed.
  9. Stir in almonds (using a wooden spoon – there is a reason for this, I just can’t remember what it is).
  10. Put the mixture into the prepared tin and pop it into the fridge to set.
  11. When firm, gently turn the nougat out and cut into little pieces. Wrap in waxed paper and store in the fridge. Or eat it. But not all at once. You should have a kilo of the stuff.
...some very sticky nougat

…some very sticky nougat

Sorry, this is the only photo I have, because this is not what we did, bearing in mind I came in after the process had been begun, slightly differently, by my enthusiastic young chef-in-the-making.

Yours should look a lot more nougat-like. And white (Will used raw sugar). And a lot more appetising. I suspect that Will and Matt will be eating this with a spoon. Never mind. We had fun, learned something, and – get this – Will did the washing up.

NB: The original recipe (with pics) can be found in Women’s Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook, circa 1970 or 80 something. Actually a cracking good book as a starting point for a whole range of recipes. Not many containing mince, though.