Category Archives: 12 Week Kitchen Challenge

Purple Carrot Cake for Mum

I’m so excited!   My mother arrived last week to be with me and her beloved grandson’s. It’s been two years since I last saw her so it’s just a relief to have her here for Mother’s Day.

And although we Skype and call and Whatsapp all the time, nothing can beat a cup of tea and a chat over a plate of something decadent, to really appreciate mother and daughter time TOGETHER!

My mother has always been a very keen and accomplished baker.  We used to live miles and miles away from the closest tiny towns so our ‘entertainment’ was not going to a malls and movies or restaurants as there simply weren’t any around.  No, our entertainment was ripping out recipes out of magazines and sticking them into our recipe folder.  Or pouring over recipe books booked out from the library (no google search in those days lol)

We also grew most of our own vegetables and produce so there were always fresh eggs, fruit and ridiculously good milk from our cows.  We used to have a stainless steel milk separator which would spin off the rich and delectably thick cream either to be used on scones, churned into butter, or baked into cakes and cookies.

Oh the sweet memories!

Carrot cake was always a firm favourite, and although I’ve adapted this to be a little more glamorous essentially it’s just a jolly fabulous carrot cake!


Beat together

185g softened butter with 3/4 cup brown sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy, and until the sugar is dissolved.

Add 5 ml Vanilla Extract or Paste and 2 eggs and mix together.

Grate 2 medium sized purple carrots, you can use normal carrots here if you wish, into the mixture.  Sieve in 1 cup self raising flour and 1/2 a teaspoon EACH of cinnamon, mixed spice or ras el hanout, and also 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda and 1 cup of pecans and/or pistachios. Mix together until combined and then pour into a greased cake or loaf tin.  Bake in a pre-heated oven of 170c for about 20-25 minutes until the cake is cooked, test with a skewer like they do in the movies lol!

Allow to cool.  While the cake is cooling you can whip up this delicious but ridiculously easy icing!

Take 1 small tub ricotta or cream cheese and into it add 2 tablespoons icing mixture, about 2 ml vanilla paste and the juice and zest of one lime.  Mix well and then dollop this onto the cake!  I cut the cake into portions first and arranged them on a platter before decorating each square with a dollop of the sweetened ricotta and a gorgeous little organic rose bud (available from my online store or at your local Indian spice shop)

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Crispy Skin Salmon with happy yellow butter bean or perfect pea mash

First of all, I just want you to know, that you too can get perfectly crisp fish skin EVERYTIME!

Crispy skin fish on happy butterbean or sexy pea puree…with a blackened lime

Want to know my trick?  It’s simple and will definitely be a game changer.  In order to have the fish perfect (not overcooked) and the skin crispy we HAVE to remove the skin!  I know…so easy!  I only remove the skin in the pan when we have cooked it down for about a minute so that it comes off easily.

Don’t try and remove it when the fish is raw and firmly attached, you will see in the video all I do it pick it up with my tongs and it literally peels off.  You would have to use a fish filleting knife to get it off raw.

In this recipe I’m using salmon, but any fish can be used and the method remains the same.  I switch between pea or butterbean mash…just to keep it interesting!


180g fish, skin on, per person

Salt and pepper to season



This is my favourite recipe for when I am entertaining because it is practically stress free! A beautiful piece of fish or salmon needs little masking and if cooked perfectly, will simply shine!


The trick is to cook the fish properly and get the skin sexy and crispy. Soggy fish skin is never sexy and will You need to get your pan or BBQ SWEAR WORD HOT and greased with about 5 ml vegetable or rice bran oil in the pan just so that the fish doesn’t stick.


When the pan is hot, place the fish (not skin side) presentation side down, and use your tongs to make sure it doesn’t stick…I just give the piece a little wiggle to make sure it hasn’t stuck but will create a sexy crust of flavour and colour.


When the first side is brown (simply look underneath and lift with your tongs) turn it over to do the skin side too.  After about a minute or two you should be able to remove the skin using the tongs. Don’t stress if it breaks or you have to strip-peel it off, it is all part of the rustic glamour of this dish! Place the skin aside and then turn the now skin-free side down to brown it off. When the fish is cooked (check by placing a fork or knife in the centre of the thickest part and if it flakes when you twist it is done!)


Remove from the pan and now lower the heat and fry the skin nice and hot but not so hot that it burns in a flash…this will dry and crisp up the skin and the best way is to remove the skin so you don’t over cook the fish!


NEVER serve soggy fish skin…it is just not glamourous and can be easily crisped up by just allowing it some alone time in the pan.


Serve with one of these amazingly versatile mash recipes!

Rustic pea purée


2 cups frozen peas

1 onion finely chopped

1 clove garlic minced

150-250ml chicken or vegetable stock (depending on thickness required…please adjust)

5ml lemon zest

80ml cream


Place all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and boil over a medium heat for about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat and blend to a smooth puree with a stick blender or manual masher.

Adjust the seasoning and thickness and then serve

Delicious yellow butterbean puree

(Serves 4)

2 tins butterbeans, drained

80ml  cream/milk or water (depends on your dietary preference)

1 chicken/mushroom/vegetable stock cube or use 1 teaspoon of powder stock

2 tablespoons pecorino or Parmesan grated (optional, you can keep this clean)

1 clove garlic, crushed

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder or freshly grated

Salt and pepper to taste




Place all ingredients except the oil, in a large saucepan and heat over a really low heat, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes until tender making sure that it doesn’t dry out (add more cream or water/stock if needed). Once the beans have started to break down a bit more and look more cooked, add the oil and season to taste. Either wait for these to cool and then place in a food processor, or use a hand held masher or even stick blender.   Either process completely, or leave slightly chunky for a more rustic mash!


Place the sexy seared salmon or fish  on the pea puree and enjoy!

Happy Cooking…


With lots of culinary love


Chef Mel, The Vanilla Zulu


Sexy Stir Fries

 Stir fries are a wonderful, healthy, economical family meal. Not only are they tasty, they are bursting with health and nutrition and are full of colour, flavour and personality.

BUT…are your stir fries soggy and full of liquid, or are they gloriously sticky like your favourite take away from you Asian restaurant!

There are so many varieties of the good old stir fry so the only wisdom I can impart is on how to cook it successfully every time!   Get that wok out guys and let’s get cooking!

You don’t have to have a wok, a good old frying pan will be just as good. Sometimes woks are designed for gas so if you are using yours and the base doesn’t fully make contact with the stovetop, this could be an issue when trying to get that fabulous intense heat needed for ultimate stir fry success!

Remember, it’s all about keeping the heat up, the sizzle sizzling, in the pan the ENTIRE time you are cooking the stir fry.  Once the veggies are in it’s okay to reduce the heat and even put the heat off, we only want those to ‘wilt’ or steam through anyway.

Always cut your meat and your vegetables super thin so that the cook time is short and sweet.  It’s these little tricks and tips that will make your stir fry time happy instead of stressful!

Also, a sharp knife is a must.  A blunt knife will make your slicing task tedious and time consuming, and you’ll get cranky before you’ve even started!


1-2 tablespoons peanut/canola/sunflower/rice bran oil

600g chicken/pork/beef strips

Marinade:  3 tablespoons honey or plum jam, 3 tablespoons soya sauce, 2 cloves garlic finely crushed, 2 tablespoons crushed ginger, 1-3 chillies finely chopped, 2 drops sesame oil (optional)

1 cup zucchini, finely sliced or spiralized

1 cup carrots, finely sliced or spiralized

1 cup red onion finely sliced.

2 cups finely sliced red or wombok cabbage

1 cup finely sliced red capsicum/red pepper

 Peanut, chilli, herb bling for crunch

1/2 cup peanuts, crushed and pan toasted

1-2 chopped fresh chillies, or use about half a teaspoon dried

1/2 cup freshly chopped mint/basil/coriander…you decide!




Remember!  Your mission is to keep the sizzle up in your pan…if the pan goes quiet on you, you need to back away from the pan, get some of the pan naked, and then let the pan get back to temperature.  HOT HOT HOT !

Put the marinade ingredients over the thin meat strips.  Stir to combine.

Heat and grease the pan with the oil.  When the pan is smoking hot, add the marinated chicken in a pile on one side of the pan.  Please dont spread the meat over the pan, all that will do is smother the heat!  Leave the meat in the pile until the first side of the meat that hit the pan, is beautifully brown and sexy and fragrant and sealed.  You will need to have a sneaky look underneath one of the pieces using your tongs.  Move that meat around by jiggling it with your tongs, but dont stir too much.  Don’t burn this! Keep checking!

ONLY when that meat is brown underneath do you do a half stir, so that some ‘new’ meat can hit the base of the pan.  Keep doing this, keeping the sizzle high in the pan, until all the meat has been perfectly browned. This way your meat won’t stew and you can live happily ever after in the kitchen!  

Once all the meat looks heavenly sticky and brown do you start adding the vegetables on the top.  You can remove the meat from the pan if your pan is too small for all this action.  Stir as much as you like now to get those vegetables hot and wilted right through.  Check the seasoning and serve with rice, noodles, or just like that in a bowl with the heavenly peanut bling on top for valuable flavour and crunch!

Why not try this Chinese-style sweet and sour marinade on your next stir fry?

It’s so simple.

Sweet and Sour Marinade

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 tablespoons white wine or cider vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

1/3 cup pineapple chunks blended to a puree (or just chop them up)

1 tablespoon Chinese Cooking wine

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Simply mix together and serve!









Magical Moroccan Mince with a pistachio and date gravel

Magical Moroccan Mince with a pistachio and date gravel



REMEMBER if there is grey liquid in you pan at any stage it is simply because the pan is too cold, you are stirring too much, and the mince is stewing.  Scrape all the mince to the ONE side of the pan, leaving half the pan NAKED, put up the heat and back away from the pan.  Eventually the grey liquid will cook back into the mince and VOILA, you have learnt to cook mince in the sexiest way! It really does mean FREE flavour.

You will now live happily ever after. Here’s how you do it.


(for 4)

2 squirts of a canola or rice bran cooking spray into a large non-stick pan

800g lean beef mince ( fluff this up with your hands so it’s all nice and loose and fluffy and not in one big block)

1 large onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic crushed (optional)

1 tablespoon ras el hanout  (you can make your own using my recipe OR just use 1 teaspoon cumin powder, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and 1/2 coriander powder)

1 teaspoon turmeric (MOST important ingredient other than good quality mince, this will add fabulous colour to your otherwise drab mince!)

1/2 cup finely diced fennel or you could use grated carrot, zucchini or you choose!

1 tin chick peas, drained and rinsed

1 cup chopped tomatoes or use one tin chopped tomato

2 tablespoons tomato paste or passata

1 vegetable or beef stock cube crumbled to a powder

salt and pepper to season.

about 1 teaspoon of lemon zest

Pistachio and date gravel

1-2 tablespoons pistachios bashed or chopped to a nice coarse gravel

2 tablespoons finely chopped dates

I added some dried rose petals but if you don’t have that grate in some lemon zest (1/2 teaspoon) and 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley or coriander for colour



First thing you should do is heat and grease a large pan until just about smoking hot. The mince MUST sizzle when it hits the pan…

Now add the mince that you have broken up in the packaging or a bowl so it is loose and fluffy already.  Put the mince into the pan…IT SHOULD SIZZLE nice and loud and sexy.

DO NOT STIR, I know you are worried about this burning and you are also worried about lumps, but let the mince brown and seal on the first side you put down FIRST and let the pan heat up again and THEN you can stir ever so slightly just to get some more mince onto the base of the pan.  My favourite mince ‘fluffer’ is one of those cheap plastic coated whisks you get at the supermarket that only have about 4 loops.  If you don’t have one of those use a strong plastic spoon or egg flip to break down the mince.

Once the mince is brown and fragrant and sexy ALL BY ITSELF, then and only then do you add the finely chopped onion and garlic.  There should be enough oil out of the mince that you have rendered off during your amazing sizzle cooking of the mince at a nice high heat. You can stir as much as you like now by the way, that mince is SEALED off!

Now add the spices, stock powder and seasoning and stir through.  Amazing colour isn’t it!

Finally add the chopped tomatoes and passata and the chick peas and you’re practically done.  Turn down the heat and let that all cook through and then add the lemon zest and it’s ready to serve.


This way of cooking will not only save you time, BUT it will add valuable flavour and vibrant personality to your otherwise boring mince.


I love to get creative with my mince and change the spices thus changing the flavour.

I served mine with a yogurt swirl and the pistachio and date gravel with just a twist of fresh peppery rocket leaves.

Want to give your mince a makeover?

Now that you can cook mince perfectly, why not change the theme and the style of your mince. I like to take my mince around the world!

Try (instead of the ras el hanout but ALWAYS leave the turmeric in)


1 tablespoon smoke paprika for a Spanish Style mince.  You could also add some finely diced or chopped chorizo to this to really make it Spanish.


1 tablespoon curry powder to make an Indian style mince. Add chopped chilli and fresh coriander and then serve!

Chinese 5 spice is another favourite!