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Butterbean and Ras el Hanout dip with lemon oil drizzle

Guys this recipe is just too easy.  If you have any roast carrots, butternut or sweet potato left over in the fridge, feel free to throw about half a cup of that roasted goodness in here too.


1 tin butterbeans, drained

half a teaspoon turmeric

half a teaspoon Ras El Hanout or curry powder or make your own blend

125ml  plain yogurt/milk or water (depends on your dietary preference)

1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Salt and pepper to season

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

1 clove garlic, crushed

10 ml lemon oil or olive oil

¼ teaspoon turmeric powder or freshly grated



Place all ingredients into a food processor, I used my Nutri Infusion 700W to process completely, or leave slightly chunky for a more rustic result.


Fragrant Lamb Shoulder with sticky figs, pistachio and lemon gravel

Fragrant Lamb Shoulder with sticky figs, pistachio and lemon gravel

Culinary Bling


2-4 kg-lamb shoulder bone in

Salt and pepper to season

1-2 litres weak chicken stock (this will depend on the depth of the baking dish you use

1 teaspoon freshly grated turmeric (or powder)

1-tablespoon ground cumin/ras el hanout spice

1 cinnamon quill and three star anise


2 tablespoons chopped dried figs or pitted dates

zest of one lemon

1/2 cup almonds/pistachios/other nuts roasted and chopped



Season the shoulder with salt and pepper, some of the turmeric and spices and rub into the skin with a little water or oil to give the shoulder a nice suntan! Now place skin side up in a roasting tray with the stock making sure the stock comes at least halfway up the shoulder so it is nicely submerged by half. If you have too much cooking liquid reserve it for later as you may need to top up the lamb during the cooking process. Roast (actually it’s braising) in a hot oven of 220c for at least an hour, remove from the ovenand turn the shoulder over, return to the oven for half an hour and turn over again. Cook for another 15-30 minutes to get the skin nicely brown and crisp and then remove from oven. Make the bling by mixing the chopped dates, nuts and zest together. Garnish the lamb with the bling and then serve!

NOTE: If you have a little more time this actually benefits from a long slow cook so reduce the heat to 160c and cook for 4 hours altogether! It will be falling apart with tenderness!


Glorious Sun-Tanned Pan Lamb…with sexy yellow butterbean puree

Suntanned Pan-Lamb with dates, mint & nuts

Mel’s note: Leg of lamb is fabulous for this dish, but will take about 30 minutes to cook, first on stove top then finish in oven. Lamb back strap is twice as expensive BUT you can cook those down in about 8 minutes so you are practically paying for time and tenderness. Either way this will be delicious, and try this with your next lamb loin chops as well for a fabulous tread. Want to use shoulder…no problem, I have a recipe for that too!  See my next post!

1 – 1.5kg leg of lamb, deboned and sinews removed (or use 600-800g lamb back strap)

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon ras el hanout or cumin powder

Salt and pepper to season

2 tablespoons Olive oil

1 cup dates, chopped. You can also use figs..

½ cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed

½ cup nuts of your choice (I suggest almonds, cashews and pistachios)




Preheat oven to 200°C. Only if you are using the leg…

Debone the lamb (if required). Make a rub with the turmeric, ras el hanout and oil. Rub this all over the lamb and allow it to rest while the pan heats.

Heat a frying pan (that can go in the oven) and when hot place the lamb in it. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side – this is to seal the lamb. Place the lamb (on the frying pan you just used) into the oven for 10-15 minutes. The exact time required will depend on the shape of the meat, your oven and personal preferences.

Remove the lamb from the oven and allow to rest before slicing.

For the date accompaniment – combine the dates, mint and nuts together.

To serve


Serve on a rocket salad, with cumin and honey glazed roasted carrots, spiced yoghurt and with a butterbean mash.

Seared Crispy Skin Fish with Pancetta Bark and Rustic Pea mash

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


Here’s how!


180g fish, skin on, per person

Salt and pepper to season

Half lemon or lime per serving


4-6 strips Pancetta placed on a roasting tray and then baked until crispy in a hot oven of 200c!



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. 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 this amazingly versatile pea puree! Don’t like peas? Use butterbeans (drained out of a tin) instead!

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)

20g butter

80-150ml 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

To serve


Place the sexy seared salmon or fish and the pancetta on the pea puree, drizzle with olive oil, petals and microherbs and fried carrot strips!

Tremendously Moist Terrific Turkey

Tremendously Moist Terrific Turkey


1 turkey between 3 and 5 kgs


200g streaky bacon finely chopped

400g pork mince finely chopped

2 cups onion finely chopped

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs/roast sweet potato /roast potato

2 tablespoons freshly chopped sage

2 cloves garlic (optional)

Zest and juice of one lemon (optional)

1 teaspoon turmeric (purely for colour)

3 tablespoons naughty butter (this will help give the turkey breast some personality and flavour)

Pinch salt

Pinch nutmeg



I know this seems like a lot of onion but you will thank me!


Start by heating a frying pan or large enough pan with a little spray of canola or vegetable oil. Add the bacon to the pan when the pan is swear word hot…it should sizzle and ‘talk’ to you, don’t stir straight away, let the first lot of bacon on the bottom brown deliciously before stirring. Lots of stirring will cool down the pan too quickly and you don’t want bacon stew. If you are worried, at any stage, about this burning give the pan a good firm ‘cheffy’ shake.

Once the bacon is sexy and brown and the fat has rendered out the bacon, keep the heat high and add the pork mince. Let the pan get back to temperature and only stir to prevent from burning. Using two forks to get rid of the pork mince lumps is a good idea, I also sometimes stab my mince with the base of a whisk…breaks it up really well! When the pork components are brown and beautiful you can now add the finely diced onions, garlic, sage, lemon zest, turmeric and nutmeg. You can now reduce the heat and allow those onions to cook down. When soft and it’s all smelling like a little bit of heaven, add the butter, breadcrumbs/roast sweet potato or cooked potato and the lemon juice. Stir and season. Allow to cool.


Now while cooling you can tackle the turkey. What we are going to do here is cut the turkey down the backbone and then open it out flat so that it cooks faster. We can get a 3.5kg bird to cook down in 1.5 hours by using this technique.


You need a big board and a sharp knife. Place the turkey breast down on the board.

Cut down the back bone either to the left or right of the spine (don’t cut directly in the middle it’s just too difficult!). Once the back is open turn the bird over and break it’s breast bone with your palm and break it flat. Place on the roasting tray. Is your oven preheated to 160c?

Put the neck side facing closest to you and then loosen the skin away from the turkey all the way down to the drumsticks, you’re basically creating a ‘turkey envelope’ to put your stuffing into!


Use a large tablespoon to feed the cool stuffing onto each breast and then push the stuffing down right over the drumstick. Refill on top of the breast and then reshape the bird. If you have stuffing left over take a piece of foil, grease it well and then roll the remaining stuffing into a sausage. Seal the foil and then this can be baked about half an hour before serving the bird.


Rub the skin with lots of olive oil and salt. I even add a bit of turmeric, just a sprinkle, to the skin and rub some oil in with it to create a turkey spray tan. Season with salt and then place in oven for approximately 3 hours. If you need to speed things up, up the temp to 190c and the bird should be done in 1h45. Check if juices are running clear, I always check in the breast down by the breastbone to make sure.

This turkey will be terribly terrific to carve too and all that juicy goodness will cook in to the usually boring turkey meat.




Share your turkey success stories with me! Here’s a link to a similar dish with the exact same stuffing method but done on a spatchcock hen or chicken.

I made Churros…and they are the easiest thing you will EVER make

It’s a rainy cool and beautiful day in Brisbane today.  Perfect for comfort food and a few family treats.


We were too full for dessert last night so the boys missed out on Churros at our favourite Mexican restaurant.  In order to keep the calm I nonchalantly promised my boys I’d make them churros tomorrow!

I’m so glad I did because to be honest I’ve never really been into deep fried ‘stuff’ and yes, I’ll tuck into churros like there are no tomorrow but I think I was secretly hoping they were terribly difficult so that the temptation would be removed.  Alas, they are so easy the boys can make them all by themselves.

Ever been tempted to try them.  Do it. They are easy, delicious and fool-proof!

Problem is I only got to take 2 photo’s because the next thing I knew they were all finished.  Easy way to win over the children and win mother of the year awards!

Did I mention they were cheap too…perfect. The only thing you need  is a piping bag and star nozzle.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups hot water

2 tablespoons butter grated or diced small (or vegetable oil)

2 tablespoons sugar

half teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups self raising flour

1ml  cream of tartar

Vegetable oil for frying

1/2 cup castor or granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon to dunk these churros into…


Let the butter melt in the hot water, if it’s not hot enough simply heat in the microwave or in a pot.  Once the butter is melted, add the salt, sugar.  Stir to dissolve.  Once the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved add all the flour at once and the cream of tartar.

Mix with a strong wooden spoon until the mixture comes together like a thick smooth batter.  Place batter into a piping bag with a medium star nozzle.

Fill a shallow frying pan about 1/3 full with vegetable oil and until nice an hot (but never smoking).

Pipe the batter into the oil in long thin strips and let fry until nice and brown.  You may have to turn them over with tongs if the oil isn’t deep enough.

Drain on paper towel for a second or two and while still hot, dip in castor sugar and cinnamon.


Serve with melted chocolate, caramel or Nutella.  Eat while still hot!


Rustic Pea Mash…simply spectacular

It’s always surprising, during my classes, when we create the most amazing meals imaginable using every day ingredients (and some fancy ones) and EVERYONE is in raptures about the ONE dish that is truly simply.  The one dish that is truly easy.  The ONE dish that is truly versatile.

This side dish is SO SUPER easy that you could literally whip this up at the drop of a hat.  It is also so SUPER VERSATILE that you can use it again and again for many years to come…and be the talk of the town (in a good way)

These are easy peasy peas. Now just so we are clear, I am not the kind of girl to put my peas through a stainer or a sieve, but if I was doing a fine-dining meal then of course i would.  So here i embrace the pea-skins, I leave them in and admire them, and that’s why I can them Rustic Peas.

Try these easy peasy peas on someone you love this weekend and you’ll be sure to get a round of applause from your friends and family alike!  Enjoy!

Sexy Butterbean Mash – the newest and latest craze at Vanilla Zulu…and here’s why!

We all love mash.  Its comforting deliciousness is not only the cause of many an eye-closing tastebud-bursting ‘ah’ moments, its also the perfect platform for the rest of the meal you are serving with it.

Sexy Butterbean Puree served with roast Porcini Duck and Pancetta Peas

Potato mash is respectable.  Not only has it stood the time but I guarantee, respectfully so, that in a 1000 years us humans and our AI companions will STILL be enjoying its creamy deliciousness.  But oh dear, it’s a bit time consuming ain’t it! First we wash the potatoes. Then we peel the potatoes. Then we rinse the potatoes. Then we cube the potatoes. Then we wait for the potatoes to boil.  Then we drain the potatoes.  Then we mash the potatoes. Then we season and THEN and only then do we serve…I still think it’s worth it and will never tire of the love and dedication that goes into mash.  I lived and worked in Ireland and have Irishness in my blood, and my kids love it so it stays.


I have a quickie mash for you.  For when you want same but different.  For when you want to refresh a dish and make it shine.  For when you just haven’t got the time to do a mash, this might come in handy. It’s also dirt cheap to make and butterbeans in a can are EVERYWHERE!


Enter Butterbean Mash…

If I’m using this in a class then I call it butterbean puree because then it sounds much more cheffy but guys, it’s the same thing.

It takes under 10 minutes, could take 5 in an emergency and you had time to stir.  It’s far too easy to make so don’t be disappointed when your’e smiling and refreshed after making this and your friends and family are giving you a round of applause for being so fabulous.

There is also another wee problem with butterbeans.  They are beige.  Boring and beige.  Beige was only popular in the 70’s and will never look sexy on a plate so here I have ‘blinged’ them up and given them a happy sunflower yellow tan with good old fashioned turmeric.  I should have turmeric in my holster, I use that stuff on everything…

Delicious yellow butterbean puree

(Serves 4)

2 tins butterbeans, drained

125ml  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

10 ml truffle scented oil/lemon oil or olive oil

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!


To serve


Either serve chunky or as a puree.



You can change the flavour of these beans to suit or match your meal.


Add 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary if you are matching lamb

Add coconut cream and curry paste either for Thai or Malaysian or Indian dishes.

Add a teaspoon of grainy mustard or horseradish if you are matching beef or pork

Add a teaspoon of curry powder if you are serving this with a curry

Add smoked garlic and smoked paprika to match a Spanish theme

Remember to take all the credit for this!  I want you to be as happy as me in the kitchen!

You cand serve this with so many dishes it’s just crazy.  Adjust your stock to make it thinner or thicken to suit various dishes.

Happy Cooking!


Chef Mel

Vanilla Zulu

Lightest and fluffiest happiest birthday AND wedding cake!

Hi guys!

Yes, I turn 43 tomorrow and in two weeks I marry the man of my dreams so a lot of happiness happening for me! I’m always so grateful to get to the next year, I don’t mind the wrinkles, I am just lucky to still be here so that I can spend more time spreading culinary happiness!

And, for those who know me, do I ever like to share happiness!  So that best way for me to do that is to share this amazing recipe with you so that you too can join in the good vibes that will surely arise the minute you put this amazing light fluffy delicious ridiculously easy cake on your taste buds.

I don’t often bake, because I can’t be trusted not to eat the entire cake myself, but this one is worth it.  I would do 100 burpees or sit ups just to have ONE slice of this deliciousness…and like they say…life is short so EAT THE CAKE!

My future husband Mike told me that his favourite ever cake was the basic butter cake…so in order to be the future wife of the year I went to the ultimate version of this simple cake. This photo here was taken with fondant icing rolled into strips and then placed around to make waves…


225 g salted butter

4 large room temperature free range eggs

1/4 cup white sugar AND 3/4 cup white sugar

200g self raising flour

60ml milk

10ml vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated lime or lemon


Firstly separate the eggs.

Beat the 4 egg whites until just about to hit peak stage and then add the  1/4 cup white sugar and beat until thick and looking like meringue.

In a separate bowl, beat the 3/4 cup sugar and butter with the whisk attachment until light and pale fluffy.  The sugar must be dissolved right through and the mixture should look like a little bit of heaven…all light and fluffy!


Now put the mixer on to really low and add the egg yolks, self raising flour, vanilla and zest.  Mix well to form a smooth batter.

Using a plastic spatula, fold in the meringue mix gently to incorporate with the batter, but don’t over mix, you just want to lightly combine the two mixes.

Now pour into a greased baking dish or cake mould.

Bake for about 45 minutes at 170c, until a skewer comes out clean from the middle.

Always check at the 15 minute mark, make sure the temperature is perfect, if it’s going too dark too quickly, drop the temp to 160c!

Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool!

Now this was the icing I used:

250g butter

3 cups icing mixture

milk on the side, about 30-60ml to get the consistency you like

10 ml vanilla paste


Beat the butter with the whisk until very light and very fluffy.  Add the icing mixture, the vanilla paste and then mix again till smooth.  At this stage you can add the milk slowly slowly to get the consistency you need!

Once the cake is cooled, ice as required and decorate with fresh flowers, chocolate shavings or sugared lemons!


Happy Baking!


Share the love!


How to create a fuss-free Culinary Bling Christmas!

How to create a fuss-free Culinary Bling Christmas Feast!

Part 1

Do you want to get a round of applause this Christmas for your amazing culinary prowess?

Do you want your guests to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahhh’ at your amazing creations?

150827_012Do you want to remain stress-free, relaxed and happy while whipping up a  feast that will not only be photographed by the family, but will have everyone asking you for recipes and marvelling at how you achieved all of this?  AND you are looking glamorous and your kitchen is all clean and mess free?

It is possible!

I’ve been working on some amazing Christmassy Culinary Bling and have your whole Christmas Feast planned and worked out for you, it’s going to be a breeze!


First thing we need to do though is relax and plan.  They say if you have 8 hours to cut down a tree we must spend 6 hours sharpening our axe…

Well that sounds really boring and dreary but they have a point.  What I mean is please don’t leave everything for the last minute.  Most of these recipes here can be prepped a few weeks or days or hours in advance leaving you with more time to enjoy the festivities.

150827_023We also need to make sure you have your shopping list ready!  Going in for the Christmas shop is a lot cheaper if you have it planned.

Often we ask family members to bring a dish or two along, or you might be a guest this Christmas, either way I have you covered.  So if you’re doing it all or just taking a few dishes along remember this…Christmas Cooking Can Be Fun!

150827_027I’ll be breaking this blog into bits so it’s easy to digest, I thought we should start with some festive nibbles and how to get a round of applause early on in the festivities!

A cheese board, antipasto platter or ‘nibbles’ platter can be a showstopper.  Here are my home-made UBER cheap but very sexy, sophisticated and foodie water biscuits AKA Culinary BARK.  You will pay a fortune for these at the deli’s and supermarkets but don’t be deceived…EASY EASY EASY to make.

150827_003 - CopyI make these all the time for cheeseboards, dip platter and antipasto platters during the year so the only thing I do differently is cut them into tree or star shapes.


Christmas Star Water biscuits with black salt and rose petals


1 cup plain flour

100ml or just a little more water to bind (as per demo)

1 tablespoon seasoning to match your cheese/dip or just omit and have them plain (nigella seeds, pink pepper, black salt, lavender, rose petals, rosemary)



To prevent the dough from being annoying and sticking to your hands and surface with flour before handling the dough. Knead for about 3 minutes until the dough is nice and soft and pliable.


Take a teaspoonful of dough and roll out into long thin biscuits OR roll ALL the dough out until really thin and then cut out with the star or tree cutter, making sure you use lots of flour underneath to make sure they don’t stick to the counter.


Bake hot and fast on an ungreased baking tray for about 3-8 minutes at 200°C. They should be brittle and not too brown! Store in an airtight container until you want to use them.