Ricotta Fritters and Three Years of Blogging

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In six days, it’s going to be exactly three years since I sent my first post into the blogosphere. That’s thirty six months, or 1,095 days if you’re the analytic type.

It sounds more significant if I state that I’ve now spent one tenth of my life sporadically typing into a WordPress template. On average, I’ve generated one post every eight days (141 in total), which means that a sizeable chunk of each week has been dedicated to late night contemplation, recipe testing, dish washing and amateur photo editing. And eating, of course (arguably the best part).

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It’s been a long journey. Believe me, my enthusiasm has waxed, waned and wilted as each season has passed. Despite my unwavering passion for food, there have been moments of intense frustration when I’ve wondered what the hell I’m doing, donating my free time, finance and energy into something that’s essentially ‘just another food blog’ (there are hundreds in my home town of Perth alone).

After a lot of reflection, I can honestly state that my ‘staying power’ is attributable to two core elements:

  • a firm, quiet belief that this blog may someday lead to greater, more financially viable career options in the food industry, and
  • you guys. The readers. Incredible blogging friends, new passionate foodies and other genuine individuals who have somehow found an affinity with this overly reflective, food-obsessed, somewhat insecure and photo-phobic (yep, that’s why there are no head shots of me) girl from one of the most isolated capital cities on Earth. Despite my irregular posting, occasional absences and sleep-deprived drivel on work nights, you’re still here. Amazing. You continually humble, encourage and inspire me.

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Anyway, back to the approaching third blogiversary of this little food journal. I’ve engaged in a lot of rumination over ‘dot point one’ over the past few weeks. Over many cups of tea, late night chats and scrawl-sessions in my list pad, I’ve realized that I’m desperate for my interest in food to be more than just a scattered hobby around full-time work and other responsibilities. I want to live and breathe food, for this blog to be more than it is and for this volume of words to overflow into reality.

I want my readers to feel excited about pending content, to be able to rely upon the Mess for new recipes with each coming week. I want people to taste my food with eager hands, licking sauce off their fingers and syrup from their teeth.

I want to cook. To cook with abandon, til my arms are sore and my brow is smeared with butter. To collapse into bed exhausted, but wholly content.

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Now, I realize that the above statements are somewhat idealized and that the reality of working in food isn’t all cinnamon-scented and delicious. Hospitality is a difficult industry to crack, and blogging is… well, blogging. I’m still a small fish in a river of glossy salmon.

Nevertheless, I have goals for my obsessive contemplation to translate into tangible activity over the next few months. My initial focus will be on cranking this blog into the next gear – as of this week, you can expect at least one post per week from the Mess, predominantly focusing on healthy, plant-based vegetarian wholefood cooking (we do eat some meat in our household, Aaron more than I, however as time has passed I’ve progressively transitioned to eating mostly plant-based sources of protein).

For those readers who live in my hometown of Perth, you will also be given some opportunities to eat my food over the next few months. I’m not going to give away too much detail whilst we remain in the planning stages, but keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook for up-to-the-minute details as plans progress. What I can tell you is that I’m currently engaging in recipe writing, planning and testing, all of which is rather fun. There’s also been a hefty chunk of research regarding local councils, food venues and licensing (Aaron’s been managing the last part. He’s loving it, obviously).

lokinoseAnyway, aside from plans for the next few months – I wanted to share some deliciousness with you today.

Deliciousness in the form of a recipe for fat, chilli-flecked ricotta fritters with fresh zucchini, rocket leaves and a creamy yoghurt sauce. They’re perfect for breakfast, topped with a soft poached egg and crispy fried bacon or chorizo. Two or three fritters are also wonderful on their own as a light meal with some cherry tomatoes, piquant red wine vinegar and Spanish onion.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone x

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Zucchini Ricotta Fritters with Minted Yoghurt

Makes 8

  • 1 cup (250g) fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 small zucchini, finely grated, excess liquid squeezed out* (about 1 cup/175g drained weight)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated smoked cheddar (or Parmesan)
  • 2 tbsp buckwheat flour plus extra, for dusting
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat) OR 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)
  • 1 free-range egg + 1 egg white, extra
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • olive oil, for frying
  • rocket (arugula) leaves and extra virgin olive oil, to serve (optional)

*place the grated zucchini in a fine sieve, cover with a clean paper towel and push down with my palm or a broad spoon. Do not skip this step; squeezing the excess water out of the zucchini is important to ensure that your fritters don’t become waterlogged. Use the zucchini juice in your next green smoothie – it’s hydrating and full of goodness

Minted Yoghurt

  • 1/2 cup thick Greek or natural yoghurt
  • finely grated rind from one lemon (about 1 tsp)
  • handful of chopped fresh mint
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Place the ricotta, smoked cheddar or Parmesan, flour, zucchini, egg and seasonings together in a bowl. Mix well to combine. Whisk the other egg white until form peaks form, then fold through the ricotta and zucchini mixture.

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Shape 1/4 cupfuls of the mixture into fritter shapes and dust with the extra flour (the mixture will be quite wet, but don’t worry – they’ll firm up in the pan). Heat some oil in a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat.

Drop the fritters into the hot oil (ensure there is enough space between them for easy turning). Cook in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.

yoghurt1Mix together the yoghurt, mint and lemon zest in a small bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Serve a couple of fritters per person with a large dollop of minted yoghurt, a handful of rocket and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Carrot and Zucchini Cupcakes with Yoghurt Frosting

cupcake Over the past ten years, I feel like I’ve transformed from a Type-A, borderline obsessive, rigidly organised individual into someone who is late for everything. Someone who forgets birthdays, who loses the electricity bill ‘somewhere’ between the bedroom and the study, someone who forgets to pay said bill until one week after the due date.

It’s strange. Slightly unnerving.

Not to say that I’ve completely eradicated my Type-A personality traits; conversely, I’m still a typical over committing, perfectionistic workaholic who suffers more stress and emotion than the average Type-B. I’ve just slipped further down the spectrum. coconutbutter Take this weekend, for example. After a full week at work, the scourge of disorganization struck. I completely failed to organise Mother’s Day activities until late on Wednesday night. All plans to bake my mother’s favourite cake fell in a heap after I forgot to buy oranges and eggs.

(It’s the scourge, I tell you).

I finally got around to organising breakfast and a posy of flowers yesterday (the latter from The Little Posy Co. in Perth; I’m a big fan). We ate avocado toast with plenty of chilli flakes and hot English Breakfast tea. But… there was still something missing. Warm baked goods, hand-delivered, made with my mother in mind. veg So, yesterday afternoon, I sifted flour and poured batter with sticky hands. I made sugar-free yoghurt frosting and pried Loki away from my beloved jar of coconut butter. I sang rhyming songs in dulcet tones whilst my thoughts drifted to days of old; four hands grating apples onto the kitchen bench of my childhood home.

There was love baked right into that apple cake. lokivegveg2 So, mum – these are for you. Full of goodness, not-too-sweet, moist with fruit and vegetables. Just the way you like them. I love you more than feeble words could say.

Happy Mother’s Day.

P.S. I’m on my way, bearing cupcakes. Put the kettle on! x spoon Carrot and Zucchini Cupcakes

Adapted from this recipe by Giadia De Laurentiis at Food Network.com

Makes 12 medium cupcakes

  • 1 cup nut meal (I used a combination of almond and hazelnut)
  • 1/4 cup rice flour (preferably brown)
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup or maple syrup
  • 1 large free-range egg, at room temperature (substitute a flax egg to make this completely vegan)
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot (about 1 large carrot, I don’t bother peeling)
  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini/courgette (about 1/2 large zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Yoghurt Frosting:

  • 180mL (6 oz) plain coconut yoghurt or Greek yoghurt (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2-3 tsp coconut nectar (I use Loving Earth, it’s got a stunning burnt butterscotch flavour; substitute honey or rice malt syrup) to taste
  • for garnish: crunchy toasted coconut flakes and edible flowers (the latter if you happen to have some hanging around)

Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line 12 muffin pans with paper liners, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, sieve the dry ingredients together (add any nut solids left in the sieve back into the bowl and mix in). In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and the grated vegetables. Add to the dry and mix until just combined.

Using two spoons, distribute the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin cups. Bake until light and golden (about 15-20 minutes). Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

When completely cool, whisk together the yoghurt and coconut nectar until smooth. Spread liberally over each cupcake. icingSprinkle with coconut flakes and edible flowers, then refrigerate for at least one hour before serving (this allows the frosting to set; however if you’re impatient like I am, feel free to dig straight in!). icedhand

Chard, Goat Cheese and Walnut Galette with Oat Pastry

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My mother is one of those thoroughly gifted, green-fingered people who breathes life into dwindled branches on a daily basis. When I was a child, she’d routinely rescue half-dead potted shrubs from local garden centres for one dollar apiece; a few weeks later, she’d be separating densely-packed roots into two separate pots of glossy green leaves.

She’d also frequently save seeds from fruit such as apples or papaya, drying them on the windowsill til their skins became hard and glossy.  She’d then plant them, with plenty of faith and a mound of organic mulch (she still swears by the efficacy of regular mulching).

We had thirty papayas from one of those dried seeds. Fledgling tomatoes and an avocado too. Each year, I benefit from her yield of apples and citrus fruit until my fridge is bursting at the seams.

But no. I haven’t inherited her gift.

I’ve tried. Oh gosh, I’ve tried. My front doorstep is frequently cluttered with dusty pots from plants-that-were; a sad memorial to my horticultural ineptness. I’ve spent a fortune on seeds and organic potting mix, only to be met with the rotting stench of dead foliage (and failure, obviously).

So you can imagine my surprise when a last-ditch effort to grow organic rainbow chard actually yielded results. Meaning, they’re STILL ALIVE. And thriving.

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Since my initial planting in November last year, my little crop of rainbow chard has grown spectacularly; I’ve harvested handfuls of stems every other week and there’s no sign of waning yet.

Other than eating the leaves raw in salads, I’ve made many a thin-crusted chard pizza (with caramelized onions, pesto and goats cheese), variations of sauteed greens and a few toasted coconut sweet potato and chard based curries.

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However, a few days ago I happened upon the idea of making an oat-flour based chard galette, with fresh walnuts that my mother picked on a recent trip to Bright, Victoria.

This thing is glorious. Absolutely bursting with savoury deliciousness. The slight bitterness from the chard combines beautifully with the earthy toasted walnuts, sweet onions and rich melted cheese, all encased in flaky oaten pastry.

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If you haven’t got a glut of chard in your own garden, feel free to substitute with any other leafy green (Tuscan kale works exceptionally well) or just use a whole quantity of spinach.  Walnuts can be easily traded for pine nuts if you prefer.

This galette is beautiful served in thick wedges for lunch with a simple dressed salad and marinated olives, or perhaps accompanied by buttered sourdough for a light dinner.

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Chard, Goat Cheese and Walnut Galette with Oat Pastry

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup (100g) organic, finely milled* oat flour
  • 1 cup (125g) plain (all-purpose) white flour + about 1/4 cup extra for kneading
  • 200g cold, cubed unsalted butter
  • a good pinch of salt
  • iced water, as required (about 2 tbsp)
  • a splash (about 1/4 tsp) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 free-range egg, white and yolk separated

*use a coarse mill if you prefer more of an oaten texture

Filling:

  • 1 medium red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 3 small cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 100g fresh organic rainbow chard, stalks finely sliced, large leaves torn
  • 150g baby English spinach, leaves only
  • 50g raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 75g good-quality cheddar or ‘tasty’ cheese, grated
  • 50g goats cheese, crumbled
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp plain flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten with a splash of iced water (reserved from the egg used for the pastry)

For the dough: add the flours to a large mixing bowl with the salt and butter. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add in the apple cider vinegar, egg yolk (reserve the white for glazing) and a trickle of iced water. Mix well with your hands, adding a little more iced water as you go until the mixture becomes smooth and cohesive (the dough will become a little sticky).

Tip out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into a rough disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

For the filling: add the onion, herbs and garlic to a saucepan with a good splash of olive oil. Allow to saute on low heat until opaque (do not allow to brown).

Increase heat to medium, then add the rainbow chard stems and leaves. Cook, stirring for one minute until wilted. Add in the English spinach and cook for another 2 minutes or until just wilted. Season with salt, turn off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool slightly.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line large tray with baking paper and set aside.

On a well-floured surface, roll out your pastry to 35 cm diameter (about 0.5mm thick). Carefully transfer the pastry onto your lined baking tray.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of flour over the centre of the pastry disc in a thin layer (this will absorb any fluid from the spinach and ensure your pastry doesn’t become soggy). Evenly distribute the cooled spinach mixture over the flour, leaving a 3cm border around the edge of the pastry.

Sprinkle over the cheeses and walnuts, then grind a good helping of black pepper over the filling. Turn the edges of the pastry disc up to roughly enclose the filling (don’t worry if it looks ‘rustic’, this is what a galette is all about!). Press together any overlapping pastry edges until you have a well sealed pastry crust. Brush with beaten egg white.

Bake the galette on a centre shelf in your preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing to serve.

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Note: if you have a pizza stone (and love a crisp pastry crust) I’d highly recommend using it to bake this galette. Preheat the stone for five minutes, then carefully transfer the galette onto the stone atop the baking paper. Bake as above.

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Coconut Cacao Buckwheat Granola

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This morning, I woke to the dull patter of gentle autumn rain. Rather comforting, in fact, after many weeks of radiant heat. After crawling out of bed (and unearthing myself from Loki’s pile of toys) I rubbed my eyes and shuffled towards the kitchen, where Aaron was stacking a uniform pile of Weetbix in his breakfast bowl. After applying some honey, he doused the structure (I don’t use this word lightly; Aaron is a precision Weetbix stacker) in dairy milk before habitually migrating to the couch.

Crunching followed, with an occasional clink of metal against glazed stoneware. This is Aaron’s ritual. Today the rain provided a steady backing track.

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For me, breakfast is a little less predictable. In regular rotation are raw buckwheat with maca, sliced banana and almond milk (my new favourite is cold-pressed local almond milk from The Pure Press), filling overnight oats (this is my favourite recipe) and avocado toast (ALWAYS with chilli flakes and lemon oil) however I occasionally mix things up with granola or fruit toast with lashings of butter.

I adore breakfast. I’m one of those weirdos who falls asleep thinking of breakfast the next morning. Last night was no different. I wanted granola stuffed with walnuts and deep, dark cacao.

We didn’t have any.

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So, back to this morning’s turn of events. I stumbled into the kitchen, deliriously hungry and leaden with sleep. The absence of granola resulted in crumbled Weetbix with maca, toasted walnuts and cacao nibs, all swimming in creamy almond milk.

Half an hour later, I made a batch of toasted buckwheat granola mixed with warm cinnamon, organic walnuts, chocolatey cacao, coconut oil and raw honey that I snaffled on a recent trip to Melbourne, Victoria.

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SO GOOD.

I think today calls for a second breakfast.

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Coconut Cacao Buckwheat Granola

Adapted from Sarah Britton’s recipe from My New Roots

  • 2 cups (400g) raw buckwheat**
  • 1/2 cup (50g) organic rolled oats
  • 1 cup (75g) golden flax flakes
  • 2 cups (80g) coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup (35g) coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (125g) walnuts
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup honey (I used Guildford Gold) or maple syrup
  • 1 tsp organic natural vanilla extract
  • generous pinch of flaked sea salt (equivalent to 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt)
  • 1/2 cup organic cacao powder (fair trade, if you can find it)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, buckwheat, coconut flakes, flax flakes and coconut sugar. Roughly chop or crumble the walnuts (you still want some reasonable size chunks) and add them to the mix.

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In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the honey or maple syrup, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder. Whisk to combine until smooth.

Pour the cacao mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to coat evenly. Spread the mixture evenly over your prepared tray and press firmly with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the granola starts to become golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and flip over clumps with a spatula (don’t worry if your granola isn’t clumping yet, it will start to stick together as it later cools). Return to the oven and cook for another ten minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes until evenly toasted* and fragrant.

Store your granola in an airtight jar or container in a cool, dry spot for up to six months (ha – like it would last that long!). You can also freeze granola, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or a (airtight) freezer bag.

I like to eat this granola with almond milk or coconut yoghurt, piled high with fresh berries or sliced banana. It’s also AMAZING with a generous drizzle of thin peanut butter or tahini.

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Notes:

*The dark colour of the granola makes it hard to tell whether it’s cooked or not. Go by smell – you want a toasty, sweet smelling batch of granola (your nose should be able to tell you if it’s burning!). If you’re uncertain, taste one of the larger pieces of walnut or coconut (which will take the longest to toast). If it’s golden and toasty, the mix is done.

**You can find whole raw buckwheat (often referred to as buckwheat ‘groats’) at health food shops and good grocery stores. Raw buckwheat should appear very pale green rather than dark brown (the latter version is called ‘kasha’ which has been toasted; for this recipe you require the raw version of buckwheat as you’ll be toasting it yourself).

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Spiced Apple and Buttermilk Cake

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If you haven’t already figured from Instagram, I’m… uh, kinda excited about this post. I’ve been waiting approximately two weeks to upload it and in the meantime, I’ve had joy bursting out of my ears.

Why? Well, it’s not just any old post about apple cake. It’s a celebration post; a deliciously heartfelt contribution to a virtual Bridal Shower hosted by my blogging friends Kayle, Stef and Stephanie.

You may already be familiar with the gorgeous bride-to-be – it’s the auburn haired, ever-smiling Stephie from Stephie Cooks (read more about how I met Stephie here). She and her fiance Alex are set to get hitched in a few short weeks (April 2015!) so we’re celebrating in the natural way that bloggers do: making food and photographing it. And then eating it, with Stephie and Alex in mind.

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The girls above spilled the beans on Stephie’s wedding theme a few weeks ago in preparation for this virtual shower. She and Alex are running with the idea of ‘rustic elegance’, complete with BBQ for dinner and pies for dessert!

In keeping with the ‘rustic’ idea, I decided to discard my initial plan to make individual tarts or decorated cupcakes in Stephie’s honour. Instead, I made one giant country apple cake, complete with chunks of fruit and lashings of double cream.

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A comment from Stephie’s mum Julie (@jkswope) on an Instagram post of mine further solidified my decision to use homegrown apples:

Make those little Apple pie cookies that Stephie made. They are so good!

Then, bring some to us. We’ll need them with the frantic wedding planning. #fourweeks 

Apple goodies for wedding planning? Okay Momma Swope… I’m onto it!

However, after searching Stephie’s blog for the apple pie cookies, I became sidetracked by this stunning apple cake from a few months ago. Caramel, apples and vanilla bean? Yum. I quickly decided to make my very own apple cake, packed full of organic apples from my own mother’s heaving apple tree. After it baked, I briefly considered the idea of sending it over to the United States but… well, that didn’t seem so sensible.

Yep, I ate it instead.

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So, before I stop blabbering and leave you with the recipe, I just have a few short words to share in regards to our amazing bride-to-be:

Stephie, you are brave and beautiful, hilariously creative, heartfelt and loyal. It’s been a privilege to be a friend across-the-seas for the past couple of years. I will be praying for strength, love and blessings to inhabit each step that you and Alex take as a married couple – on your wedding day and afterwards. I can’t wait to see your celebration photos, to drip tears of joy into my keyboard and to cheer you on in your endeavors to come (of which there will be many, I’m sure!).

One day, we will share cake together across a table. But for now, this recipe will have to do.

P.S. I know this is a Bridal Shower but Alex, you’re pretty awesome too. Peat whisky has made us friends for life.

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Spiced Apple and Buttermilk Cake

Adapted from A Pinch of Yum

Cake batter:

  • 1 cup raw caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses sugar (substitute dark brown sugar)
  • ⅓ cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1 large free range egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla essence
  • 2½ cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 cups peeled. diced apples

Topping:

  • 1 apple, peeled and finely sliced to decorate
  • ½ cup raw caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Grease and line a 20cm diameter round cake tin, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, coconut oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla essence. Sift in the baking powder and plain flour. Stir through the diced apples.

Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake tin. Mix together the caster sugar, cinnamon and butter for the topping. Gently layer over the reserved sliced apples in a circular pattern from the outside to the inside of the cake. Dot over the cinnamon butter mixture.

Gently transfer the cake into the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until risen and pale golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should come out with only a few moist crumbs attached).

Allow to cool in the tin before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar and accompanied by a thick dollop of double cream.

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Want to visit the rest of the Bridal Shower?

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Click on the links below:

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Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

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For those of us heralding the arrival of autumn, today’s post might seem a little out of season. But trust me, there’s method to my madness: I’m guest-posting over at my friend Erin’s blog, The Speckled Palate, whilst she and her husband Winston enjoy precious time with their new baby girl!

Erin and Winston reside in Dallas, Texas, hence my reference to the pending arrival of spring (in technical terms, anyway… this forecast might say otherwise!). I can’t quite remember when we first struck up a friendship but over the last year or so, I’ve come to consider Erin as a dear blogging friend across-the-seas. She’s wonderfully creative, kind and nurturing and I know that she’s going to be the most incredible mother to ‘Lady Baby’ (as she’s known for now!).

Such exciting times.

strawberriesI’m including my original recipe below as part of the blog archive, but I’d encourage you to jump over to Erin’s blog post for a printable version (and more talk of how this Aussie blogger became friends with a big-hearted Texan photographer!).

You can also read more about Erin and her journey towards motherhood here and here.

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Back to peas and carrots strawberries.

The salad recipe below is more of a concept than an absolute instructional. Feel free to experiment with flavours and textures, harnessing the best fruit and vegetables that you can find. Add a little avocado for creamy goodness or some pea shoots if you can find nice ones at the market.

Swap the strawberries for juicy chunks of ripe peach, or add sauteed leeks or sweet onions as a beautiful accompaniment to the goats cheese.

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As per my notes, feel free to bulk out this recipe with some cooked and cooled quinoa for a more substantial dish. I’ve also added the almonds as an ‘option’ as… well, I’d like to say I was catering for nut-free people but to be honest, I just forgot about them (honestly, I can’t even blame baby brain!). If you do add the nuts, they’ll provide a gorgeously satisfying crunch.

Thanks Erin, for giving me the opportunity to share one of my favourite recipes with your readers. I’m sending you, Winston and (fur kid and big sister) Lucy lots of love from my apartment across the seas!

Oh, and talking about fur kids? I think we’ve got ourselves a little strawberry thief…

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Spring Pea, Asparagus and Strawberry Salad

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

  • 100g edamame beans, shelled (50g shelled weight)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 50g sugar snap peas, stringed
  • large handful of fresh greens (I used baby spinach and rainbow chard, however watercress or rocket would be lovely)
  • 100 – 150g strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved (leave a few small ones whole for garnish)
  • 100g fresh goats cheese (substitute feta), broken into chunks
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from lemon below)
  • small handful of mint, washed and chopped (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
  • 50g slivered almonds, optional

For the dressing (combine all in a screw-top jar and shake*):

  • 2 tbsp cold-pressed sweet almond oil
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from half a lemon
  • drizzle of honey or rice malt syrup, to taste
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

If using, scatter the slivered almonds over an oven tray and toast them at 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Blanch the asparagus spears in hot water for 2 minutes or until bright green. Refresh under cold water, drain and set aside.

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Slice the sugar snap peas into thin slivers on a diagonal. Place into a medium bowl with the shelled edamame and sliced strawberries. Pour over enough dressing to coat, then toss and adjust seasoning to taste.

Scatter the leafy greens over a serving platter. Lay the asparagus spears over the top and spoon over the pea and strawberry mix. Combine the goats cheese with the chopped mint, lemon zest and a little extra dressing. Gently mix, then spoon over the plated salad.

Scatter over the whole strawberries, remaining mint leaves and slivered almonds if desired.

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This salad is wonderful with seasoned grilled chicken, fish or pork on a warm spring day. You can also bulk it out with 1 cup of cooked quinoa and some flaxseeds for a wholesome vegetarian meal.

Notes: I mixed my salad dressing with just a tiny bit of honey to retain a ‘tangy contrast’ to the sweet, juicy strawberries. Don’t overdo the sweetness or you’ll throw out the balance of your salad. The ingredients listed above make more than enough dressing for this salad. Add just enough to coat the strawberry and pea mix with a little extra for the goats cheese and leaves. Don’t be tempted to pour over the remainder of the jar unless you’re adding cooked quinoa as suggested above (save it for another salad!).

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The Best Banana Bread

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Like most learn-on-the-job bloggers with no formal photographic training, I’m excessively critical of everything I posted in the early days of Laura’s Mess (circa 2012).

Granted, I was working against the odds with a small automatic camera and no formal knowledge of composition, food styling, lighting or photo editing. Most of what you’ll see my first few posts is well-practiced application of the ‘winging it‘ technique, supplemented with tips from my husband Aaron.

Most props were scrounged from the depths of my mother’s kitchen cupboard (with permission of course) and, uh, never returned (sorry mum).

I’ve come a long way since then.

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Not to say that I’m an expert or anything; heck no, I’m still essentially an amateur who now owns a better camera (and who, with much trial and error, is much better at composition and lighting). I’ve attended a couple of blogging conferences and amassed a sizable collection of vintage knives, bowls and platters, most of which still don’t get used on this blog (what was I saying about food styling again?).

I guess I’ve figured out what I like. The kind of shots that speak to my personal sense of style, my food ethos and (most importantly) my stomach.  I love natural light, blemishes, timber and well-loved crockery. Speckled eggs, dark rye and glossy fat aubergines. Food as the star that speaks for itself – with minimal props and clutter.

Beautiful simplicity.

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I don’t always get it right. More often than not, there’s something I dislike about my photographs. I never hold ‘shoots’ with stylized food; each and every morsel that you see on this blog goes into my mouth or someone else’s.  I have so much to learn.

But in saying that, I’m happier with my work these days. I do better justice to the stunning food that graces our table each day. Like this banana bread, for instance. I first posted it in 2012 after a long battle with sunlight and our automatic camera. The photographs are quite horrid, but I’ve left them there as a monument to the early days.

There was slow improvement, evidence found here and here. Let’s hope that next year’s hindsight will be similarly pleasing.

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The recipe below is for traditional banana bread, marked as ‘recipe one’ in my original blog post. It’s richly moist, fragrant and studded with plump walnuts and raisins.

For today’s loaf, I made one further modification from the original recipe: I substituted three quarters of the stated brown sugar for Billington’s natural molasses sugar. The latter provided a rich caramel flavour and a dense crumb that beautifully complimented the ripe banana and warm cinnamon. I’d recommend the switch, particularly if you have some hidden in your pantry (like I did).

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Serve this bread thickly sliced with a dollop of mascarpone, a handful of toasted coconut shavings and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It’s also wonderful toasted, adorned with butter and consumed with a mug of strong Builder’s tea (aka happiness).

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The Best Banana Bread

Loosely adapted from Marks & Spencer’s Good Home Baking cookbook (1983)

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175g brown sugar (or 135g molasses sugar and 40g brown sugar)
  • 50g raisins
  • 75g halved walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar and crumbled walnuts, optional (for decoration)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.

Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles).

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Sprinkle with demerara sugar or more walnuts if desired. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin for neater slices, or dig straight in with keen smiles and a butter knife. I understand if you choose the latter.

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The Last Days of Summer + Pet-friendly Holidays in WA

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Summer died on Saturday. Well, in a metaphorical sense, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere like I do. This Sunday marked the first day of autumn; generally characterized by falling leaves (hence ‘fall’ in North America), cooler temperatures and truckloads of pumpkin spice markedly shorter days.

At the moment, though, we’re still in the transitional stage. This morning dawned with both sunshine and heat. I’m still sipping ice water from my favourite glass as the kettle gathers dust on the kitchen counter. Unless, of course, my mum comes over. She would drink tea during summer in Death Valley*.

*since I was a wee bairn, she’s been telling me that drinking hot drinks on a hot day can cool you down. Well mum, apparently the Smithsonian agrees!

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Aaron and I were determined to make the most of summer this year. We had grand plans for many a beach volleyball night alongside road trips, seaside picnics and barbecues by the pool. Although we failed on the volleyball front, we did manage to squeeze in a few blissful picnics (evidence found here and here).

We also took two summer road trips down to the south of Western Australia, initially in Cowaramup (with an excited Loki) and more recently, with some amazing friends at the seaside village of Gracetown. We laughed, talked, swam, explored the Margaret River heritage trail, ate local cheese and sipped Cabernet Sauvignon from a local vineyard.

You can see pictures from both trips via my much-better-attended Instagram account (@laurasmess). For simplicity’s sake, the majority of images included in this post are from our first summer road trip which sprawled over an idyllic, sunbathed week in January.

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Being our first trip ‘down south’ with Loki, we spent a little bit of time planning a dog-friendly itinerary for the week. First up was the job of finding suitable pet-friendly accommodation within reasonable distance of the beach, shops and wineries. After a bit of research, we found a perfect cottage through airbnb owned by a lovely local couple in Cowaramup (12km North of Margaret River). Their own dog, Karri, was both gentle and playful, providing bonus companionship for Loki throughout the week.

Our host, Maria, was more than generous with tips for local dog-friendly dining and activities, even offering to mind Loki if we wanted to visit a venue that didn’t accommodate him. Both Aaron and I wholeheartedly recommend Maria and Dan’s place to general travelers and pet owners alike (though I will stress that we brought Loki after prior negotiation with Maria – if you’re thinking of bringing your pet, please do the same).

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Australia’s south west is pretty much heaven in terms of natural beauty. Our little apartment dog had the most incredible week of rambling through the Australian bush, barking at cows and digging in snow white sand. I’ve included a few pictures of his ‘new experiences’ below (alongside a few more on Instagram including this video).

Scroll down to ‘dog friendly options in the south west’ if you’d prefer!

1. Bushwalking 

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2. Introduction to the Beach

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3. Meeting a cow (from the safety of the car!)

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Dog Friendly Options in the South West 

There’s a wealth of scatty information on pet-friendly south west facilities on the internet. This list was slightly useful but… well, you can’t really group pets and children into the same category (many facilities allow children but not dogs. Fair enough too).

Aaron and I spent most of our time meandering about the Cowaramup, Gracetown, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas, so naturally the suggestions below reflect that.

Eating Out:

White Elephant Beach Cafe – Gnarabup. This little kiosk serves amazing cafe fare and great coffee right on the beach. Their cafe space consists of concrete and durable plastic, so despite losing a few points on style, it’s fantastically user-friendly. Perfect for sandy feet, wet dogs, enthusiastic children and beach walkers alike.

Sea Gardens – Prevelly. This well-loved local cafe specializes in big breakfasts, wood-fired pizzas and French-inspired evening fare (reflecting the heritage of owner/chef Gilles England-Brassy). We only visited for a Thursday sundowner with beer and pizza (below), but would wholeheartedly recommend the space for both style and dog-friendliness.

 

crewpizza

Yallingup Coffee Company – Dunsborough. This sprawling coffee shop provides only limited dining options (mainly cakes, muffins and slices) but the coffee alone is worth a visit.

Blue Ginger – Margaret River. An amazing continental delicatessen and cafe housed in what used to be a local cheese factory. Pick up some homewares, bulk goods, house-ground peanut butter and a creamy organic coffee. There’s a reasonable sized outdoor verandah to house both you and your fur-kid (get there early!).

The Bakery – Margaret River. One of my absolute favourite places to visit each time we travel down south. Fantastic baked goods, great coffee and a rambling verandah to explore. We sat with Loki out the front of the cafe, nestled into a pre-loved couch (sorry, someone’s grandma). I recommend the avocado with marinated goats cheese.

Samudra – Dunsborough. A gorgeous, holistic cafe in the heart of Dunsborough town offering both yoga classes and raw, organic, paleo, vegan-friendly and gluten free options for diners. Visit and explore their own biodynamic garden for yourself.

3 Oceans Cafe (formerly Palandri) – Cowaramup. This lovely cafe has a lot of outdoor shade, soccer goals and a green expanse of grass to use as part of your winery experience. The cellar door itself isn’t particularly dog-friendly but you can always buy a cheese platter and enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the garden.

Clancy’s Fish Pub – Dunsborough. For delicious local beers, premium fish and chips, the occasional woodfired pizza and local seafood. There’s an awesome outside play area and a meandering bush trail for children and dogs alike.

beers chips

Wineries and Breweries:

Despite the presence of many ‘wine dogs’ in the south west region, not all wineries allow the general public to bring dogs onto their premises. We had a little bit of trouble initially but managed to find some firm favourites.

Stella Bella – Margaret River. Hands-down the friendliest, loveliest cellar door we visited. Loki was treated like an old friend. The wines are absolutely brilliant also, make sure you try the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and delicious 2010 Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillion.

Bush Shack Brewery – Yallingup. The most dog friendly brewery in the region (in my opinion). Awesome chilli pilsener, generous share plates and a well-equipped play area for the children. As long as your dog has a lead, he/she is welcome.

Cowaramup Brewing Company – Cowaramup. Great pilsener and a pretty tasty Hefeweizen. There are some great outdoor benches to sit at and while away the afternoon.

*Don’t bother attempting to take your dog to Eagle Bay Brewing, Colonial Brewing, Bootleg or the Duckstein. You’ll be heading for disappointment (they’re amazing venues though – go local craft beer!).

beach3 beachIf you’re a fellow dog owner who has journeyed in the south west, feel free to add any other suggestions that I’ve missed below. The more information, the better!

Happy autumn, friends.

azlokibeach

Char-grilled Watermelon Salad with Mint and Goats Cheese

plate4It’s been a slow couple of months at the Mess. Slow and weary; mostly due to the insufferably hot Summer weather. Over the past two months I’ve been reluctant to even move, never mind turn on the oven. Aaron and I have spent a majority of nights sleeping on the cool kitchen floor underneath our single air conditioning unit (don’t get too excited, it hardly copes with humidity. Cool, wet towels have become my new best friend).

Meals? Well, they’ve largely consisted of raw vegetables, hummus, sourdough and cultured butter, chunks of good cheddar and the occasional barbecue chicken from Red Rooster. Oh, and homemade quinoa tofu sushi. That’s about as interesting as it gets. melonNot that I’m complaining. In fact, I’ve quite enjoyed these nights of light, simple food. My sole problem has been poor blogability, if that’s even a word. Nothing’s really stood out as beautiful enough to throw into the blogosphere.

Add that to the absence of my beloved laptop (which has officially bitten the dust) and the lack of Western Australian daylight savings and… well, you’re left with a dearth of recent blog content. I’m dreadfully sorry. vase But back to today’s post and the beauty of char-grilled watermelon. This, my friends, is the kind of food that makes my weary, sweat-soaked Summer heart sing.

Quickly tossing watermelon onto a hot grill plate creates a beautiful smoky exterior that contrasts perfectly against the sweet, juicy flesh. Add some fresh mint, creamy chevre, crunchy pistachios and piquant lemon and you’ve got a salad fit for warm weather entertaining. plate1 Or for eating by yourself, with sweet grilled chicken and a glass of chilled white wine.

Happy February, friends. plate3 Char-grilled Watermelon Salad

Serves 2

  • 4 one-inch-thick slices of seedless watermelon, rind removed
  • 2 spring onions, washed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 sprig mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 hunks of good-quality goats cheese, preferably French chèvre (approx 20g per person)
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp toasted, shelled pistachio nuts, crushed
  • light olive oil or coconut oil, to cook

Lemon Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice from half an average lemon)
  • a good pinch of brown or coconut sugar (to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue plate to high heat (or until it starts smoking).

Rub each side of the cut watermelon with olive or coconut oil, then immediately transfer onto the hot pan or rack. Cook for 2 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Transfer two slices onto each plate.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients into a small screw top jar. Shake, then taste. Adjust amounts of acid or sweetness to your liking (ensure the dressing is a little acidic as you’ll require the acid as a contrast to the sweet watermelon.

dressingingred dressing Top the watermelon slices on each plate with some crumbled goats cheese, mint, spring onions and finely grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a bit of the lemon dressing and sprinkle with crunchy pistachio nuts.

Serve alongside some grilled white fish or chicken for a complete meal. Or as a Vegetarian option, add some sourdough and cultured butter for a pretty delicious lunch. plate2

Blackberry and Coconut Muffins + Friendship

muffinwindow

In recent years, I’ve become more and more aware of how blessed I am to have lifelong friends. Friends who I know (with absolute certainty) will be there during the highest points of my life whilst also traversing the earth-shattering lows. Friends like these are a rarity in the transient nature of modern life. I’ve somehow been blessed with a few.

I’ve written a few times on this blog about one of my best friends, the absolute treasure who answered to Hippy Vic (I’m using past tense as she’s progressively abandoned the blogging game). It was her birthday on Monday and I still haven’t given her a hug.

It frustrates me how life has steadily crowded out the times when we just used to sit and breathe. Nights when we’d talk unrestricted til the air grew cold and the sun emerged from hiding. I miss smiling til my face hurt and soaking in the relentless swell of youth.

At least it seemed relentless; perennial in the best of ways, tinged with blissful ignorance and folly. But youth finally faded, as it always does. Responsibility awakened like a lofty giant. Age brought maturity, and with that came both beauty and perpetual loss. I’m trying to appreciate both.

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Back to the issue of time, or rather, lack of it. I’m sure most (if not all) of you can relate to the burden of conflicting responsibilities, the absorbent qualities of full-time work and the joy (but occasionally overwhelming nature) of parenthood. I often experience pressing guilt or regret after choosing to do one thing over another. I also spend endless moments reflecting upon what I want to do as opposed to what I need to do. This year, I wanted it to end.

Last weekend, I spent some very deliberate time reflecting upon how I spend the majority of my waking hours. The past ten years have been largely consumed with study and work, the remainder being fragmented into time with family and friends. I’ve long been aware of a glaring imbalance between time spent with lifelong friends and that spent with ‘incidental acquaintances’, i.e. colleagues or people attached to my personal pursuits. All very nice people, mind you. But not those whom I’d call ‘sisters’ when I’m old and grey.

coffee

I’ll spare you the rest of my weekend contemplation. Let’s skip through to some very purposeful time spent last Sunday eating muffins on the crest of a hill. Time spent chatting in the cool of the morning until hours disappeared and the afternoon arrived.

Time spent with my other best friend and heart sister, Lucy.

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We arrived around 9:00am, armed with fresh pencils, paints, snacks, one furkid (Loki) and our two favourite boys (Aaron and Lucy’s little boy, Isaac). Over the course of the morning, we etched images on paper, cracking almonds with our teeth and breathing the scent of warm eucalyptus.

Lucy was Lucy, beautifully creative, always kind and encouraging. The same strong-but-gentle woman whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for over fifteen years. She’s seen me crumble under pressure and glow with happiness on my wedding day.

I’m so, so grateful for the journey that we’ve taken together. And most of all, I look forward to the days to come.

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So, back to Sunday. Before leaving the park, we took Isaac to Synergy parkland to climb stone dinosaurs and eat rainbow ice creams. Loki nosed around in the wood chips, making friends with stray children and chasing abandoned balls.

We lay on freshly watered grass which left stains on our clothing and huge smiles on our faces. We loved every minute and, as usual, we’ve promised to ‘do it again soon’.

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And this time, we will.

I’m already baking the muffins.

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Blackberry and Coconut Muffins

Makes 18

  • 1/2 cup coconut yoghurt (I used CO YO, substitute natural yoghurt)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup organic, cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond milk (substitute oat or dairy milk)
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 1 cup organic oat flour
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tbsp coconut flour
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking (bicarbonate) soda
  • Optional: coconut nectar and coconut chips/flakes, to garnish

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Whisk the yoghurt, water, eggs, milk and coconut oil together in a large bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.

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Spoon into lined or greased muffin pans and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

If using coconut nectar, prick holes into the top of the muffins and drizzle over a little coconut nectar whilst still warm. Garnish with toasted coconut chips.

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Chompchomp

Perth Food Blog | Restaurant Reviews | Food & Travel Blog | Gluten Free

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