honey roasted pears with rosemary and hazelnuts

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It’s been properly cold this week, overcast and rainy. The sort of cold that makes it difficult to get out of bed, for as soon as a limb exits the blankets (in the dark, mind you) there’s an inclement bite against your warm exposed skin.

If you’re me, that sensation results in ‘five more minutes’ under the covers before the secondary alarm goes off (by ‘alarm’ I mean Loki and by ‘going off’ I mean his tiny limbs pawing at the bedsheets) at which point I get up, wash my face and pull on something warm.

Turn on the lights, fill the kettle, feed the dog (whose enthusiasm defies both early hours and frigid weather), make tea (usually green tea with lemon or hot water with a hunk of smashed fresh ginger). Now for my favourite part: breakfast.

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I love breakfast. I’m sure I’ve written about this more than once, as a person who falls asleep dreaming of oatmeal or hot buttered bread. I’m one of the many who adhere to the Murray-ism that ‘sleep is like a time machine to breakfast’ (true, that).

These days, I’m working in the city which necessitates a short commute on public transport. It’s nothing to moan about, however my early departure has resulted in Weetbix, warm almond milk and banana on more days than I care to mention. It’s not a bad breakfast by any means, but as the week progresses I find myself dreaming about Saturday sleep ins and options like corn fritters, sautéed mushrooms and warm bowls of creamy porridge. Like this one, eaten a few weeks ago on a frosty morning with lashings of cold cream:

eatI had hoped to bring you a savoury recipe this week, something like zucchini noodles or creamy Jungle curry with brown rice. However, my aforementioned work schedule defeated me (particularly as the change of season has led to early sunsets, usually whilst I’m riding home on the bus) and whilst we ate such things for dinner, there was absolutely no light for photography.

So, that said, I’m posting a recipe that I had saved from our time in Balingup a few weeks ago: fragrant honey roasted pears with rosemary, cinnamon and a touch of citrus.

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This recipe is dead easy. It sounds fancy (strangely, all roasted fruit sounds fancy to me) but all you really need is a sturdy pan and an hour or so for the pears to roast in their gorgeously floral honey syrup. The end result is perfect for a weekend breakfast or a lazy dessert with thick double cream.

If you’re a fan of oats, I’d definitely recommend trying this recipe as we did: atop creamy porridge with crunchy roasted nuts and a dusting of spice. It’s both simple and a little indulgent, perfect for cold mornings with a mug of hot tea.

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One little tip: if you are going to eat these pears for breakfast, I’d recommend disregarding my ‘serving suggestion’ (which features the haves in their entirety), taking out the core and dicing them prior to topping your porridge. It’s slightly less pretty to look at but altogether easier to eat (and easy to eat = win, in my humble opinion).

Happy first of May, lovelies x

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honey and rosemary roasted pears

Serves 6-8 as a breakfast topper or 3-4 as a dessert with cream

  • 3 large or 4 small pears (preferably bosc or another firm fleshed variety), halved
  • 1/4 cup quality floral honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or a good sprinkle of ground cinnamon)
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved
  • 1 orange, 4 strips of rind removed
  • small rosemary sprig (reserve a few leaves to serve)
  • good handful of hazelnuts
  • optional, to serve: old fashioned porridge (I cooked ours in a mixture of coconut and dairy milk, sooo creamy) and/or a good dollop of thick coconut or dairy cream

Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan-forced. Place the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast for 10 minutes or until the hazelnuts are aromatic and lightly toasted (the skins should have started to crack). Set aside to cool.

Combine honey and 1/2 cup cold water in a roasting pan. Squeeze in the juice from the orange, then add pears, skin-side up. Add cinnamon, vanilla bean, rosemary and orange rind.

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Cover pan tightly with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove foil and carefully turn pears. Return to the oven, uncovered, and roast for a further 40 to 50 minutes or until pears are caramelised and tender, basting with the syrup halfway through cooking (splash in a little more water if the syrup is reducing too quickly).

Meanwhile, pour the cooled hazelnuts into a tea towel and rub gently until the skins have separated. Discard the skins and chop the nuts coarsely.

Remove pears from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

We served ours warm atop the creamy porridge, drizzled with a little more syrup and topped with chopped hazelnuts, fresh rosemary and a little extra cream. These pears are also wonderful for breakfast with thick Greek yoghurt or for dessert, try them warm with thick coconut or dairy cream.

quince and amaretto cake

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It was my mum’s birthday last week. As previously mentioned on the blog, she’s a fan of ‘healthy-ish’ cakes; those with chunks of fruit or shredded vegetables, almond meal or ricotta, less sugar than the average celebratory kind.

I usually bake her some sort of carrot loaf (like these cupcakes) or a dense orange and almond cake (like this one) but as I had leftover poached quince sitting in the fridge, I decided to experiment with a very old fashioned ‘upside down cake’.

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Just so you know: I’d never previously made an upside down cake. Despite trying the ‘classic pineapple‘ version during my childhood, the idea of making my own seemed… well, rather antiquated (perhaps due to mental images of 1920’s housewives!).

However, after spying this stunning creation by Gina De Palma on Fine Cooking, I was hooked on the idea of an upside down quince cake. Ruby wedges of fragrant quince atop a soft, moist almond cake? Definitely mum’s kind of thing.

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As I had already poached my autumn quince with a good amount vanilla and spice, I decided to divert from the spiced brown sugar cake batter in Gina’s original recipe. Instead, worked from this recipe, incorporating a generous amount of fragrant lemon zest whilst swapping the brown sugar and honey for white caster sugar. I also added a generous glug of Amaretto instead of vanilla essence (it’s a birthday, after all).

We shared this ruby red autumn beauty last night after a Moroccan-inspired dinner for mum’s birthday. Each slice was served warm (except dad’s, because dad) with a dollop of thickened cream and toasted almonds for crunch.

Happy birthday mama bear. Love you x

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quince and amaretto cake

Makes one 22cm cake

cake:

  • poached quince (about 2 quince worth, or 1/3 of recipe)
  • 250g salted butter (approx 1 cup) at room temperature
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp finely grated (unwaxed) lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup (50g) almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 3/4 cup (185mL) almond milk (substitute other plant based or dairy milk)
  • 2 1/4 cups (300g) self-raising flour, sifted
  • good glug of Amaretto liqueur (substitute vanilla essence or another sweet almond or hazelnut liqueur)

to serve:

  • 1 cup quince poaching liquid, reduced over the stove into a syrup* (optional)
  • 1/4 cup toasted flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease the base and sides of a 22cm springform pan and line well with baking parchment.

Slice the quince wedges into neat slices that are around 1cm thick. Arrange half of the slices in a rough concentric circle around the outer ring of the prepared cake pan (set the rest of the slices aside to create a layer of quince in the centre of the cake). Keep moving inwards until the bottom of the pan is covered (I didn’t bother being too perfectionistic, however you can cut the slices a bit thinner and create overlapping patterns if you desire!). Set aside.

Add the softened butter and sugar into a large bowl. Beat well with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each new addition. Fold in the almond meal and lemon rind, then the milk and Amaretto. Finally, sift over the flour and fold to incorporate.

Carefully spoon half of the batter over the quince slices. Smooth out with the back of a spoon, then layer over the other half of your quince slices. Top with the remaining batter, carefully smoothing the surface to hide any pieces of quince. Tap the tin on a hard surface to ensure the batter fully adheres to the quince at the bottom of the tin.

Place the tin onto an oven tray (to ensure that escaping quince juices don’t end up on the bottom of your oven), then transfer the cake into your preheated oven. Bake, uncovered, for 60-90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin, releasing the sides of the tin after 5 minutes.

To serve, slice the domed top off the cake (if there is one) and carefully invert it onto a plate. Peel back the baking parchment slowly, ensuring that any broken or dislodged slices of quince are carefully placed back onto the cake with a butter knife.

If desired, pour over a little bit of the reduced quince syrup, smoothing it over the cake with the back of a spoon (I let a bit run down the sides to look pretty). Scatter the toasted almonds around the edges if you fancy. Serve wedges of this cake at room temperature or warm (don’t serve this cake cold or you’ll lose the subtleties of the quince and almond liqueur) with a good spoonful of thickened cream.

*quince syrup: just simmer the reserved poaching liquid in a small pan over medium heat (I add a little splash of white wine vinegar but that’s not even necessary,  I just like a little extra tang) until it becomes thickened and glossy. Watch the pan as you don’t want it to darken too much. When the syrup reaches your desired consistency, allow it to cool slightly, then drizzle some over the cake as above. Serve the remainder with the cake, for people to pour over as desired.

in my kitchen + april

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I can’t believe it’s already been a month since my last ‘In My Kitchen’ post (my very first contribution to this beautiful online kitchen community hosted by Maureen at Orgasmic Chef). It’s seemed like a very short few weeks, mostly due to the Easter break, family events and our quiet holiday down south.

It’s still autumn, slightly colder than last month but still warm enough for a t-shirt on sunny days. We’re spending evenings in blankets but daylight hours still regularly involve iced coffee (and shorts, as you can see!).

Anyway, back to this month in my tiny apartment kitchen. It’s been an enjoyable one, thanks to visiting friends and an armload of produce from the south west last week. Here are some photographic highlights:

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  1. sweet chestnuts

As I mentioned in this post, Aaron, Loki and I were lucky enough to spend most of last week rambling around the south west countryside. During a long walk in the forest (including Balingup’s spectacular Golden Valley Tree Park), we came across a rather stunning sweet chestnut tree full of clusters of spiky burrs. Not being a seasoned ‘chestnut forager’, I was unaware that the most of the mature nuts were actually on the ground rather than on the tree (darn it) but I did pick a couple of split pods (cupolas) that have since matured. I’ve removed the fruit (wearing a pair of rather inadequate oven gloves) and the skins have darkened to a familiar shiny brown. I’m looking forward to roasting them for a salad.

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2. beechworth ‘bee cause’ honey

I’ve been a loyal supporter of 100% Australian Beechworth Honey (a family owned honey business based in Corowa, Victoria) for many years now, alongside various other smaller Western Australian honey producers (such as Dean’s Bees honey, which I’ve posted about here). Although you’re probably aware that I’ve switched to maple syrup, coconut nectar and rice malt syrup for my weekly baking, we still use honey on occasion (usually atop porridge or Weetbix) and issues of colony collapse are constantly on my mind.

If you haven’t heard about colony collapse, it’s a loose term referring to the impact of ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD) and a consequential worldwide decline in bee colonies. The reasons are complex and multifaceted, in part related to the global spread of bee diseases, reduced availability of nectar and pollen resources and use of agricultural chemicals that are harmful to bees (read more here). Australian honeybees currently remain unaffected, but there are concerns for global food security and ecosystems in general.

As a larger Australian honey producer, Beechworth established their ‘Bee Cause’ project a couple of years ago to fundraise for farming, education and research projects related to colony collapse. Though the tag was initially attached to their honey mead, it’s now expanded to include a range of premium Australian regional honeys such as the ‘coastal honey’ above, all of which are available via local grocers and supermarkets. Not only is the honey delicious (I drizzled it over my porridge below!) but Beechworth have committed money from every jar to the future of honeybees. See more here:

 

I am not in any way affiliated with Beechworth honey, nor have I been compensated for this post. I enjoy Beechworth products at my own expense and all of the above opinions are my own. 

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3. porridge, porridge, porridge

Porridge (or oatmeal) has been in high breakfast rotation over the past couple of weeks. During our holiday down south, the morning air was crisp and cold; perfect conditions for warm bowls of steaming oats. We’ve enjoyed our porridge in quite a few different ways, mostly as I’ve been trying to ‘mix things up’ for blog posts. Our favourites so far have been coconut cream oats (pictured above), traditional creamy porridge with poached quince (recipe here) and the creamiest banana cinnamon oats with fresh banana and coastal honey.

I’m going to post a few more porridge recipes before the cold season is out, so watch this space. I’m thinking roasted pears with rosemary, honey and cinnamon, maybe some chocolatey cacao oats… oh, and do you want the recipe for these coconut cream oats? I didn’t really write it down but, you know, I’m sure another breakfast trial can be arranged…

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 4. sourdough starter

As I’m sure you’re all aware, there are plenty of wonderful sourdough bakers among our friends in the blogosphere. One of these is Sandra (aka ‘Lady Redspecs’) from Please Pass the Recipe. I’ve drooled over all of Sandra’s sourdough posts, from her traditional spelt sourdough to this gorgeous Turkish pide, so after confessing my absolutely terrible history with sourdough in this post, Sandra offered to send me some of her own dried starter.

Another confession: I haven’t activated the starter yet, partly as we left for a holiday after I received it and… mostly as I’m scared of killing it. But as Sandra has said, many baking failures are due to lack of confidence (fear!) so next week, I’m going to rehydrate this little wonder. I’m pretty darn excited (and scared, but mostly excited!). Thanks Sandra x

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5. love, food podcast

I’m one of those people who always listens to something as I cook, either via Netflix (like Michael Pollan’s new documentary) or more recently, via internet podcasts. The most recent of these (thanks to the gorgeous Amy at Thoroughly Nourished Life) is a series called Love, Food by an American dietitian (RDN) named Julie Duffy Dillon. This series is wonderful – affirming, encouraging, balanced and real. It covers everything from internet dieting trends to negative self-perceptions (self loathing) and their impact upon our mental health and life choices.

I’ve also been listening to this series as I work out, which is a new thing for me (I normally listen to my workout playlist or comedy series, such as the Wilosophy iPhone podcast by Wil Anderson). I definitely recommend it, it puts any emphasis on weight (loss) and poor self image into a more healthy perspective.

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6. quince

I’m still eating my way through the last half of this batch of oven-poached quince (which I blogged about here). It’s absolutely stunning, ruby red and mellow, though I’m starting to think that I want to bake/create/cook with the remainder of the jar. My first thought is to make this quince crumble cake with crème fraîche from Australian Gourmet Traveller, however if you have any favourite recipes, send them my way! I love cooking tried and tested favourites from friends.

So, that pretty much sums up the last month in my kitchen as we transition further into Australian autumn. Thanks again to Maureen for hosting this monthly link-up – if you’d like to read about other contributing kitchens (or write a post yourself), head over to her post at Orgasmic Chef for details!

autumn + poached quinces

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Last night, Aaron and I returned from five days in the south west countryside; namely Balingup and Margaret River. It was the most beautiful of weeks.

Despite having loose plans to do a bit of drawing, writing and design work, we spent the rest of our days doing… well, very little. We slept in, took Loki for walks, picked fresh herbs from the garden, cooked and drank wine in the dappled shade. Frosty nights were met with hand-knitted blankets, hot bread and long, steaming baths by candlelight (in a claw foot beauty, no less).

Can’t get much better than that.

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Anyway, as I was saying, we’re now back home. Despite booking a five night stay, the almost-week disappeared in a snap.

As I write, I’m back in my familiar position on our lounge room couch, fingers curled around a mug of steaming green tea. Loki reclines beside me, determinedly gnawing at a plastic bone. My computer touchpad clicks incrementally, interspersed by the sound of Aaron in the kitchen. He’s cooking noodles on our gas stovetop as I edit photographs of heaving chestnut trees and frosted windows. Not a bad deal, methinks.

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As I work, I dream. Mostly of fresh figs, plump and fragrant, sap dripping from split stalks onto my eager skin. Bush walks on cold mornings, the crunch of dry gum leaves, red dirt caking the soles of my shoes.

The week that was, and suddenly wasn’t; it’s a memory now. Halcyon days amongst the trees. Luckily, thanks to generous countryfolk, we haven’t returned from our travels empty handed.

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Over the past few days, we’ve come across a glut of fruit trees (pomegranate, quince, fig and the tiniest golden pears) and plenty of rambling woody herbs. As the house we rented had a beautifully equipped country kitchen, I had a field day with the local produce, grilling plenty of figs and cracking my own needle-spiked chestnuts to reveal their shiny brown interiors. I fried potatoes with rosemary, picked a walnut (unfortunately the feathered locals ate the rest) and roasted sweet pears with a drizzle of local honey.

But best of all, I found quince. A reclining, heaving tree of them, golden fruit draped from long, gnarled branches. With permission from our kindly host, I picked six knobbly globes (much to the curiosity of Loki, who sniffed each and every one), piling them into a wicker basket before returning to the kitchen.

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That afternoon, I made a light sugar syrup, heady with sweet citrus and star anise (inspired by the dreamy words of Heidi).

After a dinner of pesto chicken with feta and local pomegranate, Aaron and I snuggled on the couch to watch reruns of Scrubs, enveloped in a warm cloud of poaching quince.

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The following morning, we ate quince for breakfast, glistening atop old fashioned porridge. We covered the ruby gems with a blanket of cold, frothy cream and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts – autumn in a bowl.

Over the next few days, I ate a few more wedges with yoghurt, usually sitting on the timber deck amongst the trees. When it was finally time to pack for home, I tucked the rest of the ruby-hued fruit into the chiller bag against the milk, cheese and salted butter. It’s now sitting comfortably in our refrigerator, ready for warm country breakfasts over the next week.

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Although I tell myself that we’re going to savour the rest of the poached quince quite slowly and thoughtfully, to ‘keep it special’ and all that, I’m kind of kidding myself. In fact, as I finish this post, I’m craving another keen wedge covered in thick Greek yoghurt with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds…

All in all, I’m not ready for my country life to end (anyone else got a quince tree I can raid?).

Happy Autumn, folks x

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Poached Quinces

Adapted from this recipe by Heidi (which was adapted from the wonderful Stephanie Alexander’s book, The Cook’s Companion) and this recipe from Australian Gourmet Traveller

You will need a wide, lidded ovenproof pan (that actually fits into your oven; check it first!) for this recipe. 

  • 6 raw quince (~1.4kg, weighed whole and unpeeled)
  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 7 cups water
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved
  • 1 cinnamon stick (quill)
  • 2 pieces of thinly peeled orange rind

Preheat your oven to 130 degrees C (266 degrees f).

Prepare the syrup: place the water and sugar into a wide ovenproof pan and bring to the boil over high heat. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla bean, orange rind, star anise and cinnamon quill. Set aside.

Prepare the quince: peel the quince. With a sharp knife, cut the peeled fruit into quarters or sixths. Carefully cut out the cores, then gently place the fruit into the prepared sugar syrup. Cover with a cartouche (see image below) then return the pan to the heat. Bring to a simmer and then cover with the lid.

syrupcartoucheTransfer the pan into your preheated oven and cook until the quince are your desired tenderness and colour (long and slow is the game. I’d suggest 5-6 hours for a medium ruby colour, 7-9 hours for soft, fragrant, deep burgundy quince). To achieve the same result as me, cook for 9 hours and then leave the pan in the oven to cool completely overnight.

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For an autumnal breakfast, we served the poached quince with some toasted hazelnuts and cream atop old fashioned porridge. However, the ruby red poached fruit lends itself beautifully to an upside down cake, crumble or tarte tartin, particularly with a dollop of cream, custard or mascarpone.

The easiest way to eat poached quince is simply in a bowl with a big spoonful of Greek yoghurt (like I did this afternoon) accompanied by crushed roasted almonds, hazelnuts or toasted sunflower seeds. So, so good.

basketStorage: this quince will keep in the sugar syrup for up to one week in the refrigerator (stored in a canning jar or airtight container). If you desire to keep your quince for up to one month, I’d suggest going with a more concentrated sugar syrup (2 parts water to one part sugar; that would be 2.3 cups sugar for this recipe). Keep the syrup once all your quince are gone, reduce it down over heat and drizzle over vanilla ice-cream. Absolutely delicious.

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ginger chai hot cross buns

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For most of my life, I’ve observed the Christian holiday of Good Friday, both through prayer and fasting (as a Catholic school girl) and afterwards, by the eating of hot cross buns. Hot from the oven, split in half and slathered in butter, soft and fragrant with a slightly crunchy glazed crust. There was nothing better after Good Friday services (the liturgy) at the conclusion of Holy Week.

For those of you who don’t have a Christian background, the latter may sound a little antiquated. After all, big supermarkets stock hot cross buns for most of the year these days due to ‘high demand’ from the general public. Well, at least that’s what Woolworths says (much to the disdain of small bakeries).

It wasn’t always this way. In 16th-century England, these buns were baked on Good Friday only as a representation of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In fact, during the reign of Elizabeth I (1592) it was considered a transgression to bake these fruited, spiced buns on any other day. The London Clerk of Markets could legally confiscate any baked products that defied this rule, common practice being to give any confiscated buns to the poor and needy.

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I badly want to resurrect this rule, particularly in regards to the supermarket duopoly. These days, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns appear in early January (amidst Australia day flags and Valentine hearts) and stay long after resurrection Sunday. You can buy Belgian chocolate buns, orange and cranberry buns, apple and cinnamon glazed or fruitless buns… pretty much any type you like, nestled cosily next to jam-filled donuts and fudge brownies.

Now, I’m not against flavour variations in the slightest (as you can see, I’ve created a variant myself) but I do oppose the fact that these variations and loose selling times are desensitizing people to the fact that there is meaning behind this ancient tradition (I’m definitely not alone). The flour cross isn’t just there to look pretty and be peeled off after toasting; it’s significant, reminiscent of the meaning behind Easter itself.

Ok, rant over.

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Back to this particular recipe post for hot cross buns. Let me start with an admission: I’m not an expert when it comes to bread. I’ve tried and failed many times over with sourdough starters, no-knead recipes, dried yeast and fermentation processes, all of which left me with rock-hard loaves of disappointment.

However, about two years ago (after eating what seemed like my umpteenth slice of chewy, dense rye) I decided to try my luck with the simplest of Italian focaccia: Italian ‘tipo‘ flour, lots of hydration, extra virgin olive oil, yeast and crunchy sea salt flakes. It turned out beautifully, baked on a pizza stone to a golden crunchy crust with a soft and airy crumb. I was inspired to try again, so I did, with rosemary and caramelised onions. Something started to make sense. It clicked.

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Now, focaccia is a very easy and forgiving bread so in the first instance, I set myself up for a win. However, it was a combination of good quality products from All About Bread in Wanneroo (purchased through Swansea Street Markets in Victoria Park), following recipes (very difficult for an intuitive cook who hardly measures) and the pizza stone that led to continued success.

That and a fair whack of good ol’ fashioned practice. It makes perfect, as they say*.

*I’m taking about yeasted baking, of course, I still have a ton to learn. Next, I’m going to reattempt spelt sourdough with some dehydrated starter from the lovely Sandra aka Lady Redspecs (thanks Sandra! I’m excited and just a little bit afraid). Her notes, alongside those from Emilie and Brydie, will form my Sourdough Bible Version IV (yep, I failed a lot).

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Now, after completely ruining any chance I had of being respected as a baker (uh, just being honest), let me say that these hot cross buns are utterly delicious. They have a soft and tender crumb, a slightly crunchy exterior and gentle heat from the chai spice and ginger.  They’re wonderful warm, slathered with cultured butter and sea salt, particularly if accompanied by a cup of steaming tea. You won’t want to stop at one.

Happy Easter, everyone x

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Ginger Chai Hot Cross Buns

Adapted from Hobbs House Bakery

Makes 16 medium buns

Dough mix:

  • 680g strong white baker’s flour
  • big pinch of sea salt
  • 70g golden caster sugar + pinch of sugar, extra
  • 80g soft butter
  • 1 tbsp (15g) chai spice (I used Herbie’s ground chai spice. Substitute any ground chai spice or traditional mixed spice)
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 270ml warm water
  • 15g dried yeast

Fruit mix:

  • finely grated rind from 1 orange
  • finely grated rind from 1 lemon
  • 100g good-quality sultanas
  • 60g chopped preserved ginger (the ‘naked‘ kind, preferably not crystallised or in syrup**)
  • a little plain flour, to dust

Flour paste (for the crosses):

  • 100g strong white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • a good knob of butter
  • 100ml water

Bun wash (optional):

  • 1/4 cup of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of chai spice
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar

For the buns: Firstly, dust your dried fruit with a little flour, working it through with your hands to ensure there are no clumps of ginger or sultanas. Grate over the citrus zest and set aside.

Combine the dry yeast and warm water in a bowl, add in a pinch of sugar and leave to activate (the mixture should become clouded and frothy). Meanwhile, combine the dry dough ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture is ‘sandy’ and no visible clumps of butter remain. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and pour in some of the frothy yeast mixture. Mix from the ‘outside in’ with a wooden spoon or, if you don’t mind getting a little messy, just use your hands.

Once the dough starts to ‘come together’, turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Gently work in the fruit mixture, then place your kneaded dough back into the mixing bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and place in a warm, drought-free spot* for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough ball has risen nicely, tip it back onto a floured surface and punch it down with your fist. Knead it slightly to form a log, then cut into sixteen equal portions.

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In the palm of your hand, firmly shape the pieces into flat-based rounds so that they’ll sit nicely in your baking dish. Assemble the sixteen buns with a finger-width between each.

Cover the tray again with your clean tea towel and leave in a warm, drought-free place* to rise (about 30-50 minutes or until doubled in size).

Preheat your oven to 210 degrees C (410 degrees f).

Make your flour paste: Whisk together the paste ingredients in a small bowl until smooth (the mixture should be runny enough to pipe but viscous enough to not run everywhere; add a little extra water if it’s too thick). Place the mixture into a piping bag with a round, small nozzle or a snap-lock bag (as I did, if using the latter, snip off one corner of the bag to pipe). Lightly score the buns with a cross pattern, then pipe a lattice of the  paste mixture into the scored lines (I find it easiest to do all of the ‘length of the tin’ lines, followed by the ‘width’ lines).

Place buns into the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until they have golden tops and bottoms (tap the surface of the bun, it should sound ‘hollow’. Whilst the buns are baking, prepare the bun wash (below).

Make the bun wash: Whisk the sugar and chai spice with hot water until the sugar is dissolved (there should be no granules at the bottom of the bowl). Using a pastry brush, generously glaze each bun as soon as it comes out of the oven.

These buns are delicious eaten warm, slathered with salted butter and (if you’re a sweet tooth) a bit of jam or honey. You can also keep them for 1-2 days in an air-tight container to enjoy at room temperature, or (my favourite) split, toasted and buttered with a cup of tea.

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toasted

Notes:

  • *if you can’t find any warm, drought-free places in your house, just switch on your oven to pre-heat, switch it straight off and then place your dough inside to rise (covered with a clean, damp tea towel). I’ve fallen into a habit of doing this at all times of the year, as it guarantees a rise each time. Tricky, I know, but it’ll all be worth it when you see your little bread children puffing up with pride.
  • **if you can’t find ‘naked’ ginger, you can use either glacé (candied in sugar syrup) ginger or crystallised ginger (candied, dried then coated in sugar crystals) in this recipe. Just make sure that you wash any extra sugar off, dry the ginger in paper towel and then dust it in flour as per the recipe. If your ginger pieces seem particularly hard or chewy, I’d probably also soak them in hot water for half an hour to rehydrate before chopping them up for the recipe.
  • Though I’ve called for chai spice in this recipe, you can easily substitute traditional mixed spice if you’ve got some in the cupboard. The main difference is the kick of black pepper, aamchur (citrusy dried mango powder) and cardamom that chai provides alongside traditional ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

jamie oliver + ministry of food perth launch

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In culinary terms, I pretty much grew up with Jamie Oliver. My first memories of Jamie and his ‘brand’ were as a child of sixteen, when his first television show (The Naked Chef, circa 1999) appeared on Australian television screens. On first impressions, I thought he was rather young and… well, incessantly energetic. Too young to be teaching me culinary skills, anyway (I was raised on Rick Stein and no-nonsense ‘Saint‘ Delia).

However, despite his use of the word ‘pukka’ (which apparently he even finds annoying) I eventually came to like the lad from country Essex. His shaggy hair and honest approach to cooking was both warm and approachable and over time, he won both my heart and a great portion of my bookshelf.

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It seems I wasn’t the only one. Fast-forward to 2016 and it would be fair to say that Jamie Oliver is a global household name. His ‘brand’ adorns everything from basil pesto to Tefal frypans but somehow he’s managed to maintain both his ‘cheeky’ demeanour and a strong sense of personal integrity.

One could argue that the latter is inextricably linked to his ‘social activism’ which began in 2002 with the establishment of Jamie’s Kitchen (a chef apprenticeship program for disadvantaged youths which later transformed into the Fifteen Apprentice Program). Soon afterwards, he established the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation which now oversees (non-profit community programs) Jamie’s Ministry of Food, a Kitchen Garden Project and the accompanying Food Revolution Campaign. He was most recently seen in the media doing a spontaneous ‘sugar tax dance‘ after the British Government declared its levy on the soft drinks industry this Wednesday.

Cheeky, but authentic. It works. It’s very Jamie.

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So let’s talk about Jamie’s Ministry of Food. Since it’s inception in 2008 (in Rotherham, South Yorkshire) these community-led kitchen centres have attracted thousands of participants per year, all of whom have signed up for 7-10 weeks of practical food education, budgeting tips and Jamie’s own home-cooking shortcuts. Over the past eight years, the program has expanded to four locations across the United Kingdom and, since 2011, three centres in suburban Australia (under Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia).

That brings me to the point of today’s post: the establishment of Jamie’s cooking school in my home state of Western Australia. Since the first Australian centre was established in Ipswich, Queensland, the program has expanded to include three more fixed-location cooking centres alongside fully-equipped mobile kitchens in Queensland and, as of last week, Western Australia.

It’s an exciting progression for a state in which 66.6% of adults are overweight or obese with only one in every ten Western Australian residents eating their recommended daily serves of fruit and vegetables. There has been recent media emphasis on the prediction that this generation of Australian teenagers may be the first to die at a younger age than their parents (Dr Lyn Roberts, National Heart Foundation of Australia). A frightening thought, indeed.

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The Western Australian mobile kitchen program is a partnership between Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia,  The Good Foundation and Edith Cowan University (ECU) with sponsorship through Woolworths Australia and The Good Guys. I was privileged to attend the media launch last Wednesday with a recorded message from ‘the big man himself’ (watch it below) alongside introductions from Elise Bennetts (Acting Chief Executive Officer, Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia and The Good Foundation) and Professor Steve Chapman (CBE, Vice-Chancellor of ECU).

The event was held in and around the working mobile kitchen, with canapés and drinks provided by the Ministry of Food’s qualified Food Trainers. In typical Jamie style, presentation was fresh, healthy and rustic, served off simple wooden boards with warm enthusiasm.

drinks drinks2 canape canape2

In contrast to previously established Ministry of Food centres, the Western Australian program will operate alongside ECU’s School of Health Science (nutrition and dietetics) with internship and research opportunities for students and staff. The kitchen classroom will initially be situated at ECU’s Joondalup campus (for the next fourteen weeks) before shifting to other ECU campuses in Mount Lawley and Western Australia’s South West (additional locations to be announced).

With adequate consultation, there also plans for specific work with rural Aboriginal communities, focusing on diet-related disease and improved health outcomes.

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kitchen

From Tuesday 29th March 2016, the Western Australian Mobile Kitchen program is set to run two series of seven week cooking courses, comprising of one 90-minute cooking class per week. Each class can take up to 12 participants aged over 12 years (the oldest participant so far being a ’96 year old widower’ from Eastern Australia).

Program coordinator Marie Fitzpatrick states that each class will focus on using Jamie’s own recipes and techniques, with emphasis on ‘simplicity’ and ‘transferable skills to take back home’. As per other suburban centres, the Western Australian program will incorporate emphasis on specific community demographics, family budgets and entrenched ‘fears’ of cooking from scratch.  Basic principles will be covered (such as ‘how to boil an egg’) using everyday, cheap ingredients (eggs, chicken, rice and tinned beans) and common kitchen implements (domestic-sized pots, ovens and kitchen prep areas). All classes aim to incorporate simple skills and food knowledge that will ’empower’ individuals and local communities.

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According to comprehensive studies by Deakin University and the University of Melbourne, Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia has already made a positive impact in Eastern Australia. Participant evaluations report strong evidence of increased confidence in key skill areas required for cooking and daily food preparation, with increased cooking confidence and daily vegetable consumption (increase by 0.52 serves).

Behavioural changes were sustained for at least six months after conclusion of the cooking course, with flow-on benefits such as increased frequency of communal eating (families eating together) and reduction in takeaway meal consumption.

Pretty good for a ‘cheeky’ Chef and his team, methinks.

paperNow, I’ve read a fair amount of critique surrounding the Ministry of Food, most of which labels Jamie a ‘hypocrite‘ who doesn’t understand poverty. Whilst I’m the first to admit that Jamie Oliver’s cooking school can’t solve every nutritional or social problem (but heck, what can?) he’s started a practical community dialogue about cooking and general health, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Furthermore, even academics concede that Jamie’s ‘brand identity’ has in itself provided an ‘edge’ to his social projects that most other food and nutrition programs don’t have: corporate sponsorship, public accountability and actual community enthusiasm (the last point being of utmost importance). He seems genuinely committed (to the point of personal exhaustion), his manifesto rings true and his local team in Perth appear both impassioned and aware of local issues.

So that said, I’m excited to see the impact of Jamie’s Ministry of Food in Western Australian communities, families and suburban kitchens. It’ll be pukka, you’ll see.

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Jamie’s Ministry of Food Mobile Kitchen

The Western Australian Mobile Kitchen will be running two initial seven week courses which include one 90-minute class per week. Classes will run six days per week, including weeknights.

First release: Tuesday 29th March – Monday 16th May 2016

Second release: Tuesday 17th May –  Monday 4th July 2016.

Location: Edith Cowan University – Joondalup Campus
Car park 14, between building 21 & 22
Access from Deakin Rd via Lakeside Drive
Joondalup, WA 6027

Book here.

chia puddings with spiced apple butter + buckwheat crunch

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Whilst putting together my recipe index the other day, it became apparent that I’ve written very few recipes containing chia seeds. Rather strange, considering that both chia and flax are staple elements in my household pantry.

Granted, there’s already a recipe for sticky fig and raspberry chia jam on the site alongside a crunchy honey chia muesli slice. But although I’ve referred to chia seeds as an egg replacer in many recent recipes, there’s been nothing ‘distinctively chia’ for the past two years.

Let’s consider that rectified.

chia

Today’s recipe is a creamy, crunchy, incredibly delicious chia breakfast treat that could easily double as a healthy dessert. It was inspired by the wonderful David and Luise (of Green Kitchen Stories fame) who posted their own recipe for chia parfaits with apple crunch in late 2015.

Seeing as I’ve been cooking my way through a glut of delicious apples from my mother’s backyard tree, I figured I could make something even more apple-y to eat with a creamy chia pudding, preferably with buckwheat (my other recent obsession). Despite initial dreams of stewed apples (with lots of cinnamon and raisins), my thoughts turned to apple sauce which naturally led to apple butter. Because, butter (of course).

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If you’re not familiar with apple butter, it’s not ‘butter’ in the traditional dairy sense. It’s more of a super-concentrated apple sauce, slow-cooked over low heat until the puree becomes thick and caramelised. In North America, apple butter traditionally contains a fair whack of brown sugar, however my dreams were for a golden-hued refined sugar free spiced apple butter, full of homegrown apple goodness and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Could it be done? Yep, pretty easily, in fact. I’d go as far as saying it could be made completely sugar free (as in, without any maple syrup or other sweetener) if you’ve got a batch of beautifully fragrant, slightly soft winter apples with sweet yellow flesh.

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For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve added two tablespoons of maple syrup to my batch of apple butter which added a beautiful mellow sweetness. However, if you’ve got a batch of tart green apples, I’d probably add a little more (it’s all common sense, ya know*).

*Bear in mind that sugar has traditionally been used as a preserving agent in jams and jellies, so if you’re making any type of preserve without refined sugar you can expect a reduced shelf life and/or darkening of the fruit over time. I’ve written further notes on sterilisation and storage below, if you’re making a large batch of apple butter.

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So, onto the recipe(s). Yeah, I know there are lots of words. However, I want to start by saying that these recipes are easy, really easy. Each one only takes a few minutes to throw together, then it’s just a matter of being patient (in terms of the apple butter) and completing some last minute assembly (the fun part). If you’ve got a slow-cooker, you can even put the apples on overnight and blend the mixture in the morning (I haven’t tried this, but if Michelle says you can, I believe her!). Just simmer the puree down slightly whilst you jump in the shower and then voila, breakfast is served!

Either way, all of the prep will be worth it when you’re sitting down with a cup of lemon scented chia, creamy yoghurt and caramelised apple butter. I’ve suggested the addition of fresh apple for extra crunch and tang (get some Granny Smiths or a similarly acid green apple if you can, the sour crunch goes so well with the sweet, subtly spiced apple butter) alongside the earthy buckwheat crunch, smooth pudding and a touch of maple syrup.

It’s so, so good.
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chia puddings with spiced apple butter and buckwheat crunch

I’m being Captain Obvious here, but this is more of a concept than a strict recipe of quantities. Make the chia pudding, then play around with whatever additions or subtractions you like. No time to make apple butter? Use some nut butter, chia jam, pureed raspberries or banana soft serve. No buckwheat crunch? Add some toasted coconut or your favourite breakfast muesli. No yoghurt? Skim the cream off the top of a can of coconut milk and mix through some vanilla. It’ll be delicious either way.

Makes 6 serves

  • 1 batch of simple chia pudding (recipe below)
  • 300-400g full fat yoghurt (I used natural dairy yoghurt however coconut yoghurt would work wonderfully)
  • buckwheat crunch (recipe below)
  • spiced apple butter (recipe below)
  • 2 fresh apples, sliced thinly (I used one crunchy acidic green apple and one sweet red apple for aesthetics and flavour. Just toss the slices in lemon juice to prevent browning)
  • a little honey or maple syrup, to drizzle
  • optional: other fresh fruit, for layering – I used jammy fresh figs because we had some and one small banana sliced into coins (hidden between the layers)

Place a few spoonfuls of chia pudding in the bottom of 6 small glasses. Add in some banana coins (if using), a few dollops of apple butter (I used about 2 tbsp per glass) followed by a few spoonfuls of yogurt. Repeat the layers, finishing with a pile of buckwheat crunch and the sliced fresh apple. If you’re feeling it, drizzle over a little honey, rice bran syrup or maple syrup to serve.

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simple chia pudding

The recipe below makes 6 serves of layered chia pudding for today’s recipe, however I’d reduce that to 4 serves if you’re eating the chia pudding on its own. Make as much or as little as you like, the basic ratio per person is 2 tbsp chia seeds and half a metric cup (125mL) of milk (plant based or dairy, your choice). Got that? Basic ratio: 1 metric cup (250mL) of any milk to 4 tbsp chia seeds.

  • 2 cups unsweetened milk (I use soy, coconut or almond milk) plus extra, to serve
  • 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) white or black chia seeds
  • optional: 1-3 tablespoons of sweetener (maple syrup, rice malt syrup or honey) to taste.
  • finely grated zest from 1/2 lemon, added last minute before serving

Mix the chia seeds, milk and sweetener (if using – my preference is for 1 tbsp maple syrup) together in a large bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until the chia starts absorbing the liquid, then mix again. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place into the fridge for at least 4 hours (or preferably overnight). If you can, I’d recommend mixing every hour to prevent clumps forming. If the mix seems to be getting too thick (e.g. if the seeds have absorbed all available liquid), drizzle in a little more milk to loosen.

Before serving, add the fresh lemon zest, drizzle in a little more fresh milk and stir well.  Your finished mix should be adhesive and creamy, not gluey (add more milk if it seems very congealed). Layer as specified below. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

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spiced apple butter

Use winter apples that have grown a little softer and sweeter for the best quality refined sugar free apple butter. If you prefer a sweeter, more traditional apple butter, feel free to substitute 1/4- 1/2 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar for the maple syrup (add the sugar during the initial cooking stage with the water and salt). For maximum nutrition, you can leave the peels on the apples (after cooking, they should easily blend down in the food processor) however I like to remove the peels for reduced bitterness. They also make a delicious cook’s snack, either raw or dehydrated into apple peel crisps.

Makes approx 2 cups cooked apple butter

  • 900g (2 pounds) assorted apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • sea salt
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup or rice malt syrup
  • 1/2 tsp chai spice mix, mixed spice or cinnamon (this produces a mildly spiced apple butter, add 1 tsp if you like discernible spice)
  • 1 tsp organic vanilla essence (optional)

Combine the apples, water and a good pinch of salt in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook until the apples are soft (about 20 minutes).

Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor bowl. Blend (in batches, if required) until smooth. *I blend my apples whilst they’re still hot, ensuring the processor lid is firmly in place (I cover the lid with a tea towel and hold it down during the blending process). However for maximum safety, I’d suggest that you allow the apples to cool first. 

Return to the cooking pot with the lemon juice, spice mix, maple syrup and vanilla. At this stage, you have two options:

  1. oven method: ensure the mix is in an oven-safe pot. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated oven (at 120 degrees C/ 250 degrees F)  for 3-4 hours until reduced, thickened and caramelised. Stir every 30 – 40 minutes.
  2. stove-top method: return the mixture to the stove-top. Loosely cover the pot with the lid, allowing a vent for the steam to escape. Cook, on the lowest heat possible, for 4-6 hours until thickened and caramelised, stirring regularly to ensure the bottom doesn’t burn (I stirred it at least every 10-15 minutes whilst completing other kitchen tasks).

See points for assembling your chia pudding below… and use any leftover apple caramel to top oatmeal, toast or yoghurt. So good.

Cooks note: if you’d like to store your apple caramel, transfer it into a sterilised glass jar whilst hot and place the lid on immediately. Process in a hot water bath (this just allows the lid to ‘seal’ for safe storage, however some feel you can get away with skipping this final step!). I’ve kept sugar free preserves for up to six months in a cool, dark place after using this method. Otherwise, store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or freeze for 3 months.

crunch

buckwheat crunch

Use any leftover crunch as a granola (because essentially, that’s what this is) with your favourite milk, as a smoothie topping or just as a healthy transportable snack.

  • 1-2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats*
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pepitas/pumpkin seeds/coconut if you like
  • 1 tbsp sweetener (maple syrup, rice malt syrup, honey)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt
  • optional: dash of vanilla

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the buckwheat, nuts and cinnamon. Pour over 1 tbsp coconut oil, your chosen sweetener and vanilla (if using) with a pinch of sea salt. Mix well, ensuring the dry ingredients are well-coated (drizzle in a little more coconut oil if your mix is a little dry).

Pour the mixture over your prepared baking tray (don’t worry if there are are few clumps, this will actually add to the ‘crunch’ when you assemble your puddings).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, mixing half way through the cooking time. The buckwheat crunch will be ‘done’ when the mixture is dry, golden and fragrant. Store in an airtight container or glass jar (the mixture should keep in a cool, dry place for a few months if you decide to make a large batch).

*You can find whole raw 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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beet salad with eggs, green peas and dill mayonnaise

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You could call this recipe a ‘happy accident’. A mash-up of sorts, the initial concept created from various leftovers in the fridge.

Not just any leftovers. I’d just completed two catering jobs within the space of one week, both of which focused largely on canapés and healthy finger-food. After plating everything from mushroom and truffle pies to artichoke and pea crostini, I naturally had bits and pieces left in Tupperware containers throughout the fridge. Being one who hates waste, I set to work on ‘being inventive’.

It wasn’t that hard really. I’m a naturally intuitive cook so I soon turned leftover rice paper rolls into a Thai-inspired salad (with a spicy lime dressing) and excess cheese into an artichoke and goat cheese flatbread. Leftover herbs became a herb-infused oil that slicked brightly across boiled new potatoes, whilst excess stone fruit was char-grilled and paired with the last wedge of roquefort.

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Towards the end of the week, I tackled some leftover condiments that were specifically made for the catering jobs (in other words, I hadn’t sterilised jars for long-term canning, hashtag amateur). There was a tub of beet relish, two jars of Thai peanut sauce, a jar of creamy herb mayonnaise and a Tupperware container of lemon avocado cream.

The peanut sauce was easy. It loaned itself beautifully to tofu stir-fries and Asian dishes, whilst the avocado cream was simply piled on toast (before being liberally adorned with chilli flakes). I used half of the herb mayo in a potato salad with bacon and shallots and then, on a whim, I decided to use the rest in ‘something Swedish’.

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If you’re new to this blog, I’d better explain: Sweden wasn’t just a random culinary destination. Aaron and I have family in Malmö (on the Southern-most tip of Sweden, separated from Denmark by the Øresund Strait) and we spent our Summer holidays there in mid-2014 eating plenty of rye bread, salmon and thick mayonnaise (read about our trip here and here).

Swedes definitely like mayonnaise. In fact, they even sell mayonnaise in squeezy toothpaste tubes, same with caviar and mustard. I figured the residual mayonnaise would work beautifully with the leftover beet relish in a salad of sorts, combined with butter leaf lettuce, boiled eggs, shelled green peas and fragrant dill.

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The salad was rather beautiful to eat. Summery and fresh, crunchy with fresh vegetables and creamy from the dollops of herb mayonnaise. It wasn’t exactly rocket science; the flavours aren’t new and I didn’t reinvent the Scandinavian wheel. However, we ate it with roasted sweet potatoes and something tomato-ey (roasted, I think) and both Aaron and I were happy. I was just glad to have conquered the pile of leftovers. It was good.

For that reason, I didn’t think further of this salad until late last week. It slipped into the corner of my mind, replaced by notes for chia puddings (my next post) and spelt sourdough (I am so excited Sandra!). But last Friday, Aaron and I were walking the dog in a local park when he stated: ‘I really liked that salad you made, the one with the eggs in it?’. ‘Oh, yeah, you mean the beet one?’. ‘Yeah, I think so. It was good’.

It was good.

Let me put this in context. Aaron hardly ever comments on my cooking these days, unless something is exceptionally good (e.g. this slice) or exceptionally bad (I once knocked a jar of smoked sea salt into a roasting tray of hand-cut chips). So, to get a comment from him about a salad made from leftovers? That’s enough for a blog post.

beets

So, fast forward to today and this little post on leftover salad. I decided to write my recipe notes down with some photos in case, you know, you’ve got leftover mayo and boiled eggs in the fridge (and a husband who likes both!).

As per most salad recipes, it’s more of a concept than a science, so I’d encourage you to play with substitutions and inclusions if you like the basic premise (beetroot + mayonnaise + eggs + dill). Steamed asparagus, extra capers, cooked quinoa or sliced avocado would combine beautifully, as would a little grated horseradish or mustard in the mayonnaise.

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I switched my original use of butter lettuce to spinach and beet greens for the purposes of this blog post, mostly as I love beet greens and I hate waste (the larger, more robust leaves from this bunch were eaten last night, sautéed in olive oil with shallots, garlic and a little bit of salt). However, both Aaron and I ate some of this salad for lunch today and his preference is still for the lettuce (because, crunch). My vote is for spinach and beet greens, so… each to their own, I guess.

Either way, give this salad a go. It’s a beautiful accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats, pumpernickel or rye bread, gravadlax (for the true Swedish feel) or crispy-skinned salmon. I’d even go as far as serving horseradish on the side, for a spicy little kick (just make sure it’s from a tube!).

Beet salad with eggs, green peas and dill mayonnaise

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side salad

for the beets:

  • 1 bunch raw baby beets (leaves still attached, if possible)
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion, thinly sliced
  • good quality olive oil
  • aged balsamic vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • a drizzle of honey or rice malt syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

for the salad:

  • 2-3 boiled eggs, sliced into rounds
  • 1 cup cooked green peas (preferably fresh)
  • 1 cup (packed) washed and dried baby spinach leaves
  • torn soft green herbs (optional, I used both parsley and mint)
  • extra dill, extra to serve
  • extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
  • freshly cracked black pepper

dill mayonnaise:

  • 1/2 cup (150g) homemade aïoli or whole-egg mayonnaise
  • 1 tbs finely chopped green olives
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill (some chopped fresh chervil or tarragon wouldn’t go astray here)
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tbsp salted capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

To cook the beets: preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Detach leaves from beetroot, wash the small, tender ones well and set them aside (you’ll add these to your salad later. Keep the rest of the beet greens!).

Wash your beetroot well under cold running water, trim any stray roots and tough bits of skin with a small, sharp knife. Pat beetroot dry with a paper towel, then cut them into even-sized wedges. Place them into a shallow, foil-lined baking tray then splash over some good olive oil, some aged balsamic, red wine vinegar, water, sea salt and cracked pepper (I don’t strictly follow any quantities here… basically, you want to create enough liquid for the beetroot to initially steam, then caramelise with a sticky, delicious glaze. Make sure there’s about 0.5-1cm of liquid covering the base of your tray before putting it in the oven). Toss to coat, then cover with another layer of foil.

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Place your tray into the preheated oven and cook for about 30 minutes until the beets start to soften. Remove the foil and add in your sliced onion, then return to the oven for another 20-30 minutes, mixing occasionally, until the liquid has reduced, the onion is translucent and slightly browned and the beetroot is caramelised and soft. Remove the tray from them oven, then allow to cool.

Mayonnaise: while the beets are cooking, mix all of the ingredients for the dill mayo in a medium bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Set aside until you assemble your salad.

To assemble: I like to do this in layers. Start with a handful of spinach, a few of the larger beet greens, some soft herbs, peas, beets and caramelised onions. Dollop over a little of the mayonnaise, then carefully place over some rounds of egg. Repeat the process, finishing with some extra sprigs of dill weed and a drizzle of any pan juices from the beets and onions (this creates lovely pink splashes on the egg and mayonnaise. You can skip this step if you think it’s a little garish!).

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in my kitchen + autumn

books

I’ve been wanting to participate in the ‘In My Kitchen’ series for… months? Probably years, by now. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, I believe the series was started by the lovely Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial back in 2010 as a way to chronicle the seasonal happenings in her own Sydney kitchen.

After roughly twelve months, she sent out a call for other bloggers to join the series and (fast forwarding to February, 2016) there are now dozens of participants each month from all over the world. Maureen at Orgasmic Chef has joined Celia as the present host of each month’s ‘In My Kitchen’ series (not a small feat, at all) and in turn, her blog has become the single ‘hub’ for both readers and participants to click through each month of kitchen features. Good idea, huh? So. Much. Fun.

As for me? Well, I’ve been quietly following the series for at least eighteen months, maybe more. I’ve occasionally commented, but I’ve mostly been reading, learning and admiring the incredible cooking talent that occupies domestic kitchens worldwide. There has been much intention to join the series; in fact, I have a couple of draft posts from six-or-so months ago that remain unfinished. But as per usual, my temperamental, inconsistent blogging qualities won over and my desire to participate never translated to actual engagement.

Until now.

carrottray2

So, it’s March. The first month of Australian autumn, characterised by gradually decreasing temperatures, russet leaves and hot cross buns (nah, we don’t really do pumpkin spice in this country). As per this writer from the Huffington Post, it’s really not cold yet in Australia so… well, I’m still wearing shorts and t-shirts (evidence here) but cooler nights are providing greater enthusiasm for roasted vegetables and spicy Shiraz.

Despite the continuation of balmy weather, there are a few other things happening in my kitchen this month, mostly dictated by gifts from family and friends. So (following the general template of these posts) here’s a short update of what’s happening in my kitchen:

  1. Recipe Books.

As per my header photograph, I’ve been gifted with a few new volumes recently which are proudly adorning my timber coffee table. They all generously lean towards my obsession with plant based whole foods, sustainability and seasonal eating, so I’m reading a few recipes each night and taking notes on what to cook as the season changes. So far, I’ve made a few deliciously ‘cheezy’ cashew things from The Unbakery by Megan May (a gift from my friend Lucy, thanks lovely) whilst adapting a couple of apple-y autumn salads from Seasons by Donna Hay (a gorgeous hand-me-down from my friend Elissa, who knows me all too well). I’m fuelling my Mexican bent with The Thug Kitchen (whilst attempting not to corrupt my angelic mind, isn’t that right Vicky (thanks lovely) and Graz?) and learning about dehydrating and flat breads from Amy Chaplin (this one was a gift to myself, I am totally enamoured).

I’ve also dug out an older literary gift from my friend Trixie, A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry. Mostly as I miss her (Trix, not Diana, obviously) and her tiny dog Clem, who in my opinion is Loki’s long-lost soulmate. See, this is Loki’s face when I mention Clemmie*:

loki

*possibly a bit of creative license. I was actually telling him to get out of the way as I wanted to photograph my cookbooks on the bed (you can spy some binding in the upper right hand corner).

You can look forward to seeing the influence of this reading upon my cooking over the next few months (I might even share a recipe or two, with appropriate credit).

buns

2. Argentine Brioche Buns

Aaron and I have been eating our way through a bag of sweet buns over the past week. They were part of a thank you gift from the beautiful mother of some friends of ours who hail from Argentina; as far as I can tell they’re made from brioche dough with a soft, sweet jammy centre. Lucy (who made the buns) advised that the jam is actually quince paste, or dulce de membrillo, a popular confection in South America.

They’re absolutely delicious, buttery and rich, perfect with strong coffee for afternoon tea (there are a couple left over that I’m thinking of turning into breakfast grilled cheese… would that be a travesty? Sweet quince, melty rich cheese, sweet brioche dough… yum. Watch this space).

sauce

3. Condiments. And lots of hot sauce. 

As I mentioned in this post, I had the privilege of catching up with Graz and his wife Jennee a couple of weeks ago during their recent trip to Western Australia. What I didn’t mention is that after our dinner outing, Graz gifted us (meaning Aaron and I) a bag of homemade condiments including South Carolina mustard sauce, house BBQ sauce and tomato sauce alongside a generous jar of ‘Big Red Rub‘ (smoky barbecue dry rub).

Oh my golly. These condiments are good. I’ve had them on the table twice this week, accompanying crisp barbecued chicken, smoky baked potatoes and homemade apple coleslaw. I also made a soft boiled egg, beet and lettuce salad (old school styles) dressed with homemade dill, caper and lemon ‘proper mayonnaise’ and for some reason the mustard sauce suited that too.

I can’t wait to try the rub with some free-range pork ribs on the weekend (hopefully from Plantagenet) braised for a few hours under foil. I’ll serve the juicy pork with some soft white rolls, salted butter, corn and hot sauce, perhaps some fat dill pickles for good measure. It will be ridiculously good. I’m calling it. Oh, and there will be beer.

cups

4. Tea cups by Patricia Fernandes

Some time ago, my friend Lucy gave me four pastel-coloured embossed tea cups made by a local Western Australian ceramic artist, Patricia Fernandes. They’re from FOUND at the Fremantle Arts Centre (the most amazing store, ever) and I loved them instantly, so much that they went straight onto my ‘special objects’ shelf.

Ha. Do any of you have one of those? A place for beautiful objects that really should be used, but aren’t… in my case, because I’m afraid I might ruin them. Other key items from that shelf include a stunning salad bowl from Gorman Home Time by Connie Lichti, a handmade salt dish from Gewürzhaus, some ceramics that I found in a tiny store in Italy and a Hofbräuhaus beer stein from in Munich, all of which have never been used (except on the odd occasion for food styling, go figure).

Anyway, yesterday I decided that enough is enough. Squirrelling objects away for the winter (or the dust bunnies) doesn’t benefit anyone. So this afternoon, I gave the cups a gentle rinse, dried them and removed the labels. I’m in the process of brewing a nice big pot of steamed green tea with lemon and I intend to drink each sip quite thoughtfully from the cup in periwinkle blue. Next time Lucy comes around, I’ll make a batch of these and rinse the cups again, refreshing them with a pot of steaming spiced soy Chai (or maybe these homemade mallows and hot chocolate).

pana

5. Pana chocolate

This raw, organic chocolate is an absolute favourite of mine. Partly as it feels virtuous (despite being decidedly chocolatey) but mostly because, in all honesty, it’s just so darn delicious. Think of the deepest, richest bitter cacao combined with smooth, creamy cacao butter and hints of sweet coconut nectar. That is Pana, with whatever mix-ins you fancy.

Talking mix-ins: I have a particular love for the mint bar, seconded by the fig and wild orange bar with chunks of moist dried fig (bar pictured above). I’m also desperate to try the hemp and nib version, because… well, ‘body scrub’ (follow the link and explanation regarding Australian laws. Yep, I like living life on the edge).

Despite my infatuation, Pana doesn’t regularly feature in my kitchen as it’s a teensy bit pricy (as most organic small-batch products justifiably are). Instead, I ‘make do’ with slightly cheaper homemade treats such as these sticky salted tahini date caramel bars (which are wonderful to keep in the refrigerator for mid-afternoon energy lapses), energy balls and Medjool dates. Until the recurrent impulse strikes and I squirrel a bar of Pana home from the health food store, like this one. They’re sooo good (and no, I have no affiliation with Pana chocolate, I just like their products).

apples1

6. Apples, apples, apples

I got another text from my mama today. She’s harvested the last of the apples from her tree (excluding the extra-high ones that she can’t reach) and they’re currently sitting in a basket on her kitchen table. The remaining apple count in my refrigerator sits at three (the extra teeny tiny ones that were too cute to eat) so I’m keen to collect a few to make this gorgeous apple caramel cake (Jen, you goddess you) and Amy’s kale, apple and wild rice salad (with crunchy pecans and sweet cranberries).

I also intend to revisit my spiced apple and buttermilk cake as there’s leftover buttermilk in the freezer… or maybe I’ll just turn it into pancakes with caramelised apples. Ain’t no harm in that.

So that’s it. This month’s kitchen round up, thanks to inspiration from Celia, Maureen, Jen, Anne and other friends I’m yet to meet.  Here’s hoping it’ll become a beautiful monthly ritual!

pomegranate molasses. and loki.

side

It’s Monday. The last day of February and, officially, the end of Australian summertime. Rather hard to believe, as the weather remains warm and I’m still in light clothing past midnight (it’s 01:04am). As I type, a slight breeze wafts through the open door, the air redolent of wet grass and burnt shrubbery. Both were presumably soaked this evening by domestic sprinklers, a timer set to summer restrictions. I can imagine the leaves unfurling after hours in the blazing sun.

This is my favourite time of day. The inky black, the quiet. The street is almost still and other than Loki’s gentle breaths, our living room is too. I’m tired but relaxed, my fingers wrapped comfortably around a glass of iced water. I type, thoughts align: if only life was always this simple.

glass

In my last post, I mentioned that I made some pomegranate molasses from some fruit that was languishing in my refrigerator crisper. It’s absolutely beautiful, sticky and piquant, so much better than anything from the store.

The original plan was to use the molasses in this sort of salad with some crumbled blue cheese, mum’s leftover apples, lentils and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts. Instead, I ate the apples (yep, told you I would) then went Ottolenghi-esque with various glazed roasted vegetables (carrots, eggplant, Brussels sprouts), all of which disappeared with some wilted spinach, toasted pepitas and soft goats cheese.

I took absolutely no photos. Well, other than these, which were snapped after I made the molasses. I guess I was too busy eating.

lid

So, take two: I’m posting the recipe for pomegranate molasses today with plans to make more as autumn takes hold. It’ll be drizzled over roasted cauliflower (in yoghurt, olive oil and sumac), whisked into lentil salad dressings and best of all, I’m planning a chicken tagine with the molasses, plenty of pepper and oregano.

All very autumnal food, slow and nourishing, fragrant with warming spices. Watch this space for (new season) recipes, coming soon.

But for now? Make this molasses and drizzle it over your (homemade or store-bought, I don’t judge!) hummus with some toasted crushed pistachios and/or walnuts, chopped tomato and parsley. Have an end-of-summer (or winter, depending upon where you are) sundowner, with char-grilled bread and some chilled white wine.

It’s super good, borderline gourmet with very little fuss. You’ll be glad you did.

Pomegranate Molasses

Adapted from this recipe by Sarah Hobbs

  • 2-3 fresh pomegranates to yield 1 cup (250mL) of juice (I found 1 pomegranate = roughly 125mL of juice)
  • 1/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Remove arils from pomegranates (I use the scoring method from this post). Place into the bowl of a food processor, then process until crushed (the inner seeds should be visible and all flesh should be reasonably pulpy). Strain through a fine sieve into a jug, pressing the pulp with back of a spoon to release the juice.

Combine the juice (which should be around 1 cup) with the caster sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a simmer. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes or until the mixture is syrupy, has reduced by half and easily coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool slightly, then pour into an airtight jar.

I store my pomegranate molasses in the pantry (at room temperature) as I use it quickly, however it should keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

aerial

As I know how much you all love Loki, I thought I’d end with a quick snap (by Aaron) of what he does every time I use my food processor. As soon as the motor starts running, he sprints to the kitchen bench and launches an attack.

Heck he jumps high. I do hope he’s not afraid of it. I’ve attempted to confine him to the bedroom while I use it but… well, he hates it (meaning the confinement, but possibly the food processor too). Maybe he wants to operate it himself?

loki

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