mexican corn salad

Sunlight filters through the security door as I sit listening to the low hum of the air-conditioner on the wall. It’s the final week of October and… well, I think Summer is well and truly on the way. Yesterday the barometer hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and today’s predicted to be 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit). Definitely the right weather for icy mojitos, trips to the beach and dinners on the balcony as the sun dips beneath the trees.

If you’re one of those nice people who read my last post, you might remember that I contemplated starting a new Summer recipe series. Well, this is the first installment of that series, which I’ve entitled ‘Summer Salads’ for the sake of giving it a name. At my house, salads are eaten all year round, mostly due to the fact that we’re fortunate enough to have mild winters here in Western Australia. Due to this fact, I’ve developed an obscenely large repertoire of salads, both warm and cold, the latter of which I’m going to be sharing with you over the pending Summer months.

Today’s salad is one that I’ve made (possibly) hundreds of times, mostly due to the ease of assembly and the fact that it goes fantastically well with everything from grilled fish to barbecued chicken, tortillas and tacos. I’ve called it a ‘Mexican Corn Salad’ as it’s core ingredients echo those found in many Mexican recipes… but with a slight alteration of ingredients you can transform it into any corn salad you like. I’ve included some of my own variations below, which I hope will be welcome additions to your recipe repertoire over the Summer months. However, as with all of my recipes, I’d encourage experimentation… just remember that with salad recipes, freshness, colour and a balance of ingredients is the key to success.

Mexican Corn Salad

Serves 4

  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 avocado, peeled and roughly chopped (or scooped out of the skins with a spoon)
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion,  finely sliced
  • 1/2 punnet (about 150g) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 3/4 cup fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice from 1 lime (or lemon)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (use less if you can’t tolerate chilli)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Place your corn cobs in a medium saucepan on the stovetop and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes, then drain and immediately refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process. When your corn cobs are cool enough to handle, place them upright onto a chopping board and use a sharp knife to remove the kernels (see below). Place the kernels into a medium-sized bowl to continue the cooling process.

Once your corn has sufficiently cooled, add your remaining vegetables to the bowl. Mix together your lime or lemon juice, lime zest, olive oil, salt and pepper in a screw-top jar. Replace the lid and shake briefly. Taste and adjust as necessary (if you find that your dressing is too acidic, you can add in a little bit of honey). Pour over your salad and toss to combine.

So that’s your finished salad. For a Mexican-style feast, I’d suggest that you serve a spoonful wrapped in warm flour tortillas with some sliced grilled chicken, guacamole, shaved queso manchego viejo (delicious Mexican hard cheese, substitute with Cheddar or Parmesan) and some herb-infused sour cream. To make the lemony, herby sour cream, just place about 100ml of sour cream into a bowl and add in the juice of half a lemon, freshly chopped mint and coriander, a pinch of dried mint, a little ground cumin, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Top with a drizzle of lemon oil, then dollop over your tortilla filling. Deliciously easy and a great crowd-pleaser.

Notes:

  • As above-mentioned, this salad is very open to adjustments and substitutions. To keep with the Mexican theme, you can feel free to add in some sliced red peppers (capsicum), finely chopped cucumber or grated cheese. To transform it into a more traditionally Australian salad, omit the tomatoes, lime, Spanish onion and chilli, then substitute in some quartered baby beets, crumbled feta and sliced spring onions. The dressing stays the same, except that I’d recommend using lemon instead of lime. This is a delicious accompaniment to barbecues.
  • If you’d like to serve this salad as a main meal with some grilled chicken or fish, just add in about half a cup of cooked white quinoa or brown rice. Double the dressing, and add in a squeeze of honey for sweetness. This is great with a spoonful of the herb-infused sour cream on the side.
  • Another delicious serving suggestion is to pile a spoonful of this salad into a taco shell with fried ground beef or Chili Con Carne, grated cheese and some herb-infused sour cream. Add salsa or guacamole as desired.
  • The normal ratio of oil to acid (vinegar or citrus juice) in salad dressings is 3:1, however in this recipe I’ve reduced the oil component as I like the freshness of the vegetables to be unobscured by oiliness. Test your salad and adjust it to suit your personal taste.
  • There’s no replacement for fresh corn in this salad. Frozen and canned corn kernels will do in a pinch, but they won’t have the sweet juiciness that fresh corn kernels have. If you’re going to use frozen corn, I’d suggest cooking the kernels as briefly as possible to prevent them from becoming waterlogged.

So that’s the first installment of my ‘Summer Salads’ series completed… check back here in a couple of weeks for the next recipe: Baby Beet Salad with balsamic onions, goat’s feta, soft herbs and toasted walnuts.

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love and other drugs

It’s a warm Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting on the sofa listening to the dull roar of traffic on the highway. An intoxicating breeze is blowing through the door; warm, not hot, but pleasant enough to induce a sense of sleep. A sigh escapes which then becomes a yawn. My eyelids press shut and a watery, fatigue-induced tear trickles down my face.

Blink. It’s only 3:09pm. Much too early for sleep… well, unless you’re over sixty-five, but for me that’s a whole lifetime away. So, why the yawn? Well, it’s partly accumulated exhaustion from the week-that-was, for as per usual, I did far too much. I also woke up unusually early for a Saturday, 7:15am to be exact. By 8:30am my tired being was shivering in a cool room surrounded by hundreds of flower buckets, eagerly scrawling botanical names into a black notebook. No, I’m not getting married (that was so last year) and I’m not an event planner. However, if you did guess along those lines, you’d be partly right. In exactly three weeks, two lovely friends of mine are getting married and I’m excited to say that I’ve been blessed with the privilege of managing their flowers.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t exactly (nor remotely) have formal training in this area. I did, however, create a full range of impromptu bouquets, boutonnieres, posies and table settings for a beautiful wedding that took place around this time last year. Yep, I’ll humbly say that it was my own… a decision that was rashly made to save money. Strangely enough, I’ve been getting floristry requests ever since. Quite amusing really.

Anyway, back to this morning. By 10:30am I was sitting at a wonky mosaic table with the beautiful bride-to-be, the maid of honour and a pressed tin cup full of sugar at Boucla Kafenion. Over breakfast (I had a creamy bittersweet mocha followed by herby, caramelised mushrooms atop walnut toast, adorned with soft, lemony feta) we continued to plan, reminisce and laugh until our plates were empty and our hearts were full (yeah, it’s corny but true). I returned home to give my husband a kiss before baking a tin full of 70% dark cocoa, cherry and almond brownies.

Densely rich, they’re little squares of brownie heaven topped with Cherry Ripe, marshmallows, dessicated coconut, melted 70% organic dark chocolate and toasted almonds. I got the basic concept from here but used my own brownie recipe (minus walnuts) and an individual take on rocky road topping.

In case you’re wondering, there’s no exact recipe in today’s post. Apart from the brownies, I’ve done plenty of cooking over the past couple of weeks but in the midst of family gatherings, roast dinners and tapas nights there’s been no time to sit down and work out measurements and cooking times.

It’s a little frustrating in terms of the progress of my blog (or lack thereof!) but I can also honestly say that I love the fact that my food is consumed even faster than it’s made. When I look around the table at contented smiles, the only remnants being sticky hands and streaked plates, I’m a happy woman. It’s an investment of my energy and love, one plate at a time.

So, it’s a couple of hours til tonight’s hen’s night, which leaves me just enough time to stare over the balcony into the mottled greenness of the remaining afternoon. It’s making me contemplative… mostly about how I felt at this time last year, when it was just over three weeks til my own wedding. I was a flutter of nerves and excitement, steadied by the confirmation of love that I felt in my heart. Aaron was, and is, everything that I could have prayed for in a man. I feel blessed every time wake in the morning to see his ruffled hair and sleepy eyes, his skin imprinted with lines from his pillow. I’m thankful for the opportunity to love him, knowing that he loves me back in spite of my (multiple) flaws.

But that’s enough soppiness for one day. I promise that my next post will be full of recipe goodness… possibly the start of a Summer salad series (which may cause excitement for some of my friends who have christened me the ‘Salad Queen’). I’ll leave you with a list of some of the food that I’ve cooked over the past few weeks… if you’d like me to include any of the recipes in future posts, leave me a comment below. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Recent Mess:

  • Herbed roast pork with crackling, apple & rhubarb sauce and wine gravy
  • Paprika potatoes with lemon-infused sour cream
  • Moroccan-spiced carrots with tahini yoghurt dressing and pistachios
  • Roasted beetroot dip with yoghurt, cashews and cumin
  • Dukkah crusted lamb with thick tzatsiki
  • Orange, lavender & cinnamon-spiced pavlova with vanilla bean cream, strawberry & rhubarb preserve and fresh mint
  • Quinoa salad with beetroot, goat’s feta and mint
  • Balsamic roasted field mushrooms with bacon jam, pine nuts and feta
  • Green apple and walnut salad with herbs and lemon dressing
  • Oven-roasted, spiced chickpeas with sweet potato and parsley
  • Rum and raisin brownies
  • Oat crumble slice with cinnamon & blueberries
  • Paprika chicken with cacciatore sausage, zucchini, red wine and olives
  • Grilled asparagus with lemon oil, parmesan and lemon zest
  • Eye fillet steak with bacon and mushrooms, borlotti bean & lemon puree, Parmesan toasts and parsley salad
  • Strawberry, apple, orange and ginger Sangria
  • Gin cocktails with star anise, clove & cardamom infused orange syrup and fresh rosemary over ice

Extra note: the beautiful curry paste above was a present from a generous friend who lovingly made it from scratch. For a long time I’ve been intending to create a post with it as the centre, but in the midst of everything else it has not as yet happened. Thanks Sara for your thoughtfulness, generosity and friendship. Watch this space.

hazelnut praline truffles

There’s a slow breeze drifting through the door. It’s cool, not cold, and heady with the sweetness of grass, fresh rain and sprouted freesias. Outside, the sky is inky black, peppered with glowing streetlights and shadows of cloud. Today is the third day of the second month of Australian Spring: October 3rd, 2012. And despite being a working day, it has started well.

Yes, started. It’s 12.15am to be exact. I’m mostly awake out of stubbornness, fingers primed for a flow of words despite the intoxicating pull of sleep. I chew absentmindedly on a stick of apple-green gum, thinking. It’s been an awfully long time between posts. Twenty two days to be exact. That’s enough time for a hamster to give birth to a litter of young and get impregnated with the next… darn productive creatures.

As for me? Well, I’ve worked for fourteen days, discounting a public holiday. I’ve eaten one box of Cruskits, drunk about two litres of milk, made some cherry almond rocky road (one of my very favourite chocolate treats… I’ll share the recipe sometime), completed about sixteen home aged care assessments and fallen asleep by candlelight. Oh, and I turned twenty nine. At 10.32pm, whilst sitting with my two favourite people in a tiny restaurant called Blackbird on Claisebrook lake.

Yep, twenty nine. One year older than the average age of retirement for an NFL player… sad huh? Comment of the week: “Ah, you’re still under thirty… that means you’re still young!”. Young? Yeah, I guess… probably in the same way that Olivia Newton John still looked ‘young’ as a thirty year old teenager in Grease. Delightful, in a wrinkled kind of way.

Anyway, moving on. The main reason that I’m writing this post is to share with you the ‘recipe’ (or rather, my notes) for creating hazelnut centred, rum infused 70% cocoa truffles, drenched in smooth chocolate and crunchy praline. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that right at the end of my recipe post for Chocolate Truffle Cake, I mentioned that any leftovers could be easily transformed into dense praline truffles in no time. This supplementary post explains my method on how to do just that.

As you read my notes below, you’ll realise that there’s a sad absence of step-by-step photography. That’s primarily due to the fact that these truffles were made on the run, in preparation for a dinner at a friend’s house. I plan to embellish on this post one day, but in the meantime I’d encourage you to check out my beautiful friend Talitha Sprigg’s Oreo Truffle tutorial via High Tea & Trinkets. It contains step-by-step photography on how to shape, chill and decorate your truffles with minimal fuss for a shiny, uniform finish. As with my notes, her recipe takes kindly to any variations you fancy… so feel free to experiment until you create your own version of chocolatey perfection.

Hazelnut Praline Truffles

Makes about 20

  • 2 medium slices of room temperature ganache-iced Chocolate Truffle Cake* (or other chocolate mud cake, preferably ganache-iced)
  • A splash of good-quality rum
  • 1 quantity of hazelnut praline, crushed*
  • 20 toasted, peeled hazelnuts*
  • 1 block (about 200g) of 70% cocoa good quality dark chocolate (not cooking chocolate)

*recipes and tutorials can be found in my Chocolate Truffle Cake post.

Crumble your cake into a bowl, then add in a generous splash of rum. Work the mixture together with a spatula until it becomes smooth, glossy and melds to itself. Set aside briefly.

Divide your mixture into about 20 pieces (or less, if you prefer bigger truffles). Flatten each piece into a disc, then place a hazelnut in the centre. Fold the mixture around your hazelnut, pinching the edges together. Roll the finished ball, with the enclosed hazelnut, in the palms of your hands until it becomes round and smooth. Place onto a tray lined with baking paper, then repeat with your remaining nuts and mixture.

Place your finished balls into the fridge for about half an hour to firm up (if you’re pressed for time, use the freezer). In the meantime, cut your block of chocolate into pieces and place them into a glass bowl over a double boiler to melt. When the mixture is almost smooth, turn off the heat and leave your bowl to stand over the hot water until you’re ready to coat your truffles.

To decorate: Remove your chilled truffles from the fridge or freezer. Gently drop one ball at a time into the melted chocolate, turning it to coat evenly. Lift it out from the chocolate using a fork and spoon, one on each side, suspending the truffle over the bowl briefly so that any excess chocolate drips away. Gently place your coated truffle back onto the paper-lined baking tray, taking care not to mark the sides of the truffle with your fork.

Leave for a few seconds, until the surface of the chocolate clouds slightly (indication that the chocolate is setting). Sprinkle over a pinch of crushed hazelnut praline before the chocolate sets (gently press onto the surface with your fingers if required). Repeat with your remaining balls and chocolate.

Leave your truffles to set at room temperature, then store them in an airtight container. If desired, they can be refrigerated, however be aware that this increases the risk of ‘chocolate bloom’ (separation of sugar and fat from the cocoa solids, which results in the formation of a powdery white substance on the surface of your chocolate. This is usually caused by exposure of the chocolate to moisture and sudden temperature changes).

Notes:

  • There are thousands of truffle recipes on the internet, most of which use a pure ganache as the truffle filling. I prefer using dense, flourless cake mixed with a little melted ganache and alcohol as the result is a dense, rich truffle that’s slightly less cloying (it’s a little like a cross between a cake pop and a truffle). The hazelnut meal in the Chocolate Truffle Cake also adds a delicious savoury note and a little extra nutrition (clutching at straws, I know!).
  • This recipe lends itself well to adaptations. Try adding some diced glace ginger into the mixture, some freshly chopped or dried mint leaves, peppermint essence, spices (cinnamon and cardamom, possibly with some dried chilli) or different nuts. Almonds work especially well with a complimentary splash of Amaretto in place of rum.
  • If you can’t be bothered with the melted chocolate, just roll your truffles in coconut, crushed pistachios or organic cocoa powder. Beautiful and deliciously easy (though in regards to the latter, don’t inhale whilst eating them… trust me).
  • You can pretty much use any chocolate in the process of making the Chocolate Truffle Cake… same goes for coating your truffles. White chocolate made with pure cocoa butter works well as an offset to a dark, bittersweet centre. I’d just recommend that you don’t buy compound or cooking chocolate of any type. Not only can you taste the difference, but there’s also a subtle textural variation due to the added vegetable fat and sweetener. When melted, this can produce a grainy consistency.
  • Your finished truffle balls can be frozen, uncoated, for up to one month. Just shape and freeze them in a single layer on a baking tray, then when they’re no longer sticky to touch, place them in an airtight container or snap-lock bag to freeze until ready for use.
  • This is a great way to use up any leftover cake sitting in your fridge. Lemon cake works especially well with some melted white chocolate and a splash of limoncello in the mixing stage. Before serving, coat the balls in pure white chocolate, then decorate with some candied lemon rind. Easy.

P.S. I finished this post at 7.52am. Yes, I did sleep and eat a bowl of Mini-Wheats in between.

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