berry pavlova with lemon curd and wild thyme honey

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It’s a rainy Sunday evening; the third week of Western Australian Spring that’s been pervaded by dark clouds, high winds and cold nights. Not that I mind. It’s decidedly cosy in our small apartment; a frosted lamp casts a warm glow across the coffee table as I sit, sipping warm rooibos, on a nearby couch. My fingers tap against plastic keys, pausing momentarily to hear the steady beat of rain against the balcony window. Perfect conditions for evening reverie.

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As I type this sentence, I have exactly three minutes until the last year of my third decade begins: the big three-oh. Two days ago, I was filled with ardent opposition to this idea; mostly as I loathed the idea of leaving my fading youth behind. However, as the day fast approaches, I’ve actually gained some much needed perspective.

This year is to be celebrated, not commiserated. I’m blessed to be alive, to be fit and healthy, to be surrounded by those I love on a daily basis. Each year that passes brings a stronger sense of ‘self’; both individually and within my personal relationships. Plus, I get to eat cake whenever I want (and bake it, too).

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This particular cake was the product of a shopping trip to the beautiful Boatshed Markets in Cottesloe. If you’re a Perth foodie, I’m sure you’ve heard of this place already; aisle after aisle of fresh, local fruit and vegetables, gourmet olive oil, house made antipasti, biodynamic meats, aged cheeses and artisan breads.

I bring home a considerable bounty each time I visit, and Saturday was no different. By checkout time, I had squirreled purple congo potatoes, fresh broad beans, sourdough and cheeses into our basket with some watercress, cured meats and a $9 punnet of vibrant edible flowers.

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Edible flowers are a source of inspiration for me. As soon as I see them, I feel an urge to create something delicate; a fragrant, delicious creation to act as a ‘throne’ for their beauty.

On Saturday, the flower was the common Stork’s Bill, or Erodium cicutarium. One glance at the blushing pink petals, red stems and variegated leaves had me itching to create a delicate pavlova, sandwiched with cream, homemade lemon curd, berries and a fragrant drizzle of wild thyme honey.

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This pavlova is beautiful in every sense of the word. With one bite, you get crunchy meringue, earthy pistachios and a pop of fresh berry wrapped in soft, luscious lemon and crème fraîche.

The wild thyme honey is entirely optional, however the earthy sweet flavour, herbal notes and intoxicating fragrance is incomparable. If you can’t find J.Friend and Co, I’d suggest steeping some fresh thyme in another floral honey (heat it on the stove gently before adding some thyme stalks to soak). It’s the next best thing.

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Berry Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Wild Thyme Honey

Serves 12

For the meringue:

  • 6 large free-range egg whites
  • 300g raw caster sugar
  • splash of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • a pinch of sea salt

For the filling/decoration:

  • 300ml very cold, full-fat whipping cream
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 4-5 tbsp (about 60-70g) lemon curd
  • 150g punnet fresh blueberries, washed
  • 200g fresh strawberries, washed and diced
  • 100g pistachio nuts, toasted and coarsely crushed/chopped
  • wild thyme honey (I used J.Friend and Co Artisan Honey), to drizzle (substitute your favourite floral honey)
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme, washed, leaves picked
  • edible flowers or dried rose petals, for garnish (optional)

Place your egg whites into a clean, dry bowl. Whisk them at medium speed until they begin to form firm peaks. With the mixer still running, add the sugar in a steady stream alongside the salt and white wine vinegar. As the mixture starts to thicken, turn the beater up to high speed and whisk for another 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture is glossy and smooth.

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Rub a bit of the mixture between your finger and thumb; if you can still feel grains of sugar, whisk the meringue for a bit longer until the graininess disappears.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c (300 degrees f). Line two flat-bottomed baking trays with parchment (I use a small dab of meringue in each corner to stick the paper to the tray) and draw a 20cm-diameter circle in the centre of each piece of paper with non-toxic pen or pencil (if you’re unable to find one, draw your circle on the parchment before you line your trays. Stick the paper on upside down so that the circle is still visible but the pen or pencil marks are on the underside).

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With a spatula, drop half of your meringue mixture into the centre of each circle, smoothing the mixture out to the edges of each circle. Try and ensure that the meringue discs are even in height and density. Place the trays into your pre-heated oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, swapping the trays half-way through. When cooked, the meringues should be dry to touch on the outside, and slightly hollow when tapped. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven (temperature off, door slightly ajar) for one hour.

Whilst the meringues are cooling, prepare your filling. Place the whipping cream into clean, medium bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Mix through the crème fraîche, then refrigerate until you’re ready to complete your meringue stack.

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To assemble:

Carefully peel your meringue discs off the parchment paper. Dab a couple of teaspoons of whipped cream onto a cake platter (to stop the bottom meringue dish from moving) and place one meringue disc on top. Smooth over half of the cream mixture, then dab on the lemon curd (use a knife to gently ensure that it’s evenly distributed). Scatter over half of the strawberries and blueberries.

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Place the next meringue disc on top. Cover with the remaining whipped cream (leave about 1-2 cm from the edge of the meringue) then scatter over the remaining berries. Top with the crushed pistachio nuts, then drizzle with a little wild thyme honey. Scatter over the edible flower petals and thyme leaves.

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Note: My mention of J.Friend and Co artisan honey has been unsolicited and unpaid, based entirely on my positive view of this particular company and their products. The views expressed are entirely my own.

asparagus with soft-poached eggs, broad beans, lemon and chilli

yolklsFresh local asparagus is a wonderful thing; sweet, earthy, crisp and succulent. During peak season, it needs little more than a quick toss on the grill, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a speckling of flaked sea salt. Perfect in its simplicity.

For most of the year, Western Australians like myself only have access to imported asparagus; namely, cultivated crops from China, Thailand and Peru. Despite my commitment to locally grown food, I reluctantly admit that the short Western Australian asparagus season (from September to November) has led to desperate purchases of imported asparagus on a number of occasions this year. It feels terrible; the only redeeming thought is that I’ve possibly contributed towards a peasant’s wage somewhere in rural Asia. Idealism, I know.

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However, this week marked the arrival of fresh Torbay asparagus at my local farmer’s market. When I saw the fat green spears amongst the locally grown kale and lettuces this morning, my heart jumped in locavore joy. Grown near the port city of Albany in the state’s south west, this asparagus is sweet, robust and earthy in flavour.

I squirreled home a bucketful, with fresh broad bean pods, shiny aubergines and a dozen of Ellah’s fresh, free-range eggs.

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As per usual, my stomach rumbles as soon as I’ve visited the markets. After podding the broad beans, I trimmed the asparagus and quickly grilled the spears with a splash of good olive oil, some sea salt and chilli flakes. Topped with a runny, soft-poached egg, fragrant lemon zest and some grated Parmesan, we were soon in fresh asparagus heaven.

This dish is almost too simple for a ‘recipe’, however I’ve included a few of my cooking notes below for your reference. For a more substantial breakfast or lunch, I’d suggest adding some buttered, wholegrain toast and a sprinkling of hot-smoked salmon.

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Asparagus with Soft-poached Eggs, Broad Beans, Lemon and Chilli

Serves 2

  • 8-12 asparagus spears (4-6 per person, depending upon size)
  • 1/4 cup podded, shelled broad beans
  • 2 free-range eggs (or 4, if you’d like 2 each)
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • finely grated rind of one lemon
  • freshly grated Parmesan
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Italian flat-leaf parsley to serve, if desired
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (for poaching the eggs)

Fill a medium saucepan with cold water. Cover, and place over medium heat whilst you prepare your vegetables.

Wash the asparagus spears, then snap off any woody ends (you will feel the shoot naturally ‘bend’ at the point where the spear is tender). Discard the ends, then scrape the outer surface near the end of the spear slightly to ensure that it cooks evenly.

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Heat a fry or grill pan over medium heat. Add in a splash of good olive oil, then toss in your asparagus spears. Agitate the pan, ensuring that the spears rotate, until their colour becomes vibrant green. Add in the shelled broad beans, some chilli flakes and sea salt. Fry or grill until the vegetables are tender and bright green with the slightest of grill marks from the pan.

Plate your asparagus and broad beans as desired, season with some salt and sprinkle over a little of the lemon zest. Set aside whilst you poach your eggs.

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By now, your water should be boiling rapidly. Add in the 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (this helps hold the protein in the egg white together), then carefully lower each egg into the water, one at a time (Note: I don’t bother with the ‘whirlpool’ technique as I find it ineffective; if you’re concerned about poaching eggs and require a visual reference, you can follow Curtis Stone’s instructions on YouTube). The eggs will probably take about 2 minutes to cook with a perfectly runny yolk.

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Carefully place your eggs upon the asparagus and broad bean mix. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over your remaining lemon zest, a little Italian parsley (if desired) and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Optional extras: as above, this dish would go beautifully with some toasted wholegrain bread, hot smoked salmon, cured gravlax (yum!) or free-range bacon. You can also add some toasted flaked almonds or hazelnuts.

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lemon, coconut and cacao truffles

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It’s been a rainy Saturday here in Perth. Wet, cold and predominantly grey. Quite amusing really, as it was only three weeks ago that I posted a recipe for slow-roasted lamb as a ‘…final homage to the beautiful winter-that-was’. Upon reflection, I should change that to the winter that is, as it’s been cold and rainy all week.

Oh well. All the more time for slow food, hot soup, snuggling under blankets and drinking hot chocolate with plenty of treats like these gluten-free, dairy-free bites of lemon cacao bliss.

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These particular truffles were made two weeks ago for my beautiful friend Anna (who is an amazing singer-songwriter, check out her website here) who can’t tolerate wheat, gluten or dairy. We ate them with fruit, Medjool dates and wine after a vegan dinner at our house, and I liked them so much that I snapped a few photos in preparation for a blog post.

Due to my delay in posting, these treats are now well and truly finished. Gone. Absent and departed. Seeing their photos in memoriam makes me sad.

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They taste like moist little bundles of almond, coconut and honey with soft, fragrant lemon undertones and the crunch of cacao nibs. I rolled half in raw cacao and the other half in dessicated coconut; after a great deal of taste testing we’ve decided that the coconut are superior to their more-bitter-on-the-tongue cacao cousins.

All this talk is making me hungry. It’s time to make another batch.

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Lemon, Coconut and Cacao Truffles

Makes roughly 22 truffles. Adapted from this recipe by Eleanor Ozich at Petite Kitchen.

  • 1 1/2 cups (110g) unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup (110g) almond meal
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp honey (to make these completely vegan, substitute with maple syrup or agave as desired)
  • zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao nibs (or extra, to taste)
  • a pinch of crushed sea salt

For rolling the truffles:

  • 1/4 cup (18g) unsweetened dessicated coconut
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao powder

Place the dessicated coconut, almond meal, coconut oil, honey, lemon juice and zest, vanilla extract and sea salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture comes together (around 1 minute).

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Turn out into a bowl and add the cacao nibs. Mix together with a wooden spoon.

Use your hands to roll 1/2 tbsp of the mixture into a small bowl. Roll in dessicated coconut or cacao (I placed each coating in a separate bowl to roll the truffles as desired), then gently place onto a lined tray. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

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Refrigerate the truffles for at least half an hour before eating.

I prefer to eat them straight out of the refrigerator but you can store them at room temperature if desired. To keep them a little longer, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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kangaroo rendang with roti canai

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Despite being raised in Australia, I was 26 years old before I tasted my first bite of kangaroo. I remember it vividly, in part because Aaron and I were on our first ‘real’ holiday as a couple in Broome, 2,200 kilometres north of our hometown in Perth, Western Australia.

We arrived in Broome towards the end of March. Despite transitioning into the Australian autumn, it was oppressively hot, humid and bright. Despite those minor details, I was ridiculously excited at the thought of spending a few days in paradise with my love. As a bonus, we were also visiting the hometown of our beautiful friends Kelly, Gareth and Amanda, all of whom we see only once every few months. We couldn’t wait.

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A couple of days after our arrival in Broome, we jumped into Kelly’s car (a little rust bucket that she and Gareth generously lent to us) and embarked on a 19km trip to the aptly named 12 Mile Cafe (yes, I can convert from metric), a tiny organic establishment set within the beautiful grounds of Serendipity Farm.

Upon exiting the car, I immediately smelt the heady, rich fragrance of Malay spices, mangoes and galangal. It was intoxicating, particularly when factoring in my ridiculous dehydration. We sat at a tiny wooden table on the cafe deck, sipping fresh mango smoothies whilst awaiting our food orders. For me, marinated tempeh with fresh water spinach, young galangal and spicy peanut sauce was an easy choice. Aaron, on the other hand, chose kangaroo rendang with steamed basmati rice. I looked at him quizzically as sweat dripped from my brow, pooling onto a green serviette. He smiled reassuringly. I patted him on the shoulder before leaving to visit the drop-hole ladies.

My meal was amazing, in every sense of the word. Fresh, fragrant, colourful and deliciously nourishing. Aaron’s meal smelt like… well, wild game disguised in heady spices. He started chewing, thoughtfully registering every blissful mouthful. Eventually, he stopped for air and encouraged me to have a taste. In lovestruck compliance, I reluctantly agreed.

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The first forkful of that rendang has lived on in my memory like a perfect photograph. It was rich, fragrant, warm and delicious, intensely meaty but beautifully balanced by lemongrass, star anise, shallots and coconut. We devoured the whole plateful before sucking the last of our mango smoothies. Aaron has subsequently pleaded on several occasions for me to recreate our Broome rendang experience, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated. The idea of creating a perfect holiday dish in a domestic kitchen sounded wonderful, but largely unachievable. However, last week I harnessed my anxiety and went kangaroo hunting at my local butcher (sans spear, of course).

Upon arriving at Swansea Street Meats, I was disappointed to discover in conversation with the butcher that kangaroo meat is no longer farmed in Western Australia (it’s all transported from Queensland, folks). I therefore carried 1.1kg of frozen kangaroo rump home in a cloud of disappointment, alongside a kilo of beef chuck and various rendang spices. That night, I made a rendang with tender chunks of slow-braised beef, roti canai and a water spinach salad. It was delicious, but I was still determined to triumph over the national emblem.

The following week, I defrosted the lump of kangaroo and set to work on recreating our Broome memory: the perfect kangaroo rendang.

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That brings us to the present moment. Last night, I got home from work and raided the fridge for shallots, lemongrass, birdseye chillies, garlic, ginger and lime leaves. I blended a spice paste, lovingly fried it in hot oil, then set it aside whilst I prepared the kangaroo meat. Upon opening the plastic seal, I was immediately greeted with the pungent smell of bloodied game. It was… terrible. A clean version of roadkill. But still, I was undeterred. I diced it into 2cm chunks, coated it in seasoned flour and chucked it into a hot stewing pot. It sizzled, like game in the sunshine.

Fast forward three hours. The sun had long set below the horizon and street lights were sending dappled patterns across the coffee table. I stood, kneading dough for the roti canai whilst sipping from a cold bottle of Matso’s Mango and Desert Lime cider (necessary, when recreating a Broome dish. On the stove, the rendang sat, quietly bubbling as clouds of fragrant steam rose towards the ceiling. It smelt divine; rich, meaty, sweet and dense with spice. I was pleased; even more so when my roti perfectly bubbled on the cast iron pan.

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Half an hour later, Aaron and our friend Manuel arrived on the doorstep, sweating from a gym session. Post showers, food was assembled on the table and we loaded our plates generously. Then, we ate. In silence. Despite my initial reservations, I was stuffing my face without a scrap of restraint. Tender chunks of kangaroo combined with fresh coriander, cucumber and rice were piled upon pieces of soft roti and before I knew it, my plate was empty. I can honestly attest that it was that good.

If you have any reservations about cooking or eating kangaroo, I’d encourage you to put them aside for the benefit of this dish. When bought from a sustainable, responsibly-run farm, kangaroo is a very safe, nutritious and ethical meat to consume (see ‘resources’ below if you’d like to read more). It’s high in protein, low in fat (about 2%) and a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties. Though kangaroo is generally stronger in flavour than beef, lamb or other commercially-raised food animals, it’s wonderfully balanced in the strong flavours of this otherwise-authentic Malaysian dish.

Try it. From one kangaroo skeptic to another, you’ll be glad that you did.

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Kangaroo Rendang

Serves 4-6 (or one very, very hungry person)

  • 1.1 kg responsibly farmed kangaroo rump
  • seasoned flour, for dusting
  • 5-6 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon quill (cinnamon stick), broken in half
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 large black cardamom pods, cracked (pound gently in a mortar and pestle)
  • 1 cup (240ml) thick, full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup (240ml) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp tamarind pulp
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, chopped finely
  • handful of curry leaves
  • 2 long mild red chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp palm sugar, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tbsp kerisik (toasted coconut, finely ground)
  • fresh coriander and cucumber pickle (I just mixed cucumber with oil, lemon juice, toasted coconut and cumin seeds, fresh coriander, crisp-fried shallots and salt) to serve

Spice paste:

  • 5 Asian shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 inch galangal root, coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 inch ginger root, coarsely chopped
  • 3 stems of lemongrass, thick white base only, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 small birdseye (Thai) chillies, whole (stems removed)

Prepare the spice paste: add all of the chopped spice paste ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (no need to peel the ginger or galangal, it’ll blend up fine). Blend until well combined.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the spice paste and gently fry it until aromatic, softened and reduced. Add in the cinnamon, cloves, star anise, kaffir lime and cardamom pods. Fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.

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Cut the kangaroo meat into 2 x 2cm cubes. Dust with a little seasoned flour, then fry batches of meat in the same saucepan (you may need to add a little more oil as kangaroo meat is very lean) until browned. Add the spice mixture back into the pan and mix well.

Add in the coconut milk, tamarind paste, stock, curry leaves, palm sugar and a little water. Bring to the boil, then replace the pan lid and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

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Cook, covered, for about two hours or until the meat softens and starts to fall apart. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove the lid and add in the kerasik. Cook for another 60-90 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to a ‘dry curry‘ consistency.

Skim any oil off the surface of the curry if required. Serve with coriander, steamed rice, the roti canai (below), cucumber pickle and some toasted shallots, if desired.

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Roti Canai (Malaysian flatbread)

This is a somewhat ‘Westernised’ recipe, adapted for the general home cook. To me, it tastes exactly as it’s supposed to; slightly chewy, layered, crisp on the outside and perfectly bendable for mopping up curry sauce. If you’d like to make a more traditional version, omit the yoghurt and yeast (and consequently, the resting/rising time). Fry as specified. More info on Roti Canai here.

Makes 6 x 15cm diameter flatbreads

  • 2 (240g) cups plain flour (+ 1 cup for kneading)
  • 3/4 cup  (180ml) of tepid/lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp high activity yeast
  • pinch of baking powder
  • Butter and oil for frying

In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the tepid water and the sugar. Set aside until frothy.

Combine the flour, yoghurt, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add in the yeast mixture, then mix until you have a sticky dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes (sprinkle more flour onto the dough as required; I added at least another 3/4 cup) or until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.

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Form into a ball, then place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a clean damp tea towel and set aside to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm, draft-free place (I ended up storing my dough in the slightly warm oven after I had turned it off).

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When the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and place it onto a well-floured bench. Punch out the air and knead it for five minutes (sprinkle more flour on top if the dough becomes tacky) before dividing the dough into 8 pieces.

Preheat a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 tsp butter and a good splash of oil; heat until smoking. Roll out one piece of the dough into a thin (~3mm thick / 15cm diameter) flat circle, then quickly drop it onto the piping hot fry pan. It should immediately start to sizzle and puff (sorry for the lack of pictures during this stage, I was working quickly). When the top surface is covered with large bubbles, flip the bread over and press the air out with an egg flip. Remove from the heat when browned on both sides; leave to cool on a paper towel. Repeat the process with your remaining dough.

Serve plain, as I did, sprinkled with salt or spread with garlic butter. If you’d prefer to oven-bake these breads, lightly brush them with oil and bake them on a preheated, lined baking tray or pizza stone at 230 degrees C (445 degrees f) for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden spots appear.

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Resources:

Just a couple of obligatory ‘eating photos’, since I don’t have Instagram:

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On a Personal Note:

  • The pictures for this post were taken with my new Canon EOS 70D, a completely overwhelming gift from my beautiful, wise and generous mother, Kim. I love you immeasurably. I am so, so grateful for everything you do. Aaron and I will be snap-happy for weeks!
  • Another thank you to the coolest sister-in-law on the planet, who got me these measuring cups (below) as an early birthday gift. Now I’ll be measuring things just for fun! Juls, you are beautiful and thoughtful in every way. Can’t wait to use them in a proper baking shoot!
  • Thirdly, a big thanks to Jason (our generally awesome friend and computer programmer extraordinaire) for messing around with some CSS modifications on my blog. Couldn’t have done any of the changes without you! Thanks also to Anna for being generally beautiful, warm, generous and lovely (and for staying up late so that Jason could mess with my blog!)

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saffron pear and dark chocolate tart

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It was Federal election day yesterday. For over fourteen hours, Australians around the country were scratching their heads, queuing, eating sausage sizzles and numbering boxes on white and green ballot papers. At 6.00pm Western Australian time, the last polling station closed as the sun dipped below the horizon. Counting began and we, the people, waited.

From a personal point of view, Aaron and I waited at our friend Manuel’s house. For the first time, we held a spur of the moment ‘Election Party’ complete with multiple televisions, a barrel bonfire, high carbohydrate snacks and plenty of soothing beverages.

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We lounged on outdoor couches as the media counted votes and seats, snacking on pistachios whilst commenting on the value of Australian democracy (for which, to clarify, I’m very grateful) and our strange Prime Ministerial candidates.

The most prominent were 1. Clive Palmer, an eclectic, singing oil and gas billionaire with an AU$70 million aeroplane, a replica Titanic and a Jurassic Park-under-construction, 2. Tony Abbott the lycra-clad, foot-in-mouth Liberal, 3. present Prime Minister for the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd the backstabbing ‘psychopath’, 4. Bob Katter and his ‘quality blokes and sheilas’ and 5. Christine Milne the self-professed Greens ‘underdog’. Ah, dear. Quality indeed (if you’re interested in further pre-vote commentary on this present election, take a look at Rob Pop’s excellent post on his blog, Humans are Weird. So good, as is this post-election blooper reel).

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My food contribution was a platter of pulled pork rolls with extra chilli and pork crackling, all of which were inhaled in minutes with cold Coronas and earthy Shiraz. As rain started to fall, we retreated to Manuel’s ‘band room’ to play lego before eventually heading home at 12.30am (just kidding. That Duplo actually belongs to our friend’s child, Lorena. I just wish it was mine).

It’s now 9.00am on Sunday, 8th September 2013. We have a new Prime Minister – the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott – a former Rhodes scholar, boxer and trainee Priest who wears lycra bicycle shorts, has three ‘not bad looking daughters‘, makes unfortunate media gaffes and smuggles budgies to the beach. Our previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has conceded defeat and retreated to the back bench.

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This morning’s media is full of the night-that-was, with rife speculation over the future leadership of the Australian Labor party and various candidates who failed to retain their seats. In the glare of the morning sun, other marginal candidates are up to their usual antics while I sit on my couch crunching through a bowl of almond granola, organic yoghurt and strawberries.

I’m unusually tired, bleary eyed and vague. I’ve also realised that half of this chocolate tart post has been consumed with political sentiment. Okay, let’s revise.

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It’s been a very long time since I made a ‘proper’ chocolate tart. Brownies, yes. Flourless chocolate cakes, fondants, mousse and pavlova? Yes. But a pastry base, filled with chocolate ganache? I think it’s been about a year… the last significant effort being a luscious salted caramel and 70% cocoa tart that received rave reviews at a Summer dinner party.

This particular tart was made after I discovered a recipe by Matthew Evans in a recent edition of SBS Feast magazine (an occasional magazine-stand indulgence, due to its beautiful multicultural recipes and inspiring photographs). I immediately fell in love with the combination of star anise, saffron, pear and dark chocolate, lovingly wrapped in buttery pastry.

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Now, as you well know… I struggle when following recipes. I’m constantly tempted to exercise my ‘creative license’ through adaptations, substitutions and omissions. This time round, I’m proud to say that I almost followed the exact recipe; my two modifications were: 1. the substitution of 70% cocoa dark chocolate for half of the specified milk, and 2. the substitution of 50% more Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva rum instead of the specified brandy.

I loved this tart. Every bite announces the bitterness of dark chocolate on the palate, softened by sweet, saffron-infused pear, notes of star anise, buttery pastry and the warmth of rum. It’s spectacular to present also; black-brown against soft yellow with streaks of fine crimson and powdered sugar.

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Due to its richness, I’d recommend serving this tart in fine slices with a dollop of double cream or crème fraîche. If desired, you can also reduce the saffron-infused poaching water down to a syrup. It looks beautiful when drizzled onto the plate.

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Saffron Pear and Dark Chocolate Tart

This tart takes roughly 4 hours to make. I’d recommend starting the day before if you can.

Adapted from a recipe by Matthew Evans, published in Feast, Issue 23 / August 2013

Pastry:

  • 230g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp raw caster sugar
  • 110g cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup (220g) raw caster sugar
  • generous pinch of genuine saffron
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 pears (Beurre Bosc or Gold Rush preferable), peeled, halved and cored
  • 200ml full-fat thickened cream
  • 10 star anise
  • 200g 70% dark chocolate
  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 3-4 tbsp rum or brandy (to taste)
  • Icing sugar, to serve – optional

To make the pastry: place the flour, butter, sugar and salt into a food processor bowl. Process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg yolk with 60ml iced water. With the food processor motor running, gradually add the egg yolk and water to the flour mix; process until the mixture just comes together.

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Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling.

pastrycase

When adequately chilled, roll the pastry disc out to a 3mm thick circle. Line the base and sides of a greased 24cm pie dish or tasrt pan, then prick all over with a fork. Place the unbaked pastry case in the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Remove the pastry from the freezer, then line the case with baking paper and pie weights, uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove weights and paper. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until the base of the pastry is dry to touch. Set aside to cool.

poaching

To make the filling: place 1L of water into a large saucepan with the caster sugar, saffron and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then add the pears. Bring to a simmer (if the pears start floating, weigh them down with a saucer so that they are fully immersed in the liquid). Cover with a cartouche (see image on right), reduce heat to medium-low and poach pears for 30 minutes or until tender (easily pierced with a knife).

poachingpearmont

Allow to cool, then cut each pear half lengthwise into two pieces.

Place the cream and star anise into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the cream to just below boiling point (small bubbles should just be appearing). Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20-30 minutes.

creamstaranise sieve

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Strain the cream through a fine strainer to remove the star anise and any ‘milk skin’. Place back into a medium pot and reheat. Add chocolate all at once, whisking continuously until smooth.

melted

When the mixture is glossy and lump-free, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the brandy or rum. Allow to cool.

To bake: preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Evenly spread the cooled tart shell with the star-anise flavoured ganache, then very gently lay the pears onto the surface in a circular pattern, as below (try and make sure that the pears don’t sink too much).

prebake

Bake the tart for 25 minutes or until the ganache is just set. Cool completely before cutting with a heated knife.

Serve with double cream, dusted with icing sugar if desired.

piece4

slow-roasted lamb with white wine, lemon and herbs

closeupreadyIt’s hard to believe that today marks the third day since our departure from the Australian Winter. Despite my moaning, I predominantly enjoy the cold nights and rainy days of the winter months. The icy chill perpetuates a desire for warm blankets, hot drinks and the best kind of comfort food: creamy mashed potato, spiced apple crumbles and hot buttered bread, dipped into thick pumpkin soup with shards of crisp pancetta.

lemonhebsSo, as we Australians will soon be progressing to salad days, ice-cream and cold beer, I thought I’d do a final homage to the beautiful winter-that-was: a recipe for my oft-mentioned slow-roasted lamb with garlic, rosemary, anchovies and lemon.

I’ve trialled many versions of this dish, ranging from foil sealed to uncovered, wet, dry, seasoned and marinated. This version achieves a melt-in-your-mouth-tender result every time, allowing the beauty of the meat to shine through whilst being gently complimented by sweet herbs and lemon.

anchovies anchovies2For those of you heading towards Autumn and Winter, I’d definitely recommend that you bookmark this recipe for cosy nights in front of the fire. It virtually takes care of itself; all you need to do is to place the lamb in the oven after lunch, and by dinnertime you’ll be beckoned by sweet fragrances of wine, herbs and slow-cooked lemon.

Our usual ritual is to accompany this dish with a bottle of great red wine, some crisp-roasted Royal blue or kipfler potatoes with lots of garlic and an array of vegetable dishes. At present, I’m continuing to indulge my long-standing obsession with Middle Eastern food, particularly Persian, Israeli and Turkish cuisine, so there’s been lots of cous cous, pickled and roasted beets, smoky babaghanouj, preserved lemon and braised celery.

closeupcornerThis is being further encouraged by my recent investment into Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful book series, ‘Plenty’ and ‘Jerusalem’. I’m excited, as I plan to share some recipes inspired by his vegetable collection over the Spring and Summer season. Watch this space.

ingredientsSlow-roasted Lamb with White Wine, Lemon and Herbs

Loosely adapted from ‘Dinner at Matt’s‘ by Matt Moran

  • 1 x 2 – 2.2kg bone-in lamb shoulder
  • 2 fresh, unwaxed lemons
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into thick slivers
  • 6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled (extra)
  • 4 anchovies in oil, drained, each torn into 3 pieces
  • large handful of fresh herbs, I used rosemary (essential), thyme, oregano and sage
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 300ml good-quality white wine
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Using a small, sharp knife, score a diamond pattern into the fat on the surface of the lamb shoulder, then make 10 -12 1cm-deep incisions. Take a sliver of garlic, a piece of anchovy and a few rosemary leaves; press them together to form a small bundle, then stuff the bundle into one of the 1cm-deep incisions. Repeat this process with the remaining garlic, rosemary and anchovy fillets.

meatmontScatter half of the remaining herbs and the unpeeled garlic cloves over the base of a large roasting tin. Place the meat on top, then pour over the olive oil and white wine. Rub some salt and pepper into the skin, then finely grate over the zest of one lemon (use your fingers to stuff some of the lemon zest into the incisions and the scored pattern in the skin).

Cut the two lemons into thick wedges and scatter these into the wine and olive oil around the meat. Place the extra herbs on top of the meat (don’t worry if some fall off into the braising liquid), then cover the tray completely with tinfoil.

meatreadyPlace the covered tray into the preheated oven. Immediately reduce the temperature to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and cook for one hour. Reduce temperature further to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f) and cook for another 3-4 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.

Once cooked, remove the tray from the oven and leave the meat to rest (covered) for half an hour prior to serving.

lambpresentedsumacsalad As aforementioned, I usually serve this dish with potatoes or hot, fresh bread and a selection of vegetables or salads. Pictured are:

  1. Roasted beets in a lemony dressing of soured cream and yoghurt with pistachios, lemon rind, sumac and chopped fresh mint
  2. Bulgur salad with smoky eggplant, red and yellow peppers, roasted shallots, soft herbs, preserved lemon, currants and pistachios
  3. Persian feta, ripe cherry tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers and herbs with sumac, lemon oil and za’atar

And yes, we ate the lemon wedges with the lamb. They become soft, sweet and delicious whilst slowly braising in the olive oil and wine… so, so good.thefat wineWe drank First Drop ‘Fat of the Land’ 2009 Ebenezer Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Delicious notes of blackened fruit and spice with soft tannins and a lingering mouthfeel. Perfect with rich, meaty lamb and soothing vegetable dishes.

Read a review here from Pinot Shop and another here from Vino Review (I like Josh, he’s cool).

beetsplate halfgnawed

curing olives, part three. dressings

jarbestDespite some personal disbelief, today marks the tenth week since my first batch of olives entered their jars of salty brine. Ten weeks of suspended hope, of weekly brine changes, of fleeting inspections and occasional puckered faces.

I’m glad to announce, whilst inspecting five large jars of marinated olives, that’s it’s all come to an end. A productive, successful and delicious end that’s made the entire process seem worthwhile.

twobowlsliketwobowlsIn hindsight, I’ve largely enjoyed curing my own olives. Everything from boiling (multiple) pots of steaming brine to watching crimson-streaked water swirl down the drain.

Yes, admittedly there have been disappointing moments, frustrating times and slack jaws over the endless mounds of sea salt I’ve used (about two kilos in the past ten weeks). However, whilst eating a soft, sweet olive marinated in fennel, chilli and orange… I’d say that I no longer care.

citrusthymeIn my initial Curing Olives post, I stated that black olives should take around 2-3 weeks to cure, with green olives taking a ‘lengthy’ 4-8 weeks to lose their high level of bitter astringency. Signs of the error in this estimation were obvious by the time of my second olive post, four weeks later.

Let me give a revised estimation: it took around 7-8 weeks for my batch of black olives to reach a level of soft, sweet edibility, whereas the green olives… uh, they took the entire ten weeks to soften and taste edible. Yes, ten weeks. But let me remind you: it’s entirely worth it.

orangefennel2detaillikeI’ve included four variations for dressing olives in the text below (uh, I got a little overexcited). All specify ‘brined then soaked olives‘, which simply means that you’ll need to soak your olives in cool, fresh water for about two hours to release some of the salty brine prior to dressing them. Don’t skip this step. If you do, you’ll end up with beautifully dressed but overpoweringly salty olives.

Taste one during the soaking process: if it’s soft and just slightly salted, you’re ready to dress the batch in whatever flavours you desire. If the ‘salt level’ continues to exceed what’s tolerable, keep soaking the olives as required (if you’ve started the process late at night, place your soaking olives in the refrigerator so that the water doesn’t become tepid overnight).

corseedsmontOne note when it comes to marinating olives: the longer you leave them, the better they’ll taste. In general, I’d recommend storing the well-sealed jars in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks prior to serving the olives… however, if you can’t bear the wait, there’s a simple trick to getting the most out of any of the marinades below.

*For accelerated flavour: in a small pan, lightly warm the olive oil with the aromatics (herbs, spices, garlic) until fragrant. Allow the oil to cool, then pour it over your olives. Leave for at least 2 hours, mixing well, prior to serving.

Once opened, all of these olives will keep for about 2 months in the refrigerator.

Got all of that? Okay, now for the fun (recipe) part:

lemoncorianderRecipe 1: Lemon and coriander olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) mixed olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 1 tsp (about 7g) coriander seeds, toasted
  • 4-5 long strips of lemon rind
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Crush the coriander seeds lightly in a mortar and pestle. Place them into a medium bowl with the olives and lemon rind. Squeeze over the lemon juice, then top up with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper, then mix well.

Pour the mixture into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Replace the lid tightly, then invert (turn the jar upside down) to ensure that all of the ingredients are well mixed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

orangedish

orangefennelRecipe 2: Orange and fennel olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) mixed olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1 bay leaf (dried is fine), torn into two
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 4-5 long strips of orange rind
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Place the olives into a medium bowl with the garlic, dried herbs and orange rind. Pour over some extra virgin olive oil, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then mix well.

Pour into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Seal tightly, then invert to ensure that the olive oil is well distributed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

thymepot olivesdoneRecipe 3: Herb and garlic olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) mixed olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 1 small handful mixed fresh herbs, leaves picked (I used rosemary, oregano and thyme)
  • 2-3 long strips of lemon rind
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Place the olives into a medium bowl with the garlic, herbs and lemon rind. Squeeze over the lemon juice, then add some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Pour into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Seal tightly, then invert to ensure that the olive oil is well distributed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

herbgarlictequilaRecipe 4: Tequila and lime olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) green olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 2 fresh Serrano chillies, halved (seeds intact; substitute any other medium heat chilli)
  • a good splash of tequila
  • good splash of Cointreau (substitute another triple sec)
  • 4-5 long strips of orange rind
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • a small handful of coriander (cilantro), leaves picked
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced

Place the olives into a medium bowl with the garlic, orange rind and chillies. Pour over the lime juice, booze and some extra virgin olive oil. Add the fresh coriander and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then mix well.

Pour into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Seal tightly, then invert to ensure that the olive oil is well distributed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

jarsbetterJust a few extra things:

  • For those of you who have been following the journey of my beautiful friend Kendall, her latest blog post can be found here. She and Brett have very much valued your thoughts, prayers and love… despite geographical and physical boundaries, it means a lot. Things aren’t getting any easier for Kendall at present, so please keep it coming (thanks so much, blogging family!).
  • If you’re wondering why my pictures look different in this post, it’s because Aaron and I have been experimenting with our friend Paul’s DSLR (Canon EOS 50D) over the past few days. I’m loving it. Even accidental photos (e.g. my foot, whilst adjusting the manual focus!) look good!
  • Aaron and I are currently researching Canon DSLR’s for our own investment… we love macro photography and would mostly be using it for food photography (me), nature (Aaron) and travel (Aaron and I). Any tips, good experiences, bad experiences? We would love to know what’s worked for people with similar interests.
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