maki sushi (巻き寿司) with salted edamame and sashimi

sideplate

It’s been a beautiful, sun-drenched Monday here in Perth, 35 degrees C (95 degrees f) with clear skies and a light breeze. As I sit in the living room, dappled light filters gently through the window. It’s making rhythmic patterns on the floor as my fingers click incessantly against black plastic keys. Completely beautiful, in a domestic kind of way.

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As sweet air drifts through the open door, I find my thoughts drifting also; mainly towards nourished roots, freshly turned soil and home-grown carrots. I blame Pam, the beautifully creative woman who blogs over at Brooklyn Farm Girl (if you’re yet to become acquainted, click here). Ever since she shared a post about her massive, rooftop-grown soy bean (edamame) harvest, I’ve been dreaming about urban gardens, high-rise planting and lush crops of dark-veined greens. But beneath the idealism, well… I’ve mostly been dreaming about fresh edamame.

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It may be difficult to believe, but I’m yet to sample a fresh edamame bean. One month of searching hasn’t helped; the bright green, furry pods remain an illusive figment of my culinary dreams. Last Friday, I caved and purchased a bag of frozen edamame that had traveled to Perth from Japan. That’s a lot of air miles.

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But yet, when I popped the first bright green, edamame jewels from their ice-frosted pod, my heart danced a merry beat. Despite being in complete violation of my fresh-picked locavore policy, I loved every bite.

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Aaron and I ate homemade maki sushi (rolled sushi in nori) and sashimi with our precious salted edamame. It’s hardly worth providing a recipe as the edamame were eaten straight from their pods with thinly sliced salmon and red snapper tail, sesame chicken sushi, salmon sushi, pickled cucumbers, enoki mushrooms and ginger, soy and wasabe.

However, in the event that you’d like to replicate our (admittedly, slightly Westernised) meal, I’ve included a few ingredients and token instructions below (alongside some links that explain the process much better than I ever could).

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P.S If you live in Perth and know a market that stocks fresh edamame beans, let me know (or even better, if you grow them, please be my private supplier. I’ll pay you in marmalade).

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Maki Sushi (巻き寿司)

Maki sushi or Nori maki is any variety of sushi rolled as a cylindrical piece with the help of a bamboo mat, or makisu. It’s generally sold wrapped in nori (seaweed) and cut into rounds of six or eight.

This recipe makes three rolls of eight slices, or 24 pieces.

  • 1 1/4 cup of short-grain sushi rice (I used Nishiki)
  • 2 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine-grain salt
  • 3 sheets of nori (dried seaweed)

Place rice into a medium saucepan, then add 1 1/2 cups (375ml) water. Mix well, then bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the water is fully absorbed (your rice should be fluffy and expanded).

In a small bowl, mix the rice vinegar, sugar and salt together. Blend the mixture into the rice with a flat spoon. Keep warm, covered with a clean damp tea towel, until ready to use.

fish

For salmon rolls:

Cut your ingredients whilst the rice is cooking for quick assembly.

  • 150-200g fresh sashimi-quality salmon, cut into long, thin strips
  • 1/2 fresh avocado, cut into similarly long, thin strips
  • cucumber batons (I cut them into 0.5 x 0.5cm strips)
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise

Place one nori sheet into the centre of a bamboo sushi mat, shiny side down. With a damp spoon, spread a thin (about 1cm thick when pressed together) layer of rice over 2/3 of the nori sheet, leaving a 0.5cm border. Spread with a thin layer of Kewpie mayonnaise and toasted sesame seeds.

Arrange 1/3 of the cucumber, avocado and salmon into a horizontal line in the centre of the rice. Lift the end of the mat carefully, then roll forwards, pressing the filling towards you with your fingers. Seal with a little bit of water if the end of the nori doesn’t stick.

Refrigerate your roll for 30 (or preferably 60) minutes so that it will firm up before slicing. Cut rounds from the centre of the roll to the edge with a sharp, wet knife. Serve immediately, with bowls of soy sauce, pickled ginger, wasabe and/or other accompaniments as desired.

seeds

For sesame chicken rolls:

Start this recipe 1 hour before making your sushi rice.

  • 150g fresh chicken thigh meat, sliced into strips
  • 1-inch knob of peeled, finely grated ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp sake (Japanese rice wine)
  • 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • Japanese sesame salad dressing (bought or see recipe here)
  • 1/2 fresh avocado, cut into long, thin strips
  • small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • peanut oil, for frying

Place the sliced chicken into a bowl with a good drizzle of sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, sake, dried chilli, garlic and ginger. Grind over some sea salt and pepper, then mix well. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour (or preferably, overnight).

sauce

Heat 2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil in a medium wok or heavy-based frying pan over high heat. When smoking, drain your chicken from the marinade and toss it into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels, sprinkling with toasted sesame seeds.

After cooking your sushi rice: place one nori sheet into the centre of a bamboo sushi mat, shiny side down. With a damp spoon, spread a thin (about 1cm thick when pressed together) layer of rice over 2/3 of the nori sheet, leaving a 0.5cm border. Spread with a thin layer of Japanese sesame dressing.

Arrange 1/3 of the coriander, avocado and chicken into a horizontal line in the centre of the rice. Lift the end of the mat carefully, then roll forwards, pressing the filling towards you with your fingers. Seal with a little bit of water if the end of the nori doesn’t stick.

Refrigerate your roll for 30 (or preferably 60) minutes so that it will firm up before slicing. Cut rounds from the centre of the roll to the edge with a sharp, wet knife. Serve immediately, with bowls of soy sauce, pickled ginger, wasabe and/or other accompaniments as desired.

Rolling guide:

rollingsushistart makingsushi rolling1 rolling2

Links:

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globe artichokes with lemon aïoli

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Fresh globe artichokes are a relatively new addition to the dinner rotation at our house. Whilst I’ve always loved the tender sweetness of preserved artichoke hearts in jars, the fresh version just seemed too messy and time-consuming to prepare.

However, whilst wandering my local market last week, I spied a pile of glossy green artichoke buds. Their purple-flecked exteriors and squeaky fresh petals were dripping with the dew of harvest. They were too beautiful to resist, so I quickly squirreled two into my shopping basket. I carried them home, wrapped in paper, with no distinct plans for preparation.

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Two days later, the artichokes were still neatly wrapped in the corner of my fridge crisper. I caught sight of a torn petal that had oxidized in the refrigerated air. The browned surface inspired action before my artichokes transformed into mush.

Enter Google, a pen and paper, roasted almonds and rooibos tea. Click, scrawl, crunch. Repeat. By the time the final almond was crunched and swallowed, I had the bones of an idea: steamed artichokes with thick, lemon-infused aïoli. Simple and delicious, a perfect celebration of spring.

egg mustard

The pairing of artichokes with aïoli appears to be common across the fabric of the internet; where it originated, I’m not sure. However, after scraping the tender, sweet flesh off each petal with nothing more than my teeth, I felt like I was sitting on a cobbled street somewhere in Southern Italy. Each bite was more buttery, earthy and delicious than the last, beautifully accompanied by creamy olive oil, garlic and lemon aïoli.

eating

As the debris piled higher on my plate, the tough outer petals, fibrous stems and fuzzy choke gave way to the sweet, soft artichoke heart.

Aaron and I ate these the following day, sliced into wedges and crisped in a pan with smoky pancetta. A drizzle of lemon oil, some cracked pepper and parsley was all that was needed for a deliciously satisfying dish. We ate ours with aïoli-drizzled new potatoes, as the leftovers were too good to waste; however, I’m already imagining it piled high upon smoky, charred ciabatta. Next time.

debris2 chokeport

When choosing an artichoke, look for one that is bright green with a tight petal formation. A light squeeze at the head of the bud should yield a ‘squeaking’ noise that indicates freshness. Avoid artichokes that appear dry, brown or have split petals. Once purchased, artichokes should keep in the refrigerator for up to seven days (however, as with all vegetables, the sooner you eat them the better).

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Steamed Globe Artichokes

The recipe below was written for people like me, who don’t have a pot with a steamer basket. Your artichokes will half-boil and half-steam in broth (if you’re lucky enough to have a steamer basket, feel free to suspend your artichokes above the broth for maximal nutrient retention). *note: as artichokes are the immature flower buds from a North African thistle, I have used the word ‘petal’ to describe each individual leafy component. Occasionally, sources may interchange the word ‘leaf’ but rest assured, it’s one and the same.

  • 2 whole globe artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 smashed garlic cloves (I just hit them once with the back of a knife)
  • water

Wash your artichokes well under cold running water. With a sharp knife, remove the stalk, leaving 1cm from the base of the artichoke. I like to cut off about 2cm from the top of the artichoke for both presentation and cooking purposes (removing the top allows more moisture/steam to penetrate the internal artichoke) however this is entirely optional. I also use kitchen scissors to cut off the spiny tops from each petal; again, for aesthetic purposes.

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Rub all of the cut surfaces on the artichoke with some lemon juice to prevent oxidization (the cut surfaces will start going brown immediately). Pull off any smaller petals towards the base of the artichoke as they will likely break off during the cooking process (they won’t have much edible flesh on them anyway).

Fill a large saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Add in the 2 cloves of garlic, the bay leaf and the other half of the lemon (squeeze the juice and then toss in the lemon skin). Place the artichokes in the water, base/stem end down. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to the boil.

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When boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. At the 20 minute mark, carefully turn the artichokes upside-down and then replace the pot lid. Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the artichokes are puffed and tender (a petal should tear off easily from the base of the vegetable). Remove the artichokes from the broth with a slotted spoon, allowing excess fluid to drain away. Set aside to cool slightly before eating with aïoli (recipe and more ‘eating info’ below).

aiolijar

Lemon Aïoli

Makes 1 cup

Making aïoli is a very individual thing. Once you’ve mastered the art of a basic emulsion, you can play with different flavours to suit your individual palate. This version is a rather basic garlic, mustard and lemon aïoli with additional lemon zest. The quantities specified will result in a moderate-intensity aïoli with some garlic heat, the kick of lemon zest and some lingering savoury qualities from the mustard. I like it in small amounts with prepared artichokes; however, if you have a more sensitive palate, I’d switch half of the extra virgin olive oil for refined olive oil (which has a much milder flavour), reduce the garlic by half (you can omit it completely, if you like), omit the lemon rind and perhaps add in a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs. I’ve also drizzled in 1 tsp of truffle oil with a heavenly result.

From experience, I’d recommend that you make the aïoli by hand, with a hand whisk. It takes a bit of elbow grease but you have far more control over the emulsion than if you use a food processor.

  • 2 large fresh egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • pinch of rock salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • finely ground white pepper, to taste
  • water, as required

Place your egg yolks in a medium bowl with the mustard. Combine vigorously with a hand whisk until the yolks begin to appear viscous and opaque; the mustard should be completely emulsified.

whisk1

Start adding your olive oil, one drop at a time (being as patient as possible pays off here), whisking well to incorporate. Ensure that each drop is well combined before adding another. Gradually, your mixture should start to thicken to a creamy, emulsified consistency (if the mixture separates, stop adding oil and whisk well until the mixture comes back together. You can then resume the process).

When all of the oil is added, you should have a very thick, mayonnaise-like mixture (below). Set aside whilst you prepare your flavourings.

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With a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic and salt into a paste.

garlic mortar

Add to the aïoli with the lemon juice, whisk to combine (add a splash of water if required, until the mixture is of your desired consistency. Taste, then season with salt, pepper and lemon rind.

Place your finished aïoli into a jar or bowl, then refrigerate until use.

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Points to note: Add your oil slowly to prevent the mixture from splitting. As aforementioned, patience is everything if you desire a good emulsion. However, if your mixture does split, don’t panic: just get another fresh bowl, whisk an egg yolk in it, then gradually add in your separated mixture, a teaspoonful at a time, until the mixture starts to emulsify properly. Whisk in any oil that you have left.

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To eat your glorious creation: tear off a petal from the artichoke, then dip it into a little bit of creamy aïoli. Scrape the flesh off the leaf with your teeth, sucking up any juices. Discard the fibrous component of the petal, which is inedible. Repeat until all of the petals are gone.

Towards the centre of the artichoke, you’ll notice a soft, meaty base (the artichoke ‘heart’) and a fuzzy, fibrous core or ‘choke’. This needs to be carefully scooped out with a spoon, as per the images below (it’s pretty easy, but here’s a video from Ocean Mist Farms if you need a little extra assistance).

artichokeheart

chokels choke

When choke-free, you can cut the heart into little wedges and eat each with a tiny bit of aïoli (or alternately, smother it onto garlic-rubbed charred ciabatta with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some black pepper and parsley. Delicious).

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Other great tutorials on preparation of artichokes:

*AND NOW… for something entirely different: you may or may not be aware that my husband, Aaron, works in design, illustration and 3D animation. He’s just updated his website MonsterBot. Click over to say hello (want something illustrated? Ask him!) and see some pretty pictures/videos here. Some of his artwork is also available for sale here (quality art prints, iPhone/iPad covers, textiles, hoodies and t-shirts, pillows, bags).

blackened corn salad with ancho chile and lime

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It’s a beautiful spring day today, gently warm and dappled with colour. The breeze drifts softly over sun-drenched trees, heady with sweet rose and eucalyptus. Bird calls are echoing outside my window, intermingled with the urban hum of tyres against blackened tar. I love days like this. The argent hues of spring bring the promise of summer; days at the beach, floaty sundresses, balmy evenings in the garden eating ice cream with sticky fingers.

corn

As a diasporic Australian, I’ve always had strong associations with summer. The crackle of scorched grass underfoot, frozen spearmint milk, iceberg lettuce and the whir of an oscillating fan; all of these images mean ‘summer’ to my mind.

As I’ve grown older, Mexican food has also become one of my summer associations. It’s something to do with the colour, textures, spice and one-handed portability; perfect for nights by the pool drinking ice-cold Sol with lemon.

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Though I’ve always been a fan of crisp quesadillas, guacamole and cheesy tacos, it’s only been over the past three years that I’ve discovered the delicious freshness of ‘real’ Mexican food such as spiced tamales, mole poblano and lime-drenched elotes or ‘seasoned corn on the cob’.

My first bite of fresh, blackened corn slathered in Mexican cream, crumbled cotija, chilli flakes, lime and garlic was heavenly. I’ve been eating it in various forms ever since.

husks jalapenos

One of my favourite ways of eating Mexican corn is in salad form, namely esquites or ‘Mexican street corn salad’. It contains all of the main ingredients of elotes but removes the need to gnaw at a sticky corn cob (less cheese on face and more in mouth is a win, in my opinion).

As the months have passed, my version of esquites has evolved to contain more herbs and less sticky, cheesy ingredients. Of course, the cotija remains, but the mayonnaise and Mexican cream have been replaced with creamy avocado and fruity olive oil.

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The end result is a light, fresh corn salad that retains its lime-drenched goodness within a less cloying package. The fresh corn, colourful peppers, soft herbs and creamy avocado pay homage to my Mexican Corn Salad of one year ago whilst being ‘amped up’ by pickled jalapenos, powdered ancho chile and black pepper.

I’ve piled this corn salad into a soft tortilla with grilled fish and sour cream for an easy hand-held dinner. It’s also been a regular on the barbecue rotation alongside grilled asado, chimichurri and creamy potato salad. But in the late afternoons when I’m sitting alone in my kitchen, I just eat it from the bowl with a spoon. It’s that good.

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Blackened Corn Salad with Ancho Chile and Lime

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

  • 4 ears corn, freshly washed and husked
  • 1/2 medium green pepper
  • 1/2 medium red pepper
  • 2 whole avocadoes
  • 5 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 200g mixed cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • a handful of mint*, washed and chopped finely
  • a handful of coriander*, washed and chopped finely
  • 2 limes, zest and juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 2 tsp pickled jalapenos, drained and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated cotija, crumbled feta or Parmesan cheese
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper

*you will need equivalent of 1/4 cup chopped herbs, mix and match as desired

Using a pair of heat-proof tongs, carefully rotate your corn cobs over a naked flame (gas cook top or portable gas hob) until hot and slightly blackened. When cool enough to handle, hold each cob over a medium-sized bowl and use a sharp knife to remove the kernels.

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Whist still warm, add in the juice and zest of one lime, salt and pepper, the ancho chile powder and a good slug of olive oil. Mix well and set aside.

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De-seed your halved peppers and chop each into a rough dice (about 1x1cm). Peel your avocadoes and remove the stones. Cut each into a similar size dice to the peppers, then squeeze over the remaining lime juice to prevent browning. Add the peppers and avocado to the corn mix with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well, taste and season as necessary.

fin mixed

This salad is perfect in burritos or tacos, served alongside fish or chicken. It’s also great as part of a barbecue spread, accompanied by good bread, guacamole, chipotle sauce and copious amounts of char-grilled meat.

haute clup peppers

spiced pumpkin cake with cinnamon oat streusel

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It’s late on a warm Monday afternoon. The sun is slowly dipping towards the horizon, leaving weathered streaks of gold upon the sky. I’ve recently returned from work, mentally depleted and weary boned. A glass of cool, clear water sits on the kitchen bench as I move, trance-like, between the stove and the sink.

This is my wind-down space; a capsule of relaxation and creativity. My hands move on autopilot, chopping, stirring and selecting herbs as my mind slowly loosens from the demands of the day. Potatoes softly bubble in water. Steam hisses in a hot, starch-scented cloud. Garlic crackles in olive oil, fragrant gold spitting against glistening black.

oiloilwater2 I’m sure most of you would agree that there’s something beautifully organic about cooking. Something intrinsic and habitual, corporeal and instinctive, hands working in synchronicity with the subconscious mind. Most days, I can cook without thinking. In fact, my mind wanders elsewhere whilst my hands do the work. Today, I drifted by the ocean in a cloud of sea spray as sweetlip snapper crisped on the stove. When cooked, the flaky white flesh was devoured with a drizzle of lemon oil, smoked sea salt, charred asparagus, roasted potatoes and warm, tapenade-doused cherry tomatoes bursting from their skins.

It was good. It took care of itself. I just supervised the harmonious simplicity.

pumpkin

But today’s post isn’t about fish or potatoes, relaxation or heavy limbs. It’s about pumpkin; specifically, ‘pumpkin in a can’ sent to me by a beautiful woman named Mackenzie who lives in Minneapolis (USA) with her husband Mike and their gorgeous pup, Abby.

Some of you might recognize Mackenzie by her blogging moniker, Susie Freaking Homemaker. If you’re not yet acquainted, I’d encourage you to visit her beautiful blog space very soon. Mackenzie is the queen of candid photography, nourishing recipe posts, real life stories, biting humour and workout inspiration. She writes from her heart, and what overflows is an obvious passion for food, life, health and humanity. She’s beautiful inside and out, and I now feel lucky enough to count her as a friend (though we’re yet to meet). I hope that you’ll soon feel the same.

mackenziecard

Anyway, back to the pumpkin story. Some weeks ago, Mackenzie and I had a quick ‘chat’ on one of her blog posts about unique products from our respective countries; mostly those that the other dreadfully ‘missed’ or was yet to try (Tim Tams and Australian Kettle chips for Mackenzie, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Starbucks coffee for me). What followed was a casual agreement to send each other a tailored ‘care package’ full of these delicious treats… from one bank of the Pacific ocean to the other.

One week later, my package arrived (whilst I was still gradually scrambling to put Mackenzie’s together; organization is not my strong point). It was heavy, brown and curious. After ripping off some duct tape, I caught sight of the characteristic orange and black Reese’s candy packaging. I’m pretty sure my eyes beamed like headlights at midnight. A further rummage revealed two bags of fragrant Starbucks coffee beans, a gorgeous handwritten card and four cans of Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin.

I stared at the cans curiously. Australians don’t sell pumpkin in cans. Heck, we hardly even eat sweet pumpkin things, with the exception of the Queensland Premier’s wife’s pumpkin scones.

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One week after receiving my care package, I’d nibbled through some of the Reese’s candy whilst trawling the internet for recipes using canned pumpkin. There are many, particularly as Americans are currently in full autumn (fall) mode in the lead-up to Thanksgiving.

Mackenzie has some great ones on her blog, including chewy, pecan-crusted Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and a recipe for an amped-up Pumpkin Pie with a fluffy cream cheese layer and a salted pretzel crust. Both sounded delicious. However, after reading the ingredients I realized that both contained American ingredients that couldn’t be sourced in my home town. Darn it.

bowlI ended up putting the call out on facebook for favourite pumpkin recipes. I gratefully received lots of wonderful, gooey, pumpkin-y recipe links that I’ll be exploring further in the coming weeks, including this one from Stephie over at Eat Your Heart Out (yum!). However, Sunday’s bake-a-thon called for something simpler, something utilizing common ingredients in an Australian pantry: flour, oil, eggs, spices and oats.

I ended up with a dense, spicy, moist and delicious pumpkin cake based on this recipe from Food.com (however, I modified it significantly; you know me by now). It was indescribably delicious. Indescribably. I never thought that sweet pumpkin could be so good.

*Thanks Mackenzie! I hope that you get your Aussie care package soon.

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Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Oat Streusel

Makes 1 x 22cm cake or 2 medium loaves

Cake:

  • 2 cups (425g/1 can) canned pumpkin
  • 2 cups organic raw caster sugar (substitute brown sugar)
  • 1 cup water, at room temperature
  • 1 cup rice bran oil (substitute vegetable oil/other mild oil)
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 3 free-range egg yolks
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnut meal
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup, to glaze (optional)

Streusel topping*:

  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup organic raw caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup rolled wholegrain oats
  • 1/4 cup crushed hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup soft butter (test for consistency)

*this recipe will make extra. I like to freeze it in plastic wrap for later use. You can also bake it on a greased tray alongside the cake for a crumbly fruit or ice cream topping.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin or two medium loaf pans. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, eggs and egg yolks. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Sift your measured dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Add them slowly to the pumpkin mixture, whisking as you go.

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The finished mixture should be thick, smooth and glossy. Pour into your cake tin/loaf tins, then set aside whilst you prepare the streusel.

To make the streusel: Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Using your fingers, carefully rub in small chunks of butter until you have a crumbly mixture that sticks together in chunks.

streuselCrumble the mixture slightly and distribute it in small crumbles/chunks all over the surface of the cake (ensure that the layer isn’t too think or the cake won’t rise; any extra streusel can be baked alongside the cake on a greased tray and eaten with the cake or over ice cream).

Oven bake for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Whilst still hot, brush with maple syrup (if desired). Cool on a wire rack.

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I baked two of these cakes, one of which was eaten on Saturday night at a friend’s house with a side of Jamie Oliver’s summer berry and yoghurt pavlova (baked by my beautiful friend Erin). So good.  cuttingcake piecetakenThis cake is wonderful on its own, at room temperature, on its own or with a thin lashing of cream cheese. However, if you’re wanting a delicious dessert, warm up a slice and serve it à la mode with ice cream and/or cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.

streuselcupcans

south west rambling

sheep!

A couple of weeks ago, my husband booked a surprise trip to the tiny town of Quinninup to celebrate my thirtieth birthday. We stayed in an old raised timber cottage surrounded by karri forest on the banks of the aptly-named Karri River.

It was beautiful; the kind of place that provides an immediate sense of calm. Mismatched furniture sat proudly upon floorboards and a handmade woven rug in the tiny living room. As the sun was absorbed by inky blackness, Aaron set to work placing rough-cut logs, kindling and newspaper into an old pot belly stove. Flames became fire, fire became warmth. Perfect remedy to the encroaching south west chill.

cottage cows

Despite it being springtime, the nights were cold and quiet throughout the entirety of our stay. Perfect for red wine, warm blankets and filling meals eaten fireside. We spent lazy days in the small towns of the south west, exploring vineyards, caves, abandoned logging trains and open patches of forest. It was blissful, in every sense of the word (*the cow second to the right has the best cowlick I’ve ever seen).

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rail rustThough I’m not intending this post to be another Mess Guide (like my previous Margaret River and Melbourne posts) I thought I’d include a few snapshots, links and travel tips from our stay; mostly for those who are interested in exploring more of Western Australia’s south west.

Despite dozens of trips over the years, it’s still one of my favourite places to go for a holiday. I mean that; wine country, fresh air, organic food and plenty of open space to walk, breathe, stop and… just exist. When I think of recuperation, I think of the south west. I’m blessed that it’s only three hours from my hometown.  trainbitgreendoorOn our second day in Quinninup, we took a drive to the nearby town of Pemberton. In a patch of karri forest, we discovered winding pathways, tiny creatures and hand-etched trees.

Approximately 500 metres from the road, there was also a timber hut constructed from fallen tree bark, branches and vines. It looked reasonably old, but remarkably intact. An adjacent fallen tree propped up half of the hut with its momentous stability. The whole structure conveyed a sense of history, creativity and ‘story’ that will forever be unknown to us; a sharp contrast to the growing scrawls of history on this karri tree:lovetree

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Our journey brought us to a winding unsealed road in search of organic sourdough from Yallingup Woodfired Bread. Aaron had visited this bakery during a previous trip to the south west but largely forgot where it was; after some navigational adjustments, our car pulled up beside a hand-painted concrete sign:

bakerysign

The bakery uses an honor system for payment: choose your bread and drop your pennies in an earthenware bowl. It’s trust and simplicity, country style. The way life used to be.

breadhonorbakery breadeditedThat evening, we ate bread by the fireplace, each chunk dipped into local Mount of Olives extra virgin olive oil and toasty Providore dukkah. Each mouthful was washed down with a new favourite wine from Stella Bella vineyard, the 2009 Serie Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon: deep, dark vine-ripened fruits, mellow oak and fine tannins with a lingering finish.

Snuggled under blankets, we watched three episodes of the largely unappreciated Firefly (which we’d brought from home; I’d still barrack for a continuation of this series) before drifting off to sleep. twigs

Our second day in the south west was mostly spent touring vineyards and caves, with a breakfast stop at the Margaret River Bakery (regular readers will know that I adore that place).

As the sun dropped in the sky, we stopped in at the ‘Pemby Pub’, also known as the Best Western Pemberton Hotel. We drank beer by the open fire before feasting on gnocchi, calamari, chips and coleslaw with tinned baby beetroot.

The timber furniture and emerald carpet oozed old-style country hospitality, accentuated by a request from the bar staff that we ‘chuck another log on the fire’. I loved everything, even their unidentifiable red sauce (Aaron’s guess was barbecue, mine was sweet chilli mixed with plum). Everything tastes better in the country air.

stools pubpembypub

The last two days of our trip were spent in a beach shack in Augusta where we were joined by our good friend Paul. We took a road trip to Dunsborough beach and spent an hour exploring the sand dunes, rocks and sea foam.

The south west has some of the most beautiful, unadulterated beaches in the world. No fancy cafes, water fountains or throngs of sun-baking teens. Just air, sea, sand and windswept grass with an occasional fisherman by the coastline.

sandsunset landlubbers grassscene gorgeous grassy

Our remaining time was spent seeking out boutique vineyards, jetties and cafes that Paul hadn’t tried yet. We also took advantage of our beach shack’s positioning by the Hardy Inlet, where moss covered jetties gave way to sea bird nests, tranquil lookouts and pelicans on rocks.

jetty timberrrr pelicans

With Paul’s help, we found Pierro vineyard, nestled in an idyllic patch of lush garden. The boys tasted premium Chardonnay whilst I explored an old country farmhouse, a rambling vegetable garden and knobbly vines. I’m a little obsessed with ochre, rust and crumbling aged timber.

vinebalcony

pierrodoor

fruit

We also stopped in at the Berry Farm Cottage Cafe for boysenberry pie, scones and bird watching. This was my first sighting of an Western Australian blue wren. Fascinatingly delicate and vibrant.

berryfarmstudy boysenberrypie2 boysenberrypie bluewren

Our last night in the south west was spent at Russell Blaikie’s Muster Bar and Grill. We dined on snapper, eye fillet, dukkah-baked pumpkin and pork belly with two bottles of earthy Shiraz.

It was a beautiful celebration of the week-that-was; a week of little responsibility, ambrosial calm, luscious greenery, perfect simplicity. Sometimes I wonder why we city dwellers have made life so unnecessarily complicated. I’ve renewed my wish for a house in the country someday, surrounded by an organic vegetable garden, dairy cows and scratching chickens.

In the meantime, it’s back to the hamster wheel. I’m due at work in thirty minutes and I’m still in my pyjamas. Until next time.

my favourite potato salad

likeyWhilst wandering my local farmer’s market last weekend, I noticed a large basket of dark, speckled tubers labelled purple congo potatoes. They were fascinating, thin and knobbly like kipflers wrapped in dusty black strips of parchment.

Being a sucker for new ingredients, I soon filled a bag and squirreled it home with fresh asparagus, artichokes and golden cherry tomatoes. Four days later, I threw together my default potato salad as a contribution to a barbecue at a friend’s place.

pinenuts springonions

This potato salad isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill mayonnaise fest. By incorporating creamy goats cheese, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic and a splash of bacon fat, the salad retains just the right amount of creaminess without masking the freshness of the boiled potatoes, herbs and cherry tomatoes.

Salty bacon adds some savoury complexity whilst toasted pine nuts add a sprinkle of necessary crunch. It’s the kind of salad that I can’t get enough of, as there’s variance in every bite.

purplespuds purplecut

As you can tell from the photographs above, purple congos aren’t the most attractive of the tuber family. They’re rather squat, ribbed and speckled, bearing more resemblance to excrement than food. Their flesh is dry and rather floury after cooking so I definitely wouldn’t recommend them for roasting or chips. When boiled, they retain a firm but dry texture that soaks up butter or olive oil beautifully. They’re also wonderful in creamy (purple) mash.

This salad doesn’t have to be made from purple congo potatoes; in fact, it works even better with other waxy or all-rounder potatoes such as spuntas, Ruby Lou, Dutch creams, kipflers or bintjes. The only advantage of the purple congo is its inky colour variance that emerges upon cutting to luckily be retained after cooking.

lemonbowl

As with most other dark-pigmented vegetables (e.g. beetroot, red cabbage) purple congos stain terribly. I’d encourage you to use an old chopping board whilst preparing them. Wash all utensils as soon as possible to prevent staining.

plate

My Favourite Potato Salad

Serves 6 as a side dish

  • 500g waxy or all-rounder potatoes (I used a mixture of purple congo and royal blue)
  • 200g punnet cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 175g bacon rashers, finely diced
  • 1/2 Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 4 spring onions (shallots)
  • handful of washed Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon (plus some juice)
  • 100g goats cheese, crumbled
  • 50g pine nuts, toasted
  • 1-2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper

Wash your potatoes and remove any eyes or blemished skin. Chop into even pieces (about 2cm x 2cm) and place into a pot of fresh salted water.

potopotatoes

Boil over medium heat until the potatoes are firm but tender (easily pierced with a knife but not falling apart; don’t worry if your water turns blackish-green, that’s normal with purple congos). Drain and place into a large bowl.

In the meantime, heat a good splash of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bacon and Spanish onion, then cook on low to medium heat until the bacon is crisp and the onion is translucent (about 10 minutes; agitate the pan as required).

baconfry

Add to the still-warm* potatoes (including the residual fat from the pan) with the lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, a good drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside to cool slightly.

*adding the dressing to the potatoes whilst they’re still warm allows them to soak up a lot of gorgeous flavour in the dressing. If your potatoes have cooled completely, warm them in the microwave briefly before adding the olive oil, lemon, balsamic and residual bacon fat.

construction

Add in the rest of the ingredients alongside another squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well and season to taste.

sidefork

I like to serve this salad alongside some simple grilled meat or fish with another bowl of fresh green leaves.

*It’s also perfect as an abstract take on potato hash: Splash a little bit of oil onto the base of a medium heavy-based pan. Add in enough salad to cover the bottom of the pan. Make a couple of ‘indents’ into which you can crack a couple of eggs. Cook over medium heat until the bottom is crisp and golden and the egg whites are set. Serve with a green salad.

sideplate2 potatoplate fin

potato and aubergine moussaka

eggplantsoakedAs a child of six years and little courage, I had limited tolerance for bitter, sour or slimy vegetables. Most vegetables, in fact, other than super sweet baby carrots, green peas and cheesy mashed potatoes. In particular, I held animosity towards aubergines, the large purple eggs known sensibly as ‘eggplant’ in American English. My childish eyes viewed them as the blight of the vegetable world, with their thick, bitter skins, sponge-like interiors and lines of acerbic crunchy seeds.

Unfortunately for me, my mother held an entirely different view on this member of the nightshade family. She loved them, both for culinary and nutritional reasons, and cooked them regularly in our family dinner rotation. Her default dish was ratatouille made with fragrant basil, olive oil, crushed garlic and Italian tomatoes, simmered for an hour in a cast iron pan. Sometimes I’d excitedly mistake the bubbling mixture for my favourite dish, Bolognese. I was sorely disappointed when chunks of aubergine appeared, traumatically infiltrating my spaghetti or steamed rice.

eggplant herbs

During each aubergine dinner, I’d approach the table with pleading eyes, tired words and a bubbling stomach. My mother would smile patiently across the table, watching my gaze flicker between the fresh pasta, rich sauce and steaming chunks of aubergine mush. “Just two bites”, she would say, gradually demolishing her own plate of ratatouille. I would grimace silently in protest, aggressively poking my aubergine with a fork until it disintegrated.

After what seemed like hours, my juvenile deprecation waned. I would relent, scooping two bites into my mouth before joyously leaving the dinner table to play. But with time, those two bites became an entire meal, then ‘seconds’, then ‘…just a bit more’. My mother’s assiduous determination transformed my hatred of aubergines into an unyielding love that endures in my own family kitchen. For this reason amongst others, I will forever be in her debt.

paste

onions

Over the past two years, I’ve become particularly fond of Middle Eastern ways to eat aubergines, such as smooth, smoky baba ghanouj, spicy mutabbal and grilled stuffed eggplants with lamb, yoghurt and fragrant za’atar. However, within this post you will find my first ever ‘favourite’ aubergine dish, Greek moussaka or layered aubergine bake. With layers of soft potatoes, seasoned mince, crumbed aubergine and creamy béchamel, this dish is rich, warm and filling, perfect for cold nights and ravenous appetites.

I’d suggest eating this dish in small, thick wedges with a pile of fresh greens, lemony grilled artichokes and some hot, buttered Greek bread (such as the delicious hard-crusted psomi). It’s a fine use of aubergines that’s sure to win over the harshest of critics.

construction2

Potato and Aubergine Moussaka

Serves 8-10

Allow 2 hours preparation + 45-60 minutes cooking

  • 4 large aubergines (eggplant), approx 1.2kg
  • 500g waxy/low starch potatoes (eg. Nadine, Bintje, Nicola or Kipfler)
  • 1 kg ground lamb mince
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/2 cup good quality red wine
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 400g can crushed Roma tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sea salt flakes, for salting the eggplant (+ extra, to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for béchamel, below)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated kefalograviera cheese (substitute Parmesan or Romano)
  • béchamel sauce, recipe to follow

With a small paring knife, remove 1-inch-wide strips of aubergine peel from the green stem to the tail end. Slice the aubergines into 1cm thick rounds. Place your prepared slices into a colander or bowl, then salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate to weigh down the slices, then set aside for 1 hour (this process, known as ‘degorging’, draws the excess moisture and bitterness out of the aubergines).

eggcut

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and boil them whole in a pot of salted water. Cook until just tender (a knife should slide through with only slight resistance). Drain, cool, then slice each potato into 0.5cm thick slices. Set aside.

potatoes

potatosoak

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Line two baking trays with aluminium foil, then grease them with a light spray of olive oil. Place the egg whites and a splash of ice water in a small bowl. Beat lightly with a fork, then set aside for coating your aubergine slices.

eggwash

Rinse your pressed slices of aubergine to remove some of the salt, then pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Tip the panko breadcrumbs onto a flat plate, then place them alongside your pile of aubergine slices and the beaten egg whites.

Working quickly, dip each slice of aubergine into the egg wash, then the panko breadcrumbs. Press down to coat each side adequately. Place the slice of crumbed eggplant onto a prepared tray, then repeat the process with the rest of the aubergine, egg wash and breadcrumbs.

crumbing2 crumbing

Bake the aubergine slices at 200 degrees C (390 degrees f) for 30-40 minutes, turning them once during cooking. When the aubergine is firm but tender and the breadcrumbs are golden, remove the trays from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.

cooking

Whilst your aubergine is roasting, prepare your seasoned mince. Place a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat. Brown the lamb mince in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add in the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for about 1 minute, or the onion is translucent and the mixture is fragrant.

Add in the wine, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of sugar. Season to taste.

cookingmince

Allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes. When reduced sufficiently (the mixture needs to be reasonably thick and dry so that the finished moussaka won’t be waterlogged), stir through the lemon zest, then set aside to cool slightly before assembling the layers.

It should look like this:

mincecooked

To assemble: lightly grease a large, 6-8 cup capacity lasagne pan or baking dish (mine appears smaller as I made two separate trays of moussaka).

construction

Leaving a 1cm space around the edges of the pan, place a single, flat layer of potatoes on the base. Top with a layer of aubergine slices, then 1/2 the seasoned mince. Sprinkle with one third of the cheese. Add another layer of aubergine slices, then top with half of the béchamel sauce (see recipe to follow; ensure that the béchamel fills the sides and corners of the pan). Repeat the above layers (potato, aubergine, mince, cheese, aubergine), then top with a final layer of béchamel and grated cheese.

Bake in a 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) oven for 45-60 minutes or until the béchamel is golden and the cheese is bubbling. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing to serve.

bechamelfin

Béchamel Sauce

  • 225g salted butter
  • 1 cup (150g) flour
  • 4 cups milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

In a small pan, melt the butter over low heat. Gradually add the flour to the melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute (do not allow it to brown). It should look like this:

bechamelroux

Add the warmed milk in a steady stream. Whisk continuously to combine, then simmer the mixture, stirring consistently, until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, then add in the egg yolks and nutmeg. Return over low heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens.

Use as specified above to assemble the moussaka.

*This dish was eaten very late in the evening with a throw-together salad and a glass of Stella Bella’s Suckfizzle 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Hungry stomachs led to fleeting photographs taken with poor overhead lighting. As there were negligible leftovers (and the dish took three+ hours to make) I’ll leave the proper photoshoot to your imagination. Until next time.

finbaked aarons plate

Notes:

  • Kefalograviera is a hard, salty Greek cheese made from sheep or goats milk. It is available from some supermarkets and specialty delicatessens, however Parmesan and Romano are fine substitutes.
  • This dish can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for 1-2 days before cooking. Return to room temperature prior to baking (alternately, cover with foil for 30 minutes if baking directly from the refrigerator. Add an extra 15 minutes onto the cooking time).
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