chia puddings with spiced apple butter + buckwheat crunch

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

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

Let’s consider that rectified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 serves

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

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

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simple chia pudding

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

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

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

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

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spiced apple butter

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

Makes approx 2 cups cooked apple butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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buckwheat crunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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buckwheat apple zucchini bread

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my mother has an apple tree at the rear of her garden. It’s an espalier of sorts, trained to grow parallel to the back fence of her city apartment’s courtyard. Despite the confines of a garden bed, it produces a beautiful glut of organic fruit every year; plump, knobbly and subtly sweet under a crisp green skin.

Funnily enough, my mother purchased the plant with the intention of growing a Manjimup ‘Pink Lady‘, a tribute to John Cripps and our home state. However, the green apples never developed their trademark blush of pink and we figure the variety is a ‘Golden Delicious’ with nursery mislabelling.

Whatever the variety, it always feels like a privilege to participate in the growth and harvest of homegrown fruit each year. When I was at home, I used to regularly mulch, water and thin out the apple blossoms, but these days my job mostly consists of picking the high-growing fruit. And eating them, of course.

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So back to the annual apple harvest: this time each year, I start jotting down ideas for making buttery pies and glossy tarte tatins. Occasionally I’ll follow through, but more often than not the apples become crisp salads, coleslaws and the occasional moist apple cake with cream.

This year was no different. After a few weeks of waiting for this year’s apples, I had a list of potential recipes including a rustic galette and sugar-dusted jalousie. But after squirrelling them home, I ate one, dipping the crisp, juicy wedges dipped into homemade cinnamon almond butter. Accompanied by a mug of rooibos tea, there didn’t seem to be need for much else.

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Since that first day, I’ve done a little more ‘proper cooking’ with the apple harvest. I’ve sliced one into julienne, tossing it into a salad with radishes, soft herbs and mustard vinaigrette. I also stewed one for breakfast with some soft local figs and a vanilla pod, adorning it with thick coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a chilled can of coconut milk) and toasted walnuts.

Today, I made this gluten-free loaf full of buckwheat and ground almonds, gently mixed with some grated apples, mashed bananas and a zucchini that was languishing in the vegetable crisper. It tastes glorious; dense, moist and incredibly filling due to the inclusion of buckwheat protein, almond meal and pounded flax. I’ve eaten two doorstop slices at various points in the day, both toasted under the grill until browned before being topped with melted Nuttelex. They’ve accelerated my Monday happiness ten-fold.

So I’m making a bold statement: if you have a tendency towards three-thirty-itis or the dreaded lunchtime ‘hangry‘ face, this loaf is for you. Buckwheat zucchini bread, healing workplace relationships since 2016.

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This buckwheat loaf is completely gluten-free, egg-free, vegan and refined sugar free, though you can easily sub rice malt syrup for honey and flaxseed for an egg or two if you fancy. The latter seems to even qualify as a ‘paleo’ loaf (buckwheat = pseudograin according to paleo authorities) though as a non-paleo eater, feel free to argue the point.

Next on my apple recipe list: some sort of shaved apple salad with blue cheese, walnuts, watercress and a sticky pomegranate dressing (I made my own pomegranate molasses this morning, using this recipe by Sarah Hobbs). Perhaps served with these delicious crackers and a poached egg for Aaron.

If I don’t eat all the apples with almond butter first. Watch this space.

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Buckwheat Apple Zucchini Bread

Makes 1 loaf

  • 1.5 cups organic buckwheat flour
  • 1.5 cups almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond milk, however you can sub dairy, oat, soy or rice milk here)
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed (equivalent to 1 cup mashed fruit)
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, cored (I used Golden Delicious)
  • 1/4 cup rice bran syrup (substitute maple syrup or coconut nectar)
  • 3 tbsp flaxseed flakes (pounded flax; you can also use ground flaxseed)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • optional: add in some raisins or toasted walnuts if you feel like it!

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f). Line a 4 cup loaf tin with baking paper, then set aside.

Using the grater attachment on your food processor, finely grate the zucchini and apples with all the skins intact (you should end up with about 1.5 cups of grated zucchini and apple together). Add in the mashed banana and pulse again until well-combined (the mix should still have some texture and flecks of green from the zucchini and apple skins).

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Tip into a medium bowl and mix in the milk, vanilla bean paste, rice bran syrup and flax. Set aside for 5-10 minutes for the flax to thicken the mix (as an egg substitute).

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Sift the buckwheat flour into a large bowl. Add in the almond meal, cinnamon and baking powder. Make a well in the centre, then tip in the wet ingredients. Mix well and spoon into your prepared loaf tin.

Tap the tin on a sturdy surface to expel any bubbles, then transfer to your preheated oven to bake.

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Bake for 50-60 minutes or until your loaf is well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

This loaf is beautiful served thickly sliced and toasted with dairy butter or Nuttelex. I would also attempt it with mashed avocado (due to that miraculous sweet-savoury lean that avocado has) or toasted til brown with a dollop of mascarpone (or ricotta), runny honey and a smattering of toasted almonds.

Cook’s note: I’ve also made this bread successfully without zucchini, just 4 bananas and 1 reasonably large apple. As long as you’ve got around 2.5 cups of mashed/pureed fruit and vegetables you’ll be fine. I’d love to know if you come up with any adaptations!

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black bean soft tacos with pickled radishes + boozy onions

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It’s a warm, sleepy Wednesday morning. After waking at 5:30 for the morning drop off (husband, not offspring – we share one vehicle and I need it today), returning home and eating breakfast, both Loki and I have retreated to the couch in a feeble haze.

I’m still trying to be productive, slowly editing photographs from Monday’s recipe shoot whilst sipping lukewarm tea. Loki, on the other hand, succumbed to sleep as soon as his head hit the cushions. He’s now curled up beside me in what I term his ‘biscuit’ position; head tucked against his hind legs, paws curled in, spine flexed in a half moon shape against the fabric of my summer dress.

It’s a little bit adorable, if not uncomfortably warm in this relentless weather. His slow mellow breaths lend steady texture to the soundtrack of my fingers against plastic keys, occasionally changing tempo as he repositions.

Aw. It’s alright for some.

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Anyway, getting back to the reason for this recipe post – let’s talk tacos.

Soft tortillas, to be exact, filled with smoky black beans, rich guacamole, sour cream, fresh salads and the crunch of homemade spicy pickles. In my opinion, when accompanied by an ice-cold beer, you’ve reached Summer dining at its absolute best. Fresh, generous, reasonably healthy and undeniably delicious.

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I realised over the weekend that it’s been a little while since I’ve posted a ‘mains dish’ on the Mess. At least eight months or so, give or take a few days.

After searching the archives, I’m pretty sure this post was my last substantial dinner post (from May 2015 – insert cringe). Pretty darn shameful for someone who not only eats dinner seven nights per week (well, don’t we all?) but also prefers savoury food over sweet.

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Yeah. I’d wax lyrical about lack of sunlight, our generally-late dinner times (we eat around 7:30 – 8pm most nights) and the patriarchy, but in all honesty, I just prefer ‘real dining’ at dinnertime. I torture my family enough on weekends with endless prop searching, food holding (check out this site and video for a laugh – Aaron assures me I’m not this bad!) and lukewarm coffee (“…don’t drink it yet! I need a photo!”) without the need for food styling on weeknights.

But as it’s summertime, the nights are long and my family are trying to help me retrieve my ‘blogging mojo’ (thanks, my loves) I’m promoting some temporary change. A slightly less styled, candid snapshot into my home on any given night: what we eat, when we eat it, exactly as I’d serve it.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I’m choosing meals that are still ‘blog worthy’ rather than five minute bowls of tuna salad, but this is definitely me on a plate. Easy to prepare, generous, lots of condiments (you get me Graz), various types of vegetable preparations (fire-roasted, fried, pickled and fresh) and a selection of ass-kicking hot sauces. Yussss.

This particular meal was prepared on a Saturday, due to the element of pickling involved. It’s not as hard as it might look, despite the multiple bowls and pickles. If your knife skills are reasonable (or if you have a mandolin with a guard) you can probably knock out all these dishes in less than two hours… including the pickles.

If you happen to keep homemade pickles in your refrigerator at all times (like me) the black beans, guac and salads can be prepared in under 60 minutes. Easy food at its finest.

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So, welcome to my self-serve, vinegar-splashed (yep, that happened), Mexican inspired dinner table, free of any real styling or pretence. The first of what I hope will be a series of ‘real dinners’, from my home to yours.

^^Oh, and you may also spot a rather large platter of tender marinated beef steak on my (vegetarian) taco table, which was provided by my relentlessly omnivorous, generous mother. It went beautifully with the rest of the taco ingredients, sliced thinly and layered atop the smoky beans and salads. I’d definitely recommend that you follow suit if you’re similarly omnivore-inclined. Just a simple marinade (or even just salt and pepper) will do, due to the availability of strongly flavoured condiments.

Thanks mum (yes, I do watch my protein! I love you).

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Black Bean Tacos 

Serves 4-6

Inspired by black bean tostadas from BBC Good Food

  • 3x 400g cans organic cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium brown onions, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1.5 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp ground cumin
  • 5 tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp clear maple syrup or rice malt syrup, to taste
  • a few drops of liquid smoke (optional)
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper, to season
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

To serve:

  • 12 soft taco tortillas (preferably corn but wheat is fine)
  • guacamole
  • boozy Tequila pickled onions (recipe below)
  • spicy pickled radishes (recipe below)
  • Mexican corn salad or esquites (recipe within this post)
  • pickled whole chillies or sliced pickled jalapeños (optional)
  • sour cream or cashew cream (I love this vegan cashew sour cream recipe from Oh She Glows)
  • finely shredded red cabbage, dressed with fresh lime juice and zest, white pepper, crushed sea salt and olive oil
  • fire roasted strips of red pepper
  • crumbled Mexican cotija cheese (substitute feta cheese)
  • fresh coriander leaves
  • lime wedges
  • hot Tabasco or chipotle sauce (see my recipe for the ‘skull and crossbones’  hot sauce above within this post)

Heat oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the spices, fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add in the vinegar, maple syrup, liquid smoke (if using) and a splash of water. Allow to cook for 2 minutes before adding the beans.

Mix well. If the mixture looks a little dry, add in a splash more water before simmering gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place the pan on a steady surface.

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Mash half of the beans with the back of the spoon or spatula until you achieve a chunky puree (this can really be to your preference, I mashed some of the beans to a paste whilst leaving others whole for texture). Season to taste, then spoon into a serving bowl.

Serve spooned into warmed tortillas, with guacamole and your choice of toppings.  This bean mix is also fantastic as a dip with corn chips or crudités.radishes

radishslicePickled Spicy Radishes

Makes 1 x 475mL (American pint) jar

Adapted from this recipe by Kathryn at Cookie and Kate

  • 1 bunch (200g) fresh radishes, washed
  • 3/4 cup good quality white wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tsp maple syrup or rice bran syrup
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp red chilli flakes
  • half a fresh jalapeño, finely sliced
  • ½ tsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp coriander seeds

Top and tail your radishes with a sharp knife, then slice into very thin rounds (or half moons, if you have a few very large radishes like I had) using a knife or mandolin. Mix with the finely sliced jalapeño, then pack into a canning jar. Set aside as you prepare the brine.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, honey or maple syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then add in the spices. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the packed jar of radishes.

Seal the jar immediately whilst hot if you want to store your pickles for a while. Otherwise, let the mixture cool to room temperature before serving with the tacos above. These pickles are tasty on the day they are made, but improve if left to sit in the brine for a couple of days. They will keep well in a sealed, refrigerated jar for several weeks.

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Boozy Tequila Pickled Onions
Makes 1 x 375mL jar
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) tequila
  • 1/2-1 tsp agave or rice bran syrup
  • chilli flakes (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Pack the sliced Spanish onion into a 375mL canning jar, then set aside whilst you prepare the brine.

In a small saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar and sweetener with a good splash of water. Bring to the boil, then add in the chilli flakes (if using) and boil for one minute. Add in the tequila, salt and a grind of black pepper. Pour into the jar of onions, tilting gently to ensure that the liquid drips down to the bottom. Seal immediately, if intending to keep the pickles for a while, or allow to cool to room temperature before serving with the above spread.

These pickled sliced onions should keep in a sealed, refrigerated jar for several weeks.

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salted tahini date caramel slice

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It’s been a couple of years since I first discovered date caramel, initially as a filling for some sort of decadent raw truffle at a friend’s dinner party. Since that day, I’ve mostly thought about date caramel rather than making it, for the simple reason that… well, I’d probably eat the whole batch. Straight from the mixing bowl, with sticky fingers and a caramel-smudged grin.

It’s that delicious, particularly with the addition of smooth nut butter and crunchy sea salt flakes. Dangerously addictive.

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But despite the best of intentions, it’s been that kind of week. I’ve had frazzled nerves and an exhausted brain that hasn’t wanted to sleep. Trips to the gym didn’t work (it’s usually a massive stress reliever for me) and neither did the odd glass of wine. Finally, when I did achieve some semblance of normality, this happened.

Ah, heck. I think it’s time for cake.

nectarI don’t often desire cake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that my sweet tooth left many years ago with my milk teeth and teenage demeanour. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a soft spot for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate (largely due to childhood associations and sentimentality) however, upon eating it’s tooth-achingly sweet. Despite the glass-and-a-half slogan, it’s also got little nutrition to speak of (you need to eat an entire 200g to get that calcium, darn it).

Give me a hunk of protein-rich cheese any day. Even better, some smoked roasted almonds.

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Anyway, I’m digressing (mmm, cheese): let’s talk cake.

On the occasions when I bake, I usually lean towards bitter cacao or a fruit-driven puddings made with rice malt or maple syrup. Yes, there’s an element of sugar, but additional nutrients result in a lower glycemic index and more benefits for my mind and body.

A good example of this is my previous recipe for sweet potato brownies with raw cacao and rice malt syrup. They’re completely delicious, refined sugar free and naturally nourishing with just the right amount of natural sweetness. However, it’s presently mid-summer. Even evenings are warm and sticky, so I’m gravitating towards refrigerator treats such as today’s recipe: salted tahini date caramel slice with glossy bitter cacao and a chewy oat and walnut base.

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As far as sweet treats go, this slice strikes a pretty good balance between deliciousness and nutrition. It’s full of dietary fibre, iron, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals from the dates alongside plant protein and good fats (monounsaturated, omega 3, good cholesterol) from the nuts, cacao and coconut oil.

It tastes deliciously rich without being overpoweringly sweet. Definitely a winner in my book.

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cacao

In terms of honest dialogue, this slice isn’t nutritionally perfect. I’m not going to shout ‘…it’s guilt free!‘ from the rooftop in my yoga gear. Both dates and coconut nectar contribute a reasonable dose of fructose* to this recipe which, in real terms, is just a form of sugar. And any sugar, in excess (whether that be in the form of fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose or maltose) is still bad for your body and mind.

However, let’s talk about small amounts. A couple of tahini-stuffed dates, a Honeycrisp apple, a square or two of dark chocolate or a coconut banana smoothie. They’re okay, right? I definitely think so, unless you have a medical condition specifying otherwise (e.g. diabetes, fructose malabsorption; that’s an entirely different story).

For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that some natural sugar in the form of whole foods (such as dried or fresh fruits, carbohydrates and dairy products) is both acceptable and beneficial in a balanced, predominantly unrefined diet. The body needs fuel, particularly if you’re combining this diet with regular physical activity.

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So, where to next? I’m not about to tell you that ten pieces of this salted caramel thing are beneficial with one session of sweaty cardio, but if you want a small sweet treat, go for it. Eat. Eat with a sticky smile on your face.

Be thankful. Moderation is the key.

*If you want to read more about fructose, metabolism and energy, take a look here and here (or even better, consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist on the issue). 

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Salted Tahini Date Caramel Slice

Makes approximately 18 squares

This slice is ridiculously easy to make. It involves a fair bit of food processing but otherwise contains no complexity. Don’t fret if your raw chocolate cracks after setting (this happens 99% of the time. Just heat your knife, breathe and try again). Just embrace the imperfections and how good that gosh-darn-salted-date-caramel tastes. 

Base:

  • 1 cup organic, raw rolled oats
  • 1 cup raw walnuts (or almonds, whichever you prefer)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates
  • a few drops of hot water, as required

Tahini date caramel:

  • 1 cup pitted soft Medjool* dates, about 11 dates
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • fine sea salt, to taste (I added around 1/4 tsp)

Raw chocolate:

  • 6 tbsp raw cacao
  • 2 tsp carob powder
  • 4-6 tbsp coconut nectar or rice malt syrup (to taste, I add as little as possible, a slightly bitter chocolate layer works perfectly with the date caramel)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil or cacao butter (my coconut oil was liquid at room temperature, being summer in Australia, but melt it on low heat in a saucepan first if necessary)

Blend the oats and nuts together in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add in the dates and a little pinch of salt, pulsing again until well mixed and cohesive. If your mix is looking a little dry, add in a few drops of hot water and process until the mixture comes together. Press into an 18x27cm greased and lined tin.

Soak dates in the hot water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the soaking water for later. Puree all the filling ingredients except the sea salt in a food processor, streaming in a little of the soaking water until you obtain a creamy consistency (add as little water as possible – too much and the filling won’t set properly. I added about 2 tbsp worth of soaking liquid). Add a little sea salt, pulse and taste, adjusting the level of ‘saltiness’ to your preference. Spread over the prepared base, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before preparing the raw chocolate topping.

Blend all of the raw chocolate ingredients together in a food processor, pulsing for at least 30 seconds to ensure the coconut oil is emulsified. Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary. Remove slice from refrigerator and immediately pour over the chocolate mixture, tilting the tray to ensure even distribution (try not to touch the chocolate layer or you’ll probably end up with splotches of separated coconut oil rather than a smooth, glossy layer). Return to the refrigerator for 10 minutes to chill.

After 10 minutes, score the chocolate into 18 pieces (this will make it much easier to cut without cracks later). When the chocolate layer is completely set, cut through with a heated knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen (this is also amazing straight from the freezer!) in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Medjool dates are larger and softer than traditional dried dates, with a more complex caramel-y flavour. However, they’re also a bit more expensive than the regular packaged supermarket dates (which are usually the Empress or Deglet Noor varieties, click here for more info). If you’re trying to save cash, I’d recommend splashing out on Medjool dates for the salted caramel layer whilst using traditional dates for the oat and nut base. Please note: I soaked and drained all of the dates that I used in the recipe above (separate to and including those specified in the salted caramel layer) as mine were a little dry. However, if you have extra soft and moist dates, feel free to skip the soaking. Just ensure you have a little hot water on hand to stream into the food processor if your mixture/s aren’t the correct consistency.

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shaved carrot salad with orange, pomegranate and mint

plateThere’s something about the end of another year that makes one strangely contemplative. Whilst I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, I generally follow the loose aim to try to ‘be better’ as the clock ticks over to January 1.

A better wife; strong, gentle and wise. An efficient worker and homemaker. A better daughter (this one has spanned decades), generous and loyal. A better friend and sister, regardless of time and frustration. A clear representative of my faith. Just generally better than the year before.

Better. 

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Despite realising the folly of setting broad, inchoate goals (less added value, inexorable failure) the ‘reset’ has been somewhat subconscious. I mean, I don’t spend each December 31 meditating upon my failures (okay, well maybe I do to a certain degree), selecting ‘states of betterment’ whilst sitting in the lotus position.

It just happens, like a subtle alarm, the benefit of which is urgency for positive change.
ribbonsSo, on January 1 2016 at 12:59, I’m sitting under the air conditioner with a cup of steaming herbal tea (current temperature is currently 35 degrees C / 95 degrees F but I’m English and tea solves everything). I’m contemplating effective change, clearer goals and less self-depreciation, as adherence to old patterns would cast me as either a fool or a lemming.

Short term goals seem like a good idea. Achievable, smart and time limited. Michael Hyatt seems to think it’s a good idea to write them down, so I’m factoring in some blogosphere accountability (a strange concept indeed) and capping the number at three.

Goal one for this year is to secure a job (preferably) before the end of January. Being unemployed is liberating but also disconcerting in the worst of ways; I’m continually counting pennies with mounting portions of nervous energy. Please don’t be concerned regarding my self esteem or resilience. My contract ended due to economic circumstances within my organisation, not due to individual performance (golly gosh, I think I’d avoid sharing that on the internet. Please know I’m ok!). However, I’ve explained in previous blog posts that I’m a terrible overthinker and free time leads to unconstrained pondering at all times of the day (or night).

I need purpose for my cognition, posthaste.

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That leads me to goal two, interim creative projects. I’m going to use my free time (and aforementioned cognition) productively whilst waiting for the right employment door to open. I’m not going to sweat the small stuff, I’m going to exercise a little grace and appreciate each moment as it comes. It’s not exactly an epiphany, but I’m gradually realising that each juncture should be appreciated and utilised, whether it be for breathing space, rest or creativity. However long I’m waiting for a passing train.

Last but not least, goal three: finding a way to reconnect with Church. This is a rather personal goal that may only make sense to those of you who follow a congregational faith. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably familiar with dialogues surrounding Church (and organised religion in general).

I struggle with Church. I find it hard to attend one. But I know that I need to.

pombetterAnyway, as the photographs suggest, I’m posting a recipe today. Something fresh, light and healthy, perfect for hot days and balmy Summer nights. It’s a new favourite on our seasonal menu, mostly due to the innate adaptability of the recipe. Extra hungry? Add protein. Feeling exotic? How about adding some coriander and chopped red chilli?

Just use the basic dressing and carrot ribbons, then follow the core principles below:

  1. freshness – soft herbs like parsley, mint and coriander and/or fresh leaves e.g. some torn baby spinach, rocket, beet leaves or chard
  2. fruit – switch up the pomegranate for some raisins or dried cranberries soaked in the orange juice, add in some grated or slivered apple (perhaps with some chopped celery and walnuts, such a good combination), substitute mandarin for the orange
  3. crunch – substitute the almonds for some toasted, crumbled walnuts or pecans, even some toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
  4. optional added protein (for the extra hungry) – if you’d like to fill out the salad for a healthy light meal, I’ve added a few of my favourite protein-packed ‘extras’ below (under ‘optional add ins’).

As always, thanks to all of you for being not only readers, but friends across the seas. Wishing you a beautiful, blessed and memorable start to 2016!

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Shaved Carrot Salad with Orange, Pomegranate and Mint

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

  • 2 large carrots, washed and peeled
  • 2 spring onions (green shallots), topped and tailed, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • a good handful of washed mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 navel orange, segmented (squeeze the juice from the leftover pulp into the dressing – 1 got about 50mL)
  • a good plug of extra virgin olive oil, about 50mL
  • 2 tbsp (30mL) good quality white wine vinegar
  • sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • a squeeze of honey, to taste (use maple syrup for a vegan alternative)
  • optional, protein-packed add ins: good quality crumbled feta (about 100g will do), Italian canned tuna, rinsed cooked brown lentils, 1 cup cooked quinoa

Using a vegetable peeler, shave long thin strips off each carrot in a lengthwise rotation. Discard the hard centre and stem. Place shaved carrot into a medium bowl with the pomegranate arils, sliced spring onions, orange segments and mint (reserve some pomegranate arils and mint leaves to garnish later. Add in any optional tuna, quinoa, beans, lentils or feta (reserve some crumbled feta for garnish).

In a jug or bowl, whisk together the orange juice, extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and a little honey or maple syrup. Taste, season and adjust sweetness as required.

Pour the dressing over the salad. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes for the flavours to develop. Remove from the refrigerator and gently mix through half of the toasted almonds, reserving the rest for garnish. Use tongs to transfer the salad to a serving platter, allowing excess dressing to drain back into the bowl.

Garnish with reserved pomegranate, mint, toasted almonds, feta (if using) and a grind of black pepper.

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ginger pressed salad

stillife

I’ve recently been gently chastised by my husband Aaron for buying too many cookbooks, from which I cook… nothing. Yes. It’s not the purchasing that he’s opposed to (lucky for me), it’s more that I get terribly excited, pore over them for days, speak of large banquets including recipes from pages 14, 36, 79 and 124 and then… nothing becomes of it. Another one bites the (literal) dust.

It’s a bad habit. One that I’ve continually failed to break. 2013 was supposed to be the year when I cooked through Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty (2010) from cover to cover, but come 2015? I’ve, uh, made about three recipes. And plenty of hummus (Aaron can vouch for that).

Oh, and I now put pomegranate molasses on everything. That was definitely Ottolenghi-inspired. See, it was a worthwhile investment…plate

mixed

I’ve been thinking long and hard about my ‘habit’ over the past few days (in case you required more evidence that I overthink). I genuinely get excited about trying new, beautiful recipes from cookbooks, but then when dinner time arrives? I’m too hungry. There’s not enough time. I’ve run out of garlic. Or I flip through a cookbook and realize that my chosen recipe requires overnight marination, darn it.

So I ‘wing it’, in colloquial terms. For creativity and convenience. Or I’ll enter ‘pumpkin’ into Google and read blog posts ’til I feel somewhat inspired… and then I’ll cook something entirely from the mashed-up ideas in my head. I’ve admitted plenty of times that I’m an instinctual cook who finds it difficult to follow a recipe, so… why the cookbooks?

Aaron’s frustration makes perfect sense.

lokisniffchopbowl As far as I can explain, I constantly get drawn to the beauty of cookbooks. They’re inspiring, both in a creative and intellectual sense. I can read them for hours, soaking in cooking methods, personal anecdotes, ideas and rich imagery. I suppose they’re as much a consumable narrative to me as they are an instructional manual (does anyone else feel the same?).

In reflection, that in itself isn’t a bad thing. But when our bookshelves are already heaving with visual diaries, novels and plenty of cookery books (most of which, let’s face it, are rather large) it seems prudent to refrain from future purchases until I’ve at least cooked a few things from each volume.

bottle

Anyway, with gentle encouragement from my husband, I’ve made a decision to spend the rest of this year cooking through my existing book collection before investing in the next volume(s) on my ‘hit list’ (those being Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food,  Ella Woodward’s Deliciously Ellaohhhh dear).

My starting point will be a whole lot of goodness from my newest purchase, Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Wholefood Kitchen with some equally vegetable-heavy (see my recent post on my food philosophy here) deliciousness from The Green Kitchen, Green Kitchen Travels (both by David Frenkel and Luise Vindahl) and A Change of Appetite (by Diana Henry, gifted to me by my beautiful friend Trixie – who also happens to be the author of Almonds are Mercurial).

I’m also hoping to add in a few meals from Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam, one of my favourite food-based narratives (that also happens to contain a recipe for the stickiest of jammy cookies).

radishchop

I’ll share a few of the recipes on here, possibly with a few adaptations thrown in (as per the recipe below, I just can’t help myself) whilst also continuing to work on my own vegan and vegetarian wholefood recipes. In fact, I might just have a coconut nectar, buckwheat flour banana loaf in the oven right now…

Watch this space.

And thanks, Amy, for this beautiful pressed pickle. It’s becoming a fast favourite.

sticks

Ginger Pressed Salad

Adapted from At Home in the Wholefood Kitchen by the amazing Amy Chaplin

Notes: if you have a mandolin (or a minion) you will save yourself a lot of prep time. I cut everything by hand as I find repetitive slicing to be strangely therapeutic. If you’re preparing this salad in advance, store it without the black sesame seed garnish as the colour bleeds. Leftover salad can be stored in a jar in the fridge for up to one week (it will soften as the pickling process continues).

  • 1 celery heart (about 5 sticks/2 cups chopped)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small Lebanese (thin skinned) cucumber, thinly sliced (if you can’t find a small Lebanese one, use a large one but remove the peel)
  • 8 radishes, topped and tailed, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) brown rice vinegar
  • 1 small thumb-sized knob of fresh young ginger, finely grated
  • chilli flakes, optional
  • toasted black and white sesame, to garnish
  • shelled edamame beans, to garnish
  • optional: thinly sliced spring onions to garnish

Place all of the ingredients (except the garnishes) into a medium bowl and toss well to combine.

seasonedGently push down on the vegetables with your hands to help soften them and release their juices. Place a small plate on top of the salad and a weight on top of the plate (I used some cans of beans, however anything heavy would work). Set aside for 1 hour or longer to ‘press’ and pickle.

Remove the weight, drain off the liquid and season to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl (gently squeeze to release any more liquid if the salad is still very ‘wet’). Sprinkle with black sesame seeds, spring onion and edamame beans if desired.

Serve as an accompaniment to a bento set, with sushi or as a tasty accompanying pickle for barbecued meat.
stillife2vegportsticks

boozy cucumber, lime and chilli paletas

pop2

Well, it’s Friday. The first Friday in June, to be exact. By now you’d be aware that my confessed intention to post on a weekly basis has gone less-than-swimmingly over the past three weeks. My last post has taunted me proudly as my free time has dissolved into a mess of work overtime, fatigue and a frightening ocular migraine that consumed most of last Monday.

Yes, an ocular migraine. On a public holiday, when my regular General Practitioner was probably enjoying a WA Day barbecue. Who knew that migraines could be painless and cause temporary loss of vision? I thought I was having a stroke… most probably a TIA, or at the very least my retina was detaching (yes, I have a touch of hypochondria which appears to be familial; thanks Dad).

But a few hours and $135 later, I found out that I was mostly fine; just tired and moderately stressed. Sorry, body. I should take better care of you.

limes loki

Anyway, enough about the negatives of the past two weeks. There have been some gloriously shiny positives, from productive side-project coffee date meetings with Aaron (SO EXCITED) to healthy gym days and a giant Mexican feast held with this blogging crew from last year.

Oh, the feast we had. It’s probably fortuitous that it takes us between twelve and eighteen months to organise each catch-up, as we definitely don’t skimp on courses or calories (chocolate-mousse-avocado -ream-lime-curd-crumbled-brownie-candied-lime-and-chilli-chocolate-soil-layered dessert, anyone?). We did scale down slightly from our elaborate Spanish feast, but I’m still bringing takeaway boxes to the next one (which might be an Indian night; anyone have a spare tandoori oven?).

tequila

As per our previous posts, we’ve got a deliciously photo-heavy series of joint posts in the pipeline, full of recipe links and styling details. But for now? Here’s a tequila-soaked taster for you Northern Hemisphere people who are heading into summer’s warm embrace.

cukes

pop

Boozy Cucumber, Lime and Chilli Paletas

Makes 8

You will need: 8 x 3oz ice pop molds, 8 wooden popsicle sticks

  • 4 medium cucumbers, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2.5 tbsp caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp Tequila
  • chilli flakes, optional

cukesprepared

Place the chopped cucumbers into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 2 minutes or until the mixture resembles a fine pulp.

Strain the pulp through a fine sieve to extract all of the liquid (push down on the cucumber flesh with the back of your hand to ensure you get all of the juice).

cucumberjuice

Add the caster sugar and cayenne, then stir until all of the sugar is dissolved (you should no longer hear sugar granules scraping at the bottom of the bowl). Add the Tequila and stir thoroughly.

juice mix

Distribute the mixture between 8 clean paleta (popsicle) molds. Sprinkle in a few whole chilli flakes for decoration (optional). Carefully transfer into the freezer, ensuring the molds remain upright. Freeze for at least 1 hour before placing a wooden popsicle stick into the centre of each paleta (if you have an ice pop maker with a lid that holds the sticks in place, feel free to place the sticks in straight away).

Allow to freeze for at least 12 hours, or preferably overnight (the alcohol in these paletas significantly slows the freezing process. Don’t be tempted to unmold these paletas before they’ve had a good amount of freezing time, or you’ll be left with a cucumber and lime slushy).

To serve, run the paleta molds briefly under hot water. Firmly pull each paleta out by the wooden stick (yeah, I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but anyway…).

loki2

coconut cacao and buckwheat granola

aerial

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

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

cup

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

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

We didn’t have any.

tray

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

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

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SO GOOD.

I think today calls for a second breakfast.

granolajar

Coconut Cacao Buckwheat Granola

Adapted from Sarah Britton’s recipe from My New Roots

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

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

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

bowl

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

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

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

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

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

bowleat

Notes:

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

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

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lokihelp

picnics and caramelised onion foccacia

basket

I’m a big fan of picnics. Particularly during the summer months when the warmth of the sun lingers long after her brightness has faded.

On the balmiest of nights, we can often be found on the shores of City Beach with a basket, Esky (the Australian word for cooler or ice box), swimmers and (on the odd occasion) a battered volleyball. Quite Australian indeed.

sunset picnic

In fact, amongst our friends (and many others) this tradition also occurs on most Australia Day holidays, usually accompanied by barbecued meat and the Triple J Hottest 100. We’ll possibly do the same this Monday (for overseas readers, Australia Day falls on the 26 January each year) or alternately, dunk ourselves in a swimming pool whilst sipping a cold beer. I can’t wait.

basket2

For those of you planning an Australia Day feast, I’ve included a few recipe links below that are perfect for warm weather snacking, feasting and transporting. There’s also a quick recipe for what I’ve found to be a fail-proof olive oil focaccia.

We eat on its own (the herby, garlicky caramelised onion topping is delicious), with dips (hummus, olive oil, babaghanouj) and sliced lengthways for incredible grilled sandwiches. It’s so, so good.

Salads:

Dips:

Snacks/Antipasto:

Dessert/Sweets:

Drinks:

focaccia

Olive Oil Focaccia with Caramelised Onion Topping

Adapted from this recipe by Kerrie Sun

Makes one loaf

For the dough:

  • 450g (3 cups) strong bread flour
  • 310ml (1 1/4 cups) warm water
  • 2 tsp (7g/1 sachet) dried yeast
  • 2 tsp golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp extra for kneading + greasing pan
  • 2 tsp flaked sea salt

Topping:

  • 1 small red (Spanish) onion, finely sliced
  • small bunch rosemary and thyme sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil + extra 1 tbsp to brush
  • flaked sea salt, to sprinkle

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place the flour and half of the sea salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture alongside 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix the wet yeast mixture into the flour using a fork or wooden spoon, then use your hands to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth, soft and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl (I used the same mixing bowl, wiped clean) and transfer the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, then leave to prove in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes or until doubled in size*.

Whilst your dough is rising, prepare your caramelised onion topping: in a medium pan, gently heat a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add in the sliced onion, garlic and picked herbs, stirring gently over low heat until the onion is translucent (do NOT allow the garlic to brown or burn or the mixture will become bitter). Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Brush a 20 x 30 pan with remaining oil, then set aside.

Punch down the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly greased surface and knead for another two minutes or until the dough is elastic and has returned to original size. Press out into a rough rectangle and transfer into your prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm, draught-free place to prove for 20 minutes or until doubled in size.

When your dough has finished proving, uncover and use your fingers to press dimples into the surface. Distribute the caramelised onion topping over the surface, pressing some of the herb sprigs into the dough. Sprinkle with a little flaked sea salt.

Transfer into your preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden (the foccacia should sound hollow when tapped on the base). Brush with a little more olive oil to soften the crust, then leave to cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Dough can be refrigerated overnight at this point in the process, covered in plastic wrap. You may need to complete second proving in the oven to ensure a good rise (I turned the oven on, preheated it to 100 degrees then turned it off. Leave to cool slightly then transfer your pan of dough onto the centre rack), covered in a moist tea towel. Prove until the dough has doubled in size. 

wine

To all the Australian readers, happy Australia Day weekend. For my overseas friends, stay warm – I hope this post brings you a sliver of sunshine.

baked falafel with coconut raita. and january heat

plate

It’s quiet; a still and mild Saturday afternoon. A halcyon breeze floats through the window, softly scented with warm eucalyptus. Quite a change from the week-that-was – when temperatures reached over 46 degrees C (115 degrees f). Today feels positively balmy.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably read my complaints about this January’s blistering heat wave. Monday afternoon felt like a billowing sauna, extraordinarily hot and thick with the scent of roasting vegetation. Whilst venturing out at lunchtime, hot bitumen melted the sole off my sandal. What a way to start the new year.

Another victim of the recent heat is our three-and-a-half year old MacBook Pro. The once reliable beast appears to have died in a flash of heat and blinking white (even following this advice didn’t help). On Thursday, we consulted a bearded, self-confessed ‘geek’ wearing Rip Curl shorts (paradox much?). $160 and ten minutes later, temporary optimism melted into bitter disappointment as we were instructed to ‘…take it to the Apple Store’.

And so we did, only to be given an appointment for next Tuesday. Sad face.

tahini

Life without a laptop is rather inefficient. I’ve been using my phone and iPad, but neither is optimal for writing or reading blog posts. My kindly husband has now loaned me his desktop PC for the afternoon, however I’m quite aware that this is holding up his own personal work (and more importantly, his progress in The Wolf Among Us).

I’m typing as quickly as possible, my gaze flicking back and forth between his giant dual monitors like a tennis spectator. As someone who is as much a geek as I am an emo (read: not at all), I feel like I’m stuck in the temperate cockpit of some tiny, artistic aircraft with floorboards for wings. The screens are wallpapered with digital paintings, gently peppered with art files and music downloads. All very Aaron. None of my foodie files are here, neither are my individual PhotoShop settings.

Another sad face.

table

Anyway, that’s enough negativity for one day. Let’s focus on the positives of January; shiny orange positives in the form of sticky mangoes, blushed apricots and juicy nectarines. Summer has brought fruit galore, coloured jewels that are ripe for the picking. I’ve mostly been eating them cold, sliced into salads or piled upon thick coconut yoghurt, though a recent glut from the market may be turned into apricot compote (perhaps by the sun if I leave a pot on the balcony!).

Another January upside is the fact that glorious warm weather is perfect for lighter meals. Salads, quinoa sushi, raw vegetables and blackened corn slathered in chilli lime butter. I’ve also been relishing cocktails crowned with piles of ice, perfect for balmy evenings spent with a good book.

mojito lucynisaac

Over the past week, my book of choice has been Green Kitchen Travels, a beautiful volume of recipes and stories both penned and photographed by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (the talented husband and wife team behind vegetarian blog Green Kitchen Stories). After purchasing the book several months ago in London, it’s taken me a little while to start cooking from it – so far our table has been blessed with avocado and kiwi paletas, chocolate bean chilli and vibrant raspberry chia jam, all of which have been relished with keen eyes and sticky fingers.

Last Thursday, my mother and I decided to spend an impromptu evening drinking elderflower mojitos joined by Aaron, my beautiful (vegetarian) friend Lucy and her son Isaac. It took me three seconds to decide to make baked falafel from the original volume by David and Luise published in 2013.

Over the course of the evening, we drank from ice-cold glasses, slurped on healthy popsicles and drew elephants upon computer paper. We ate these crisp, nutty falafel balls in crisp cabbage leaves (san choy bau style) alongside baked pesto mushrooms with guacamole, smoky baba ghanouj (recipe here) and fresh turkish bread.

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If you’ve made the original recipe from The Green Kitchen, you’ll notice that I’ve switched up a few ingredients whilst adding a ‘chilling period’ for the falafel mix (which is specific to warmer regions). I’ve also omitted the cashew nut dressing in favour of a lavish spoonful of nut butter and fragrant coconut raita. Experiment as you like – I can assure you that the original version is just as blissful, as would a simple adornment of Greek yoghurt or garlicky hummus.

Here’s to a beautiful, healthy 2015 for all of us (and my computer).

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Baked Falafel with Coconut Raita and Tomato Chilli Salsa

Adapted from The Green Kitchen by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl (aka Green Kitchen Stories)

Falafel:

  • 1 cup (loosely packed) washed mint and parsley leaves
  • 200g (about 2 cups) unsalted nuts (I used pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 400g chickpeas, cooked or canned
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (substitute coconut oil if desired)
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp buckwheat flour (substitute oat or wheat flour if desired)
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Line a large baking tray (about 35x25cm) with baking paper, then set aside.

Blend the herbs in a food processor until coarsely chopped (about 30 seconds). Add the nuts and pulse until combined. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients and blend for 1-2 minutes or until well combined with a little residual texture (stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary).

Remove the falafel mixture from the food processor and place into a large bowl. Scoop slightly heaped tablespoonfuls of the mixture into your hands and roll to form about 24 small falafel. Place on your prepared baking tray, then push down lightly with your fingers to flatten slightly. Depending upon your climate, refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up a little.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f). Drizzle the falafel with a little olive oil, then bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Turn after 10 minutes to get a uniform brown colour. Allow to cool slightly before assembling your falafel wraps.

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Coconut Raita:

  • 225mL (1 cup) chilled coconut cream (substitute natural dairy yoghurt or soy yoghurt if desired)
  • small handful of mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • small piece of finely chopped green chilli (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Place all ingredients into a medium-sized bowl, stir together and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. Leftover raita is amazing with curries or dolloped over fresh green leaves with chickpeas, chopped grape tomatoes and toasted sunflower seeds.

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Tomato Chilli Salsa

  • 3 large, ripe tomatoes or 250g mixed cherry tomatoes, finely diced (leave the seeds in)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you’d like less heat)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything in a medium bowl, mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to intensify the flavours.

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To serve:

  • 1 green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, core removed, leaves washed and dried
  • toasted sunflower seeds
  • soft green herbs (coriander, mint, parsley), leaves picked
  • gently warmed nut butter (cashew butter, pepita butter or tahini) to dollop
  • lemon wedges

I served these falafel pre-assembled in little cabbage cups however you can wrap them up in iceberg lettuce for a crispy alternative… or leave everything in small bowls on the table for people to help themselves.

For a more traditional meal, serve the falafel in warmed pitas doused in plenty of nut butter, raita and salsa. They’ll be delicious either way.

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