boozy cucumber, lime and chilli paletas

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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.

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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?).

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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…).

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garlic kale with mushrooms, chorizo + a sunny egg

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I arrived home from work today carting some free range eggs, rolled oats and a giant bunch of kale from Gingin Organics. After greeting my husband, I wearily peered into the fridge for dinner inspiration.

“I feel like eating something virtuous tonight” I stated, retrieving a brown paper bag full of garlic from the vegetable drawer. Aaron looked at me pitifully, “…does that mean we’re not eating meat?”. I grinned, gesturing to the carton of free range eggs on the counter. “I’m poaching eggs. There will definitely be protein”.

His sad eyes drifted to a plastic wrapped chorizo sausage in the refrigerator, then back to me. “Uh… and sausage?”. “Okay”, I relented. He beamed, retreating from the room in satisfaction.

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Ah, men and their meat consumption. As for me, I was just excited about eating a bucket load of sauteed kale. Green, salubrious, leafy goodness with fragrant garlic, sauteed mushrooms and a runny poached egg. The chorizo definitely added a beautiful savoury punch to the dish, but to be honest, I wouldn’t have missed it. The mushrooms, chilli flakes and walnuts created a beautiful ‘meatiness’ of their own that required no further embellishment.

This dish warmly embraces adaptation. For a vegan version, just omit the chorizo and poached eggs (I would add some finely grated lemon zest for an extra dimension of flavour). If you’re extra hungry, toss some cooked puy lentils into the pan whilst frying your chorizo, mushrooms and walnuts. Want extra chilli? Sriracha. That is all.

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Garlic Kale with Mushrooms, Chorizo and a Sunny Egg

Serves 2

  • 2 generous handfuls of washed organic kale leaves, centre stem and vein removed, finely shredded
  • 4 field mushrooms, brushed and sliced
  • 1/2 chorizo sausage, peeled and finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • white vinegar, for poaching the eggs

Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Toss in 2/3 of the crushed garlic and cook until fragrant (do not allow garlic to brown). Add in the chopped kale leaves and stir gently. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes or until kale is tender (the residual moisture on the washed kale leaves will help to steam them). Season to taste, then set aside.

Add a small splash of olive oil to another pan over medium-high heat. Add in the diced chorizo. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo starts to release its fragrant oil. Add in the mushrooms, walnuts, chilli flakes and remaining crushed garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender, the chorizo is crisp and the walnuts have toasted. Set aside to cool slightly.

Fill a medium pan half-full with fresh water. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and then splash in a little white vinegar. Crack an egg into a ramekin. Carefully slide the egg into the water, then repeat with the remaining egg. Poach for 2-3 minutes or until cooked to your liking. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon. Allow to drain on a paper towel whilst you assemble the rest of the dish.

Distribute the sauteed garlic kale between two plates. Spoon over the mushroom and chorizo mixture, then top with a poached egg. Arrange the sliced avocado and coriander around the plate as desired. Season and eat (preferably with a big, virtuous smile on your face).

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pork carnitas with lime and chilli guacamole

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There’s something about Summer that makes me crave Mexican food. As blistering days melt into hot, blackened evenings, my mind starts drifting towards cool guacamole, spiced brisket, fragrant coriander and salt-rimmed margaritas.

It’s an obsession that I share with my good friend Matt, who recently blogged about his Mexican New Year’s feast over at Inspired Food. Pork carnitas, home made tortilla chips, pineapple salsa and chunky guacamole… now, that’s my idea of Summer culinary heaven.

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Over the past month, I’ve revisited Matt’s post more than once to drool over his carnita recipe. Despite cooking Mexican at least once per week, I’ve historically gravitated towards brisket, chicken and black beans rather than smoky, slow-cooked pork shoulder. Though I have made carnitas, they’ve never been to the specifics of Matt’s recipe.

Last Sunday, everything changed. I woke early, arriving at the market with carnitas in mind. Negotiating the aisles, I chose pork, garlic, onion and oregano alongside items for guacamole, esquites and salsa. I checked out, drove home and ascended three flights of stairs to our apartment.

I turned on the air conditioning and started unpacking each bag of groceries. Bag one, no oranges. Bag two, limes… but no oranges. Bag three? Darn it. No oranges.

I glanced at the window, my eyes narrowing in the glare of the blazing sun. Sweat dripped from my brow as I contemplated another insufferable dash to the local store. No oranges equals no pork carnitas; well, not according to Matt’s recipe. But out of desperation (and encroaching heat stroke) I decided to improvise.

panI rummaged around in the fridge, desperately unearthing lemons, limes and a bottle of The Cidery’s still apple cider. As pork goes naturally with apple, I decided to douse the shoulder in the cider whilst exchanging the oranges for a lemon. In the back of my mind, I hoped that the sweetness of the cider would balance the lemon’s extra acidity. I had no idea if it would work.

After removing the rind from the pork, I decided to score the flesh before making small incisions to house slivers of peeled garlic. Much like my technique for slow-roasted lamb, the idea was for the garlic to slowly infuse during the cooking process, melting down into sweet, sticky goodness. As an afterthought, I grilled the crackle alongside the meat, crumbling it into pieces to add to the carnitas upon assembly.

brookfarmlimechilli

After recently sampling Brookfarm’s fragrant lime and chilli infused macadamia oil, I decided to substitute it for vegetable-based oils in both my pork carnita and guacamole recipes.

In my mind, the gentle heat, nuttiness and tang of the infused oil would add a beautiful layer of complexity to both dishes. The golden hue of the oil also looked spectacular against the creamy guacamole and vibrant splashes of paprika.

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Six and a half hours later, five boys and one girl sat around a table to eat succulent, slow-roasted pork, crispy crackling, tomatillo salsa, esquites, pickled cabbage and creamy guacamole. Piles of warm tortillas were claimed with eager hands from their nest of aluminium foil.

After sampling the meat, I’m pleased to report that the Brookfarm oil certainly added an extra layer of smoky complexity. Each bite was soft and delicious, contrasting beautifully against the pop of crackling, sweet kernels of corn, acidic cabbage and cool guacamole. In absence of required oranges, the proxy lemon and cider worked effectively to add both sweetness and tang to the meat. I was well pleased (and so were the boys, judging from their seconds… and thirds).

So; despite yet another failure in my history of following recipes, I have to admit that this was a beautiful improvised success. But next time, I’m stockpiling oranges. For Matt’s carnita recipe, of course.

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Pork Carnitas

Serves 8-10

  • 2kg boneless pork shoulder, rind removed
  • 80ml Brookfarm lime and chilli infused macadamia oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly diced
  • 4 garlic gloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp ancho chilli powder
  • zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 500ml (2 cups) dry apple cider
  • 200ml water
  • 1 jalapeno chilli, halved (seeds left in)
  • sea salt flakes
  • freshly cracked black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, coriander, paprika, oregano and ancho chilli powder. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, then mix well.

Place the pork into a shallow dish that will fit in your refrigerator. Cut a few shallow slashes into the surface of the meat, then rub in the spice mix (ensure that you massage the spices well into each slash and crevice). Using a sharp knife, make eight 1-cm incisions over the surface of the meat; stuff half a garlic clove into each.

porkrub

Cover and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Place the pork into a large pan or ovenproof dish, then add in the lemon zest and juice, cider, water, sliced jalapeno chilli and diced onion (add a few extra garlic cloves if you like). Drizzle over the Brookfarm lime and chilli oil, then grind over some more salt and pepper.

pan2Cover tightly with foil and place into the preheated oven; immediately reduce the oven temperature to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f).

Cook the pork for 5 1/2 hours or until the meat falls apart when poked with a fork. Uncover and cook for another 30-45 minutes, basting with the cooking liquid until the sauce reduces and the pork starts to brown.

Remove from the oven, place the pork onto a heat-proof plate and cover it with foil. Drain the sauce into a small pan and reduce it over medium heat until thickened. Shred the pork with a fork and pour over the reduced sauce. Mix well and add a little more lemon, salt or pepper according to taste.

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Serve the pork on a large platter, accompanied by warm tortillas, lime wedges, guacamole (recipe to follow), salsa, esquites (or blackened corn salad), sour cream and extra cheese if desired.

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Lime and Chilli Guacamole

  • 2 medium ripe avocadoes, peeled, stones removed
  • 1 tbsp of chopped ripe tomato (you can leave the seeds in)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped Spanish onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp Brookfarm lime and chilli infused macadamia oil, plus extra to drizzle
  • sea salt
  • white pepper
  • smoked paprika, to serve
  • coriander leaves, to serve

Coarsely mash the avocadoes onto a chopping board (or in a bowl, if you prefer). Squeeze over the lime juice and season well with salt and pepper. Make a well in the centre, then add in the chopped onion, tomato, macadamia oil, lime zest, garlic and cumin.

guacconstruction

Mix well, taste and add a little more salt and pepper or lime juice if required. Serve in a small bowl, drizzled with some extra macadamia oil, garnished with coriander and/or dusted with smoked paprika.

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their lime and chilli infused macadamia oil for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.

courgette salad with lemon myrtle oil, chilli and mint

closeupThere’s something beautiful about summer squash. Their firm, sweet flesh requires little more than a brief flash in the pan before being served, drizzled in oil with a smattering of fragrant herbs.

I love them, whether they’re roasted, grilled, steamed or charred on a hot barbecue… particularly with lots of lemon, minted yoghurt and chilli. Perfectly easy food for summer nights.

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Over the past week, Aaron and I have eaten a lot of summer squash. Our first taste was fresh from Vicky’s garden, thick slices of charred green and yellow courgette bathed in olive oil, black pepper and herbs. We ate with sticky fingers and wide grins as the sun dropped below the horizon, breathing the scent of fresh eucalyptus on the wind.

That evening, our conversation rambled for hours. Plates were refilled, emptied and eagerly mopped up with torn ciabatta. Fresh air, open space and good company makes everything taste better. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

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Back to tonight’s courgette adventure. To be honest, it was more the product of an after-work ‘fridge hunt’ than anything else. Lucky for me, fresh goats cheese, herbs and lemons are staple refrigerator items, alongside home-cured olives, various nuts and grains.

I added these to a bag of fresh baby courgettes that I picked up at the weekend market, shiny and glistening in their skins. In an hour, dinner was on the table: roast chicken, courgette salad, hummus, garlicky tzatziki, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and olives. Summer food done simply.

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The recipe below is more of a ‘concept’ than a strict statement of quantities. It’s a dish that I make often with ingredients that I have on hand (you’ll see that I’ve added some ‘optional’ suggestions in the ingredients list) so all in all, it’s very forgiving.

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In my mind, courgettes partner beautifully with mint, however you could easily substitute coriander or basil as desired. If you’re gluten or wheat intolerant, just switch out the bulgur for cooked and cooled quinoa as a deliciously wholesome alternative.

It may go without saying, but this recipe works brilliantly with all summer squash including yellow squash, pattypans, tromboncinos and crooknecks… just ensure that they’re sliced similarly for ease of cooking.

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Courgette Salad with Macadamia Lemon Myrtle Oil, Chilli and Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish

  • 6-8 small courgettes (zucchini), washed and halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup fine grit bulgur (burghul)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds if you’d like less heat)
  • mint and parsley leaves (about 1/4 cup in total) washed and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • good squeeze of lemon juice
  • about 30g goats cheese, crumbled (substitute good quality feta)
  • Brookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle (substitute another lemon infused oil or good quality extra virgin olive oil)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • optional: toasted, crushed pistachio nuts or macadamias (sprinkle over to serve)
  • optional: small handful of pitted green olives, finely sliced

Heat a large griddle pan over high heat until hot but not smoking. Toss the courgettes in a little macadamia oil then lay them in a single layer onto the hot griddle, ensuring that each piece is in contact with the hotplate.

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Cook for 5 minutes each side or until cooked through and slightly charred.

Place the raw bulgur into a heatproof bowl or jug. Cover with boiling water until fully submerged, then cover with plastic wrap or an upturned plate.

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Leave for 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

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Place the chilli, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper into a small bowl (if using olives, combine at this point). Drizzle over a good slug of lemon myrtle macadamia oil, then toss to coat.

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When the bulgur has cooled, combine with the chilli, mint and lemon mixture. Mix well.

Lay the courgettes out onto a serving plate. Top with the seasoned bulgur (make sure to pour over all of the juices) then crumble over the goats cheese.

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Grind over some cracked black pepper then drizzle over some extra lemon myrtle macadamia oil. Add some chopped mint and/or toasted, crushed nuts if desired.

sideplateBrookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle is an award-winning high quality oil produced in New South Wales, Australia. It has a high smoke point (210 degrees C / 410 degrees f) and the beautiful herbal tang of lemon myrtle, an Australian spice that is unique to the northern rivers.

Brookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle is a wonderful accompaniment to seafood, vegetable and pasta dishes. Find stockists here.

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated for this post and as always, all opinions are my own.

fresh egg noodles with coriander, chilli and toasted peanuts. with hippy vic

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It’s been a while since my last joint post with my beautiful friend Vicky (otherwise known as Hippy Vic). Four long months, to be exact. In a simple recollection I would’ve guessed it as being weeks, not months; however we’ve just celebrated Christmas and in a few days, we’ll be rolling over to 2014. Time flies.

Last Sunday, Aaron and I had the privilege of spending a sunny afternoon with Vicky, her husband Mark and their two children. We drank Peroni near the pool, sharing tales from the week-that-was as the sun slowly dropped below the horizon.

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In the cool evening air, Vicky took me on a tour of her flourishing edible garden. Fat heirloom tomatoes hid amongst sprawling vines, dappled with the last of the weekend sun. Tiny strawberries sat nestled against blackened earth, dotted with seeds and awaiting their splash of crimson. We picked tiny peaches and fragrant herbs, eagerly discussing the intricacies of pie as sticky juice flowed down our chins.

heirloomtoms strawberries4Mark decided to make fresh pasta for dinner; after a quick flip through Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals he decided upon fresh egg noodles with coriander, chilli, sesame oil and soy from a ‘meal set’ including satay chicken and fruit in mint sugar (for the uninitiated, 30 Minute Meals is a recipe book that is divided into ‘meal sets’ containing main, side and dessert).

One hour later, we were sitting on Mark and Vicky’s verandah eating piles of fragrant noodles topped with crunchy toasted peanuts and soft coriander. We washed it down with Mango beer from Matso’s Broome Brewery; a perfect summer combination for a balmy night in Western Australia.

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We ended the night with a game of street tennis (on bikes, nonetheless) and a collaborative fresh peach pie made from the freshly harvested peaches.

Just think cinnamon-encrusted shortcrust pastry, piles of soft, fragrant fruit, drizzled caramel and crunchy toasted almonds. You’ll get the recipe, eventually. It was definitely good enough to share.

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The recipe below has been adapted from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (refer to page 112 if you have a hard copy, or follow this link if you don’t). We’ve made a couple of minor changes, exchanging peanuts for the specified cashews and fresh egg noodles for dried. Vicky and I also doused our noodles with a squeeze of fresh lime for extra tang.

If you’d like to make this recipe more substantial, feel free to add 200g sliced chicken thighs, pork fillet or prawns (double the chilli paste, marinate the meat in half of it for 20-30 minutes. Drain then fry in hot peanut oil whilst your egg noodles cook. Toss with the noodles and the rest of the chilli paste just before serving; top with fresh coriander, toasted nuts and some fried Asian shallots of you have some handy).

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Fresh Egg Noodles with Coriander, Chilli and Toasted Peanuts

Adapted from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals

Serves 4 as a light meal, 6 as a side dish

  • 400g fresh egg noodles (or 300g dried medium egg noodles; one nest per person)
  • 1/2 a medium-sized red Spanish onion
  • 1-2 fresh long red chillies (to taste)
  • a small bunch of fresh coriander
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 fresh limes
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp honey
  • peanut or olive oil, for frying
  • 100g toasted unsalted peanuts or cashews, crushed
  • fried Asian shallots, extra sliced chilli and sriracha to serve, if desired

For ingredients and instructions on how to make fresh egg noodles, follow this link (you can make the noodles by hand with a rolling pin, however we used Mark and Vicky’s pasta machine for convenience).

pastamachine

If using dried noodles, place them in a large bowl and submerge in boiling water. Cover the dish with an upturned plate, then leave to soak for 6 minutes or until tender. Drain and refresh briefly under cold water, drain again and toss in some peanut or olive oil. Set aside.

To make the curry paste: peel and roughly chop the red onion. Place it into the food processor with the chilli (roughly chopped, stalk removed) and the roots and stalks from the coriander.

herbsPulse until finely chopped. Add in the soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, honey and the juice of one lime. Taste and adjust flavourings as necessary.

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Heat a small splash of peanut oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss in the noodles and chilli paste. Fry gently until fragrant, then add in half of the toasted peanuts and another squeeze of fresh lime.

Divide between four bowls, top with the rest of the toasted peanuts, coriander leaves and extra fresh chilli and lime, if desired. Enjoy with an ice cold beer and summer sunshine.

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I hope that you all enjoyed a peaceful and merry festive season, filled with food, generosity, laughter and other good things.

Thanks to every one of you for your friendship, humour, inspiration and support over the past twelve months. Here’s to a wonderful start to 2014!

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spiced redcurrant and onion relish

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As of today, it’s exactly one week until Christmas. I have no idea how that happened; in the corner of my brain it seems like yesterday was the start of November.

The last few weeks have passed in a flurry of work commitments, family events, end-of-year parties and early Christmas gatherings; all beautifully rich and memorable (except work, of course) but tiring just the same. Last weekend, my friend Miriam and I spent over seven hours cooking an Asian-inspired tapas feast as an early Christmas party for our friends; we rose with the birds, measuring clouds of wheaten flour and kneading potsticker pastry to the soundtrack of summer cicadas.

Thick beef ribs were smothered in a mixture of sticky black vinegar, palm sugar and star anise before being wrapped to slow cook for three hours under foil. We julienned carrots, spring onions, green mango and cucumber, some to be flash fried whilst others were marinated in lime juice, sugar and sesame oil.

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It was an absolutely beautiful day; fat with friendship, food, laughter and celebration. As seems to be my trend these days, I brought the camera but deliberately failed to use it.

Don’t get me wrong, there were endless opportunities for worthy photo capture. However, I’ve come to think that some moments are too beautiful, too immediate and real to be marred by the obstruction of a camera lens.

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The purchase of ingredients for last Saturday’s Asian feast necessitated at least three trips to markets around Perth city for meat, vegetables, oriental groceries and bamboo steamers. During one such trip, I spied a punnet of translucent red jewels, fat and delicate against their woody green stalks. I immediately recognized them as redcurrants and being the food nerd that I am, my heart skipped a happy beat.

Needless to say, I squirreled the punnet home in a calico bag with some fresh limes, various leaves, organic peaches and two green mangoes. It took me a few days to work out what to do with them (as I’ve never used fresh or frozen redcurrants before) but after some internet trawling I discovered this relish recipe from BBC Good Food.

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As an English ex-pat, I grew up eating various types of condiments with my Christmas meat; cranberry sauce, redcurrant jelly, chunky apple sauce and booze-spiked gravy. As I’ve grown older, our Christmas fare has transitioned slightly from traditional turkey to cold seafood and summer pudding; however, I still love a thick slice of roast ham or turkey with a dollop of piquant fruit relish.

This particular relish is all kinds of beautiful – glossy, dark and sticky, sweetly acidic and crimson-stained. I dolloped it over beef burgers last night with fine cheddar, creamy avocado and spinach leaves (it’s the Australian summer, after all) however it would be equally good as an accompaniment to your turkey or ham on Christmas day.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season; may the final week before Christmas be beautiful, calm, organized and memorable in the best of ways.

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Spiced Redcurrant and Onion Relish

Adapted from this recipe from BBC Good Food

Makes approximately 1 cup (250ml)

  • 100g redcurrants (fresh or frozen), stripped from stalks
  • 1 red Spanish onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 medium red chilli, chopped (remove seeds if you’re not fond of chilli heat)
  • 1/2 red pepper (capsicum), de-seeded and diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small knob (about 1.5cm) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • 70g dark muscovado sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onions and peppers, fry until charred and softened. Remove from pan and set aside.

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In the same pan, add half your vinegar, the chilli and garlic. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the aromatics have softened, return the onion and pepper mixture to the pot, adding in the rest of the vinegar, spice, sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.

Simmer until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency. Add in the redcurrants and simmer on low-medium for five minutes or until some of the berries burst and the liquid becomes syrupy.

boilingaddcurrants endboil

When sticky and aromatic, pour the mixture into a sterilised jar (process the jar in a boiling water bath if you intend to keep the relish long term). Seal and store for up to 1 month unprocessed (in the refrigerator) or 12-18 months if processed (in a cool, dark place).

Enjoy generously dolloped onto burgers, with cold meats, spiced sausages or slathered over fresh crusty bread with butter and English cheddar. This would also make a delicious condiment on a cheese platter with wholemeal crackers and oozing ripe brie.

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baba ghanouj

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’d be aware that I have a slight obsession with smoky, creamy baba ghanouj. It’s become a staple favourite for weeknight dinners, games nights, picnics and after work snacks. I’d almost go as far as saying that it’s replaced my hummus addiction, but… well, it hasn’t. Yet.

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lemonBaba ghanouj is a Levantine dish made from mashed aubergines mixed with olive oil, garlic, tahini and other seasonings. It’s eaten in various forms all over the Middle East as a starter, appetizer or side dish, occasionally topped with pomegranate molasses, mint, fruity olive oil or spiced tomatoes.

Though baba ghanouj is traditionally made with raw garlic, I recently tried it with roasted, sweet garlic cloves for a softer, more fragrant result. If you’re unaccustomed to eating raw garlic, I’d encourage you to try this method for a less in-your-face garlic sweetness: just splash a good amount of olive oil into a small pan, toss in some unpeeled garlic cloves and roast the lot on medium heat (180 degrees C/360 degrees f) for 15-20 minutes or until the cloves are softened and slightly golden. Squeeze the cloves from their skins before use (these roasted garlic cloves are also fantastic spread onto charred ciabatta with some sea salt, avocado slices and extra virgin olive oil. Yum).

garliccooking garliccup garlicpeeling

Despite the charring process, baba ghanouj is relatively easy to make. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and each second is completely worth the investment.

Try it next time you intend to make hummus as a smoky, creamy and delicious alternative. You’ll be glad that you did.

tahini

dip4Baba Ghanouj

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 medium aubergines (eggplant)
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • juice and zest of half a lemon (equivalent to about 1 tbsp juice)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed (roast prior to crushing for a milder garlic flavour)
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt, to taste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if roasting your garlic cloves, use the oil from the roasting pan)
  • 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • to serve: extra virgin olive oil, za’atar, sumac or smoked paprika

Carefully grill the aubergines over an open gas flame, turning them with tongs until the skin is evenly blistered and the flesh is soft.

flame1 flame2

Refrigerate or soak in cold water for ten minutes to cool.

Peel the blackened skin from the aubergines and place them into a bowl or colander. Leave them to drain for 20-30 minutes.

cooked peeling2 peeling3

When drained of fluid, chop coarsely and place into the bowl of a food processor.

chopped

Pound lemon zest, chilli flakes and cumin in a mortar and pestle, then add to the food processor bowl with the remaining ingredients. Process until well combined and creamy.

mortar crushed blender

Taste and adjust flavours as required; you may wish to add extra tahini, lemon juice, chilli or salt.

Scoop the baba ghanouj into a serving bowl and make a small ‘well’ in the centre. Pour over some extra olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar, sumac or smoked paprika to serve.

dip3 debrisdipping fin

chilli bacon jam

Bacon is a funny thing. To the untrained eye, it’s a pretty ugly piece of meat. Streaked with ribbons of fat, it’s commonly cut from the sides, back or belly of a pig before being cured with copious amounts of sodium chloride (salt) or ‘brine’ (a mixture of salt, sodium ascorbate and potassium nitrate amongst other things). The meat is then air dried, boiled or smoked to in pieces before being sliced and sold in rashers or strips. The end product, as you’d well know, looks like this:


So why is bacon, of all things, loved to the point of absolute fanaticism? The term ‘bacon mania‘ has even been coined to describe the ever-increasing fervency of bacon enthusiasts around the world, particularly in the United States, Canada and other western countries. There are bacon products ranging from painted bacon coffins to an award-winning smoky Bakon Vodka alongside another product appropriately named baconlube (which pushes the boundaries of it’s maker J&D’s tagline, ‘Everything should taste like bacon’). But, ahem… moving on.

According to scientists, the explanation mostly centres around a Japanese term devised in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Tokyo chemist and university professor. Ikeda’s work isolated a separate taste substance from the four commonly accepted ‘tastes’ of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. He called this new taste ‘umami’, a combination of the Japanese words for ‘delicious’ (umai うまい) and ‘taste’ (mi).

So what’s this got to do with bacon? Well, to throw more science at you, the taste profile of umami comes from the tongue’s detection of an amino acid named L-glutamate. You can read more about the process here, but for the purposes of this blog post all you need to know is that umami basically makes everything taste good. That’s why Ikeda later went on to create and patent a chemical version of umami called monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common additive in Chinese takeaway. But, well… let’s just say the world is slowly rediscovering that natural is better.

Foods rich in umami include most meats, anchovies, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce, shellfish, seaweed and vegetable extracts (Vegemite and Marmite). The good news is bacon has six different types of umami in it. No wonder it tastes so darn good.

Okay. Now that you’ve learnt why you want to eat bacon, I’m going to tell you how you can eat bacon, with a spoon, straight out of a jar. Sound weird? Yep, I thought so too, but after reading this recipe by Martha Stewart I was keen to experiment.

So, fast forward to time spent at a friend’s house drinking mint tea whilst avoiding the nose of a curious Weimaraner. Over the course of an afternoon, we caught up on four weeks worth of conversation whilst chopping bacon, eventually producing a pot full of caramelised boozy relish that, despite initial doubts, was… well, umami in a jar.

Comparing my revised recipe to the original from Martha Stewart, you’ll see that I’ve added a range of aromatics whilst slightly reducing the sugar content. The finished product has lingering chilli heat and the bitterness of coffee whilst also being mellowed by sweet caramelised shallots, earthy maple syrup and brown sugar. It’s perfect straight from the jar, but if you feel like branching out it also partners beautifully with scrambled eggs, soft goat’s cheese, burgers, fresh rocket and crusty sourdough.

To conclude: bacon in a jar? It works. Try it, I’m pretty confident that you’ll be glad you did.

Chilli Bacon Jam
Makes 2 cups

  • 600g good quality smoked rasher bacon
  • 4 eschallots (brown shallots), thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3/4 cup (180ml/6 fl oz) whisky (substitute with brandy, or just water if preferred)
  • 2/3 cup (160ml/7 fl oz) strong brewed coffee
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Cut your bacon rashers into one inch pieces, then fry them in a large pot with a splash of oil until the meat is crisped and the fat has rendered out. Remove with a slotted spoon, then drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of bacon fat from the pot. Add in your shallots and garlic over medium heat, and cook until the shallots are translucent. Add in the spices, brown sugar, chosen alcohol (if using) and a pinch of salt, cook for 3-4 minutes before adding in your other liquid ingredients: vinegar, coffee and maple syrup. Bring to the boil, then allow the liquid to reduce slightly for about five minutes.

Add in your reserved bacon, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes before stirring and allowing the mixture to evaporate. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the mixture is darkened, syrupy and fragrant.

Once at the desired consistency, allow the mixture to cool. Skim any oil off the surface with a spoon, and discard it alongside the bay leaves.

Transfer your cooled mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process until it reaches the consistency of a chunky jam; you should still be able to see crunchy, crisp little bits of bacon amongst the syrupy, boozy spiced shallots. Taste, and add extra salt or pepper as required.

This mixture is delicious warm, eaten in it’s purest form on a slice of freshly toasted baguette. If you’d rather resist it’s syrupy deliciousness, it will keep well in the fridge (stored in sterilised jars or an airtight container) for up to four weeks. Read on for more tips and serving suggestions.

Notes:

  • This jam is not suitable for canning or longer-term preservation, unless you’re following the strict method of ‘pressure canning‘ to minimise risks of spoilage. Meat is a low acid food (with a pH <4.6) so it’s an optimum breeding ground for bacteria if stored over a long period of time. Read more about the risks here.
  • A preferable method for storing the jam for up to three months would be to freeze it in an airtight container. Though if I were you, I’d just get on with eating it as quickly as possible. Then I’d make another batch.
  • If you’re caffeine intolerant or just not into coffee, there’s no harm in removing it from the recipe. Just substitute with the same quantity of water. When added, the coffee contributes a richness, depth of flavour and slight bitterness to counteract the sweet stickiness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. An actual ‘coffee’ flavour is not really detectable. However, if you’re omitting it, just make sure that you taste your mixture for balance. Add extra salt or another splash of raw vinegar if necessary.
  • As per the coffee, there is no need to add alcohol if you don’t like it. Just add in an appropriate amount of water, or even orange juice if desired. If you are into alcohol and want to diverge from the whisky pathway, as mentioned above I’d substitute some good-quality brandy (Cognac, Armagnac).
  • If you really like chilli, you can substitute the dried chilli flakes (or add to them!) with 2 fresh jalapenos (finely chopped), a dollop of Sriracha or chipotles in adobe sauce (2 chillies, finely chopped). I’d also imagine that an injection of fresh orange rind during the cooking process would add another beautiful layer of complimentary flavour. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This jam tastes good on pretty much everything. My serving suggestions include:

  • slathering it onto a burger bun then topping it with a juicy beef patty, sliced tomatoes and arugula (rocket)
  • eating it thickly spread on crisp crostini with a cloud of soft goat’s cheese (or blue cheese, if you’re brave) and watercress
  • spooning it onto a pile of soft, creamy scrambled eggs then devouring the lot with some thick-sliced, charred sourdough bread or potato rosti
  • spreading it onto one half of a soft white roll, then topping it with piles of fragrant, tender pulled pork (try this amazing recipe for pulled pork by Stephanie Le). Double pork + sticky, boozy chilli sauce = heaven.
  • stuffing it into a chicken breast with soft, mild goat’s cheese or brie, frying the skin til crisp then sticking the lot on a lined baking tray into a preheated oven (180 degrees C / 350 f) for about 20 minutes (or until cooked through). It’d be amazing with a rocket and vine-ripened tomato salad, dressed with aged balsamic, lemon and olive oil.
  • I imagine it’d even taste good in a great big spoonful atop creamy porridge oats, with a crumble of walnuts, though I haven’t ventured that far yet. Most of it’s gone straight into my mouth, from the jar, with a spoon…

Oh, just in case you’re curious, here’s a picture of that beautiful Weimaraner puppy I mentioned earlier in the post. His name’s Royce, and yep, being a puppy he pees everywhere. But he’s still ridiculously cute:

Naw! If I didn’t live in a shoebox I’d take him home…

kale salad with chilli, garlic and parmesan

It’s very early on a Sunday morning, and instead of sleeping I’m wide awake thinking about the nutritional qualities of kale. Is that bad? I guess that’s a subjective question but in my case, probably, considering that I’ve lost my sole opportunity for a weekly sleep-in. Instead, I’ve abandoned my husband to sit in the half-light with a bowl of leafy green, lemon-drenched brassica. As I crunch through mounds of deliciousness, I’m pretty sure that I resemble an excited meerkat that just found a fat scorpion. Mmm, scorpion. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Okay, so maybe that was a bad parallel. Especially for those of you who are strongly adverse to kale like Michael Procopio, who’s actually penned a poem to express his loathing towards the leafy green. And he’s not alone: check out here and here. But for every kale hater, there’s also an equally committed lover, like the delightful Sarah Jane whose blog, I Love Kale, is a tribute to the adaptability of this delicious vegetable. In any case, it’s beautiful. Isn’t it?

By now you’ve probably concluded that I’m in the ‘love’ camp, and you’re absolutely right. Mostly because I coat my kale in a deliciously cheesy, spiced lemon dressing before topping it with a crumbling of toasted nuts. If I’m extra hungry, I’ll also add in some seasoned red quinoa or a soft poached egg, letting the warm yolk drizzle softly into mounds of chilli-flecked green. Absolutely delicious, moreish and 100% good for you.

Well, if you’re now interested enough to find out more about the benefits of kale, just read on below. Underneath, you’ll also find my lemon and chilli spiced kale recipe, with suggestions for adaptation. As with all my recipes, I’d encourage you to add, subtract or change things around to suit your personal taste. Don’t like cheese? Try adding some tahini, more crushed nuts or nutritional yeast. Want some meat? Read on below for suggestions. As long as you get some kale into your diet, I’m happy… even if your version only resembles 1% of the original (that 1% being kale, not cheese, smart-ass).

Your body will thank you. Here’s why:

  • Kale is one of the newly coined superfoods of the plant world, a category that also includes grains like quinoa, berries like acai (ah-sigh-hee) and seeds like chia. Superfoods, in a nutshell, are plants that are high in organic phytonutrients, or components that are highly beneficial to physical health.
  • Phytonutrients in kale include beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and calcium, all of which assist in the maintenance of heart and bone health whilst aiding digestion, vision (by preventing macular degeneration) and energy production.
  • Along with other brassica vegetables (such as broccoli and cabbage) kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.
  • Sulforaphane is another chemical within kale that has potent anti-cancer properties. To enhance levels, eat your kale raw, preferably blended, minced or chopped. If you prefer cooked greens, minimise nutrient loss by steaming or stir-frying (if you’re one of those people who boil vegetables to a shade of grey, at least drink the cooking water as that’s where all the nutrients have gone).

Kale Salad with Chilli, Garlic and Parmesan:

Serves approx. 2 for a main meal, 4 as a side dish.

  • 1 bunch kale (equivalent of about 4 cups, washed & chopped)
  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (equivalent to 1/4 cup or ~50ml of juice)
  • chilli flakes, to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon)
  • a large pinch of sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (or for vegans, substitute a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or a combination of all three (I add closer to 1/2 cup but adjust to your requirements)

Thoroughly wash and dry your kale leaves. Remove the tough, fibrous lower stalk and central vein from the larger leaves (retain the inner stalks from the more tender heart) then shred into 0.5cm thick ribbons. Place in a large bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle, pound your garlic clove with the chilli flakes and sea salt into a thick paste. Transfer it into a small bowl and add your lemon juice, olive oil, ground pepper and cheese. Whisk the dressing to combine, then pour it over the kale. Toss very well with salad servers or if it’s a meal for one, it might be easier to use your hands (I do!). Ensure that each leaf is thoroughly coated in dressing, then allow your kale leaves to sit for at least ten minutes to ensure that the lemon juice & olive oil will tenderise and remove some bitterness from the leaves.

Pound half of your toasted nuts in a mortar and pestle to a coarse ground. Chop the rest coarsely, then mix most of the nuts into your salad, reserving a sprinkling for garnish. Serve in bowls or on a large plate, scattered with your reserved nuts, a splash more extra virgin oil, a sprinkling of extra chilli flakes and/or extra Parmesan to taste.

Notes:

This salad lends itself very well to adaptations for both the vegetarian and carnivorous palate. Play around with things as suits your palate but some of my favourites are as follows:

  • If you’re not a fan of cheese, this salad works really well with some tahini or almond butter mixed into the dressing. Try a tablespoon to start then adjust to taste.
  • If you’ve tried this salad and you find that your kale is still bitter and tough, the problem is that the leaves have not been sufficiently ‘cooked’ in the acid of the dressing. I’d suggest trying again, but rubbing the dressing in with your hands before allowing it to sit for at least ten minutes. Hopefully this will do the trick!
  • Add some crumbled fried bacon pieces to your salad for the meat-lovers in your family, or serve with some seasoned grilled chicken or crispy-skinned salmon that’s still soft, moist and pink in the centre.
  • Place a generous handful of kale salad on some buttered, toasted rye or wholegrain bread, then serve topped with a soft-poached egg for breakfast.
  • Toast some turkish bread, slather it with hummus (preferably home-made, it’s easy!) then top with a spoonful of kale salad. The lemon and tahini, wrapped in the smoothness of the hummus pairs well with the garlicky, chilli-spiked greens.
  • Along the same thread, you can also add some kale salad into a pita-bread or lavash wrap with hummus, canned tuna and/or chickpeas. Yum.
  • If you don’t like nuts or can’t eat them, then this salad works equally well with croutons for extra crunch. Just place some day-old, crumbled wholegrain or French bread in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of pepper, then bake until golden. Top your salad, then eat!
  • To bulk out your kale salad in wheat-free fashion, just cook 1/2 cup quinoa in 1 cup of water (1:2 ratio) or vegetable stock then mix through your salad. I sometimes omit the cheese in this variation, then add in some pepitas and raisins (or chopped medjool dates) for extra colour, sweetness and crunch.
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