olive oil, rosemary and citrus cake

tableIf any of you are following me on Instagram, you’d know that I’m experiencing a woody herb obsession. It’s something to do with winter, cold nights and frosty mornings, slow roasting and baking whilst sipping a glass of wine.

Differing from soft-stemmed herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil (from which the entire plant is edible), woody herbs include the much-loved rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano and thyme.

As the name suggests, the stems of woody herbs are hard, fibrous and often inedible (think rosemary). As a general rule, they’re better in cooked dishes, finely chopped, bruised in a mortar and pestle, fried until crispy (think sage. JUST DO IT) or infused into oil.

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The robust nature of woody herbs makes them wonderful for savoury applications such as a classic meat stuffing or slow cooked meal. However, they’re also delicious in Mediterranean-inspired desserts when combined with delicately sweet ingredients such as citrus fruit, nuts, stone fruit and glossy olive oil. To me, it’s a little bit like the flavour profile of a cheese board in the semblance of a traditional dessert. Sweet with savoury notes. Perfect for those of us with dwindling sweet tooths.

Like my recent recipe for lemon thyme ice cream sandwiches, this cake offers beautifully herbal, woody and savoury notes alongside the sweetness of citrus and olive oil. It’s perfect when eaten with coffee and a big dollop of double cream.

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Olive Oil, Rosemary and Citrus Cake

Adapted from this recipe by Michael Chiarello at Food Network

  • 2 cups plain flour (I used gluten-free)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground anise (Spanish anise seed, not star anise. Substitute fennel seeds)
  • 1 tbsp mixed orange and lemon zest, finely grated*
  • 1 cup mixed orange and lemon juice*
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (315ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur (eg. Cointreau, substitute brandy)

*I used 2 medium oranges and 1 small lemon to extract 1 cup of juice.

To serve:

  • 4 tbsp citrus marmalade, preferably without peel
  • icing sugar, optional
  • fresh rosemary sprigs and/or edible flowers

Grease and line a 24cm spring-form cake pan, then set aside. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

In a nonreactive saucepan, reduce the citrus juice over medium heat to 1/4 cup. Add the salt, mix well and allow to cool.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add the milk, sugar, liqueur, olive oil, reduced (and cooled) citrus juice, zest, ground anise and half of the fresh rosemary (the other tsp will be used for glazing the cake). Mix well.

citrus

Sift in the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Mix until you achieve a smooth, even batter.

Pour the mixture into your prepared cake pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake is risen and golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should have only a few moist crumbs attached. Cover the cake with foil three-quarters of the way through cooking if it is browning too quickly. The cake will crack, it’s pretty much inedible so don’t worry!).

Place the cake onto a wire rack. While the cake is still warm, heat the marmalade until runny and incorporate the leftover chopped rosemary.Gently pour over the cake, using a spoon to smooth out any clumps. Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar and top with rosemary sprigs.

lokisniff cut

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.

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.

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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

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

pomegranate and star anise soda

jar2It’s late on Sunday afternoon. The air is cool, moist with lingering humidity from the warmish day-that-was. Rain birds call, their cries echoing from the trees to the thirsty earth. It’s going to rain tonight. The last month of autumn has beckoned the wet.

Not that I mind. I actually prefer the cooler months and their rain-splattered windows, worn leather boots and cosy, patterned blankets. Each rainy day brings opportunities for steaming hot porridge, six-hour lamb and melted cheese on garlicky toasted sourdough. My kind of bliss indeed.

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Admittedly, there are fleeting moments in winter when I’m sick of the grey. When my heart swells at the thought of sunshine, light cotton t-shirts and ice-cream by the seaside. During those times, I wrap myself in a blanket and eat a warm salad with as many colours as I can find. Between bites, I drink cold iced soda, preferably laden with fruit and heartening fresh mint.

mint

In hindsight, the above process is probably only suitable for the Australian winter. Here in Perth, our temperatures drop to a mean of about 7 degrees C (44 degrees f) in the evenings, definitely nowhere near freezing. However, this Aussie girl likes to eat, sip, snuggle under blankets and wait for cold liquid to travel from mouth to stomach. As I watch the ice cubes frost the side of the glass, I think of sunshine, bare feet and thick, wafting heat.

One of my favourite sodas of the moment incorporates sweet, red pomegranate, ripe citrus and fragrant star anise. When poured over ice, it’s my new favourite remedy for an exhausting day with bleary, overcast skies.

spoon

This drink is beautiful as a sparkling fruit soda for hot (or cold) afternoons with friends, however if you’d like to elevate it into the ‘cocktail’ category, feel free to add a shot (30mL) of vodka during the mixing process. It’s delicious either way.

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Pomegranate and Star Anise Soda

Adapted from this recipe by the Kitchn.

Makes about 8 x 3 tbsp/45mL serves

  • 1/2 cup pink or red grapefruit juice (from about 1 small grapefruit)
  • 1/2 cup navel orange juice
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate juice (from about 1 medium pomegranate*)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup white caster sugar
  • 2 star anise pods
  • ice cubes, to serve
  • chilled soda water, to serve
  • mint leaves and pomegranate arils for garnish (optional)

Combine citrus juice, pomegranate juice, sugar, water and star anise in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid reduces by one quarter.

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Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Strain and discard the star anise pods and any residual solids. Let syrup cool completely before using.

To serve, fill a 350ml glass halfway with ice cubes, add 3 tbsp of syrup (and 30mL vodka, if desired). Fill with soda water and stir well. Garnish with pomegranate arils and mint leaves.

*I removed the pomegranate arils (seeds) from the fruit, chucked them into the bowl of a blender and pulsed them briefly to extract the juice. If following this method, pour the extracted juice through a sieve to remove any seeds and residue. Feel free to substitute store-bought pomegranate juice if you can’t find fresh fruit.

You should be able to store any remaining syrup in a sterilized jar in the refrigerator indefinitely.

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whisky, carrot and ginger marmalade

Despite being an English-born child, my first recollections of ‘marmalade’ as an edible substance are rather ambiguous. In fact, my earliest memories of the word seem to be linked to my grandmother’s ginger tabby cat of the same name, with second place being given to Paddington and his marmalade sandwiches.

Image credit: Victoria Stitch, from ‘A Bear Named Paddington’ by Michael Bond (1958)

Oh, how I loved Paddington. If you’ve had a deprived childhood, I’m referring to a children’s story by Michael Bond that was first published in London in 1958. The storyline centres around a displaced bear from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’ who turns up at Paddington station in a duffel coat with a suitcase and note saying: ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you’. The family who eventually adopt him, the Browns, learn that he survived on the boat to England by eating only marmalade sandwiches, as ‘bears like marmalade’.

The story is quintessentially English, rippled with references to London landmarks and cultural eccentricities. Despite my later migration to Australia, the spirit of Paddington (in the form of a stuffed toy) stayed with me, as did my love of marmalade, hot tea and that other English cultural idiosyncrasy, Marmite.

To all Australians reading this, I do admit that 25 years later my yeast-spread loyalty has switched to our national staple, Vegemite (though I still eat it the English way, on toast soldiers with a dippy soft-boiled egg). But despite venturing into the world of peanut butters, Nutella, jams and conserves my marmalade loyalty remains strong. And the more bitter and ‘Old English’ it is, the better.

So, what is marmalade, other than a now-deceased ginger cat? Well, according to various sources the term is thought to have originated in Europe during the 16th Century, when Roman cooks first discovered that fruit could be preserved in honey. This method spread to Portugal, where the term marmelada was coined to describe preserved quinces. This product soon spread to the United Kingdom and British cooks began to apply the same methods of preservation to common citrus fruits such as Seville oranges. The rest is, as they say, history.

So, fast forwarding to today, it’s fair to say that English use of the word marmalade is still being largely restricted to the sale of citrus-based sweet preserves (though sales of the product have been dropping! Sacrilege! Well, unless people are making their own… I hope). However, in Australia and many parts of Europe, the word is being reclaimed to describe everything from quince paste to onion marmalade. Though the little expat inside of me screams at this departure from tradition, there’s also a twinge of excitement in witnessing the continued evolution of food. It’s awesome, and it’s the way that we discover new and exciting flavours, textures and nutritional benefits.

In fact, I’m also departing slightly from tradition in the recipe that you’ll find below. Though there’s a hefty amount of traditional citrus, there’s also the warmth of ginger, a splash of whisky and the sweetness of tender carrots. It’s an acceptable adaptation that’s loyal to the original whilst also being… different. It’s an expat adaptation. Like me.

Whisky, Carrot and Ginger Marmalade

Makes 4 cups

  • 1 organic, pesticide-free orange
  • 1 organic, pesticide-free grapefruit
  • 2 cups peeled, coarsely grated carrot
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 cups white caster sugar
  • 1 cup raw (brown) caster sugar
  • 3 tbs whisky or Grand Marnier
  • 2 tbsp finely minced fresh ginger

Prepare your citrus: Using a sharp knife, remove the top and bottom of your citrus fruits. Place the fruit on a flat surface, and using firm downward strokes, remove the outer rind and white pith completely.Prepare your rind by using a sharp knife to remove any remaining pith on your citrus zest. When only a thin layer remains, finely shred your citrus zest as desired (I usually leave it about 2-3mm wide). Set aside.

Segment your citrus fruits by removing the juicy flesh within each membrane with a sharp knife. You should end up with clean pieces like this:

Squeeze the juice from the inner membranes into a large saucepan, making sure that no seeds escape. Place the seeds and membrane into a clean piece of muslin, cheesecloth or sterilised stocking. Sew or tie the end firmly, then add your ‘pectin bag’ into the saucepan with the juice and your citrus segments (see ‘notes’ for an alternative to making a pectin bag).

Place your prepared rind into the saucepan with the rest of your citrus, adding enough water to cover. Over very low heat, allow the citrus to soak for about 30 minutes (do not allow to boil). This will allow the fruit pectin to steep into the water from the seeds, whilst also infusing the natural oils from the citrus peels into the water.

Once the mixture is fragrant, add about another 3-4 cups of water (as your pot capacity allows). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook at a low simmer for 60 – 90 minutes. You’re aiming for the citrus rind to be very soft and for about one cup of liquid to remain (if the liquid is reducing too fast and your citrus rind is still firm, add more liquid as required). Remove your pectin bag, squeezing residual liquid back into your saucepan.

Add the grated carrot, ginger and lemon juice to your mixture, then bring it back to the boil. At this point you can add your sugar, stirring to dissolve it well (if required, add more water at this point so that you have a loose mixture); there should be no remaining granules in your pot as this will spoil the consistency of your finished marmalade. Once the sugar has dissolved, taste for sweetness – if it is a little tart, add a little more sugar or if it is too sweet add more lemon juice (whilst keeping in mind that your mixture will be further reducing, concentrating the sweetness, and that you’ll also be adding whisky later on).

Once at your desired level of sweetness, simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until your marmalade reaches ‘setting point’. This can be tested by placing a small teaspoonful on a chilled (refrigerated) plate. Leave for 10 seconds, then push the mixture with your finger to test if it has ‘gelled’ like this (you can see the place where my finger was on the left):

If your mixture is at setting point, add your whisky and stir well to combine. Pour your hot marmalade into sterilised jars and seal immediately. The sugar content and temperature of the marmalade should be enough to provide some natural preservation, however if desired you can process your jars in just-boiled water (fill your empty sink with enough water to completely cover the jars) for 10 minutes.

Notes:

  • Marmalade is traditionally made from Seville oranges, which have a strong, sharp flavour and a high amount of pectin which aids in the ‘jam setting’ process. However, as Seville oranges are seasonal I often find myself substituting organic Navels or Valencias, both of which are easy to find in Australia. Blood oranges are also a delicious alternative.
  • The peel of an orange has more vitamin C and fibre than the flesh, so marmalade is actually a very nutritious breakfast food (yes, I know there’s lots of sugar but… well, that’s not my point). However, due to the high concentration of pesticides, chemical sprays and herbicides that remain on shop-bought fruit, I’d recommend seeking out organic, pesticide free citrus for your marmalade. That way you can eat your peel the way nature intended… well, if it was actually intended. Either way, I’m still eating it.
  • As aforementioned, there is an alternative to making a ‘pectin bag’ by which you can still end up with a beautifully set marmalade. It’s called Jamsetta, a granulated mixture of caster sugar, dried pectin and citric acid that works every time. Where I live, it’s commonly available in the baking section at the supermarket in 50g packets. Add one packet per batch of marmalade.
  • If your marmalade jars have been processed correctly, you can store them in a cool place pretty much indefinitely. Once opened, they should keep reasonably fresh (there may be some mild sugar crystallisation on the surface) for a few months in the fridge.
  • Don’t be afraid to play around with this recipe. Bump up the ginger, whisky or carrot elements as desired, as long as you make sure that your pectin bag still contains sufficient seeds or citrus zest to aid the ‘jam setting’ process.
  • Homemade jams, chutneys and marmalades make beautiful gifts when embellished with your own personalised labels. The ones you can see above were made with brown paper and twine before being decorated with an ‘L&A’  (Laura & Aaron) wax seal that my husband and I designed for our wedding invitations last year. I love it, not just from a romantic point of view, but… well, wax seals just make everything look more special. If you’d like to order one for yourself, sites such as this offer a similar product.
  • The base recipe for this marmalade also works well with added spices, mimicking the flavours of both carrot cake and Christmas. If you’d like to give this a try, I’d suggest soaking 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves and 1 tsp of grated nutmeg in a muslin bag during the first stage of the soaking process (over low heat). Alternatively you could add a little powdered cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the overall mixture, tasting for desired intensity.
  • Original and spiced carrot marmalades make a delicious base for jammy winter puddings whilst also being perfect atop a steaming bowl of morning porridge… warm, sweet and comforting. You can also spoon marmalade into a fancied-up trifle with madiera cake (mimicking a jam roll), slather it over a leg of ham with some seeded mustard prior to roasting it or eat it atop some crusty French bread with aged cheddar (trust me, it’s delicious!).

*If at the mention of Paddington you’ve been travelling down memory lane, take a look at Marmalade Mayhem. It’s Paddington, marmalade and gaming goodness all wrapped up into one. Oh, and here’s an admission: yes, the game is aimed at children and still, I failed quite dismally.

lemon and sweet lime curd

Last week, a friend of mine gave me a bag filled with yellow citrus. The small golden orbs were a little unusual, puzzling me with the fragrance of a lemon whilst resembling more of an overripe lime. After a bit of discussion I was told that they were actually Palestinian sweet limes, which are native to both India & Mexico. They’re naturally lower in acid than their bright-green cousins and typically display a blushed yellow hue.

So, whats a cook to do when given a glut of sweet limes? Well, at first, I ate one. Juicy and sweet by nature, this variety of lime tastes a bit like a cross between a lime and an orange whilst having the scent of a lemon. It’s both unusual and delicious.

This is a mingle of both Tahitian & Palestinian sweet limes but the latter are the yellowish fruit (both central & on the right)

Well, after one week I’m now pleased to say that I’ve used sweet limes in a variety of ways, from dressing a range of salads to making a gin cocktail featuring herbs and my favourite spirit, Hendrick‘s dry gin (if you haven’t tried it, get some!! It’s got notes of cucumber, rose & juniper all wrapped up in syrupy gin deliciousness. Definitely recommended). I’ve also used to make two varieties of curd: 1) lemon with both sweet and Tahitian limes and 2) ruby red grapefruit and sweet lime. Both are delicious, but the lemon variety was sweetly satisfying with a Tahitian lime kick.

The recipe below is for the lemon & sweet lime curd, but I’d encourage you to try the grapefruit variation by swapping the lemon & Tahitian lime for 2 ruby red grapefruit (zest & juice). You’ll also need to reduce the sugar a little to compensate for the reduced amount of acid, and whilst I won’t give you an exact amount I’ll encourage you to start at 120g then add & taste as you go. If you can’t get hold of sweet limes, feel free to use the base recipe and substitute any citrus fruit you desire. They’ll all be delicious, and perfect with everything from pavlova to toast and tea.

Lemon & Sweet Lime Curd

Makes roughly 1 litre (4 metric cups)

  • 440g (2 cups) sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 5-6 egg yolks
  • zest & juice of 1 lemon*
  • zest & juice of 5 sweet limes*
  • zest & juice of 2 Tahitian limes*

Method:

Wash and dry your citrus fruit, then finely grate the rind.  Juice fruit and reserve the equivalent of 250mls (1 cup) of juice. You can either strain your juice at this stage, or just remove the pips whilst reserving any fruit pulp (I like the latter option, probably because I just like rustic home-cooked food!).

Whisk your eggs, egg yolks & sugar until smooth, then place your pan over a low heat. Add the juice, rind, sugar & butter and keep whisking until the mixture thickens.  You’re looking for it to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon… for me it takes around 20 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil or the eggs will curdle & you’ll be left with a congealed, eggy mess!

Once your mixture has thickened, take it off the heat & allow it to cool a little. Pour it into your pre-prepared hot sterilised jars (you will need four 250ml/1 cup jars, see ‘notes’). Seal and invert jars for 2 minutes before turning them upright and allowing them to cool.

Notes:

*substitute with your choice of citrus fruit. You will need juice equivalent to 250mls (1 cup). Make sure you adjust levels of sugar according to the acidity of your chosen fruit.

Preparing your Jars: Taste has a great tutorial on how to sterilise jars for your jams, chutneys & preserves. See link here.

Sealed curd will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. You can also put your curd into an airtight, sealed container and freeze it for up to three months. Whisk again upon defrosting.

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