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. 

bowl

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.

mip1

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!

plate2

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.

mip2

Advertisements

char-grilled watermelon salad with mint and goats cheese

plate4It’s been a slow couple of months at the Mess. Slow and weary; mostly due to the insufferably hot Summer weather. Over the past two months I’ve been reluctant to even move, never mind turn on the oven. Aaron and I have spent a majority of nights sleeping on the cool kitchen floor underneath our single air conditioning unit (don’t get too excited, it hardly copes with humidity. Cool, wet towels have become my new best friend).

Meals? Well, they’ve largely consisted of raw vegetables, hummus, sourdough and cultured butter, chunks of good cheddar and the occasional barbecue chicken from Red Rooster. Oh, and homemade quinoa tofu sushi. That’s about as interesting as it gets. melonNot that I’m complaining. In fact, I’ve quite enjoyed these nights of light, simple food. My sole problem has been poor blogability, if that’s even a word. Nothing’s really stood out as beautiful enough to throw into the blogosphere.

Add that to the absence of my beloved laptop (which has officially bitten the dust) and the lack of Western Australian daylight savings and… well, you’re left with a dearth of recent blog content. I’m dreadfully sorry. vase But back to today’s post and the beauty of char-grilled watermelon. This, my friends, is the kind of food that makes my weary, sweat-soaked Summer heart sing.

Quickly tossing watermelon onto a hot grill plate creates a beautiful smoky exterior that contrasts perfectly against the sweet, juicy flesh. Add some fresh mint, creamy chevre, crunchy pistachios and piquant lemon and you’ve got a salad fit for warm weather entertaining. plate1 Or for eating by yourself, with sweet grilled chicken and a glass of chilled white wine.

Happy February, friends. plate3 Char-grilled Watermelon Salad

Serves 2

  • 4 one-inch-thick slices of seedless watermelon, rind removed
  • 2 spring onions, washed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 sprig mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 hunks of good-quality goats cheese, preferably French chèvre (approx 20g per person)
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp toasted, shelled pistachio nuts, crushed
  • light olive oil or coconut oil, to cook

Lemon Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice from half an average lemon)
  • a good pinch of brown or coconut sugar (to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue plate to high heat (or until it starts smoking).

Rub each side of the cut watermelon with olive or coconut oil, then immediately transfer onto the hot pan or rack. Cook for 2 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Transfer two slices onto each plate.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients into a small screw top jar. Shake, then taste. Adjust amounts of acid or sweetness to your liking (ensure the dressing is a little acidic as you’ll require the acid as a contrast to the sweet watermelon.

dressingingred dressing Top the watermelon slices on each plate with some crumbled goats cheese, mint, spring onions and finely grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a bit of the lemon dressing and sprinkle with crunchy pistachio nuts.

Serve alongside some grilled white fish or chicken for a complete meal. Or as a Vegetarian option, add some sourdough and cultured butter for a pretty delicious lunch. plate2

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.

pomart

pour

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.

board

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.

orangehand

bubble

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.

ballbetterfruit

jar

raw cacao mint truffles

plate2

The following recipe was created for my beautiful friend Stephie’s blog, Eat Your Heart Out, as part of her ‘Friends First‘ series for April. I’m re-posting it here primarily for organizational reasons.

I initially stumbled across Stephie’s blog in September last year. I can’t quite remember how (I initially thought it was through her mother, Julie, an equally kind and humorous reader of this blog. In hindsight, I think that she found me through Stephie) but after reading this post I was hooked by Stephie’s down-to-earth warmth, positivity and heartfelt honesty.

I’ve since been a loyal follower of Stephie’s blog (in part because of her incredible baked goods) whilst progressively discovering her feeds on facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And you know what? She’s an amazing inspiration.

Even if she doesn’t like chocolate (yeah… I don’t get it either).

cacaoplate

So, onto the recipe. I shared this method for raw cacao mint truffles with Stephie’s readers for two reasons; 1) Stephie hadn’t posted a similar recipe before, and 2) I figured that northern hemisphere readers might appreciate a ‘healthy sweet treat’ in the lead up to summer’s swimsuit months.

The biggest selling point is the fact that they’re no-cook, a.k.a ridiculously easy to prepare. In ten minutes, you’ve got something deliciously satisfying that’s also healthy. It’s a sweet treat to satisfy any chocolate craving.

So without further ado, scroll down for my raw cacao mint truffle recipe. Each bite is packed with both goodness and flavour, so your heart and your body will thank you.

plate3

Raw Cacao Mint Truffles

Makes approximately 20 balls

  • 1 cup (100g) raw almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup (60g) raw cacao powder (substitute Dutch process cocoa)
  • 1-2 tsp cacao nibs
  • 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp (15-30ml) raw honey*, maple syrup or agave, to sweeten
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) water
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) coconut oil
  • 1-2 drops peppermint oil, to taste
  • Cacao powder, cocoa or desiccated coconut, to roll

Place the almond meal, cacao, dates, water and coconut oil into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture starts to come together. Taste and add some honey, maple syrup or agave to sweeten if required (I used 2 tbsp of honey, however if you’ve used cocoa instead of cacao powder you’ll probably require a little less). Process again and tip into a medium sized bowl.

bowl

Add the cacao nibs and a drop of peppermint oil. Mix together, using your hands or a metal spoon. Taste again and add a little more peppermint oil if desired.

With clean hands, roll the mixture into balls (I used ½ tablespoon of mix per ball). Roll each ball into some cocoa powder or desiccated coconut before placing them onto a lined baking tray. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve*.

*Use maple syrup or agave as a vegan alternative to honey. Do not keep these balls at room temperature or they will become very soft.

plate

freekeh salad with hot-smoked salmon, pomegranate and feta

saladThere’s been a lot of talk about ancient grains recently. A LOT of talk. And by talk, I’m referring to virtual obsession… on the internet, in restaurant menus, in burgers, breads, cakes and breakfast cereals.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. In fact, I’d happily state the opposite. Ancient grains are ridiculously good for you, they’re less refined and generally more nutritious than modern, over-processed grain products. They’re also frequently grown in an organic and sustainable manner, which is much better for the soil and the environment in general.

Yep, it’s all good.

veg

But rather than spending the rest of this post harping on about ancient grains (I’ll let those more qualified do that) I’m going to narrow down to one particular type of grain that I’ve recently fallen in love with: freekeh.

Technically, freekeh (“free-kah”) is a term given to any grain that is harvested, sun-dried, roasted and threshed whilst still green. In Australia, most available freekeh is currently made from durum wheat, however companies such as Greenwheat Freekeh in South Australia are currently working to produce green triticale and barley for commercial sale.

freekeh

Due to its early harvest, green freekeh contains more protein, vitamins and minerals than mature wheat and other grains. It is also higher in fibre whilst having a lower glycaemic index (GI), which means it’s great for management of diabetes.

Freekeh has been a staple part of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine for centuries, most commonly used in side dishes (like pilafs), stews and soups. It’s a wonderful, natural alternative to pasta or rice, with a slightly nutty flavour and crunchy texture.

My favourite way to consume freekeh is in a fresh, textural salad full of green herbs, nuts and seeds, great olive oil and sweet pops of fresh or dried berries. I’ve tried many over the past two years and I’ve loved most of them, the stand-outs being those that incorporate soft labne or goats curd, pomegranate arils and toasted nuts.

pombetter

The recipe that I’ve included below was a rather impromptu creation; the result of extreme hunger and some after-work fridge foraging (hence why some of the photographs were taken after dark; darn that yellowish tinge). Luckily, I had a beautiful Tasmanian hot-smoked salmon fillet on hand, alongside half a zucchini, broad beans, some organic freekeh and my favourite goats feta.

It all came together in a matter of minutes, discounting the ‘inactive cooking time’ required for wholegrain freekeh (about 45 minutes, which I spent drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic).

broadbeans2

When seasoning this salad, keep in mind that the salmon retains a lot of saltiness from the curing and smoking process. You’ll only need a little bit of salt to balance the rest of the dish.

However, if you generally avoid smoked fish, feel free to omit the salmon completely or substitute chunks of fresh seared salmon as desired. Whichever way, it’ll be delicious.

plate2

Freekeh and Herb Salad with Hot-Smoked Salmon, Pomegranate and Feta

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

  • 180g hot-smoked salmon fillets (preferably plain or peppered, not flavoured) roughly torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup wholegrain freekeh, rinsed
  • 1 cup broad beans (fresh or frozen are fine), double-podded
  • 1/2 medium zucchini, washed and diced
  • 1 cup washed and coarsely chopped mint, coriander and parsley leaves
  • a big handful of washed baby spinach leaves
  • About 60g marinated feta, chopped or broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup toasted, crushed nuts (I used almonds but pistachios or pine nuts would be wonderful)
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (arils) – about 1/2 large pomegranate
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 lemon + 1-2 tsp finely grated rind
  • 3-4 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses, or to taste

Place freekeh into a pot over high heat with 2 1/2 cups boiled water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 40 minutes or until the grains are softened but intact (they should still have a bit of ‘bite’ to them). Transfer to a large bowl, then set aside to cool slightly.

Heat 1 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil in a heavy-based pan over medium heat. Add zucchini and cook until slightly translucent. Add broad beans to the pan and continue cooking until the vegetables are light golden.

broadbeans

Transfer to the same bowl as the freekeh (add any cooking juices that have collected in the pan).

Mix the lemon juice and rind, the rest of the Brookfarm oil, pomegranate molasses and sherry vinegar in a small bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl (reserve a bit of feta and some pomegranate arils to garnish, if desired), drizzle over the dressing and mix well.

mix

Serve on a platter, garnished with the reserved feta and arils. Drizzle with a little more Brookfarm oil or pomegranate molasses if desired.

This salad is beautiful on its own, as a barbecue accompaniment or just wrapped in warm, fresh flatbreads with a smear of homemade hummus (perfect for lunch).

brookfarm

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

broad bean salad with lemon, mint and goats cheese

mixedIt’s been seven long years since my first trip to the sunny northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Despite the passage of time, I remember each detail with a clarity that only survives the best of holidays: the warm gust of air as I exited Barcelona-El Prat and boarded the shuttle bus to the city centre; the vibrant, glossy mosaics lining the terrace in Park Güell; the salty crunch of chorizo wrapped in bread from a smiling street vendor. One visit was enough to stimulate a lifelong love of Spanish culture, food and tradition.

beanbowlmontBarcelona is a beautiful city; a vibrant tumble of old and new, poor and affluent, traditional and modern. Gothic streets juxtapose against modern vehicles like an unintended social statement. Cracked pavements gleam with hidden mosaic tiles. Barcelona is art, embodied, endlessly evolving, complex and raw.

rindIf you’ve traveled to Spain, you may understand my persistent infatuation with Spanish cuisine. Crisp, hot, deliciously fragrant, quickly devoured in shades of blackened crimson, vivid green and soft white. My first meal upon landing was white fish ceviche, delicately opaque, dripping with fresh lemon and good olive oil. Despite eating dinner at 11.00pm (the Spanish way) my taste buds awakened to crisp red peppers, delicate herbs and succulent fish tinged with acid. I’ve never forgotten one bite of that meal, despite being amply lubricated with my first tastes of Spanish sangria; crimson, sweet and lingering. Each bite was a glimpse of culinary heaven.

I fell in love that night. Not with a man, but with the cultural richness, generosity of flavour and reckless abandon embedded in Spanish cuisine. It travelled back with me, from Barcelona’s urban landscape to the dusty red soil of my Australian hometown, Perth.

As soon as I arrived home, I began an endless quest to recreate some of the meals that I enjoyed in Spain, specifically tapas fare: snack-style grazing plates found in every bar and cafe around Barcelona city. As the years have passed, my collection of ceramic tapas dishes has slowly grown to occupy an entire shelf in the kitchen cupboard, interrupted only by a wine decanter that I use to make summer sangria.

cheesemintBeing a diasporic child, it’s safe to say that I incorporate ‘fusion’ in many of my tapas dishes, an example being today’s recipe for broad bean salad. Though broad beans are very popular in Spain, they’re mostly eaten raw or in meaty dishes such as habas con jamon (broad beans with ham). This lemon-infused, chilli flecked concoction is entirely my own, designed to be a fresh, vibrant accompaniment to jamon serrano, crisp pescaito frito, patatas bravas and other tapas staples.

If you can’t find fresh broad beans, frozen will do; just ensure that you handle them carefully whilst peeling their resilient skins. Serve this dish warm or at room temperature, slicked in fruity extra virgin olive oil and accompanied by warm, crusty bread.

header

Broad Bean Salad with Lemon, Mint and Goats Cheese

Serves 4 as part of a tapas meal or 2 as a side dish

  • 1 cup (170g) podded fresh broad beans (habas, or fava beans)
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil (or lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil, if you can find it)
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 small handful mint, washed and chopped
  • 50-70g firm organic goats cheese, crumbled
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • lemon wedges, to serve (optional)

Blanch the broad beans (still in their papery skins) in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Carefully slip the broad beans out of their skins and into a medium sized bowl, then set aside.

beanmontPlace the crushed garlic, lemon rind, chilli flakes and olive oil into a small bowl. Mix carefully, then add to the broad beans with the mint, goats cheese, salt and pepper. Gently toss together.

tablecloserTransfer the salad into a serving dish. Drizzle over a little more olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges (to squeeze over the salad as desired), warm crusty bread and other tapas accompaniments.

saladtop2*Note: In response to several requests from blog followers, I’ve finally established a facebook page for Laura’s Mess: https://www.facebook.com/laurasmessblog. With one extra click, you’ll find all of my recipe links, daily musings, foodie scribbles and snapshots for your enjoyment. Feel free to drop me a line on facebook if you have any day to day questions, recipe links and tips. It’ll take me a while to connect myself with other bloggers on facebook, so if you have your own page, please let me know about it. I’m excited to finally be a part of the facebook food blogger’s community!

watermelon mint tequila pops with lime and sea salt

poplikeyIt’s been a few days since my last post; seemingly enough time for the weather to change from warmth and sunshine to grey skies and rain. For the first time in over three months, I pulled my crinkled jeans out from underneath a pile of t-shirts and swapped black Havaianas for mint-green Chucks to stop my toes from getting wet.  Sad, really. Well… for those of us who love the long nights and blue skies of Summer. 

popstickSo… what to post about, as I sit here on the couch wrapped in a blanket? Well, somewhat inappropriately, I felt like making today’s post about one of my favourite Summer treats: icy-poles (as we Australians call them; also known as ice pops or ice lollies for those in the Northern Hemisphere). As my mother will verify, cold weather means absolutely nothing to me when it comes to the consumption of iced treats. I’ve eaten Deep South ice-cream at -6 degrees C (-21 degrees f) in a beanie and gloves on New Zealand’s South Island, and it was totally worth it. Not only because Deep South makes some of the creamiest, most delicious ice-cream I’ve ever tasted, but also (wait for it) when you eat ice-cream at minus temperatures it doesn’t melt.

pile

Now, that might seem like an obvious statement to some of you, particularly if you live in a cold climate. But for me, it was an absolute epiphany. I enjoyed every last bite of that darn delicious ice-cream whilst staring up at the ridiculously beautiful Fox Glacier. I crunched the last remnants of cone and not a single drop of liquid ended up on my thermal gloves. Awesome, in every sense of the word.

Anyway, that’s enough reminiscing for one night. Back to the recipe at hand: sweet watermelon pops spiked with aromatic mint, sour lime and Tequila. I initially found this recipe over at Cindy’s blog, Hungry Girl por Vida, when I was searching for a boozy treat to serve at Aaron’s Mexican-themed birthday party last Summer (only two months ago, but… Summer is gone. Me sad). I soured the recipe up a bit with extra lime, then served the frozen pops after tacos, followed by shots of Jose Cuervo Reposado, salt and lime wedges.

teqmont

The pops were good. Very good… sweet, refreshing, tart and cold. But you know what? As I’ve been typing up this recipe, I had another epiphany (rolling them out tonight, people). Why not serve the actual ice pops with typical Tequila accompaniments: salt and lime wedges? So, wrapped up in my blanket, I tried the combination tonight with a Tequila shot. So good. The extra lime juice immediately freezes to become a sour, aromatic layer around the sweet ice pop, whilst the sea salt flakes embed themselves into the lime… you get little crunchy bursts of saltiness that pop with each bite.

saltteqmont

I’d definitely recommend this recipe for a lick of sweet, fragrant Summertime, regardless of the time of year. I’m still sucking on my popsicle stick as I type; my cold reddened fingers lingering with frozen moments just-passed. Maybe Summer will stay just a few moments longer. Just maybe.

pileofpops

Watermelon Mint Tequila Pops with Lime and Sea Salt

Makes roughly 12 pops (depending upon how large your molds are)

  • 1/4 cup (60mL) water
  • 1/4 cup (55g) white caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint, torn coarsely
  • 4 cups watermelon, cubed
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 1/3 cup Tequila (blanco or aged reposado, I used the latter as it has a more mellow flavour)
  • optional: flaked sea salt and extra wedges of lime, to serve

Combine the water, sugar and mint in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow to boil, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. When there are no further sugar granules in the mixture, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, allowing the mint to steep in the sugar syrup for a minimum of 30 minutes (I left mine for 1 hour, which I’d recommend if you can spare the time). Strain your mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl or jar, pressing down on the mint leaves to remove as much flavour as possible. Set aside.

meloncut

Now for your watermelon. In a blender or food processor, puree the watermelon in batches. Add in your lime juice, then strain through a sieve to remove any large chunks of watermelon or stray seeds. Add in the Tequila and mint syrup, stirring well to ensure that everything is well distributed. Taste, then add in some extra lime or Tequila as desired.

melonlime

Divide your mixture between as many popsicle molds as you like (I made one massive one in a takeaway container, then mashed it up to make granita. Divine!). Freeze the mixture in the popsicle molds for about 30 minutes, then add in the pop sticks (push half of the stick into the centre of your ice pop… if it doesn’t stand up straight, wait a little longer then try again). Continue to freeze for 24 hours (or at the very least, 12, if you can’t wait) before eating.

servsug

To make these even more adult-friendly, serve the pops with extra wedges of lime and a little bowl of sea salt. Squeeze, dip, then slurp… like a deliciously icy Tequila shot. Yum.

*This post is in no way affiliated with Jose Cuervo or any other brand of Tequila. I just bought the bottle above because 1) I’ve tried it before, and it’s delicious; 2) it was free of slippery little plump agave worms. Opinions stated are entirely my own.

popscontainer

Notes:

  • To make these pops child-friendly, omit one lime and all of the Tequila. Your pops will probably freeze faster this way, as the alcohol (40% or 80 proof) in Tequila actually requires a temperature of about -34.44 degrees C (-30 degrees f) to freeze. Quite impractical, really… but delicious enough for me not to care.
  • If you’re not keen on cane sugar, I imagine that agave syrup would work wonderfully in this recipe (as it echoes the blue agave in the Tequila). You can also try 1/4 tsp stevia (powdered or liquid) as a substitute but you may have problems getting your mint syrup to the right consistency. Your finished pops will also be slightly ‘icier’ due to a higher ratio of water to sugar.
  • If you’ve ever wondered how to efficiently eat a watermelon, watch this video by Tom Willett. Your life will never be the same.
  • These pops will keep in the freezer for weeks. I’ve got a couple left from my husband’s birthday (in February) in the freezer and they taste just as gorgeous as ever (yes, I ate two whilst writing this blog post).

quinoa salad with preserved lemon, pomegranate and mint

pomisalad

Crimson red, forest green, flecks of gold and snow-capped white. Absolutely everywhere? Yep, that’s the Christmas season for you. Alternatively, you could be sitting in a camp Italian restaurant waiting for garlicky pasta marinara… but since it’s December, let’s go with the former.

Hm, Christmas. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost upon us… in nine days to be exact. I’m only half way through my Christmas shopping but I’ve already celebrated three times this month; with work, family and most recently, with friends around an apartment barbecue. This gathering, albeit informal, contained pretty much all that I love about Christmas. We shared great food and weird stories around an improvised table before crashing on the floor to watch Charlie the Unicorn with rich cocoa brownies and wine in mismatched glasses.

ingredientsmont

Strangely, there was no tinsel in sight. No pudding either. We did, however, celebrate the year that was, whilst thanking God for His strength that brought us through every circumstance. Now, I know that for some people ‘religious talk’ is a big turn off in any context, especially in an otherwise non-religious blog post. But since it’s December, nine days away from Christmas, please grant me one line: I believe that Jesus Christ is the one gift that matters, the Saviour for all eternity and the biggest reason to lift our hearts in celebration this Christmas and always.

There, that’s it. If you’d like to find out more, or if you have no idea what I’m going on about, take a look here (also check out Matthew 1:18-25; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20). If you don’t want to bother, then don’t. Okay, on with the recipe post.

preservedlemonsjarmont

In my opinion, today’s recipe is perfect for a balmy Australian Christmas. It’s deliciously light, fresh and healthy but will add a touch of Christmas colour and complexity to your festive table. The main ingredients you’ll need are quinoa, pomegranate, mint and preserved lemon. I’ve discussed quinoa previously in my Honey Chia Muesli Slice post, but in a nutshell it’s the seed of an Andean flowering plant that’s full of vitamins, complete protein and minerals. It’s both delicious and good for you, especially when complimented by complex flavours such as goat’s cheese, mint, pomegranate seeds and toasted nuts.

This salad was happily devoured at our communal barbecue with creamy potato and bacon salad, Heirloom tomato salad, fresh kaiser rolls, homemade beetroot relish, chicken kebabs and garlicky Scotch fillet steaks. It’s a beautiful feeling to bring joy to people through the medium of food, especially during the holiday season. I hope that this recipe will become a valued (and healthy) part of your festive repertoire this Summer.

IMG_7906

Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 3-4 as a light meal or 6 as an accompaniment

  • 3/4 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
  • 1/4 cup dry organic black Royal Quinoa
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, a few leaves reserved
  • 2 quarters (or half) of a preserved lemon*
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds removed, pith and skin discarded (see below for preparation tips)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese or Danish feta
  • 1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, lightly toasted then coarsely crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a fresh lemon (or to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • pomegranate molasses* (optional)

Place the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour). Drain well, then place your quinoa in a medium saucepan. Add in two cups of fresh cold water, replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Immediately lower the heat so that the mixture simmers gently, then cook with the lid in place for about 15 minutes. When your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes, covered, then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice, some sea salt and black pepper. Place into a medium bowl then set aside.

quinoalemon

Start preparing your preserved lemon: remove and discard the flesh from the rinds. Rinse the rinds well under fresh cold water then pat them dry with a paper towel. Chop finely with a very sharp knife; first lengthways then crossways as below:

preservedlemonscut

Add the prepared rind to your quinoa, then set aside. Next, remove the seeds from your pomegranate. There are several ways to do this without resembling a blood-splattered butcher, but my favourite method is practiced by Sanam at My Persian Kitchen. Check out her tutorial here. Once you’ve dislodged your seeds, make sure that there’s no remaining white pith, skin or membrane attached then add them to your bowl of ingredients with the chopped mint, crumbled cheese, three quarters of the nuts and an extra splash of olive oil. Mix well, then season with salt and pepper. Add in a little more lemon juice if desired.

mixsalad

To serve, place your quinoa salad into a clean bowl or onto a serving platter, then garnish with a good drizzle of pomegranate molasses, the extra nuts, reserved mint leaves and some black pepper. Serve on it’s own, or as an accompaniment with some grilled harissa chicken and a dollop of mint-infused Greek yoghurt.

IMG_7921

Notes:

  • *Preserved lemons are made by quartering fresh lemons and packing them tightly in sterilised jars with salt and lemon juice. After a few weeks, the rind and pith soften into a delicious, slightly salty, intensely lemony condiment that’s perfect to add to salads, tagines, and pretty much any other North African or Moroccan dish. Read more about preserved lemons here.
  • *Pomegranate molasses (above) is a concentrated form of pomegranate juice. It’s sticky, sweetly tart and slightly syrupy, and it adds an extra dimension of deliciousness to this dish if you can purchase some. I order mine via mail from Herbie’s at Gourmet Shopper, see link. It’s also delicious in cocktails or in marinades for chicken or fish.
  • Quinoa ratios for cooking: as a general rule, one cup dry quinoa yields about three cups of cooked quinoa. Always use the ratio of one part dry quinoa to two parts water or other liquids. You can also soak quinoa in the same amount of liquid to ease digestive processes whilst maintaining nutrients in an almost-raw state. See this tutorial for more details. It also helps remove some of the bitter saponin that I mentioned above.
  • Feel free to experiment with various stocks and soaking liquids to add extra flavour. I’ve also cooked quinoa in water with a splash of maple syrup to create a sweet-ish breakfast porridge, crowned with fresh creamy ricotta, toasted almonds, a sprinkle of cinnamon and grated orange zest. So delicious and so good for you.
  • Quinoa adapts incredibly well to any recipe that calls for seeds or grains. I’ve used it successfully as a substitute for bulgur in Tabbouleh whilst also reinventing salads traditionally inhabited by Couscous. You’ll be pleased to know that it completely overwhelms the nutritional value of each.

IMG_7913

dark chocolate, mint and berry pavlova with hazelnut praline

A few years ago, I came across a recipe by Nigella Lawson for a chocolate pavlova topped with double cream, raspberries & chocolate shavings. It looked delicious, chocolatey and rich, and true to form I… well, I decided to make up my own version. That process basically involved making a traditional meringue with the late additions of raw cocoa, dark chocolate & syrupy balsamic. After another read of the recipe and some consideration, I also decided to eliminate my usual addition of cornflour. I suppose I assumed that in Nigella’s recipe, the cocoa would stabilize the meringue as needed.

Scooping the raw meringue onto a baking sheet, I was pleased – it looked beautiful, glossy and thick, studded with beads of deep, dark chocolate. The oven door closed with a soft thud. I glanced at the clock. Then I waited.

Fast forward a couple of hours and the now-cooled meringue disc was out of the oven, sitting proudly upon my kitchen bench. It looked beautiful, high and crisp, slight fault lines exposing a chocolate-studded marshmallowy interior. With a smile, I inverted it onto a serving platter, eagerly topping it with thick whipped double cream. This was where the beauty faded. A crack became a crater and before I knew it, the cream and cherry topping had fallen into a deep, dark hole. It still tasted delicious, but since then I’ve perfected my recipe to eliminate the crater whilst also altering it to become a meringue torte. As you’ll see, the stabilizing cornflour is back whilst other small changes such as fresh mint, homemade cherry jam and hazelnut praline create freshness, crunch and a dessert to remember.

As you might have guessed, this pavlova’s become a hit amongst family and friends, alongside another variation they call ‘Black Forest Pavlova’ due to it’s resemblance to a certain German torte. Like the cake, both variations are richly delicious, creamy, moist, and studded with juicy black cherries. The recipe below is for the mint and berry version, but check the included ‘notes’ for tips to transform it into a Black Forest. Try one for your next celebration, especially if you’ve got chocaholics on the list. You (and they) won’t be disappointed.

Dark Chocolate, Mint and Berry Pavlova with Hazelnut Praline

Serves 6-8

For the meringue:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 270g superfine caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp raw cocoa powder, sieved
  • 1 tsp of cornflour, sieved
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 80g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa)

To serve:

  • 500ml full-fat whipping cream
  • Minted berry filling (recipe to follow)
  • 50g dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa), coarsely shaved
  • 1/2 cup hazelnut praline (recipe to follow)
  • Mint leaves & whole black cherries for garnish

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).  Take two sturdy baking trays (at least 30x30cm in size) and cut a square piece of baking paper to fit each. Trace a central circle around 20cm in diameter (I use a 20cm diameter cake tin as a template) on each piece of baking paper, then set your lined trays aside.

Place your egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, beating until your meringue is stiff and shiny.

At this point, add your cocoa, balsamic, cornflour and chopped chocolate. Gently fold in with a spatula or balloon whisk until thoroughly mixed. Place half of your meringue on each paper-lined baking tray, in the centre of your traced circles. Smooth out to fill the circle, ensuring that your mound has a smoothish top and defined sides.

Turn your oven down to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f), then place your two trays in the oven (on central shelves, if possible). Cook for around 60-75 minutes, switching your trays half way through the cooking process. You will know your meringue is cooked when the exterior looks crisp and dry, and it feels hard beneath your fingers. Don’t wait for it to crack – this means that it’s already gone too far! When cooked, turn off your oven, leaving your meringue discs inside to cool with the door slightly ajar for at least 2 hours, or overnight (if you remove them at this point, they will cool too quickly and the meringue may crack and collapse).

To serve your meringue torte: Invert one of your meringue discs onto a large, flat bottomed serving plate. Whisk your cream until light and fluffy, then cover your meringue base with one third of your whipped cream, leaving a little ‘ridge’ around the edge to hold in your filling. Top this with half of your minted berry mixture, half of your hazelnut praline (recipes for both below) and half of your shaved chocolate. Cover this with a little more cream (to act as an adhesive for your next meringue), then place your other meringue disc on top.

Top your meringue with as much of the remaining whipped cream as you like, your remaining minted berry mixture, hazelnut praline, shaved chocolate and reserved whole cherries. I like to let some shaved chocolate and praline fall haphazardly on the plate’s rim. Add on your reserved mint leaves to garnish, then you’re all done. Serve generous slices as everyone’s sure to lick the plate.

Minted Berry filling:

  • 2 heaped tbsps black cherry jam (my favourite is Bonne Maman Cherry Preserve)
  • 200g fresh pitted black cherries (pitted and halved)
  • 250g punnet of fresh strawberries
  • One bunch of fresh mint (equivalent to 1/2 cup shredded leaves)

Place your cherry jam into a medium sized bowl. Add in the topped, halved strawberries (or quartered, depending upon the size of the fruit), pitted and halved cherries and shredded mint. Mix well and allow to macerate for at least an hour. If your fruit start to bleed and juice collects in the bottom of your bowl, don’t worry… this is normal. You can either serve the berries and juice as is, allowing some of the trickling dark juices to penetrate the meringue, or if preferred, strain your minted fruit and then reduce the remaining liquid in a saucepan (over high heat, allow mixture to come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the fluid reaches a jammy consistency). Place your strained fruit on either layer of cream and drizzle a little reduced liquid as desired. I like option two, but remember to taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if the concentrated juices are too richly sweet…  your meringue will be sweet enough.

Hazelnut Praline:

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole hazelnuts
  • 1-2 tbsp of cold water

Place your hazelnuts on a baking tray and lightly toast them in the oven until you can see the skins start to loosen. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cool to the touch, wrap the nuts in a dry tea towel to form a ‘parcel’. Rub them vigorously to remove the skins. Any remaining skin should be easily removable with your hands or a blunt knife. Coarsely chop half of the nuts, leaving the other half whole. Place them on a baking-paper-lined tray.

Place the caster sugar in a shallow pan with the cold water, then agitate (I mean, move the pan about) until the water coats most of the sugar crystals. Cook over medium heat, stirring for five minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high, then bring mixture to the boil. Boil without stirring for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn reddish gold. When this happens, even if it’s just in one corner, remove the pan from the heat and then agitate the mixture until the golden colour spreads throughout all of the liquid. You’ve just made a basic wet caramel (as opposed to dry caramel, which is made just by melting sugar crystals).

Allow mixture to cool slightly (any bubbles should subside), then pour your caramel over the prepared hazelnuts, covering them as evenly as possible. Allow to cool. Once the mixture solidifies, you can either break it into shards or as I do, coarsely chop it to scatter over your finished pavlova. Any leftover praline shards are delicious eaten on their own with coffee, or crumbled, to scatter generously over ice-cream.

Notes for a perfect Pavlova:

If you’ve developed a habit of producing meringue failures (or literal ‘flops’… haha I am so funny) then read on right here for troubleshooting tips:

  • Before you start, make sure that your bowl, whisk or beaters are completely clean, dry and free of grease. Any trace of oil, grease or moisture could be enough to prevent your egg whites from aerating.
  • Use fresh eggs, separate them when cold and then allow them to come to room temperature before whisking. From prior experience I’ve found that fresh eggs separate much better than older ones and have less obvious water content. They’re also a lot more stable once whisked, which makes them easier to work with when building your meringue disc.
  • If you get any eggshell or yolk in your mixture of whites, discard them and start again. This seems harsh, but any traces of yolk can spoil the composition of your whisked eggwhites, preventing your meringue from setting properly.
  • Make sure that all of your sugar is completely dissolved during the whisking process. Undissolved sugar will cause ‘weeping’, or beads of moisture to form on the meringue. A trick to tell if your sugar is dissolved is to rub a little bit of the uncooked meringue between your fingers – if you can feel any granules, keep whisking.
  • The addition of acid (including vinegar, lemon juice, citric acid) helps to stabilise your meringue, and makes the meringue ‘foam’ much less likely to suffer from the effects of overbeating (separation of the water from solids, meringue collapse, lumpiness). In other words, acid is good. Cornflour plus acid is even better.
  • For expanding the recipe: basic composition of a meringue is 55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar for each egg white. I play around with this a little but if you’re new to making meringues, use this as a guide.
  • If you’re worried about your meringue collapsing, use a palette knife to draw furrows around the edge. This will help support the edges of your pavlova to prevent it cracking and collapsing.
  • You can make meringues a couple of days in advance. Store them in an airtight container, away from heat and moisture, before use.

P.S. Apologies for the noticeable lack of images containing the entire filled pavlova. Unfortunately I assembled it at night and then made various attempts to photograph it under a range of artificial light sources. Epic fail, to say the least. So… if you want to see the full beauty of this mint, berry and cream laden mound of chocolate deliciousness, you’ll just have to make one yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

With The Grains

Whole Grains and Wanderings

Cashew Kitchen

vibrant food. quiet soul. wild at heart.

Brooklyn Homemaker

modern classic recipes, story telling, and a little bit of history. Oh yeah, and schnauzers.

better than a bought one

as homemade should be

My Sweet Precision

Where flour, butter, and sugar collide

Chompchomp

Perth Food Blog | Restaurant Reviews | Food & Travel Blog | Gluten Free

The Veggy Side Of Me

Deliciousy Green...