shaved carrot salad with orange, pomegranate and mint

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

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

Better. 

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

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

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

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

I need purpose for my cognition, posthaste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shaved Carrot Salad with Orange, Pomegranate and Mint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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dark chocolate and orange macarons

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

I can’t quite remember when I first discovered Milk & Cereal blog. It’s been at least one year, possibly two… but right from the start I became a dedicated follower. Besides creating gorgeous recipes, Ali is an inspiration in terms of generosity, humour, creativity and steadfast faith in God.

It’d be fair to say that we hit it off straight away, encouraging each other’s cooking exploits and even completing a foodie ‘care package swap’ between Western Australia and North Dakota in early 2014 (see a playlist Ali created for me here). I love her to bits and I feel blessed to be genuine friends (albeit those who are yet to meet!). It’s also huge fun to ‘do life’ with Ali and her husband Rob through Ali’s fun Instagram feed (yep, sometimes I love social media!).

Anyway, back to today’s post. Some months ago, when I mentioned that Aaron and I were embarking on a massive Europe trip, Ali was among those who generously offered to complete a guest recipe post. She casually threw in the word ‘macarons’ and I instantly became excited. Let’s just say that this thorough, easy-to-read macaron tutorial completely blew me away when it arrived in my inbox. Deliciously gooey, crisp-shelled, delicately ‘footed’ macaron perfection!

So without further ado, let me hand over to my dear friend Ali for THE macaron post you’ve been waiting for (I can’t wait to try her tips at home! Ah, I miss my kitchen!).


Salutations, dear readers of the Mess!

My name is Ali, and I’ve popped over from Milk & Cereal to bring you a recipe from a distant land. Well, I’m from a distant land (if you’re in Australia, that is, or really anywhere other than the U.S.), but I suppose this recipe originates in France or Italy.

Upon contemplating what kind of macarons to attempt for this post, I excitedly realized that autumn (i.e. Pumpkin season) is fast approaching in my neck of the woods. And don’t pumpkin macarons just sound like the best thing since the announcement of a Sharknado sequel?! Well, with that first realization came a second, more dreadful, realization: There’s no canned pumpkin in Aussieland. At least, not easily accessible to most. What a pity! Besides, you’re done with autumn Down Under anyway. So I threw that idea out the window (or rather, stored it on the shelf for the later use of we fortunate folk who have unlimited access to the “gourd-uous gold”).

As we Northerners enter into the cold and desolation of winter (Well, we’re technically entering into fall, but we likely won’t be graced with its presence for long before winter shows its face!), and you Southerners enter into the fresh rejuvenation of spring, I decided on a macaron recipe fitting for all seasons and any hemisphere: Dark Chocolate Orange. The slight piquancy of citrus is especially for those of you in or entering a season of warmth, and the chocolate is for anyone, because is there ever not a time for chocolate?

If any of you Aussies are just dying to experience this strange thing that is a North Dakota winter (as I’m sure you are), I invite you to come visit and experience it for yourself! Please note that by accepting this invitation, you agree to help shovel our driveway. You’ll love it; shoveling is a bundle of fun.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

If you can get your hands on some orange-flavored dark chocolate (like this tasty creation from Theo Chocolate), your ganache will be pleasantly enhanced. If not, have no fear! I assure you, your ganache will still stand up to the task regardless.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal Blog

Now, if you’ve never made macarons before and find them daunting (or have made them but have yet to get them to turn out properly), I’m here to help! Heaps of research and a few (or more) unsuccessful attempts brought me to eventual success. I’m not going to unload a bottomless pit of knowledge on you, but I will offer a few quick, key suggestions that helped me, and point you in the direction of the trusty sources from which I gathered information.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Of all the factors and techniques to consider when making macarons, I found three to be the most important. First, measure your ingredients properly. You’ll see in the recipe below, I’ve listed the ingredients first in grams and second in customary units (I actually had to Google that just now to find out the name of the U.S. measurement system, which I’ve been using for 20 or so years.). So when I say to measure properly, I mean you should measure with a scale (and in grams) if at all possible. I ordered a little kitchen scale specifically for macarons (this one, which is fairly cheap and hasn’t given me trouble me yet, to be exact), and I’m glad I did! Macarons are touchy little minxes that require a great deal of precision; measuring properly with a scale will help eliminate your risk of failure.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Second, mix/stir/whip your ingredients properly! If you watch Food Nouveau’s tutorial, you’ll get a visual of how the that all should look, but here’s the gist of it: Blend/process the dry ingredients minus granulated sugar, and then sift or run them through a sieve. Whip the egg whites, adding the granulated sugar gradually, until they reach stiff peaks. However, try not to whip them too much. Finally, fold the dry ingredients into the meringue (egg whites and sugar) carefully and in two or three separate additions. Now listen up, folks, ’cause here’s the most important note on the mixing: You’ve mixed enough when the batter passes the “ribbon test.” That means that when you lift up the spatula and let a ribbon of batter fall across the remaining batter in the bowl, said ribbon should sink in and disappear in 30 seconds. Try with all your might not to mix past this consistency! David Lebovitz offers a warning from Rob of Fauchon: “…the batter for perfect macarons needs to be folded just-so. One extra fold, and it’s all over. Not enough, and you won’t get that little foot.” But don’t let that scare you off. ;)

Third, bake your shells/biscuits properly. Sadly, this part is less straight-forward and may require a bit of trial and error, as all ovens and climates vary. Once you’ve got the correct temperature, tackle the baking time. I struggled with under-baking and kept ending up with macarons stuck to the parchment paper. I wasted copious batches this way! Macarons that are done should have a slight hollow sound when you tap the shell. They should have a thin crust if you crack the shell, but they should not be completely dry or crunchy. Most noticeably, they should also have feet! My first many batches barely had feet, probably as a result of over-mixing and under-baking.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons |  Milk & Cereal

I’m sorry; those few “quick” tips grew a little long-winded… If you made it all the way through, I do hope you found them helpful! To wrap up our class for the day, I give you the aforementioned trusty sources:

Food Nouveau has a fantastic (and concise) step-by-step recipe and video. Here’s a golden nugget of advice from her: “No recipe is universal, and the most important thing is to go slow. Try cautiously with your own instruments, ingredients and oven. You will have to try more than once before achieving perfection.” Don’t get yourself down if your first batch is a major flop!

Food Nouveau and Not So Humble Pie both have very extensive troubleshooting guides. You can even Google “macaron troubleshooting” to find yourself a nearly endless list of resources.

Lastly, the great David Lebovitz has a post on macaron instructions and recipes, and his post French Chocolate Macaron Recipe is loaded with his own insights of trials and errors.

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

When I finally achieved a batch of macarons that appeared successful, I wasn’t even certain that they were, in fact, a success. To be honest, I’ve never eaten a bakery-made macaron, so I haven’t been able to compare mine to the “real thing.” Based on the photos I’d seen, I always imagined macarons being crunchy cookies. But according to my studies, the perfect macaron should have nicely-risen feet; a decent dome; a thin, crisp shell (with no hollow gap); and a soft, moist interior. So if that is true, I believe I have created a successful specimen. Would you agree? :D

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

Forgive me. I said I wasn’t going to unload a bottomless pit of knowledge on you, yet I nearly did so anyway. I imagine it’s about time to be getting on to the recipe!

Ganache Ingredients:
(This ganache recipe will make more than you need for the macarons, leaving extra for ice cream or eating by the spoonful, but feel free to halve it.)

  • 4 oz. (approx. 113 gr.) dark or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 c. (approx. 118 ml.) cream
  • 1/4 c. (approx. 32 gr.) powdered sugar (more or less, depending on how dark you like your chocolate)
  • 1/2 tsp. (approx. 5 ml.) vanilla extract
  • 4 drops orange essential oil

Biscuit/Cookie/Shell Ingredients:
(adapted from David Lebovitz)

  • 100 gr. (approx. 1 c.) powdered sugar
  • 50 gr. (approx. 1/2 c.) almond meal/flour
  • 30 gr. (approx. 3 1/2 Tbs.) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 egg whites, aged at room temperature*
  • 65 gr. (approx. 5 Tbs.) granulated sugar
  • 4-6 drops orange essential oil

* I have yet to determine how necessary it is to “age” the egg white for 6 hours, as some recipes say. Many experienced macaron-makers will tell you it is crucial, but a few others don’t seem to agree. The egg white in the macarons you see in these photos were left out over night, but I’ll leave that choice up to you! Planning ahead is hard sometimes, am I right?

Instructions:
(If you’re a first-timer to macarons, consider watching this short video tutorial. It’s incredibly helpful, but please bear in mind that the recipe in the video is not the same as the one in this post.)

  1. First, make the ganache. It takes longer to set up than it takes to make the macarons, so it can even be made the day before. Place the chocolate in a small bowl, then heat the cream to near boiling. I heat the cream in the microwave out of laziness, but the stovetop is fine. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Then whisk in the powdered sugar, vanilla and orange oil. Refrigerate, covered, until set up and ready to use.
  2. Next preheat the oven to 300 F (or 150 C). As mentioned earlier, you may need to adjust this based on your oven and your climate. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Some prefer a Silpat to prevent spreading, but my macarons stuck to that.
  3. Measure out all your ingredients, then blend together the powdered sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder in a blender or food processor for a couple minutes until there are no lumps. Sift this mixture or run it through a sieve.
  4. Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, and preferably a stainless steel bowl, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed. Once the egg whites begin to rise and hold their shape, gradually beat in the granulated sugar. Whip until the meringue has stiff peaks, about two to three minutes.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the dry ingredients into the meringue in two or three separate batches. Fold until your batter passes the “ribbon test.” When you lift up the spatula and let a ribbon of batter fall across the batter in the bowl, the ribbon should sink in and disappear in 30 seconds. Really try to avoid mixing past this point!
  6. Fill a pastry bag with the batter, and pipe small circles (about 1 inch or 3 cm in diameter) onto the parchment paper, spaced 1 inch (3 cm) apart. Use a template if you need to. They should pipe out like slightly droopy Hershey kisses at first if you mixed to the proper consistency, but they will flatten in a moment. Rap the baking sheet on the counter top a few times to help them flatten and eliminate bubbles.
  7. This next step is optional: Let the piped macarons rest for 20 minutes to two hours before baking. David Lebovitz and Fauchon baker Rob both deem this step unnecessary. In my successful batches, those that rested while the first batch baked did rise a bit more, but the difference wasn’t enough for me to find the resting time necessary. You make the call.
  8. Finally, bake the macarons 14-18 minutes, until you hear a slight hollow sound when tapping the top, a thin shell and nice feet have formed, and before they become dry and crunchy. When I take them out of the oven, I gently lift up the parchment paper and mist the sheet with water, then set the parchment paper back down. The resultant steam helps the cookies to release more easily, but you may not find this necessary. Cool the shells completely before removing them.
  9. Pair up shells of matching size, slather on some ganache, and make a cookie sandwich! Flavors are best after the macarons sit for a day. Store in an airtight container for up to five days, or freeze. Recipe yields approximately 15 small macarons (assembled).

Dark Chocolate Orange Macarons | Milk & Cereal

While my recent adventures are nowhere near as cool as Laura’s, I’ll leave you with a couple snippets just for the fun of it. :)

apple orchard

Rob and I didn’t really have any good and current photos of the two of us (aside from our three-year-old wedding photos), so we hired our highly talented friend to take our photos in a local apple orchard. It was great fun, and the photos are beautiful! Photo cred: Chantell Lauren Photography.

(That reminds me– I believe a “Happy Anniversary” to Laura and Aaron is in order! Or almost in order… Okay in a few months. But mark your calendars for November, people! Thanks Ali, you sweet thing… I cannot believe that you remembered our anniversary! Hugs!)

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Last weekend we went to Colorado to visit my mom. We all stayed at a neat old cabin in Breckenridge, and though the weather was cold and rainy much of the time, we did manage to get in a bit of hiking. Our bodies were missing the rich oxygen levels of North Dakota’s low altitude, but Rob and I sure do love the mountains! Unfortunately, our home state is flat as a pancake. :/ So we are most thankful for the opportunities we have to travel!

It’s been a pleasure being here at Laura’s Mess! Thanks for taking the time to peruse my ramblings. Now resume your regular scheduled programming. ;)

© Milk & Cereal. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe.

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.

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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.

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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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flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup. with hippy vic

clseupIt’s just passed three o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I’ve been up for approximately four hours, mostly spent in a sleepy daze whilst sitting in the dappled sun from our balcony window. Ice cubes clink in my water glass, dancing merrily in transparent liquid. Cheerios crunch against my teeth. I’m still a little dazed from the fullness of the Saturday-that-was.

‘Fullness’ is a good descriptive actually, in every sense of the word. We spent twelve hours of our Saturday between three beautiful houses, eating, drinking, laughing and cooking with wonderful friends. Yes. Twelve hours. That’s three meals with a little exercise and driving in-between (emphasis on ‘a little’ as to be honest; we mostly just ate).

beeThis massive day of food was the brainchild of my gorgeous friend Hippy Vic, who was first introduced to you in my Curing Olives post two months ago. Vic has spent the past month organizing a progressive, roving menu between her home and two mutual friends’ houses, all of whom live about 20 minutes north east of the Perth city centre.

wineRegrettably, Aaron and I spent most of the day eating and not taking photographs. However, I can provide the full day’s menu, as follows:

Breakfast by Floss and Simon: Soft-poached eggs with crispy bacon, herbed tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, hash browns and sourdough toast / tea and coffee / fresh orange juice

Lunch by Alex and Merryl: Hot Turkish bread with artichoke dip, extra virgin oil and dukkah / grilled chicken, vegetable and crisp-fried haloumi stacks with lemony crème fraîche foam / homemade vanilla bean ice cream, salted caramel apples, Cointreau, fresh strawberries and sweet hazelnut dukkah / fresh apple, triple sec and Hendrick’s gin cocktail / coffee

Dinner by Vicky and Laura: Slow-roasted lamb shoulder / mint pesto / lemon pistachio tabbouleh /  baba ghannouj with lemon oil / cucumber and cumin yoghurt with smoked sea salt / marinated eggplant with chilli and garlic / pomegranate salad with micro-greens, avocado, pistachio and soft-curd feta / Persian flatbread / flourless orange and cacao cake with spiced orange syrup (recipe to follow) / Grant Burge Cameron Vale Cabernet Sauvignon (2009)

Twelve hours of absolute food indulgence. Both Aaron and I left Vicky and Mark’s house in a state of slightly sleepy, full-bellied bliss.

candlechocNow, without further ado, let me introduce you to Hippy Vic‘s recipe for Flourless Orange and Cacao Cake.

Vicky and I made the cake at around 6:00pm last night. She states that the original recipe was transcribed from her friend Melissa’s recipe book (Mel originally found it in a recipe guide for the Thermomix appliance) but ingredients and quantities have been swapped around in reckless abandon, eventually creating an entirely different version of the original cake.

In flurry of nut meal and cacao, I snapped urgent photos of the cooking process as the last of the afternoon sunlight faded into blackness.

choccinnamonThe cake was eventually served at around 8:30pm, with the last minute addition of a fragrant spiced orange syrup (due to concerns about dreaded cake ‘dryness’ from Vicky… though she needn’t have worried).

I sliced up some home-grown Valencia oranges and threw them into a saucepan with a cinnamon quill, star anise, some raw sugar and fresh orange juice. After the simmering liquid reduced to a syrup consistency, it was poured over the rustic, warm cake and topped with spiced slices of chewy orange rind. It was perfect addition to the dense, dark cake… the rind contrasted beautifully against the chewy, chocolatey crumb.

*I must apologise for some of the poor quality, 60’s-magazine style photographs in this post. The finished cake was shot entirely in artificial light and has a resultant yellowish tinge (oh, it hurts).

straightoutovenFlourless Orange and Cacao Cake

  • 200g finely ground nut meal (we used 160g almond meal, 40g hazelnut meal)
  • 2 whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 large, free-range eggs
  • 200g raw caster sugar
  • 40g organic cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g good-quality dark eating chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), coarsely chopped
  • Optional: 2 tbsp Cointreau or other good-quality Triple Sec

Half-fill a large saucepan with water, then add your oranges. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 60-90 minutes or until a knife easily pierces through each fruit (if your water boils down too much, add more as required). Drain fruit and discard cinnamon quills. Leave for 10-15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

blendmontWhen adequately cooled, slice each orange into pieces and add them into the bowl of a food processor.

Process the fruit until smooth, then tip the blended oranges into a large mixing bowl. Add the ground cinnamon, cacao powder, nut meal, caster sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate, chopped dark chocolate and Cointreau (if using). Mix well.

eggchocPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm round springform cake tin (or just shove baking paper in and force it to conform, if you’re Vic!), then set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat your (happy) eggs to soft peaks. Gently fold them into your orange mixture, then pour the lot into the lined cake tin.

stircacaoBake for 30-45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Serve as it is, with cream and/or ice cream, or topped with the spiced orange syrup (to follow).

cakesideSpiced Orange Syrup

Makes about 1/4 cup syrup

  • 2 (small) whole, unwaxed oranges
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw caster sugar (to taste, we only used about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 star anise

Slice your whole oranges into 0.3cm slices, then place into a medium saucepan with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to a gentle simmer. Simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the orange peels have softened and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency.

orangesRemove your orange slices from the syrup, then set aside. Discard star anise and cinnamon quill. Whilst still in the tin, pierce holes all over the top of your cake with a thin skewer, then pour over the spiced orange syrup. Allow to soak for about 5-10 minutes before removing from the tin and transferring to a serving platter.

Top your cake with the orange slices in a circular pattern. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if desired.

cakechocmontNote: If you’d like a good read, the beautiful Hippy Vic has a couple more posts up on her own site, including her latest post which includes a recipe for Mauritian Goat Curry (from fellow bloggers Alex and Priya, aka Boy Meets Girl Meets Food. Also worth visiting for fantastic recipes and travel posts)

orange and almond cake with lavender and rose syrup

cakeside3

I’ve never liked orange and almond cake. Despite being lauded as a ‘healthy’ alternative to calorie-laden treats such as brownies or cheesecake, it’s always tasted a bit like wet, orange-infused sawdust to me.

However, approximately two months ago I began contemplating the design of a ‘healthy cake recipe’ for my mother’s upcoming birthday celebration. Unlike me, she’s managed to completely escape the hereditary sweet tooth (mine is firmly embedded in my jaw) so her desserts of choice are usually fruit, nut or cheese based. If it came to the proverbial crunch, she’d choose carrot over chocolate cake, granola bars over brownies and zucchini bread over an ice-cream sundae. Every. Single. Time.

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So, knowing my mum’s preference for healthy, fruit-and-nut-based cake alternatives, I set to work on writing a recipe for orange and almond cake that both fit her criteria (healthy, not-too-sweet, fruity and nutty) and my criteria (sweet-enough, non-grainy and still-indulgent). Why orange and almond cake? Well, I’ve cooked various carrot cakes, healthy banana bread and honey chia muesli bars as a treat for mum many times before. I’ve also seen her enjoy this cake many times over during mother and daughter coffee-and-cake dates, so I knew it was part of her accepted dessert repertoire.

It seemed to tick all the boxes; except that most versions I’ve tried have been grainy and cloying, with a bitter aftertaste. Cue: paper, pen, laptop, snack (banana with peanut butter and sultanas; yum), drink (milk) and iTunes (see here for one of my favourite bands of the moment). By the next morning, I had a spiced up, Persian-inspired recipe for orange and almond cake in my hot little hands, plus a two-page birthday speech awaiting revision in Microsoft Word. Yikes.

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Fast forward two days. A crowd of 20+ friends and family stand in a grassy, tiered backyard under a borrowed beach umbrella. I’m standing next to my beautiful mother, speech in hand and lump in throat. The cake sits on a nearby table; orange, glossy with syrup and speckled with dots of vanilla bean. Beads of condensation run down a tub of cold, creamy mascarpone. Bubbling champagne dances in glasses around deep, dark Wild Hibiscus flowers.

The speech ends. I embrace my mother in a well-practiced hug, my heart swelling with pride, love and gratefulness for the woman she is: brave, strong, wise, intelligent, generous and loving. The crowd claps, mum speaks and then… well, it’s the moment of truth. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Or uh… cake, in this case.

cake

Lucky for me, my untested recipe proved to be quite the success; both by my mother’s taste buds (the most important taste buds, in this case) and by the testimony of her friends and colleagues. I’ve had many requests for the recipe (hence this recipe post) and after a second trial of my scribbled techniques (Mark II was inhaled by my colleagues in a matter of minutes) I can truly say that this cake is easy, delicious and not at all sawdust-like.

rosecrush

The batter for this cake was based on a recipe for flourless orange cake by Yin Tang (via Taste.com.au). I spiced it up with smooth vanilla and the warmth of cinnamon before adding some cornflour for texture and a dense, aromatic floral syrup for moisture and wow-factor. If you’ve always loved orange and almond cakes, you’ll love this amped-up, less grainy version of an old favourite.

If you’ve never liked orange and almond cakes (like me), well… give this recipe a go. It might change your mind.

caketop

Orange and Almond Cake with Lavender and Rose Syrup

Makes one 22cm cake

Cake ingredients:

  • 2 organic, unwaxed oranges
  • 3 whole free-range eggs
  • 215g (1 cup) white caster sugar
  • 300g (3 cups) almond meal (make sure you have a little extra on hand… I’ll explain below)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp cornflour or plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Syrup ingredients:

  • 1 organic, unwaxed orange
  • 150g (3/4 cup) white caster sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp organic, unsprayed lavender buds
  • 1/4 tsp crumbled organic, unsprayed dried rose petals (plus extra, to decorate)
  • a splash of orange blossom water (optional)

To bake the cake: Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm springform pan (you can use a fixed base pan but it’ll be much harder to remove your cake) then set aside.

boilchopmont

Place the oranges into a medium saucepan, then cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the oranges soften. Drain your pot, retaining the oranges. Re-fill the pot with fresh cold water then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until a knife slides through each orange easily (using a new batch of fresh water for the second boil will reduce the bitterness of the peel).

Drain the oranges, then refresh them under cold water. When they’re cool enough to handle, drain then chop them coarsely. Place your orange pieces and residual juice into the bowl of a medium food processor or blender, making sure to remove any seeds or large chunks of pith.

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Process until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool.

Place the eggs and caster sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk with an electronic beater until thick, glossy and pale. Add in your blended orange puree and mix well. Sift in your other ingredients: almond meal, baking powder, cornflour and spices. If there is any residual coarse almond meal left in your sieve, weigh it, and then discard it (you can use the coarse almond meal in homemade granola, muesli bars or other such things; sieving out coarse particles helps give the finished cake achieve a smooth, luscious texture). Replace the discarded meal with an equal quantity of fine, sieved almond meal (repeat above process if necessary).

mealsiftmontGently fold together all of the ingredients until just combined, then pour into your prepared pan. Smooth the surface of your cake, then tap the tin gently on a bench surface to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached (not sticky liquid). Set aside for 15 minutes to cool whilst you prepare your syrup, as below.

cakebatter

For the syrup: Use a zester or knife to remove the rind from your orange (I used a knife to remove long, even strips before running the knife blade along each strip to remove the remaining white pith. You can also follow this method with a vegetable peeler; slice your prepared rind into thin strips).

Place the rind into a saucepan with fresh, cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes or until soft and fragrant. Drain well, then return to the saucepan (off the heat).

rindmont

Juice the orange. Add the juice to the saucepan with the prepared rind, adding in the caster sugar, vanilla bean (split the bean with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds out) and dried flowers. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes or until the sugar fully dissolves and the syrup thickens. Remove from the heat and add in a small splash of orange blossom water, if using (taste, then add more if required).

Allow  the syrup to stand for at least five minutes before pouring it over your cake.

beannibs

To soak your cake: Whilst you were making the syrup, your cake will have cooled and slightly sunk. Leaving it in its tin, gently prick holes all over the surface with a thin skewer.

If you’ve used a springform tin, place the tin over a wire rack with a plate or large bowl underneath to catch any syrup that escapes. Spoon over the warm floral syrup, then allow the cake to soak for at least 30 minutes (if using the springform tin and drip-catcher method, pour any syrup that’s dripped out of the tin back on to the surface of the cake).

rosemarycakecnr

To serve: Carefully remove the cake from its tin and transfer it onto a serving plate. Decorate the edges with more crumbled rose petals, some lavender and either fresh, unsprayed lavender leaves or rosemary.

Cut into wedges and serve with a thick dollop of mascarpone, Greek yoghurt or sour cream.

rosemarycake

Notes:

  • Make sure you use good-quality, sweet oranges for this cake as despite the boiling process, some bitterness will end up in your finished cake batter. Poor quality oranges = less flavour in your finished cake. There’s no way around it.
  • Do not compromise with waxed oranges or fruit/flowers that have potentially been sprayed. You’re eating whole fruit and flowers in this cake. Any waxy rind will affect the finished texture and any potential chemicals will end up in your gut (never a good thing).
  • To make this cake completely gluten-free, omit the cornflour and ensure that you’ve purchased gluten-free baking powder. There’s no need to add a flour-replacement unless you really want to, as the cake holds together well. As I’m a gluten-eater, I just enjoy having a little flour in the mix to increase the density and ‘soften’ the texture of the almond meal.
  • Feel free to replace the orange blossom water in the syrup with some fragrant rose water if desired. Both are beautifully fragrant, but make sure that you’re sparing with the amount that you initially add (just a splash). You can always taste the syrup and add more if desired.
  • I’ve also made a version of this cake with simple orange syrup (omit the floral elements, retain the vanilla bean) before topping it with glossy pomegranate seeds, crushed, toasted pistachios and mint. Most classic Middle Eastern dessert flavours work quite well, so feel free to play around… you can even add a 1/4 tsp of ground cardamom to the batter for more of a spicy twist.

cakegone

Cake gone. Me sad (never thought I’d say that about sawdust cake, but… yep, I’m a convert. This will be a regular in our home from now on… I hope you enjoy it as much as we did).

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.

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