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.

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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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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.

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saffron pear and dark chocolate tart

crust

It was Federal election day yesterday. For over fourteen hours, Australians around the country were scratching their heads, queuing, eating sausage sizzles and numbering boxes on white and green ballot papers. At 6.00pm Western Australian time, the last polling station closed as the sun dipped below the horizon. Counting began and we, the people, waited.

From a personal point of view, Aaron and I waited at our friend Manuel’s house. For the first time, we held a spur of the moment ‘Election Party’ complete with multiple televisions, a barrel bonfire, high carbohydrate snacks and plenty of soothing beverages.

applecab radishes

We lounged on outdoor couches as the media counted votes and seats, snacking on pistachios whilst commenting on the value of Australian democracy (for which, to clarify, I’m very grateful) and our strange Prime Ministerial candidates.

The most prominent were 1. Clive Palmer, an eclectic, singing oil and gas billionaire with an AU$70 million aeroplane, a replica Titanic and a Jurassic Park-under-construction, 2. Tony Abbott the lycra-clad, foot-in-mouth Liberal, 3. present Prime Minister for the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd the backstabbing ‘psychopath’, 4. Bob Katter and his ‘quality blokes and sheilas’ and 5. Christine Milne the self-professed Greens ‘underdog’. Ah, dear. Quality indeed (if you’re interested in further pre-vote commentary on this present election, take a look at Rob Pop’s excellent post on his blog, Humans are Weird. So good, as is this post-election blooper reel).

tablelectionfirepit

My food contribution was a platter of pulled pork rolls with extra chilli and pork crackling, all of which were inhaled in minutes with cold Coronas and earthy Shiraz. As rain started to fall, we retreated to Manuel’s ‘band room’ to play lego before eventually heading home at 12.30am (just kidding. That Duplo actually belongs to our friend’s child, Lorena. I just wish it was mine).

It’s now 9.00am on Sunday, 8th September 2013. We have a new Prime Minister – the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott – a former Rhodes scholar, boxer and trainee Priest who wears lycra bicycle shorts, has three ‘not bad looking daughters‘, makes unfortunate media gaffes and smuggles budgies to the beach. Our previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has conceded defeat and retreated to the back bench.

pears peel

This morning’s media is full of the night-that-was, with rife speculation over the future leadership of the Australian Labor party and various candidates who failed to retain their seats. In the glare of the morning sun, other marginal candidates are up to their usual antics while I sit on my couch crunching through a bowl of almond granola, organic yoghurt and strawberries.

I’m unusually tired, bleary eyed and vague. I’ve also realised that half of this chocolate tart post has been consumed with political sentiment. Okay, let’s revise.

chocolate

It’s been a very long time since I made a ‘proper’ chocolate tart. Brownies, yes. Flourless chocolate cakes, fondants, mousse and pavlova? Yes. But a pastry base, filled with chocolate ganache? I think it’s been about a year… the last significant effort being a luscious salted caramel and 70% cocoa tart that received rave reviews at a Summer dinner party.

This particular tart was made after I discovered a recipe by Matthew Evans in a recent edition of SBS Feast magazine (an occasional magazine-stand indulgence, due to its beautiful multicultural recipes and inspiring photographs). I immediately fell in love with the combination of star anise, saffron, pear and dark chocolate, lovingly wrapped in buttery pastry.

saffronopen

Now, as you well know… I struggle when following recipes. I’m constantly tempted to exercise my ‘creative license’ through adaptations, substitutions and omissions. This time round, I’m proud to say that I almost followed the exact recipe; my two modifications were: 1. the substitution of 70% cocoa dark chocolate for half of the specified milk, and 2. the substitution of 50% more Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva rum instead of the specified brandy.

I loved this tart. Every bite announces the bitterness of dark chocolate on the palate, softened by sweet, saffron-infused pear, notes of star anise, buttery pastry and the warmth of rum. It’s spectacular to present also; black-brown against soft yellow with streaks of fine crimson and powdered sugar.

staranise

Due to its richness, I’d recommend serving this tart in fine slices with a dollop of double cream or crème fraîche. If desired, you can also reduce the saffron-infused poaching water down to a syrup. It looks beautiful when drizzled onto the plate.

halfeaten

Saffron Pear and Dark Chocolate Tart

This tart takes roughly 4 hours to make. I’d recommend starting the day before if you can.

Adapted from a recipe by Matthew Evans, published in Feast, Issue 23 / August 2013

Pastry:

  • 230g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp raw caster sugar
  • 110g cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup (220g) raw caster sugar
  • generous pinch of genuine saffron
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 pears (Beurre Bosc or Gold Rush preferable), peeled, halved and cored
  • 200ml full-fat thickened cream
  • 10 star anise
  • 200g 70% dark chocolate
  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 3-4 tbsp rum or brandy (to taste)
  • Icing sugar, to serve – optional

To make the pastry: place the flour, butter, sugar and salt into a food processor bowl. Process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg yolk with 60ml iced water. With the food processor motor running, gradually add the egg yolk and water to the flour mix; process until the mixture just comes together.

pastrymix

Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling.

pastrycase

When adequately chilled, roll the pastry disc out to a 3mm thick circle. Line the base and sides of a greased 24cm pie dish or tasrt pan, then prick all over with a fork. Place the unbaked pastry case in the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Remove the pastry from the freezer, then line the case with baking paper and pie weights, uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove weights and paper. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until the base of the pastry is dry to touch. Set aside to cool.

poaching

To make the filling: place 1L of water into a large saucepan with the caster sugar, saffron and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then add the pears. Bring to a simmer (if the pears start floating, weigh them down with a saucer so that they are fully immersed in the liquid). Cover with a cartouche (see image on right), reduce heat to medium-low and poach pears for 30 minutes or until tender (easily pierced with a knife).

poachingpearmont

Allow to cool, then cut each pear half lengthwise into two pieces.

Place the cream and star anise into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the cream to just below boiling point (small bubbles should just be appearing). Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20-30 minutes.

creamstaranise sieve

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Strain the cream through a fine strainer to remove the star anise and any ‘milk skin’. Place back into a medium pot and reheat. Add chocolate all at once, whisking continuously until smooth.

melted

When the mixture is glossy and lump-free, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the brandy or rum. Allow to cool.

To bake: preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Evenly spread the cooled tart shell with the star-anise flavoured ganache, then very gently lay the pears onto the surface in a circular pattern, as below (try and make sure that the pears don’t sink too much).

prebake

Bake the tart for 25 minutes or until the ganache is just set. Cool completely before cutting with a heated knife.

Serve with double cream, dusted with icing sugar if desired.

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