chard, goat cheese and walnut galette with oat pastry

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My mother is one of those thoroughly gifted, green-fingered people who breathes life into dwindled branches on a daily basis. When I was a child, she’d routinely rescue half-dead potted shrubs from local garden centres for one dollar apiece; a few weeks later, she’d be separating densely-packed roots into two separate pots of glossy green leaves.

She’d also frequently save seeds from fruit such as apples or papaya, drying them on the windowsill til their skins became hard and glossy.  She’d then plant them, with plenty of faith and a mound of organic mulch (she still swears by the efficacy of regular mulching).

We had thirty papayas from one of those dried seeds. Fledgling tomatoes and an avocado too. Each year, I benefit from her yield of apples and citrus fruit until my fridge is bursting at the seams.

But no. I haven’t inherited her gift.

I’ve tried. Oh gosh, I’ve tried. My front doorstep is frequently cluttered with dusty pots from plants-that-were; a sad memorial to my horticultural ineptness. I’ve spent a fortune on seeds and organic potting mix, only to be met with the rotting stench of dead foliage (and failure, obviously).

So you can imagine my surprise when a last-ditch effort to grow organic rainbow chard actually yielded results. Meaning, they’re STILL ALIVE. And thriving.

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Since my initial planting in November last year, my little crop of rainbow chard has grown spectacularly; I’ve harvested handfuls of stems every other week and there’s no sign of waning yet.

Other than eating the leaves raw in salads, I’ve made many a thin-crusted chard pizza (with caramelized onions, pesto and goats cheese), variations of sauteed greens and a few toasted coconut sweet potato and chard based curries.

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However, a few days ago I happened upon the idea of making an oat-flour based chard galette, with fresh walnuts that my mother picked on a recent trip to Bright, Victoria.

This thing is glorious. Absolutely bursting with savoury deliciousness. The slight bitterness from the chard combines beautifully with the earthy toasted walnuts, sweet onions and rich melted cheese, all encased in flaky oaten pastry.

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If you haven’t got a glut of chard in your own garden, feel free to substitute with any other leafy green (Tuscan kale works exceptionally well) or just use a whole quantity of spinach.  Walnuts can be easily traded for pine nuts if you prefer.

This galette is beautiful served in thick wedges for lunch with a simple dressed salad and marinated olives, or perhaps accompanied by buttered sourdough for a light dinner.

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Chard, Goat Cheese and Walnut Galette with Oat Pastry

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup (100g) organic, finely milled* oat flour
  • 1 cup (125g) plain (all-purpose) white flour + about 1/4 cup extra for kneading
  • 200g cold, cubed unsalted butter
  • a good pinch of salt
  • iced water, as required (about 2 tbsp)
  • a splash (about 1/4 tsp) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 free-range egg, white and yolk separated

*use a coarse mill if you prefer more of an oaten texture

Filling:

  • 1 medium red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 3 small cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 100g fresh organic rainbow chard, stalks finely sliced, large leaves torn
  • 150g baby English spinach, leaves only
  • 50g raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 75g good-quality cheddar or ‘tasty’ cheese, grated
  • 50g goats cheese, crumbled
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp plain flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten with a splash of iced water (reserved from the egg used for the pastry)

For the dough: add the flours to a large mixing bowl with the salt and butter. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add in the apple cider vinegar, egg yolk (reserve the white for glazing) and a trickle of iced water. Mix well with your hands, adding a little more iced water as you go until the mixture becomes smooth and cohesive (the dough will become a little sticky).

Tip out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into a rough disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

For the filling: add the onion, herbs and garlic to a saucepan with a good splash of olive oil. Allow to saute on low heat until opaque (do not allow to brown).

Increase heat to medium, then add the rainbow chard stems and leaves. Cook, stirring for one minute until wilted. Add in the English spinach and cook for another 2 minutes or until just wilted. Season with salt, turn off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool slightly.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line large tray with baking paper and set aside.

On a well-floured surface, roll out your pastry to 35 cm diameter (about 0.5mm thick). Carefully transfer the pastry onto your lined baking tray.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of flour over the centre of the pastry disc in a thin layer (this will absorb any fluid from the spinach and ensure your pastry doesn’t become soggy). Evenly distribute the cooled spinach mixture over the flour, leaving a 3cm border around the edge of the pastry.

Sprinkle over the cheeses and walnuts, then grind a good helping of black pepper over the filling. Turn the edges of the pastry disc up to roughly enclose the filling (don’t worry if it looks ‘rustic’, this is what a galette is all about!). Press together any overlapping pastry edges until you have a well sealed pastry crust. Brush with beaten egg white.

Bake the galette on a centre shelf in your preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing to serve.

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Note: if you have a pizza stone (and love a crisp pastry crust) I’d highly recommend using it to bake this galette. Preheat the stone for five minutes, then carefully transfer the galette onto the stone atop the baking paper. Bake as above.

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the best banana bread

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Like most learn-on-the-job bloggers with no formal photographic training, I’m excessively critical of everything I posted in the early days of Laura’s Mess (circa 2012).

Granted, I was working against the odds with a small automatic camera and no formal knowledge of composition, food styling, lighting or photo editing. Most of what you’ll see my first few posts is well-practiced application of the ‘winging it‘ technique, supplemented with tips from my husband Aaron.

Most props were scrounged from the depths of my mother’s kitchen cupboard (with permission of course) and, uh, never returned (sorry mum).

I’ve come a long way since then.

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Not to say that I’m an expert or anything; heck no, I’m still essentially an amateur who now owns a better camera (and who, with much trial and error, is much better at composition and lighting). I’ve attended a couple of blogging conferences and amassed a sizable collection of vintage knives, bowls and platters, most of which still don’t get used on this blog (what was I saying about food styling again?).

I guess I’ve figured out what I like. The kind of shots that speak to my personal sense of style, my food ethos and (most importantly) my stomach.  I love natural light, blemishes, timber and well-loved crockery. Speckled eggs, dark rye and glossy fat aubergines. Food as the star that speaks for itself – with minimal props and clutter.

Beautiful simplicity.

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I don’t always get it right. More often than not, there’s something I dislike about my photographs. I never hold ‘shoots’ with stylized food; each and every morsel that you see on this blog goes into my mouth or someone else’s.  I have so much to learn.

But in saying that, I’m happier with my work these days. I do better justice to the stunning food that graces our table each day. Like this banana bread, for instance. I first posted it in 2012 after a long battle with sunlight and our automatic camera. The photographs are quite horrid, but I’ve left them there as a monument to the early days.

There was slow improvement, evidence found here and here. Let’s hope that next year’s hindsight will be similarly pleasing.

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The recipe below is for traditional banana bread, marked as ‘recipe one’ in my original blog post. It’s richly moist, fragrant and studded with plump walnuts and raisins.

For today’s loaf, I made one further modification from the original recipe: I substituted three quarters of the stated brown sugar for Billington’s natural molasses sugar. The latter provided a rich caramel flavour and a dense crumb that beautifully complimented the ripe banana and warm cinnamon. I’d recommend the switch, particularly if you have some hidden in your pantry (like I did).

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Serve this bread thickly sliced with a dollop of mascarpone, a handful of toasted coconut shavings and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It’s also wonderful toasted, adorned with butter and consumed with a mug of strong Builder’s tea (aka happiness).

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The Best Banana Bread

Loosely adapted from Marks & Spencer’s Good Home Baking cookbook (1983)

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g soft unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175g brown sugar (or 135g molasses sugar and 40g brown sugar)
  • 50g raisins
  • 75g halved walnuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar and crumbled walnuts, optional (for decoration)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (325 degrees f). Line the bottom of a 1kg non-stick loaf pan with baking paper, then set aside. Place your flour and butter in a bowl, then rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

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mix

Stir in your sugar, cinnamon, raisins and walnuts. Mix your mashed bananas with the vanilla extract and milk, then add to your mixture. Mix well.

Turn the mixture into your prepared, lined tin and smooth the top with the back of a spoon (I usually bang my tin on the bench a couple of times to expel any air bubbles).

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Sprinkle with demerara sugar or more walnuts if desired. Place your tin on a baking tray, then bake for 90 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes back with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool in the tin for neater slices, or dig straight in with keen smiles and a butter knife. I understand if you choose the latter.

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garlic kale with mushrooms, chorizo + a sunny egg

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

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

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

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

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

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Garlic Kale with Mushrooms, Chorizo and a Sunny Egg

Serves 2

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

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

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

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

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

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char-grilled vegetable and quinoa salad

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Yesterday morning, Aaron and I woke early to have breakfast with my beautiful mother at Perth City Farm. The day was cool and fresh, slightly overcast; a welcome change from the blistering temperatures of summer.

We chatted and laughed, feasting on free-range eggs, organic sourdough, grilled tomatoes and lemony smashed avocado in the dappled shade. Between sips of coffee, we sampled spinach from the farm’s own garden before discussing family foibles, travel plans and (mostly) the 2014 Western Australian Senate (re)election.

Before leaving the farm, Aaron and my mother perused the Farm’s art exhibition while I chatted to some friendly Armenian growers at the Organic Market. I left with an armload of fresh produce including Armenian cucumbers, fresh zucchini, homegrown kale and tri-colour capsicums from their bio-dynamic garden.

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That afternoon, I snacked on torn bread and babaghanouj (made with their organic aubergines and home-pressed olive oil) whilst making the grilled vegetable salad below. My mother stayed for some quality mother-daughter time; we drank tea, laughed, took photographs and reminisced about old times.

That evening, the sky grew dark and cold. Aaron and I had a picnic in the park with our best friends, sharing stories over paper plates, grilled chicken and homemade empanadas. Whilst chewing a forkful of homegrown zucchini, I felt truly blessed and grateful; for farmers, fresh vegetables, weekends, warm jumpers and quality time with those I love the most.

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Thanks to all who travel through this life with me. In particular, my family, who embrace me despite weaknesses and always love unconditionally.

I’m grateful. I always will be.

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Char-grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

Adapted from this recipe by the Australian Women’s Weekly

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

  • 190g (1 cup) royal quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3 small capsicums (bell peppers), preferably mixed colours
  • 200g sweet potatoes
  • 1 zucchini, thickly sliced
  • 1/2 Spanish (red onion) sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 cup washed, picked herbs (I used parsley and mint), coarsely chopped
  • 100g goats feta, crumbled
  • finely grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, roasted and crushed
  • olive oil, to cook

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper

Place the rinsed quinoa into a medium pot with 500ml (2 cups) of water. Bring to the boil, then replace the lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is translucent. Place into a large bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil and add in the lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

Cut the sweet potatoes into a medium (2x2cm) dice. Steam or boil until just tender. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then set aside.

Preheat a char-grill pan over medium-high heat. Cut the capsicums in half and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Brush the skins with oil, then char-grill them skin side down until the skins blacken and blister. Turn and cook for an extra minute to allow the inside to steam.

cookingcaps

Place into a sealed bag, covered bowl or airtight container and leave at room temperature until cool (the steam will help the skins to loosen, making them easier to peel).

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Brush the zucchini and onion with a little olive oil, then add them to the grill pan with the sweet potatoes. Cook until soft and lightly grill-marked. Add the grilled vegetables to the same bowl as the quinoa.

Peel the capsicum halves and slice them into long, thin strips. Add them to the salad bowl with the chopped fresh herbs, walnuts and feta.

capsicumsliced

To make the dressing, place the oil, mustard, sugar, garlic and vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk until well emulsified. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

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To serve, pour over the dressing and mix gently with a spoon or salad tongs. Place onto a platter and garnish with more herbs if desired.

This salad is wonderful as an accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. It’s also a nutritious light meal, embellished with some plump black olives and served with some fresh bread and butter.

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spiced date and almond cigars with saffron honey

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Those of you who regularly read this blog would be aware of my long-standing obsession with Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s something to do with the fragrant mix of spices, delicate florals, bleeding saffron and the earthy crunch of nuts, occasionally punctuated by sweet bursts of pomegranate or quince. It’s breathtaking art, both on the plate and the palate. I doubt that my adoration will ever wane.

Recently, my love of Israeli food has translated to an obsession with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. Two months ago, I purchased both Plenty and Jerusalem; both have subsequently been pored over at least once per week. I’ve made a few of his vegetable recipes, from this green herb salad to an adapted version of braised artichokes with freekeh. However, prior to last weekend I was yet to attempt one of his fragrant desserts.

pistachios

pistachiosmpCue last Saturday. Aaron and I had invited some friends over for dinner in a ‘Moroccan feasting tent’ (a.k.a an abstract tent of sheets, blankets and rough twine that had initially been assembled for the entertainment of our nephew and nieces who had stayed over the previous weekend). Here’s a small snapshot of the ‘roof’:

sheetceiling

I lovingly planned the menu: slow cooked lamb in spices and preserved lemon, flatbread with za’atar, split pea dip, beetroot with labneh, marinated sweet peppers and roasted carrots with pistachios, pomegranate and mint.

After some consideration, I decided to attempt an adaptation of Ottolenghi’s sweet pastry cigars with almond and cinnamon filling for dessert.

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For personal reasons, I drastically reduced the sugar in Ottolenghi’s recipe, omitting the saffron icing and exchanging most of the sugar in the filling for chopped Medjool dates. When cooked, the dates formed a beautiful soft caramel that intermingled beautifully with the chopped nuts and spices.

Before serving with vanilla bean ice cream, I drizzled over some saffron and orange blossom infused raw honey, scattering over sweet crushed pistachios and dried rose petals.

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The finished dish was a beautiful marriage of textures, colours and flavours. Each bite provided the crunch of fried pastry, the soft complexity of the date and nut filling, sweet fragrant honey and floral rose petals.

We enjoyed the cigars alongside creamy vanilla bean ice cream, however for those of you who avoid dairy, these cigars are perfectly beautiful when eaten on their own. Their natural sweetness would be a perfect pick-me-up on a dreary afternoon.

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Spiced Date and Almond Cigars with Saffron Honey

Adapted from this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 8 large or 16 small cigar pastries

  • 40 g finely chopped walnuts
  • 60 g finely chopped almonds
  • 60g Medjool dates (about 4), stoned and chopped
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 20 g raw caster sugar
  • 75 ml water
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • 3 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 medium egg, separated
  • 16 filo pastry sheets (12 cm x 18 cm)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) sunflower oil (approximately), for frying

To serve:

  • 2 tbsp raw honey (I used Dean’s Bees unprocessed honey from Urban Locavore)
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp roasted, coarsely crushed pistachios
  • unsprayed dried rose petals (optional), crushed

Place the walnuts, almonds, dates, cinnamon, sugar, water and salt into a medium pan.

fillingpotGently heat over a low flame, stirring regularly for about four minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the dates have softened and broken down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Whisk in the lemon rind and the egg yolk (place the white into a small bowl, you will require it to roll the pastries) to create a thick, sticky mixture like this:

mixture

Set the filling aside. Place 1 filo pastry sheet onto a clean, dry surface with the longest edge facing you. Spread about three tsp of the nut mixture (15-20g) (about 3 tsp) in a long, thin strip along the edge closest to you (leave a 1cm gap on the right and left sides).

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Fold the two sides in, sticking the pastry down over the paste to hold in the filling. Roll the pastry forwards (away from you) to create a compact cigar.

rollingBrush the last 1cm of the pastry with egg white, then fold to seal the end. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.

Pour enough oil into a medium, heavy based frying pan to reach 2cm up the side of the pan (note: I actually added much less oil that this and they cooked beautifully, so use your discretion). Heat to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f) or until a cube of bread sizzles and cooks, turning gently brown in about 20 seconds.

Gently add the cigars to the pan, in batches if necessary, cooking for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp all over (reduce the heat if they start to blacken or burn).

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Remove each cigar with a slotted spoon. Drain on some paper towels.

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To make the infused honey: gently heat the honey in a small saucepan over low heat until warm and fragrant. Turn off the heat and add in the pinch of saffron, leave for 5-10 minutes to infuse. Splash in a little orange blossom water to taste. Mix well.

Slice each cigar on an angle into two or three pieces to serve. Drizzle with infused honey and scatter with pistachios and rose petals, if desired.

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potato, fennel and thyme gratin

fennells

I still remember the first time I tasted fresh fennel. I was in the lunchroom at work, eating something very mundane (like a cheese and ham sandwich; this was before I discovered the value of preparing nutritious lunches the night before) when Aviva, a colleague of mine, pulled out a snap-lock bag of carrot sticks. Hiding among the carrots were some pieces of sliced white vegetable with pale green veins. Noting my curiosity, she gave me a piece to try; it was crisp, watery, fragrant with peppery aniseed. Now, I’m not a fan of liquorice but I love aniseed (weird but true. My husband is exactly the same). This thing was like Sambuca in vegetable form.

cheesyfennel

On the way home, I stopped in at my local greengrocer to find a piece of this vegetable heaven (which had now been identified as fennel). I bought two small bulbs, an organic lemon and a can of chickpeas. Half an hour later, I crunched through a whole bulb dipped in good extra virgin olive oil and homemade harissa-spiked hummus.

fennellike

Needless to say, since then fennel has become a permanent item on my shopping list. Aaron and I (being aniseed fiends) eat it shaved in various salads, braised in stock, roasted with potatoes and carrots, pan-fried with pine nuts or, simplest of all, in chunks with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved Parmesan. So good.

Today’s post contains a slightly more complicated recipe than those mentioned above. My husband and I had a group of friends over last night to play The Settlers of Catan (don’t start playing this game, it’s addictive) and I decided to cater with a garlicky slow-roasted lamb shoulder, potato and fennel gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots followed by warm sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce. The gratin was a hit. The sauteing process and the deliciously creamy sauce diffuse the pungent fennel just enough for aniseed-haters to enjoy it whilst also maintaining a pleasing balance of flavour against the crunchy toasted walnuts and fresh thyme.

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So, whether you’re a fennel fan or not, I’d encourage you to try this recipe soon with some succulent roast meat, crusty bread and a glass of good Shiraz. It takes a bit of time to prepare but once you’ve perfected the method, it will soon come together into a warming, nourishing dish to enjoy on a cold winter’ evening.

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Potato, Fennel and Thyme Gratin

Adapted from this recipe by Ina Garten

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

  • 1 large or 2 small Florence fennel bulbs (equivalent to 4 cups sliced fennel)
  • 1 brown onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 kg (2 lb) firm-fleshed potatoes (I used Royal Blue)
  • 2 cups thickened (heavy) cream
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used 1 cup grated vintage Cheddar, 1 cup grated Dutch Gouda and 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled)
  • a small handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked (about 1 tbsp of leaves)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled raw walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (350 degrees F). Butter the inside of a 10-cup baking dish, then set aside.

Thoroughly wash your fennel to remove any soil or grit. With a sharp knife, remove the stalks, woody base and fronds (retain the feathery fronds for garnish and discard the rest). Divide the fennel bulb in half; thinly slice the bulbs crosswise.

fennelcut2Melt the butter in a large pan or pot with the splash of olive oil (the oil helps to prevent the butter from burning).  Add in your sliced onion and fennel, then sauté on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes (or until tender). Set aside to cool slightly.

potatomontWash and peel your potatoes. Thinly slice them (about 3mm thick) by hand or with a mandoline. In a large bowl, mix your sliced potatoes with the cream, 2 cups of cheese,  the fresh thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in the sautéed fennel and onion. Mix well until the cheese and fennel mixture are thoroughly incorporated.

potatoes and creamPour the potato mixture into your prepared baking dish. Arrange the top layer of potatoes if necessary (for presentation purposes) then press down lightly to immerse the top layer under the cream. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

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Cover with foil and bake for one hour before removing the foil and sprinkling over the walnuts. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbling. Set aside for ten minutes to rest before serving.

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Extra notes about Fennel:

  • Fennel is widely cultivated for both culinary and medicinal uses. Florence fennel (the popular cultivated type of fennel used in this recipe) has sweeter flesh than wild types and the inflated leaf bases are edible both in raw and cooked form. Florence fennel is one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe (an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink worldwide).
  • Fennel is sometimes mislabeled as ‘anise’ in supermarkets (I’ve also seen it labelled as ‘aniseed’ here in Australia)
  • The bulb, foliage and seeds of fennel (both wild and cultivated) are edible. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice that is often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. In many parts of India and Pakistan, roasted fennel seeds are consumed as mukhwas, an after-meal digestive and breath freshener.
  • Medicinal uses: Fennel is sometimes used to treat flatulence in humans (and dogs!) by encouraging the expulsion of intestinal gas. Other sources claim that fennel is useful as a diuretic, that it improves eyesight and also lowers blood pressure. An organic compound in the fennel, anethole, is responsible for most medicinal benefits (but then again, anethole is also responsible for the psychoactive effects of guarana and absinthe… so moderation is likely the key).

banana, coconut and rum cake

yumI have come to the realization that I’m a chronic over-purchaser of bananas. Every week, I bring home a bunch of golden, blemish-free beauties from the farmer’s market. I sample one before placing the rest into the fruit bowl; the flesh is creamy, white and gently sweet… perfectly ripe. I then forget that I purchased bananas, perhaps eating one during the course of the week before realizing that the rest have developed more freckles than my own face. They then move into the fridge, to the decelerate the ripening process, until I figure out what to bake with them.

bananamontDuring the course of writing this blog post, I came to a second realization. My husband never eats the bananas from the fruit bowl. I asked him why, curiously, as he definitely likes eating bananas. He answered, “Well, if I don’t eat them I know that they’ll turn into banana bread”. Ah, right. Yep, I am a creature of habit. Both in terms of over-purchasing bananas and then turning the eventual blackened bananas into a sweet quick bread. You can see some of my versions here and here; others not-yet-posted include a cinnamon banana bread with a thick, glossy Nutella ribbon and another with dried sour cherries and dark chocolate chips.

Yes, they’re all delicious and go from mixing bowl to oven in under 20 minutes. But… well, with my latest lot of overripe bananas, I wanted to do something more challenging. Enter the banana, coconut and rum cake with a thick, crunchy coconut and walnut crust.

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The inspiration for this cake came from an archived blog post by Tracey at SugarPunk Desserts (a small one-woman baking business in North Carolina that sadly no longer exists). She in turn found the recipe she used in a book called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. As per usual, I couldn’t leave the recipe alone… and no, I didn’t quite keep to quantities.

I swapped a portion of the flour for protein-rich, dense and fragrant coconut flour just because I thought the flavour would match beautifully with the bananas, rum and nuts. I also swapped sour cream for organic coconut milk yoghurt from Co Yo (this stuff is amazing… Australian-made, creamy, rich and completely plant-based for you vegans out there!), butter for Nuttelex, reduced the sugar and egg content, and added shredded coconut to the crunchy nut topping. The result? Amazing.

yoghurtjug2I took this cake along to a boozy party at a friend’s house, where it was critiqued as an “…awesomely amped up banana cake. Yeah, it’s a banana cake on steroids!” (the booze might explain the colloquialisms. Possibly. Or not). Version two travelled to my office where slightly more subdued responses were gained, including “Holey moley Laura! So delicious” and  “…this is almost better than your chocolate truffle cake! But, uh… not quite. When are you bringing the truffle cake in again…?”.

cake crumbsSo, I guess we could say the slightly confused consensus is that this cake is good. Not as knock-out spectacular as the praline-topped chocolate truffle cake but amazingly good. Its dense crumb is moist and fragrant from the coconut flour, with sweet banana undertones and the warmth of rum. It’s christened with a rich, buttery rum-spiked glaze that soaks through into the soft cake, contrasting against the crunchy coconut and walnut crust (the original recipe called for pecans. I’ll forgive you if you revert back to Pecanland).

So, next time you have overripe bananas in your fruit bowl or fridge, I’d recommend that you take a little extra time to make this recipe. No, it’s not as simple as banana bread, but it’s a spectacular way to help those poor, neglected fruits die a worthy death. Trust me. You will win friends and conquer kingdoms. Or possibly not, but either way… you won’t care after your first slice.

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Banana Coconut and Rum Cake

Makes one 22cm cake

Topping:

  • 1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and crushed
  • 1/2 cup shredded or flaked coconut, toasted

Cake:

  • 325g Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter)
  • 2 cups raw caster sugar
  • 1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp dark rum (I used Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, but I’d recommend Clasico)
  • 2 cups (250g) plain flour
  • 1 cup (125g) organic coconut flour (I used Eco organic coconut flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup organic coconut milk yoghurt (substitute natural yoghurt or sour cream)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Position a rack to sit as a middle shelf. Grease and line a 22cm springform pan, ensuring that the base is firmly in place. Sprinkle your walnuts and toasted coconut evenly over the base of the pan, then set aside.

tinnutsmontIn a large bowl, beat together the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugars until pale and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in your mashed bananas, yoghurt, coconut flour, vanilla and rum, then mix well. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes so that the coconut flour can soak in the liquid ingredients (read notes, below). My batter was entirely fine, but if your mixture appears too dense or dry, add in an extra mashed banana or a couple of tablespoons of almond milk (or dairy milk).

vanillapourmontSift in your wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Fold together using a rubber spatula until no streaks of flour remain.

Carefully spoon your batter over the walnut and coconut layer in the pan, ensuring that the mixture doesn’t displace the nuts. Tap the pan lightly on the benchtop to even out the mixture and to ensure that the batter adheres to the coconut and walnuts.

sift bowlmontBake your cake for around 60-80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. During this time, you can make your rum glaze (as follows; keep reading for directions on how to finish your cake).

rumcakemontRum Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup Nuttelex (substitute Earth Balance or unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Combine the Nuttelex, water and sugars (not the rum) in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Allow the mixture to simmer for around 1o minutes, or until reduced and syrupy. Add in the rum, then keep the mixture warm until you’re ready to use it.

sidecakeTo finish your cake:

Whilst still in the tin, use a wooden skewer to gently poke holes all over your cake. Pour over 1/4 cup of the warm rum glaze, and allow to soak into the holes. Leave the cake for 5 minutes before releasing the tin and inverting it onto a serving platter. The base of your cake (with its walnut and coconut crust) should now be the top. Carefully poke a few more holes in the surface of the cake and then slowly spoon over the rest of the glaze, allowing each spoonful to absorb (if the glaze starts to pool on the plate, scoop it up with a spoon or spatula and spread it over the sides of the cake). As the glaze hardens, the walnuts and coconut will form a crunchy, sugary, nutty crust.

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Let the cake cool completely before serving, to prevent the interior collapsing (it’s a very moist, dense cake and it firms up upon cooling). It’s delicious served warm (blitz each piece in the microwave for a few seconds) with extra coconut milk yoghurt or ice-cream… or just on its own, for a mid-afternoon kick with a hot cup of tea.

It will stay moist, covered, for about 3 days in the fridge (though the crust will soften slightly). Freeze in an airtight container for up to two months.

creamspoonNotes:

  • Coconut flour is made from the dried, ground coconut meat that’s leftover after virgin coconut oil is extracted. It’s packed with fibre, protein and good fats whilst being gluten-free and wheat-free (perfect for coeliacs or those who are wheat intolerant).
  • I wouldn’t recommend swapping all of the grain-flour content in a recipe with coconut flour, as its baking properties are entirely different. A general rule is to swap 20-30% of the stated flour in a recipe for coconut flour and it’ll work out fine with the existing ingredients.
  • However, several articles on the internet also state that you can successfully substitute the entire flour content of a recipe for coconut flour. Bakers such as Sarah Rae Trover (at The Kitchn) have had success with a ratio of 1 egg for every ounce (30g) of coconut flour. The egg acts as a raising agent for the flour (which, in itself, contains no gluten) whilst the coconut flour will absorb the entire liquid contents of the egg. I’ve never tried this method so I can’t vouch for it, but the science makes sense. Other bloggers with egg sensitivities have had success substituting the eggs for ground chia or flax + water (‘chia eggs’ or ‘flax eggs’).
  • Don’t attempt to use coconut flour for an airy, light cake or cupcake recipe. It works best in recipes that are dense, moist and deliciously indulgent. You can also add a tablespoon or so to smoothies for a thick, subtly sweet protein and fibre boost.
  • After doing a bit of supplementary research for this recipe post, I’ve discovered that a lot of bloggers out there are actually making their own coconut milk yoghurt. As stated above, mine was shop-bought from Co Yo (lucky for me it’s an Australian company which keeps local prices down slightly… it’s delicious) but if you’re interested in making your own, check out these posts from The Mindful Foodie, London Paleo Kitchen and Cultures for Health. Big yay for making our own ‘cultured’ products at home… my next batch will definitely be home-made!

soft-baked cinnamon walnut cookies with dulce de leche

stack3A few weeks after my husband and I started dating, we attended a Christmas eve barbecue hosted by the parents of his best friend (and later, Best Man) Will. I was reasonably excited; mostly as I was about to meet Will’s beautiful parents, Nafa and Susan, who had swiftly adopted Aaron into their family after he and Will became best mates. Aaron has shared countless stories of this couple’s love, acceptance and generosity towards him, so it was a privilege to meet them as a ‘second set of in-laws’, so to speak.

I was also quite excited about the barbecue itself. Now, for those of you who are used to throwing a couple of snags on the barbie (‘sausages’ on the ‘barbecue’, for my non-Australian friends), let me explain: this was not just any barbecue. Will and his family are Argentinean migrants, and his father Nafa has become famous amongst our friends for his traditional, slow-cooked Asado (Argentinean-style, hot coal barbecue).

flowernutsAs soon as we arrived at the house, I understood what all the fuss was about. The smell of slow-roasted beef, sizzling pork ribs and chicken filled the air in a smoky, fragrant cloud. We were swiftly greeted with warm hugs, snacks and icy cold Coronas before tucking in to creamy potato salad, hot baked rolls, seasoned rice and mountains of charred meat laced with garlicky chimichurri. When we’d eaten our fill, the men started exchanging garlic-scented burps whilst the women sipped on maté and shared narratives of days gone by.

dulce1Towards the end of the evening, Susan and her daughter Miriam re-set the table with another spread: an assortment of teas, coffees, chocolates, fresh hot water, ‘first dessert’ and the requisite ‘second dessert’. Despite being full, I partook in fruit salad with ripe, fresh cherries, vanilla ice-cream and dulce de leche, a thick, glossy caramel that has since become a personal obsession of mine. Eaten straight from the jar, it somehow manages to taste both like thick condensed milk and deep, dark burnt sugar; when melted over ice-cream or pound cake, it transforms into the warmest, thickest and most delicious caramel sauce you can imagine.

walnutmontSince that night, Aaron and I have become loyal consumers of this Argentinean confection, usually over ice-cream but also in baked goods such as cheesecakes and more recently, soft-baked cookies. Up til now, I’ve been purchasing my supply from El Asador, a Perth company that locally manufactures their own chimichurri sauces, empanadas and homemade chorizo according to the family recipes of owner Max Pineiro.

However, despite the convenience I’ve recently been tempted to try and make my own caramel at home via David Lebovitz’s tutorial. Most other recipes for dulce de leche involve the hazardous step of boiling a can of condensed milk in water for hours. David’s method involves a baking tray with less pressure (consequentially removing the potential of an explosion… big yay for occupational health and safety).

fillingSo, after that prolonged introduction (sorry) today’s recipe is a variation of a soft-baked cookie recipe that I originally found on Sally’s Baking Addiction. I’ve enriched the basic cookie dough with fragrant cinnamon and toasted, crushed walnuts before stuffing each cookie with a spoonful of rich dulce de leche. The end result? Soft, chewy cookies with a fragrant, toasty walnut batter and a sweet caramel centre.

They’re some of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, and I’m saying that entirely without bias (as to be honest, I’m harder on my own cooking than anyone elses!). Try one on its own, or crumble a couple (preferably straight from the oven) over cold vanilla ice-cream for a deliciously sweet and easy dessert.

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Soft-baked Cinnamon Walnut Cookies with Dulce de Leche

Makes 40 cookies

  • 170g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (165g) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) white caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 tsp extra, for sprinkling
  • 2 cups (250g) plain white flour
  • 2 teaspoon cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • sea salt
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, crushed + 2 tbsp extra, for sprinkling
  • 100g dulce de leche (substitute with cajeta or Nestlé Top n’ Fill)

Place the butter and sugars into a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream together until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, then continue to mix at medium speed until well combined.

chopcream

Sift in your flour, cornflour, baking soda, cinnamon and a large pinch of salt. Mix together with a spatula or wooden spoon, adding in your walnuts when the mixture starts to come together. The dough will be thick, moist and sticky. When well combined, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate your dough for at least 30 minutes, or until firm.

siftstirWhilst your mixture is chilling, line two medium-sized baking trays (or cookie sheets) with baking parchment. Check your dough – if it’s firm to the touch, it’s ready for shaping.

Scoop out 1 tbsp of dough from your mixture. Flatten it into a 0.5cm-thick pancake in your hands, then place 1/2 tsp of Dulce de Leche into the centre of the circle. Bring up the corners to enclose your caramel filling, then gently roll the dough into a ball. Place onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough and Dulce de Leche, placing each ball about 2cm apart on the baking tray or cookie sheet. When you’ve finished rolling all of your cookies, return the trays to the refrigerator to chill for 5-10 minutes.

stuffballsPreheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Take the cookies out of the refrigerator and flatten each ball slightly with your hands. Press a few bits of crumbled walnut into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with cinnamon. Place the cookies into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, swapping trays half way through the cooking process.

doneWhen ready, the cookies will be pale golden (not browned) and soft to the touch. They will firm up considerably upon cooling, so don’t worry if your finger sinks into the cookie surface when you touch it. Once you’ve removed the trays from the oven, leave the cookies to cool on their trays or cookie sheets for at least five minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

These cookies will keep fresh in an airtight container for up to one week. I’d suggest separating each layer with greaseproof paper to prevent sticking (as they’re quite soft, they’ll break if you try to separate them… and broken cookie = sad day).

crumbemptyAustralian Manufacturers of Dulce de Leche:

  • Mi Casa Fine Foods – based on the Gold Coast, Queensland
  • El Asador – based in Leederville, Western Australia
  • Crella – based in New South Wales. Product comes frozen.

apricot, coconut and cacao nib treats

bite

A couple of months ago, I purchased a rather large packet of organic cacao nibs from Loving Earth. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll realize that I’m a big fan of this Melbourne-based company, mostly due to their fair-trade, sustainable philosophy, the high quality of their products and… well, the fact that they make healthy food taste delicious (not everyone can do that!).

Anyway, back to the cacao nibs. Upon bringing the package home, I opened it excitedly and placed a piece in my mouth, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. The nibs are hard, coarse like an almond shell, crunchy and bittersweet with rich undertones of dark chocolate and coffee. On the whole, they’re quite pleasant for something that resembles cracked tree bark. I ate another piece before closing the packet and storing it on a shelf next to one litre of coconut oil. Sadly, there it stayed… neglected and largely untouched for the next two months (other than the odd occasion when I’d sprinkle some cacao nibs into my morning breakfast bowl).

cacaonibs
So, let’s fast forward to earlier this week. After nibbling on some more cacao nibs, I decided that it was about time I knuckled down to create something delicious from this package of nutritional wonderment. I began trawling the internet, unearthing inspiration from recipes such as Kate Olsson’s Pumpkin and Cacao Nib loaves, Elizabeth’s Paleo Cookie Balls  Alanna’s  Snowballs and Sara Forte’s Peanut Butter Bites. If you follow the recipe links, you’ll see that each of these recipes is delicious in its own right. However, as the humidity of the morning set in, my fingers continued to search the net for something easy, nutritious and raw (I still can’t bear to use the oven in this weather). Enter Jo Whitton’s date and walnut stuffed, chocolatey Bliss Balls.

apricotmont
Now, prior to this week, I’d never even heard of a bliss ball. However, after some further research I’ve discovered that there are over six million mentions of bliss balls on the world wide web. Six million (I must’ve been living in a hole). After investigating a few, I’ve decided that the definition of a ‘bliss ball’ is simply a sweet snack ball made from wholesome, raw ingredients (usually various dried fruits, seeds and nuts) with additional spices, sweetening agents (agave, honey, maple syrup), occasional starchy ingredients, cocoa and healthy fats. These ingredients are then either ground or pounded down into a sticky, rollable mixture that’s used to create bite-sized balls.

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Jo’s bliss ball recipe contains a delicious mix of ground cacao nibs, walnuts, fresh dates and rapadura sugar, prepared with a Thermomixes (these appliances are taking over the world, I tell you!). That leads me to a small personal statement: I am a teeny bit against Thermomixes. Predominantly because I believe that they, and similar appliances, may eventually ‘de-skill’ this next generation of potential cooks. I’ve always valued back-to-basics cooking, traditional kitchen skills and generational methods that take time and energy. There’s nothing better than pounding ingredients with a mortar and pestle for a curry paste, kneading dough on a floured bench top and practicing knife skills you hope to master. I want my children to learn the therapeutic and creative benefits of cooking, using their hands, heart and mind as opposed to a machine).

buckao

Now, let me clarify something. I’m not suggesting we live like neanderthals in a squalid cave, gutting fish with a blunt knife. I definitely appreciate technology, particularly as most of us (particularly working parents) are so time-poor these days. Bench top appliances are a wonderful privilege of the industrial age, as are fridges, washing machines and electric or gas ovens. When balanced with traditional skills, they’re a time-saving and valuable addition to a busy kitchen. In fact, I used a food processor in my version of bliss balls, quite similarly to how Jo used her Thermomix in her recipe. However, in my case, the ‘time-saving’ element was… uh… minimal. Mostly because I own a very small stick blender with a chopper bowl attachment.

apswalnuts

Ah, my little blender. It’s a few years old, has a chipped stainless steel blade and a whirr that’s worse than a hammer drill. My husband hates it; he thinks that it’s going to make both of us deaf before our time. In fact, he once snapped some industrial ear muffs onto my head when I was making a batch of pesto… I didn’t even hear him creep up behind me. Funny, but… well, not. I now spend half of my time grinding things in a giant mortar and pestle, which is both wonderfully therapeutic and annoyingly slow. I’d love to receive any recommendations for a reliable, robust food processor that won’t break the bank. Please.

Anyway, moving on to the recipe below. What you’ll find is my version of ‘bliss balls’, using organic dried apricots, raw walnuts, chia seeds, activated buckwheat and cacao nibs. All of this delicious nutrition is then combined with a large dollop of coconut and chocolate goodness before being rolled into balls and drenched in dessicated coconut. Uh, yes, if you’re wondering… they’re still healthy. The Loving Earth coconut chocolate butter I used contains raw coconut oil, organic ground cacao, raw agave and sea salt. That’s it. So delicious.

buttermont
As I’m now at risk of sounding like a Loving Earth promoter, let me just clarify. I am not, in any way, affiliated with Loving Earth, I don’t receive products for free, I don’t get discounts or any other benefits. These views are entirely my own; I just like giving credit to companies that steward the earth lightly, responsibly and ethically, without compromise. That’s it, simple.

Anyway, on to my version of ‘bliss balls’. I hope you enjoy them.

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Apricot, Coconut and Cacao Nib Treats

Makes about 20 balls

  • 180g organic dried apricots
  • 100g raw walnuts
  • 3 tbsp organic coconut chocolate butter (substitute 2 tbsp organic coconut oil/butter + 1/2 tbsp raw, ground cacao nibs/organic cocoa + 1 tsp agave syrup, to sweeten)
  • 2 tbsp activated buckwheat
  • 2 tbsp whole raw cacao nibs
  • 1 tbsp black chia seeds
  • dessicated coconut, for rolling

Coarsely chop your apricots and walnuts. Reserve 2 tbsp of each, then place the rest into the bowl of a medium food processor. Process until fine. Add in your coconut chocolate butter (or equivalent) then pulse briefly until thoroughly combined, sticky and glossy.

blended

Remove mixture from the food processor and place in a large bowl. Add in the reserved apricots and walnuts, buckwheat, cacao nibs and chia seeds. Mix well until the additional ingredients are thoroughly combined with the chocolate base mixture.

If you find that the coconut oil separates slightly from the mixture (creating a layer of oil on the top) don’t worry, as this will be left behind when you form the mixture into balls. The coconut oil will also solidify when refrigerated, so the balls will firm up nicely.

mixchia

Shape 1 tbsp of the mixture at a time into a firm ball, then roll in dessicated coconut. Place onto a plate or lined baking tray. Repeat with the remaining mixture and coconut, then place the balls into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving.

ballThese balls will keep, refrigerated, for 2-3 weeks. Don’t be tempted to leave them out of the fridge unless you live in a cool climate – coconut oil liquefies at around 76-78 degrees f (24-26 degrees C).

ballsgreen

Notes:

  • This recipe is highly adaptable, as you may have guessed from the multitude of bliss ball variations out there! Feel free to substitute any of the fruits, nuts and seeds stated for other complimentary varieties. One of my favourite substitutions is to swap the dried apricots for Medjool dates and the walnuts for pecans… just make sure that you keep the total quantities of dry and moist ingredients roughly the same, or the mixture won’t produce results of the same consistency.
  • Cacao nibs are high in magnesium and antioxidants, whilst also containing trace elements of beta-carotene, amino acids (protein), Omega-3’s (essential fatty acids), calcium, zinc, iron, copper and sulphur. They’re great to eat alone as a crunchy snack or you can stuff them into Turkish apricots or Medjool dates for a nutritious and delicious sweet treat. They’re also quite adaptable as a more nutritious replacement for chocolate chips in all of your favourite recipes.
  • For some extra nutritional information on coconut oil, please see my Lime and Burnt Sugar Meringue Tart post. There are also some interesting links to articles exploring the long-term benefit of coconut oil consumption.
  • If you’d like to try Living Earth products and live in Australia, like I do, you may find this list of stockists useful. However, there are plenty of other companies that sell cacao nibs… just try to make sure that the product you’re buying is single origin, organically grown and fair trade. Preferably criollo amazonico cacao, an heirloom variety that’s currently being replanted in Peru.

apsjar2

dark chocolate, sea salt and walnut cookies

cookiesolo

Get ready for an obscene statement.

I love cookies.

Okay, so that might be just slightly anticlimactic; especially seeing as almost the entire population of the Western world shares the same view. What may be a little more surprising is the fact that I love pretty much all cookies, whether they be soft or crunchy, chewy or crumbly, well-browned or pallid and slightly underdone. As long as they’re buttery and crammed with ‘the good stuff’ (e.g. chocolate chips, toasted nuts, dried fruit) I will happily consume every last crumb with a satisfied smile on my face. Cookie goodness equals happy Laura; especially when accompanied by a fresh cup of piping hot tea.

butternuts

In recent months, I’ve realised that this kind of statement may seem quite unusual to some bakers. Most cookie consumers seem to be a lot more discerning, especially when it comes to the hallowed chocolate chip variety. In fact, some bloggers have even gone to the extent of testing and comparing various recipes for flavour, consistency and texture (see here, here and here for some examples) in the hope of finding the ‘ultimate’ chocolate chip cookie. As this ‘research’ is entirely subjective, the jury remains out as to which cookie reigns supreme. However, as far as I can tell, American audiences largely favour the soft, chewy cookie varieties whilst the British prefer crunchier, crumblier versions that stay true to the original definition of biscuit. Yes, Americans and Canadians, I classify your ‘biscuits’ as ‘scones‘. You are entitled to argue.

beatermont

Anyway, moving on. You’ll find below a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie that my 20-year-old self first discovered whilst reading the January 2004 edition of Good Taste magazine in a Woolworths supermarket. The main draw card was the walnuts; I love anything with walnuts, especially when combined with dark chocolate. So, after a moment’s deliberation, I squirreled the magazine home in my handbag (after paying for it, of course), hauled out my mother’s old General Electric hand-held mixer and spent the evening covered in flour, butter and melted chocolate. By the next day, all of the cookies had mysteriously disappeared. The recipe was declared a great and glorious success.

eggsalt

Fast forward, uh… nine years. I’m still baking these cookies as part of my regular rotation. Sometimes I mix things up a bit by adding dried fruit, white chocolate, macadamias instead of walnuts, sea salt (as per this more sophisticated version) or extra butter and more eggs (read on to ‘notes’ for information on how these ingredients change the consistency of a cookie). Each variation has been equally delicious and eagerly consumed by my friends, family and work colleagues.

So. If you haven’t already found your favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, I’d encourage you to try this one. It’s not a chewy cookie recipe (unless you try one of the variations below) but you’ll end up with a deliciously crisp, crunchy cookies with buttery dough, smooth dark chocolate chunks and the bitterness of toasted walnuts. Try them on their own, with a fresh cup of char or crumbled up over vanilla ice-cream and hot fudge sauce. Either way, they’re absolutely delicious… and with the protein-packed nuts and antioxidant content, I convince myself that they’re healthy, too. Sort of.

cookiejar

Dark Chocolate, Sea Salt and Walnut Cookies

Adapted slightly from this recipe by Sarah Hobbs.

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 100g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 free-range egg, at room temperature
  • 225g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour, sifted
  • 200g dark eating chocolate
  • 150g (1 1/2 cups) walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • Murray River flaked pink sea salt (or other delicate sea salt), optional

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Line two medium baking trays with greaseproof paper, then set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together with an electric beater until pale and creamy. Add in your egg, then beat until thoroughly combined. Sift in your flour, then stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add in your walnuts and dark chocolate. Stir to combine.

mixingbowlmix

Use your hands to roll tablespoons-full of mixture into balls. Place the balls, 2-3cm apart, onto your prepared trays. Flatten slightly with your hand or a fork.

rawdoughmont

Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, swapping the tray positions in your oven half way through. When ready, your cookies should be light golden. Remove from the oven, then set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

closeup

When your cookies are almost cooled, sprinkle each with a few flakes of good quality, mild sea salt. This little step is entirely optional, but trust me; the crunchy, salty flakes pair perfectly with the earthy, sweet dark chocolate, butter and brown sugar. Yum.

seasalt2

Notes:

  • As aforementioned, this recipe will produce thick, crunchy, crisp and crumbly chocolate chip cookies that are more in line with a traditional English biscuit. If you’d like them to be chewier, I’d suggest adding an extra egg yolk during the whipping process, alongside a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Add 1/4 tsp baking soda to the flour during the sifting process, then continue as per the recipe.
  • If you’d like thinner, crispier cookies, you need to add more butter (try 150g) and substitute the brown sugar for white, granular caster sugar. Brown sugar is more acidic and hydrophilic, which means that it retains more moisture during the cooking process. White sugar, being less dense, can help produce a crisper end product. Increasing the butter content will also add further milk protein which aids in browning and crisping.
  • If you’re baking these cookies on a warm day and the dough seems to be too sticky, refrigerate it for a while before baking. Don’t add more flour, as this will likely produce a drier, hard finished product.
  • Over-mixing your dough can also result in tough cookies (and contrary to the saying, this is not a good thing). When flour is combined with liquid, the embedded gluten starts to develop into a network of protein strands that become stronger and more elastic when mixed. This holds your baked goods together (a positive) but can also toughen them (a negative) if over-worked. In any cookie recipe, use the minimum amount of mixing required to create a uniform dough (a good indicator is that there should be no visible patches of flour).
  • I these bake cookies between two baking trays (or cookie sheets) to allow space for spreading. Even if you have room for both trays on one oven shelf, I’d suggest rotating your trays between two different oven positions half way through the cooking time to allow for better air circulation and heat distribution. Most ovens have hot spots (mine definitely do!) so this will result in a more evenly baked product.
  • Do you tend to eat left over cookie dough? I’ve recently broken the habit. Why? Well, cookie dough contains very perishable items, the most significant of which is raw egg. Consumption of chicken eggs in their raw state can lead to serious food poisoning (and death) through the ingestion of salmonella, so if you’re going to eat raw cookie dough I’d suggest making a special egg-free batch.

walnutdust

End note: This recipe reminds me of my beautiful, talented and generous mother (as I continue to use her now-gifted, 25+ year old mixer; she also adores anything with nuts and will always be my first official taste tester) and my best friend, Vicky (who consumed a whole tin of these in one week whilst pregnant; she has now added this recipe to her own family’s repertoire). These amazing women are inspiring, supportive and generous with their love and time. I’m so grateful to be traveling through the ups and downs of life with them. Oh, and whilst I’m adding links, also check out the freshly minted website of my husband and new official taste tester, Aaron. He and the poker boys gave these cookies their manly endorsement last night, so they must be good.

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