blackberry coconut slice

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There’s something beautifully satisfying about a crumbly slice, particularly one that’s dense with buttery oats and sweet summer berries. They take me back to the hazy days of my childhood, small feet pounding on linoleum as I ran to the kitchen for afternoon tea.

When I was tiny, my mother had a knack for incorporating fruits, vegetables and wholegrains into her baking repertoire. It wasn’t just for ‘concealment’ purposes; rather, she just preferred carrot, lemon or apple spice cake over dense chocolate cake and Victoria sponge. Wise woman.

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In my own kitchen, I’ve adopted the same principles, partly for health reasons and wholly to please my own taste buds. Crunchy oats, earthy spelt and nut flours, moist fruits and ancient grains… they sing a grand chorus when mixed together into a cake, granola bar, muffin or pie.

I also habitually throw fresh leafy herbs and ground spices into my cake recipes (click here and here for some examples) for added complexity and flavour. The savoury notes both compliment and accentuate the fragrant baked fruits in the most beautiful of ways. Needless to say, it’s a habit that I’m disinclined to break.

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This slice celebrates everything that’s beautiful, sweet and unctuous about summer fruit. Plump, ripe berries picked from the last of the season’s brambles, sandwiched between buttery oats and earthy spelt flour.

As the heat of early March slowly dulls under a blanket of fallen autumn leaves, it’s getting harder to find fresh Australian berries. Admittedly, half of the blackberry fruit in this post was cooked from frozen due to low supplies at my local market. However, when sinking my teeth into a jammy oat slice with crunchy wholegrains and coconut, it no longer mattered. I was grasping summer’s bounty with floured hands and a happy heart.

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These bars make a beautifully transportable morning tea when wrapped in foil or brown paper. The fruit, cooked down to a jammy consistency, is slightly sticky but largely protected by the resilient oat crust.

They’re also lovely as a dessert, served slightly warm with a scoop of yoghurt or vanilla ice cream. Blissful, wholesome goodness (of which my mother would definitely approve).

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Blackberry Coconut Slice
Adapted from this recipe by Good Food

Makes 24 squares

  • 240g wholegrain spelt flour
  • 50g wholegrain organic oats
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 275g organic panela or rapadura sugar (substitute light brown sugar)
  • 200g cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 75g shredded coconut
  • 2 medium free-range eggs, beaten
  • 350g fresh or frozen berries (I used blackberries and raspberries)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 31 x 17cm slice tin.

Place the spelt flour and baking powder into a flour sifter or fine sieve. Sift through twice to evenly distribute the raising agent. Place the sifted flour into a large bowl with the oats, butter and panela sugar.

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Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (alternately, you can chuck the dry ingredients and the butter into a food processor and pulse it until it reaches the right consistency).

Stir through the shredded coconut. Measure 1 teacupful of the mixture (about 170g) and set it aside for the crumbly topping. Add the eggs to the remaining bowl of mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Spread the mixture evenly over the base of your lined baking tin. Smooth out firmly with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Scatter over the berries, ensuring that they’re evenly distributed across the base. Scatter over the reserved crumble topping.

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Transfer the slice to your preheated oven and bake for 60-75 minutes, or until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only moist crumbs attached.

Leave to cool before slicing into 24 squares.

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roasted zucchini, rocket and brown rice salad

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Today is the first day of January, 2013.

Fittingly, I’m going to begin this post by saying a ‘Happy New Year’ to all of my friends, family and extended network… in particular, those of you who are reading this blog post. Thanks for sticking with me through the last eight months of my ‘learning experience’ as a fledgling blogger, recipe writer and photographer. It’s been huge amounts of fun mixed with a good dollop of frustration; the latter mostly due to my general inadequacy as a photographer.

I’ve also been struggling with the fact that my camera (actually, my husband’s old Canon, which is a little better than my Olympus point-and-shoot) doesn’t cope well with low light. The solution? Several weekend cooking and photography sessions in the heat of the midday sun, complete with iced beverages and saltwater dripping down my brow. In fact, the recipe you’re about to read was created on a 42.1 degrees C (107.78 degrees f) Summer day in my little tinderbox of a kitchen. Despite the air conditioning, I was… well, almost dying from heat stroke. Cue some therapeutic iced apple cider consumption. Ah, much better.

2013

So, that brings me back to 2013. Thankfully, today brought a cool change at the end of a week in Perth that has averaged temperatures around 39.3 degrees C (102.74 degrees f). It also brought some unavoidable discussion of ‘New Year’s Resolutions‘… a practice that I don’t often engage in. I do, however, engage in the process of ‘goal setting’ on a haphazard basis each year. In fact, I had several from 2012 that I am evaluating in my head right now:

  • Goal 1: improve my work/life balance. Ah, work. Some may say it’s a ‘necessary evil’, but I’ve recently discovered that it can be ‘significantly less evil’ if you find a job that balances more with your lifestyle. I’m happy to say that 2012 brought an end to a stressful three-year stint in a highly pressurised job… albeit via resignation. I’ve spent the past seven months working a contract for a smaller, community hospital and it’s changed my life. I also need to say a huge thank you to my long-suffering husband and mum, both of whom endured my job-related whinging for the best part of a year (or two) before I decided to do something about it. Sometimes leaps into the unknown are definitely worth it. I love you guys hugely.
  • Goal 2: start a blog. Well, as you can see, this goal was successfully ticked off the list with a knife and nut butter. I can’t believe that I actually managed to complete over 20 posts in eight months… that’s a pretty good start for someone who works full-time and tends to be out for at least a few nights per week. I actually can’t wait to embark on the blogging challenge that is 2013. It’s a creative outlet that brings me daily inspiration, so here’s another big thanks to my husband, mum, family and friends who have happily been guinea pigs (or ‘creative inlets’, as our friend Manuel says) for my new recipes and ideas over the past few (or many) years.
  • Goal 3: eat more healthily. Aaron and I have had fun with this one. We’re both ridiculous chocolate fiends who used to polish off a slab of brownies, lots of ice cream and a couple of blocks of chocolate per week. We now limit ourselves quite sensibly, whilst increasing our intake of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, alternative proteins and super foods. I’ve even managed to convert Aaron to kale, which continues to surprise me. It’s been much easier than we thought, partly due to recipe experimentation and collaboration with foodie friends. I’m renewing this goal for the new year.
  • Goal 4: increase exercise. I’ve had varied success with this one. At the beginning of the year, I started off well by going to the gym twice per week, skipping and starting a running routine. However, each time I exercised, I was left in a desperately panting, distressed state. A visit to the doctor revealed something called ‘exercise-induced bronchoconstriction‘, or an exercise-induced type of asthma. Sadly, it’s made me a little exercise-phobic, but I’m working on it.

Anyway, that’s enough personal reflection. Let’s move on to the real reason for today’s post, the fifth installment of my ‘Summer Salads’ series: roasted zucchini (courgette, for those of you in the United Kingdom and Europe), rocket (arugula, for Americans) and brown rice (uh… brown rice, for everyone as far as I know) salad.

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I used to hate zucchini. I think it was a textural thing, as most of my early associations with eating zucchini were bitter, slimy and wet. Lucky for me, my mother knew the true value of this nutritious vegetable… she kept cooking it, primarily in bolognese sauce and ratatouille, and wouldn’t let me leave the table until I’d consumed at least two spoonfuls (she would kindly eat the rest).

Fast forward twenty years, and I love summer squash! Whether they’re roasted, stir-fried, baked in a moussaka or lasagne, stuffed or eaten raw in a salad, I’ll actually devour them happily with a grin on my face. Another benefit of converting to the squash family is that they’re pretty nutritious. Zucchini, for instance, is low in saturated fat, low in cholesterol and sodium, whilst being high in thiamin, niacin and panthothenic acid. It’s also a very good source of dietary fibre, protein, vitamins A and C, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.

The recipe below is a moderately easy but delicious way to use zucchini in a Summery fashion. I find that this vegetable pairs naturally with lemon, mint and toasted nuts, so all of these are included in a tumble of brown rice with the sweetness of caramelised onions and sultanas. As I’ve mentioned below, this salad is delicious as a light meal with some creamy goat’s cheese, grilled chicken or chickpeas… perfect for warm Summer nights.

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Roasted Zucchini, Rocket and Brown Rice Salad

Serves 4 as a light meal, 6 as an accompaniment.

  • 2 medium green zucchini (courgettes), washed and cut into chunks
  • 1 red (Spanish) onion, washed and sliced
  • 1 cup of raw organic brown rice
  • 1/2 cup sultanas
  • 1/2 cup mixed nuts and seeds  (I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, pine nuts and flaked almonds)
  • 1 cup fresh rocket (arugula), washed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Place your zucchini into a large roasting tray with a good drizzle of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Place into the oven to roast for about 30-40 minutes, depending upon the intensity of your oven. When done, it should be easy to pierce with a knife, the flesh should be glossy and opaque with golden, crunchy edges. When done, set it aside to cool.

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Whilst your zucchini is roasting, rinse your brown rice well in a colander to remove any debris or dirt. Place it into a medium, lidded saucepan with two cups of water. Replace the lid, then bring the mixture to the boil over high heat. When your rice starts to boil, immediately reduce the heat. Allow to simmer slowly for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is fully absorbed and the grains look light and fluffy. Test one between your fingers; the grain should easily ‘squish’  when pressure is applied. If there is still a hard ‘centre’ to the rice grain it’s not ready… just add a little more water to the pot then replace it over the heat with the lid on. It should soften up in a few minutes.

When your rice is cooked, transfer it into another bowl or serving dish to cool. Drizzle over a little olive oil, and ensure that the grains are separated. Add in your cooked zucchini.

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Heat a frypan over low heat, then add in your chopped Spanish onion. Fry gently, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft, opaque and slightly caramelised. You want your onion to be sweet, tender and delicious… if it’s browning or crisping too quickly, reduce the heat. When your onion is ready, turn off the heat and add in your sultanas, lemon rind and lemon juice. The residual heat, oil and moisture from the pan should plump up the sultanas and help release the oils from the lemon zest, creating a beautiful dressing for your salad.

When your onion and sultana mixture has cooled, add it to the rice and roasted zucchini. Add in the rocket, mint, nuts and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well, then taste. If it needs more acid, add in a little more lemon juice. If it seems a little dry, add in an extra splash of olive oil.

This salad is delicious on it’s own, with a little goat’s cheese or chickpeas for extra protein, or as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

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Notes:

  • Brown rice is what most varieties of white rice looked like before the outer hull and bran were removed. As it’s an unrefined wholegrain, it takes longer to cook and has a chewier, nuttier taste and texture. Believe me, this is an entirely good thing.
  • The complete milling and polishing process that converts brown rice into white rice destroys 67% of the vitamin B3, 80% of the vitamin B1, 90% of the vitamin B6, half of the manganese, half of the phosphorus, 60% of the iron, and all of the dietary fibre and essential fatty acids. Read some more of the health benefits of eating rice in it’s wholegrain form, here.
  • Any leftover cooked brown rice makes a delicious breakfast when combined with milk (especially soymilk), cinnamon, raisins and a little honey. You can also add in some fresh fruit, toasted nuts or a spoonful of nut butter. It’s wholegrain, so it will keep your satisfied for much longer than a bowl of Rice Krispies (which, let’s be honest, is also just a bowl of highly processed, nutrient-stripped-then-artifically-enriched rice, albeit crunchy).
  • This recipe also works beautifully with cooked quinoa or cous cous. Alternatively, you can keep to the brown rice, but swap out the roasted zucchini for eggplant (aubergine), the rocket for spinach and the sultanas for roasted cherry tomatoes. Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a delicious Mediterranean twist.

Thanks to the beautiful Amanda Humphreys for use of her ‘2013’ photograph… this woman is a creative goddess, on stage and behind a lens.

I also thought I’d include a photograph that Aaron took of a Willie Wagtail family that’s currently taking up residence in a tree just outside our apartment. This devoted mother has been shielding her little bean-babies from the midday sun (with the fierce temperatures above!) day in and day out for the past two weeks. Poor thing… we’ve been trying to flick them with a little water every now and then. I can’t wait to see the little hatchlings start to fly.

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