ricotta fritters. and three years of blogging

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In six days, it’s going to be exactly three years since I sent my first post into the blogosphere. That’s thirty six months, or 1,095 days if you’re the analytic type.

It sounds more significant if I state that I’ve now spent one tenth of my life sporadically typing into a WordPress template. On average, I’ve generated one post every eight days (141 in total), which means that a sizeable chunk of each week has been dedicated to late night contemplation, recipe testing, dish washing and amateur photo editing. And eating, of course (arguably the best part).

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It’s been a long journey. Believe me, my enthusiasm has waxed, waned and wilted as each season has passed. Despite my unwavering passion for food, there have been moments of intense frustration when I’ve wondered what the hell I’m doing, donating my free time, finance and energy into something that’s essentially ‘just another food blog’ (there are hundreds in my home town of Perth alone).

After a lot of reflection, I can honestly state that my ‘staying power’ is attributable to two core elements:

  • a firm, quiet belief that this blog may someday lead to greater, more financially viable career options in the food industry, and
  • you guys. The readers. Incredible blogging friends, new passionate foodies and other genuine individuals who have somehow found an affinity with this overly reflective, food-obsessed, somewhat insecure and photo-phobic (yep, that’s why there are no head shots of me) girl from one of the most isolated capital cities on Earth. Despite my irregular posting, occasional absences and sleep-deprived drivel on work nights, you’re still here. Amazing. You continually humble, encourage and inspire me.

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Anyway, back to the approaching third blogiversary of this little food journal. I’ve engaged in a lot of rumination over ‘dot point one’ over the past few weeks. Over many cups of tea, late night chats and scrawl-sessions in my list pad, I’ve realized that I’m desperate for my interest in food to be more than just a scattered hobby around full-time work and other responsibilities. I want to live and breathe food, for this blog to be more than it is and for this volume of words to overflow into reality.

I want my readers to feel excited about pending content, to be able to rely upon the Mess for new recipes with each coming week. I want people to taste my food with eager hands, licking sauce off their fingers and syrup from their teeth.

I want to cook. To cook with abandon, til my arms are sore and my brow is smeared with butter. To collapse into bed exhausted, but wholly content.

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Now, I realize that the above statements are somewhat idealized and that the reality of working in food isn’t all cinnamon-scented and delicious. Hospitality is a difficult industry to crack, and blogging is… well, blogging. I’m still a small fish in a river of glossy salmon.

Nevertheless, I have goals for my obsessive contemplation to translate into tangible activity over the next few months. My initial focus will be on cranking this blog into the next gear – as of this week, you can expect at least one post per week from the Mess, predominantly focusing on healthy, plant-based vegetarian wholefood cooking (we do eat some meat in our household, Aaron more than I, however as time has passed I’ve progressively transitioned to eating mostly plant-based sources of protein).

For those readers who live in my hometown of Perth, you will also be given some opportunities to eat my food over the next few months. I’m not going to give away too much detail whilst we remain in the planning stages, but keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook for up-to-the-minute details as plans progress. What I can tell you is that I’m currently engaging in recipe writing, planning and testing, all of which is rather fun. There’s also been a hefty chunk of research regarding local councils, food venues and licensing (Aaron’s been managing the last part. He’s loving it, obviously).

lokinoseAnyway, aside from plans for the next few months – I wanted to share some deliciousness with you today.

Deliciousness in the form of a recipe for fat, chilli-flecked ricotta fritters with fresh zucchini, rocket leaves and a creamy yoghurt sauce. They’re perfect for breakfast, topped with a soft poached egg and crispy fried bacon or chorizo. Two or three fritters are also wonderful on their own as a light meal with some cherry tomatoes, piquant red wine vinegar and Spanish onion.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone x

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Zucchini Ricotta Fritters with Minted Yoghurt

Makes 8

  • 1 cup (250g) fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 small zucchini, finely grated, excess liquid squeezed out* (about 1 cup/175g drained weight)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated smoked cheddar (or Parmesan)
  • 2 tbsp buckwheat flour plus extra, for dusting
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat) OR 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)
  • 1 free-range egg + 1 egg white, extra
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • olive oil, for frying
  • rocket (arugula) leaves and extra virgin olive oil, to serve (optional)

*place the grated zucchini in a fine sieve, cover with a clean paper towel and push down with my palm or a broad spoon. Do not skip this step; squeezing the excess water out of the zucchini is important to ensure that your fritters don’t become waterlogged. Use the zucchini juice in your next green smoothie – it’s hydrating and full of goodness

Minted Yoghurt

  • 1/2 cup thick Greek or natural yoghurt
  • finely grated rind from one lemon (about 1 tsp)
  • handful of chopped fresh mint
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Place the ricotta, smoked cheddar or Parmesan, flour, zucchini, egg and seasonings together in a bowl. Mix well to combine. Whisk the other egg white until form peaks form, then fold through the ricotta and zucchini mixture.

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Shape 1/4 cupfuls of the mixture into fritter shapes and dust with the extra flour (the mixture will be quite wet, but don’t worry – they’ll firm up in the pan). Heat some oil in a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat.

Drop the fritters into the hot oil (ensure there is enough space between them for easy turning). Cook in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.

yoghurt1Mix together the yoghurt, mint and lemon zest in a small bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Serve a couple of fritters per person with a large dollop of minted yoghurt, a handful of rocket and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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carrot and zucchini cupcakes with yoghurt frosting

cupcake Over the past ten years, I feel like I’ve transformed from a Type-A, borderline obsessive, rigidly organised individual into someone who is late for everything. Someone who forgets birthdays, who loses the electricity bill ‘somewhere’ between the bedroom and the study, someone who forgets to pay said bill until one week after the due date.

It’s strange. Slightly unnerving.

Not to say that I’ve completely eradicated my Type-A personality traits; conversely, I’m still a typical over committing, perfectionistic workaholic who suffers more stress and emotion than the average Type-B. I’ve just slipped further down the spectrum. coconutbutter Take this weekend, for example. After a full week at work, the scourge of disorganization struck. I completely failed to organise Mother’s Day activities until late on Wednesday night. All plans to bake my mother’s favourite cake fell in a heap after I forgot to buy oranges and eggs.

(It’s the scourge, I tell you).

I finally got around to organising breakfast and a posy of flowers yesterday (the latter from The Little Posy Co. in Perth; I’m a big fan). We ate avocado toast with plenty of chilli flakes and hot English Breakfast tea. But… there was still something missing. Warm baked goods, hand-delivered, made with my mother in mind. veg So, yesterday afternoon, I sifted flour and poured batter with sticky hands. I made sugar-free yoghurt frosting and pried Loki away from my beloved jar of coconut butter. I sang rhyming songs in dulcet tones whilst my thoughts drifted to days of old; four hands grating apples onto the kitchen bench of my childhood home.

There was love baked right into that apple cake. lokivegveg2 So, mum – these are for you. Full of goodness, not-too-sweet, moist with fruit and vegetables. Just the way you like them. I love you more than feeble words could say.

Happy Mother’s Day.

P.S. I’m on my way, bearing cupcakes. Put the kettle on! x spoon Carrot and Zucchini Cupcakes

Adapted from this recipe by Giadia De Laurentiis at Food Network.com

Makes 12 medium cupcakes

  • 1 cup nut meal (I used a combination of almond and hazelnut)
  • 1/4 cup rice flour (preferably brown)
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup rice malt syrup or maple syrup
  • 1 large free-range egg, at room temperature (substitute a flax egg to make this completely vegan)
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot (about 1 large carrot, I don’t bother peeling)
  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini/courgette (about 1/2 large zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Yoghurt Frosting:

  • 180mL (6 oz) plain coconut yoghurt or Greek yoghurt (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2-3 tsp coconut nectar (I use Loving Earth, it’s got a stunning burnt butterscotch flavour; substitute honey or rice malt syrup) to taste
  • for garnish: crunchy toasted coconut flakes and edible flowers (the latter if you happen to have some hanging around)

Position a rack in the centre of your oven and preheat it to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line 12 muffin pans with paper liners, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, sieve the dry ingredients together (add any nut solids left in the sieve back into the bowl and mix in). In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and the grated vegetables. Add to the dry and mix until just combined.

Using two spoons, distribute the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin cups. Bake until light and golden (about 15-20 minutes). Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

When completely cool, whisk together the yoghurt and coconut nectar until smooth. Spread liberally over each cupcake. icingSprinkle with coconut flakes and edible flowers, then refrigerate for at least one hour before serving (this allows the frosting to set; however if you’re impatient like I am, feel free to dig straight in!). icedhand

zucchini ricotta gnocchi with sage brown butter sauce

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom6

It’s sunny in Scotland this morning. Bright, clear and gusty with soft puffs of variable cloud. Some distance away, sunlight reflects off the still waters of Loch Fyne. The glare casts a pleasant glow upon the ceiling of our attic room; the light dances upon weathered timber as my fingers tap on black plastic keys.

Despite the sun, it’s decidedly chilly today. After a full Scottish breakfast (sausage, beans, fried haggis, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding and a potato scone) both Aaron and I have re-wrapped ourselves in thick blankets whilst our warmest clothes wash in the hostel laundry. That suits me just fine. A couple of hours to rest, think, breathe and type… something that I haven’t done in quite a while. Travelling is beautiful but (as any traveller will tell you) the constant momentum eventually breeds fatigue. I presently feel like I could sleep for the large part of a week.

Anyway, enough about being tired. I’ve got a treat for you today, a delicious guest post written by another dear blogging friend of mine across the seas: the beautiful Alice from Hip Foodie Mom. I’ve been reading Alice’s blog for a long time now and I’ve always been impressed by her genuine kindness, creativity and interest in other blogger’s work (not to mention her drool-worthy food… Mexican Biscuit Casserole, anyone?!).

But in February of this year, I read this post about #FeedSouthAfrica and Alice’s honesty, faith and generosity of heart really spoke to my own values, social consciousness and belief in God. We connected up and… well, the rest is history. I am so grateful to have Alice as a friend and inspirational blogging sister. She inspires me every day.

So, without further ado: here’s Alice and her beautiful recipe for soft, pillowy, cheesy gnocchi (thanks Alice for contributing such a delicious recipe for readers of the Mess!).


Hello Laura’s Mess readers! I’m Alice from Hip Foodie Mom. I live in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m a wife, mother of two girls and love to cook. Hip Foodie Mom is a fresh food recipe blog. You’ll find a little bit of everything from meat dishes to Asian food to vegetarian and desserts… but one thing remains constant: my use of fresh, organic, quality ingredients.

While Laura is away on holiday, I have the great honor of sharing a recipe with you all. And before I get to the recipe, I have to say how much I love Laura and reading her beautiful blog. We have not met in person but I am always inspired by her writing and photography. She is a beautiful soul inside and out.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi Dough

I don’t know what it is but there is something so relaxing and comforting about working with your hands and working on dough. I feel like an artist when I’m rolling dough for pasta, or pastry crust or pizza dough. Whatever it is, I love working with my hands and creating.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi prep

We are moving into fall here in the Northern hemisphere. Fall is my absolute favorite season. I love the fall for many reasons but cooler weather, seeing the leaves change colors, pumpkins everywhere and hearty home cooked meals are my top four!

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom2

Fall is when I dust off my slow cooker and bring out all of favorite comfort foods. Chili, stews, slow cooked beef and pork, casseroles and pasta.

If you’ve never made homemade pasta, gnocchi is a great one to start with. It doesn’t require a pasta making machine or attachment and it comes together fairly quickly. And even though my gnocchi isn’t the prettiest in the world, it tasted even more delicious knowing I made it myself. So the next time you are craving gnocchi and don’t mind getting your hands a little messy, I hope you try this. I’m definitely trying potato gnocchi (or some crispy gnocchi) for next time. I hope you enjoy!

And Laura, safe travels to you my friend and we can’t wait until you are back home and in your kitchen again. Cheers!!

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom3

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce

by Alice Choi, Hip Foodie Mom

Serves 4

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi

Ingredients

For the gnocchi:

  • 2 cups zucchini, grated (skin left on)
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, start with ½ cup

For the brown butter sage:

  • 1 stick, 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper

To serve:

  • Roasted cherry tomatoes
  • Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese

Instructions

For the gnocchi:

Using a colander, mix together the grated zucchini and salt. Let it sit and drain for about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove and squeeze out as much liquid as possible, either using your hands or a cheesecloth.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the zucchini, ricotta, egg yolk and Parmesan cheese. Then, mix in enough flour to form a dough that is not too sticky to work with. Start with ½ cup of flour and keep adding a little at a time (only up to 1 cup total) until you have a nice workable dough.

Move the dough to a well-floured work surface and form dough into a ball. Roll the dough into 1-inch thick strings, and, using a pastry cutter, slice into 1-inch pieces. After you have all the pieces, feel free to also shape the gnocchi with your hands. You can then use the back of a fork to make lines on your gnocchi if desired.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi

Bring a big pot of water to a boil, then, working with maybe 8-12 gnocchi at a time, gently drop the gnocchi into the water and cook until the gnocchi begins to float, remove from the water and repeat until all of your gnocchi is cooked.*

For the brown butter sage sauce:

Place the sliced butter into a skillet over medium-high heat and begin melting the butter, swirling the pan occasionally to help the butter cook evenly. Continue cooking the butter until it begins to brown, for about 4 minutes.

Once melted, the butter will foam up a bit. Add the fresh sage and continue to cook for a couple minutes more. You want the butter to be nicely browned and nutty but not burnt. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper and remove from the heat.

To serve:

Place some zucchini ricotta gnocchi onto a plate and top with the brown butter sage sauce. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, some roasted cherry tomatoes and the crispy sage (if desired). Serve immediately.

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi recipe adapted from Closet Cooking. *Check out this recipe to see Kevin’s tips and tricks!

Zucchini Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce by Hip Foodie Mom

Thanks again Alice! If you’re yet to do so, please click over and say hello to Alice via her blog Hip Foodie Mom, facebook, twitter and/or instagram!

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.

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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.

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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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courgette salad with lemon myrtle oil, chilli and mint

closeupThere’s something beautiful about summer squash. Their firm, sweet flesh requires little more than a brief flash in the pan before being served, drizzled in oil with a smattering of fragrant herbs.

I love them, whether they’re roasted, grilled, steamed or charred on a hot barbecue… particularly with lots of lemon, minted yoghurt and chilli. Perfectly easy food for summer nights.

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Over the past week, Aaron and I have eaten a lot of summer squash. Our first taste was fresh from Vicky’s garden, thick slices of charred green and yellow courgette bathed in olive oil, black pepper and herbs. We ate with sticky fingers and wide grins as the sun dropped below the horizon, breathing the scent of fresh eucalyptus on the wind.

That evening, our conversation rambled for hours. Plates were refilled, emptied and eagerly mopped up with torn ciabatta. Fresh air, open space and good company makes everything taste better. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

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Back to tonight’s courgette adventure. To be honest, it was more the product of an after-work ‘fridge hunt’ than anything else. Lucky for me, fresh goats cheese, herbs and lemons are staple refrigerator items, alongside home-cured olives, various nuts and grains.

I added these to a bag of fresh baby courgettes that I picked up at the weekend market, shiny and glistening in their skins. In an hour, dinner was on the table: roast chicken, courgette salad, hummus, garlicky tzatziki, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and olives. Summer food done simply.

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The recipe below is more of a ‘concept’ than a strict statement of quantities. It’s a dish that I make often with ingredients that I have on hand (you’ll see that I’ve added some ‘optional’ suggestions in the ingredients list) so all in all, it’s very forgiving.

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In my mind, courgettes partner beautifully with mint, however you could easily substitute coriander or basil as desired. If you’re gluten or wheat intolerant, just switch out the bulgur for cooked and cooled quinoa as a deliciously wholesome alternative.

It may go without saying, but this recipe works brilliantly with all summer squash including yellow squash, pattypans, tromboncinos and crooknecks… just ensure that they’re sliced similarly for ease of cooking.

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Courgette Salad with Macadamia Lemon Myrtle Oil, Chilli and Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish

  • 6-8 small courgettes (zucchini), washed and halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup fine grit bulgur (burghul)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds if you’d like less heat)
  • mint and parsley leaves (about 1/4 cup in total) washed and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • good squeeze of lemon juice
  • about 30g goats cheese, crumbled (substitute good quality feta)
  • Brookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle (substitute another lemon infused oil or good quality extra virgin olive oil)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • optional: toasted, crushed pistachio nuts or macadamias (sprinkle over to serve)
  • optional: small handful of pitted green olives, finely sliced

Heat a large griddle pan over high heat until hot but not smoking. Toss the courgettes in a little macadamia oil then lay them in a single layer onto the hot griddle, ensuring that each piece is in contact with the hotplate.

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Cook for 5 minutes each side or until cooked through and slightly charred.

Place the raw bulgur into a heatproof bowl or jug. Cover with boiling water until fully submerged, then cover with plastic wrap or an upturned plate.

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Leave for 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

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Place the chilli, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper into a small bowl (if using olives, combine at this point). Drizzle over a good slug of lemon myrtle macadamia oil, then toss to coat.

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When the bulgur has cooled, combine with the chilli, mint and lemon mixture. Mix well.

Lay the courgettes out onto a serving plate. Top with the seasoned bulgur (make sure to pour over all of the juices) then crumble over the goats cheese.

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Grind over some cracked black pepper then drizzle over some extra lemon myrtle macadamia oil. Add some chopped mint and/or toasted, crushed nuts if desired.

sideplateBrookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle is an award-winning high quality oil produced in New South Wales, Australia. It has a high smoke point (210 degrees C / 410 degrees f) and the beautiful herbal tang of lemon myrtle, an Australian spice that is unique to the northern rivers.

Brookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle is a wonderful accompaniment to seafood, vegetable and pasta dishes. Find stockists here.

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

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.

beans

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