Sunday, 31 January 2016

nectarine-apricot granita

A bright and sunny nectarine-apricot granita.

It is probably obvious by now that I thoroughly enjoy stone fruit season at my local farmers market. Top-grade fruit is affordable, second-grade fruit is cheap and still delicious, and every now and then, a stall might offer a "jam box" of blemished or extremely overripe fruits for almost next to nothing.

Simon and I took advantage of one of the "jam box" specials recently. Heavy with peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots, the $2 price tag beckoned to us. I had no intention of making jam, but I knew I would somehow figure out something to do with the fruits.

I extricated the flesh of most of the plums and froze them for future smoothie creations. I assessed the peaches and decided that they were still fit for standard consumption. So I was left with apricots and nectarines, some of which we ate, but several were so incredibly soft and sweet that I felt they were better off blended up and broken into a granita. Thus, here we are, with a nectarine-apricot granita.

This nectarine-apricot granita goes beautifully with a dollop of cream or yoghurt.

nectarine-apricot granita

300g / 2/3lb overripe apricots
150g / 1/3lb overripe nectarines (I used white nectarines, but yellow nectarines are also great!)
1/2 cup water
1 lemon (or about 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 teaspoons lemon zest)
1 tablespoon honey (Optional, especially if the stone fruits are fall-apart sweet. Omit for a vegan recipe.)

Remove the stones from the apricots and nectarines. You can remove the peel, too, but I didn't bother. (As you can see, my granita has lovely flecks of red from the nectarine skin!)
Blend the apricot and nectarine flesh with the water, along with the juice and zest from the lemon.
Add honey to taste, if you feel that it is necessary. If using honey, dilute it in a small amount of water before stirring it in.
Pour the mixture into shallow containers, cover, and place in the freezer. Fill up the containers to only about halfway, as you'll need the extra space when creating the ice crystals of granita.
Check back in about 2 hours - the mixture should be showing signs of setting at this time. Break the mixture into ice crystals with a fork, and place it back into the freezer.
Repeat the breaking of the ice crystals about once every hour after this. Do this until all the liquid is converted to ice crystals.

You can serve the granita on its own, but I suggest pairing it with cream or yoghurt. Deliciousness!

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Sunday, 17 January 2016

sweet mung bean dessert soup

Mung bean dessert soup with sweet potatoes.

I have recently started working at a restaurant - hurrah for free food! - but this also means that it reduces the likelihood that I spend time and effort on preparing my own meals. I do still love cooking, however, so I try to make the most of it when I have some spare time.

Simon is fairly ambivalent about Asian-style dessert soups - but I grew up with them and they are my comfort food. So when I had a day off, recently, I made a nice batch of mung bean soup with sweet potatoes and a gentle hint of ginger to satisfy my cravings. This soup is wonderfully simple, and it can be enjoyed hot or cold. I like it any time of the day - for breakfast, as a snack in between meals, or as a dessert. As far as sweet things go, this one is reasonably wholesome, so give it a go and let me know what you think!

mung bean dessert soup (with sweet potatoes and a touch of ginger)
(serves 4)

1 cup dried mung beans (also referred to as "green beans" in Chinese)
225g / 1/2 pound sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
3cm / 1 inch ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
60g / 1/4 cup light palm sugar / brown sugar / raw sugar / Chinese yellow rock sugar

Soak the mung beans for about 2 hours.
Drain off the water, rinse the beans well, and place them in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, along with sweet potato chunks and ginger slices.
Bring the water to boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Let the mixture simmer, partially covered, for about 15 minutes.
Stir in sugar, and continue to cook the dessert soup for another 10 minutes or until the sugar completely dissolves and the texture of the beans and sweet potatoes are to your liking. Discard the ginger.
Serve your green bean soup warm, or allow it to cool down before covering it, chilling it in the fridge, and having it cold - it's delicious either way!

This dessert soup continues to thicken after cooking, and becomes almost porridge-like. If anything, this makes it more delightful!
Also, it should keep well in the fridge for 3 days or so.

Asian-style green bean dessert soup with sweet potatoes and a hint of ginger.

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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

happy 2016 + my gardening and cookbook resolutions...

Hello, kangaroo!

As 2016 gives me a gentle nudge, I reflect upon the past year.

2015 was, for me, a year for finding my feet. After the glorious whirlwind travels of 2014, I had to adapt to a new environment in 2015, one that in some ways felt even more foreign than some of the countries I visited outside of Australia. For so many years, I was an inner-city lass who was used to having a tram stop a stone's throw away from my apartment. Now I find myself residing close to the forest - or, as those of us in Australia say, bushland - saying hello to kangaroos and kookaburras.

Hello, kookaburra!

So what lies in store for me in 2016?

I am wary of making New Year's resolutions that don't end up going anywhere, but I have come up with at least a couple that are relevant to this food blog, which are achievable enough that there really is no excuse to not complete them. Feel free to give me a kick or two if it gets close to the end of the year and you still haven't seen any updates on how I'm going with these goals!

This year, I hope to do more gardening, with the aim of growing wholesome, edible things that I can enjoy in my meals. Right now, we have mint, chives, and tomatoes, and I hope to diversify further. Still early days, but I am super excited about the tomatoes at the moment. We bought some tomato plants from the shops, but we also have a few random ones in the garden - shown in this picture - that have just started growing from seeds in buried compost.

So looking forward to picking these tomatoes in the future.

A few years ago, I asked Simon for some cookbooks as birthday presents. Sheepishly, I have to admit that I am yet to try any recipes from these cookbooks. So my plan is to try at least two recipes from each cookbook this year, and blog about them!

Planning to travel the world through the pages of these vibrant cookbooks!

Too easy, right?

What are your plans for 2016? Please feel free to share in the comments section!

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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

mint-ginger strawberry-peach smoothie-mocktail

The combination of mint, ginger, strawberry and peach makes for a festive summer mocktail-smoothie.

Christmas is part of the deal that comes with summer in Australia, so here's a summer drink recipe that features the festive colours of red and green. Call it a smoothie, call it a mocktail, call it whatever you want. Zingy with ginger and fresh with mint, sweet with peaches and exuberant with strawberries, this is a pretty beverage that will cool you down and invigorate your spirits.

Plus, you can easily convert this into a fancy cocktail by simply adding a complementary spirit or liqueur. Something like gin would be nice, but there are so many possibilities - for example, vodka, rum, Campari or Pimm's No.1, just to name a few. Or top it up with champagne to produce an effervescent delight. Feel free to be creative with it!

mint-ginger strawberry-peach smoothie-mocktail
(serves 1)

2 soft, ripe peaches, peeled and pitted
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 tablespoon roughly chopped ginger
10 mint leaves
1 teaspoon honey (substitute with agave nectar / maple syrup to make it vegan-friendly)

Throw the peaches, strawberries, ginger and mint into the blender. Dissolve honey in 2/3 cup of water, and pour that in. Blend all the ingredients together until smooth, and you're done!

A pretty summer smoothie - lusciously red, with twinkling flecks of green.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

honey-balsamic nectarine salad with rocket and almonds

Honey-balsamic nectarine salad with rocket and almonds.

It's summertime in Australia, which means dealing with super-hot weather, but also, thankfully, super-juicy stone fruits. Nectarines can be pretty hit-and-miss, but I had some truly amazing nectarines last summer from the farmers market, so when I saw them popping up again I was quick to the purchase. This early-season batch isn't the best I've had, but they were still pretty decent. Paired with sweet honey, tangy balsamic vinegar, peppery rocket and toasty almonds, the charm of the nectarine definitely shines through in this super-simple salad recipe.

honey-balsamic nectarine salad with rocket and almonds

2 nectarines, sliced, cores discarded
3 cups rocket (also known as arugula)
1/4 cup almonds, toasted in a pan until fragrant
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
salt and black pepper

Place nectarine slices, rocket leaves and toasted almonds in a salad bowl.
Whisk balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and honey in a small bowl. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Drizzle the honey-balsamic dressing onto the contents in the salad bowl, and toss everything together.

Nectarines, almonds and rocket/arugula tossed in a honey balsamic dressing makes for a simple salad.

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Monday, 23 November 2015

not-quite-traditional lazy easy tuna onigiri for non-crafty people

These easy Japanese rice balls make a nice simple meal or snack.

 "What's with the cow-patch design?" Simon asked, amused, upon laying his eyes on my onigiri creations.

Since we live out in Perth Hills these days, there isn't really an abundance of dining options, particularly international cuisine. It seems that the lack of a vibrant food scene may be starting to show its effects, as Simon has recently expressed a strong interest in making sushi, which I take to mean that I'll be doing most of the work.

As a compromise, I decided to make tuna onigiri. To keep things easy, instead of trying to wrap the rice around the tuna, and then wrap the nori around the rice, I just tossed everything together. And as it turns out, yes, my onigiris have a cow-patch design. Whatever, it's really kind of cute, don't you think? Also, they tasted pretty good - Simon was quick to devour most of it!

not-quite-traditional lazy easy tuna onigiri for non-crafty people
(serves: 2 as a light meal, or more as a snack)

1 1/3 cups sushi rice (uncooked)
2 cups water
1 can tuna packed in oil, about 150g or 5oz
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I used wasabi mayo)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 large sheets roasted nori (seaweed), torn into small pieces (I used a spicy seasoned nori)

Rinse the sushi rice, drain well, place it in a saucepan with 2 cups of water, and bring to boil.
Lower the heat and allow it to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from heat. Wait for 5 minutes before transferring the rice to a large bowl.
Drain the tuna, thoroughly combine it with all the condiments, and mix it into the rice. Fold in the torn nori.
Put a piece of cling wrap on the table, and place a dollop of the rice mixture into the center. The size is up to you. Small ones can be cute and good for snacking and sharing, but take a bit more time.
Gather the ends of the cling wrap to enclose the mixture, and gently shape it into a rice ball. Set the rice ball aside on a plate. Repeat this step until all the rice mixture is used up.
Ta-da! You, too, can have your very own cow-patch-style onigiri.

Onigiri with a cow-patch nori pattern. Don't knock it till you try it.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

blueberry-chocolate smoothie with mint and celery

Blueberry-chocolate smoothie with mint and celery.

With all the travel posts in the last couple of months, I thought it might be time to get back into recipes for a while. But if you like reading about fun destinations, fret not - I'll come back to them next year. I've still got to tell you all about our trip to Thailand and Taiwan! If you really want your wanderlust fix, then go on and follow the Purring Around the World travel Instagram account or Facebook page that I started up recently - it has photos from Simon and me (mostly Simon, because he's the better photographer) - we're working our way through our photo archives so there is plenty to see!

But for now, hello smoothies! Before we went travelling last year, I had gotten into a happy and diligent habit of having smoothies almost everyday for breakfast. Sometimes I even whiz up smoothies at night! Since I moved interstate, however, I seem to have lost my smoothie mojo. Today's delightful blueberry smoothie is, thus, my attempt to get back on track.

But this is no ordinary blueberry smoothie. I'm not talking about the inclusion of banana, which makes it naturally sweet and creamy - that's par for course. It has the chocolate touch, and it has the slight tingle of mint, but I'm not talking about that, either. What I'm talking about is the gentle, teasing suggestion of celery that I've stealthily nudged into the list of ingredients. However, be assured that, rather than creating dissonance, the celery provides a soothing background note to the proceedings. Try it and you'll see.

Blueberry, chocolate and mint go well together - and surprisingly, a bit of celery doesn't go astray, either!

blueberry-chocolate smoothie with mint and celery
(serves 1)

2/3 cup blueberries
1/3 cup chopped celery stalk
1 ripe banana (medium-sized)
10 mint leaves
1 tablespoon cocoa/cacao powder (unsweetened)
3/4 cup water
4 ice cubes (if you're not using any frozen fruit, but would like a cold smoothie)

TIP: I'd suggest using either frozen blueberries, or chopped-up and frozen banana in this smoothie. I love using frozen fruits in smoothies, as I find that they create a pleasantly thick texture, and I love my smoothies refreshingly cold.

Blend all the ingredients until smooth, adding more water if necessary.
Serve, and enjoy immediately!

A luscious blueberry smoothie with banana, cacao, mint and celery.

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Thursday, 29 October 2015

myanmar: enjoying kalaw and inle lake

Amazing rays of light - early morning in Kalaw.

After the intense heat elsewhere in Myanmar, the cool air in the lovely hill town of Kalaw was a welcome respite. We took it easy here.

Monks doing their alms rounds.

We ate frequently at the local Shan noodle shack, Pyae Pyae, relishing assorted tasty dishes at affordable prices.

A noodle dish from Pyae Pyae.

Though this cheap and cheerful restaurant had an English menu, it wasn't tremendously descriptive, so we often had very little idea of what to expect, but I suppose that's half the fun!

Another noodle dish from Pyae Pyae.

I convinced Simon that it would be a great idea to wake up early one morning to climb up to Tein Taung (Cloud Hill) in time for dawn. We took a torch with us and clambered out of our guesthouse in the darkness to venture up the "Stairway to Heaven". Though we had to get out of bed at an ungodly hour, I think the magical view was definitely worth it!

The view from the top of Cloud Hill in Kalaw.

But that's not all - when we went back into town, we discovered that it was market day, and subsequently spent an hour or two wandering around. There was so much to see.

A scene from the Kalaw market.

On our way back to our guesthouse, we bought some breakfast food from this lady, who was selling a starchy concoction of purple glutinous rice and other bits and pieces.

Street food in Kalaw.

This is how it looks like up close:

Burmese breakfast?

There wasn't a lot to do at night, but we did pop into the tiny Hi bar for a rum sour. This cosy little place is listed in the Lonely Planet, but to our surprise, we were the only foreigners there that night, though gauging from a dedicated wall full of messages, they do have travellers coming by reasonably often. I also noticed that there were only men in there on this occasion, and I was the odd woman out! Everyone was really nice and made room for us, despite the place being pretty tight already.

Drinks, snacks and music at the cosy Hi Bar in Kalaw.

After a few days in Kalaw, we took a bus to Nyaung Shwe, a gateway town to the popular tourist attraction that is Inle Lake.

Inle Lake is fantastic! I love how it is truly a society built on top of water. Houses stand on stilts, and people get around and visit each other on boats. They even have fruit and vegetable gardens, and these, too, are taken care of by farmers on boats.

And I really, really love watching the leg-rowing fishermen on Inle Lake. It's just such a cool technique. With incredible finesse, the fisherman balances on his boat, navigating his way gracefully through the tangle of weeds just beneath the water's surface.

A leg-rowing fisherman on Inle Lake.

On one of our boat trips, we stopped by a market.

Getting ashore for the rotating market.

We had breakfast here, starting with a simple but satisfying noodle dish.

Slightly spicy noodles with a sprinkling of peanuts.

We also had these unidentified things, which appear to be tightly compressed noodles strewn with finely chopped herbs and vegetables.

What are these savoury noodle-cakes? If you know what they are called, please let me know!

After a nice stroll around the market, back onto the boat we went.

Fishermen at Inle Lake.

For lunch, we stopped at one of the restaurants on the lake, where we sampled the local fish.

Fish for lunch at Inle Lake.

We also had the opportunity to check out how the people of Myanmar make that delicious Shan tofu I raved about in this earlier post about Burmese food.

Making Burmese yellow tofu, the old-school way.

This family business is pretty productive, as you can see. Just looking at all that scrumptious yellow tofu makes me hungry.

Delicious, delicious Shan tofu.

We also had a pleasant day cycling around Nyaung Shwe. Or, rather, Simon cycled, while I sat at the back. It was a rather rickety bicycle, so it wasn't easy for the poor guy, but eventually we got to this cute little restaurant in a village, which had a dragonfruit farm as well as lovely mountain views.

Bamboo Hut restaurant in War Daw village.

To wrap up this Myanmar series, I have to say - I find that many of the popular cafes and restaurants catering to tourists in this country have fabulous fruit smoothies. We had smoothies almost every day, and they were a wonderful antidote to the hot weather. Definitely something to check out, along with all the other things that I've written about.

A refreshing mango smoothie at Thanakha Garden restaurant in Nyaung Shwe.

In conclusion, if you've ever thought about visiting Myanmar - do it! We thoroughly enjoyed our time here. As I've mentioned in the previous post, this country is changing fast, and the guidebooks can barely keep up. But hopefully, it will continue to treasure its glorious traditions while also embracing modernity.

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