Wednesday, 28 December 2011

pimm's raspberry cucumber cocktail slushy

I am not very good at drinking... alcohol, that is. A wild night, for me, is about two drinks.

Three, if I'm really living life on the edge.

Because there is such a fine and sudden line between a pleasant tipsiness and regrettable discomfort, the drunken state so sought after by many is not really something I pursue. I don't drink to get wasted. I drink for the sexy, intriguing flavours that dance on my tongue. I drink to bring that little bit of warmth to the body and soul. And then I stop drinking, and hope for the best.

This elegant little cocktail I made recently fits the bill. I brought her with me to a party last week. I think she upstaged me... she was cool, graceful, sensuous, flirtatious. A contrast to yours truly - clumsy, awkward, spaced-out, introverted...

Nevertheless. She made me look good. Because I was her Maker.

So make this for your friends, and bask in the praise they heap upon you.

Pimm's raspberry cucumber cocktail slushy with a hint of herbs. It's like Slurpee for adults... only better.

Recipe notes:

If you don't have pre-frozen cucumber and raspberries in the freezer, don't despair. This tastes just as pretty without the icy slushy factor. In fact, you can even make this drink ahead of time and just chill it in the fridge in an airtight flask until required - I did this and I swear the flavours developed further and turned out even tastier. Simply proceed with fresh cucumber and raspberries. Blend as per instructions. Just before serving, shake the mixture vigorously with a handful of ice cubes until cold, then strain out the ice cubes and serve.

If you don't have Pimm's No.1 at hand, feel free to substitute with gin, vodka or any other spirit or liqueur that goes well with fruity drinks - preferably one that is not too overpowering, to allow all the subtle flavours of the cocktail come through. Or make it a mocktail by omitting alcohol altogether.

pimm's raspberry cucumber cocktail slushy with a hint of herbs
(serves 2)

1 lebanese cucumber - approx. 100g, peeled, roughly sliced and frozen (1 cup)
60g raspberries, frozen (1/2 cup)
60ml rosemary, mint & ginger syrup (1/4 cup) - see accompanying recipe
45ml Pimm's No. 1 (1 shot)

Whiz all ingredients together in a blender until it reaches a smooth slushy consistency. Pour into glasses and serve.

rosemary syrup with a hint of mint and ginger

2 cups water
2/3 cup raw sugar
6 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs mint
2.5 cm / 1 inch ginger, thinly sliced

Bring all ingredients to boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to cool for another 10 minutes. Strain and store in a sterilised bottle. I sterilise my bottles by washing them thoroughly and then letting them sit in boiling water for a couple of minutes.

A cocktail packed with fruits, with a hint of herbs... sinful or healthy, you decide!

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Sunday, 18 December 2011

green tea mochi, raspberry compote, lime yoghurt

December... the festive month. Are you a Christmas person?

I don't really regard myself as a Christmas person... I don't go to church, I don't go on a gift-giving frenzy, and I don't tend to go out of my way to eat traditional Christmas dishes - but I do enjoy the festive spirit, and the cheer in the air, at this time of the year.

I like that my colleagues and I have Christmas stockings hanging in our cubicle pods, and we leave candies, chocolates and cookies for each other, just as a token of appreciation, and just because it's Christmas.

I like the pretty decorations and the carols. These are not things I do, but to those of you who make the effort, thank you. You make my days brighter.

And I didn't know whether I would have my parents and my boyfriend with me in Melbourne for the holiday season this year, but it turns out I will most likely be spending Christmas with all of them, together. I like that very, very much.

I'm a lucky, sappy girl, am I not? Perhaps I'm a Christmas person after all.

green tea mochi, raspberry compote, lime yoghurt.

Whether you're a Christmas person or not, though, I'm hoping you'll like this dessert I whipped up recently.

For my just-in-time-for-Christmas recipe post, I wanted to create something natural (no artificial colours!) and delicious with those classic Christmas hues - a little green, a little red, a little white. I succeeded with this little dessert, and I am happy to be able to share it with you here.

I'll tell you a few things about this dessert.

1. It's probably one of the easiest things you can make consisting of green, red and white, while still adhering to the must-be-natural-and-delicious rule.

2. The combination of sweet-and-tart raspberry compote and luscious lime-infused Greek yoghurt is so, so lick-off-the-plate-worthy.

3. Cute little gluten-free green mochi dumplings are full of win. My round ones are fashioned with a nod to the upcoming Chinese winter solstice / Dongzhi festival (冬至) celebrations - this is when my family traditionally eats glutinous rice balls / tangyuan (汤圆).

4. Feel free to multiply the recipe so you can share it with loved ones. It's what I hope to do, now that I've ascertained that this dessert concept can be transferred successfully to reality...

just before cooking: green tea mochi balls, or tang yuan - glutinous rice dumplings made with matcha.

raspberry compote, green tea mochi, lime yoghurt
(serves 1 - 2)

You can make all these separate components hours ahead and keep in the fridge, then put them all together when ready to serve.

for the raspberry compote:

1 cup raspberries (125g), fresh or frozen
1/2 tablespoon raw sugar

Bring raspberries and sugar to boil in a saucepan, then simmer, uncovered, for 5 - 10 minutes until sweet and syrupy.

for the green tea mochi / tang yuan / glutinous rice balls:

1/4 cup glutinous rice flour + more for flouring/dusting
1 tablespoon fine sugar (I used raw sugar here, too)
3/4 teaspoon matcha (powdered green tea)

Combine glutinous rice flour, raw sugar and matcha in a bowl.
Boil some water and add the hot water very, very gradually to the dry ingredients, stopping once it reaches a kneadable consistency. You'll probably end up using less than 2 tablespoons of water. If you overdo it, you'll just have to make up for it by adding more of the dry ingredients again to the mix.
Prepare your hands and your working surface with a dusting of glutinous rice flour.
The final green tea dough should be soft and smooth. When you work with the dough, it shouldn't be so dry that it's cracking apart, and it shouldn't be so moist that it's leaving sticky bits in your hands.
Pull off small pieces of the dough and roll into little marble-sized balls.
Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil, then throw in the green tea mochi balls one by one in rapid succession.
Scoop them up with a strainer when they start floating up to the top.
Carefully plonk them down onto a surface coated with more glutinous rice flour (with a bit of icing sugar if you like it sweet), and roll them around until they are lightly covered and no longer sticky. Gently brush off excess flour.

for the lime yoghurt:

1 teaspoon lime juice, and a pinch of zest if you have an organic lime
1 teaspoon honey - or a light, casual drizzle
1 cup Greek yoghurt

Whisk lime and honey into Greek yoghurt till well-combined.

to assemble:

Spoon Greek yoghurt onto a plate or into a bowl. Top with raspberry compote and green tea mochi balls. Voila, you have your very own red, green and white Christmas treat!

lime yoghurt, raspberry compote, green tea mochi.

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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

summer treasure hunting... a suburban harvest

Hello, everyone. How's your December been so far?

Mine's been busy, in a mixed-up sort of way. Work's been hectic. My parents are visiting.

The former is not so great. The latter is pretty freakin' awesome.

My parents have been staying at my uncle and aunt's place out in the southeastern suburbs, and on the weekend, I hopped on a tram so I could join them for a couple of days.

It's like a different world out there.

I'm used to my little apartment, and the hustle and bustle of inner city life. Whenever I visit my uncle and aunt, however, I'm transported to a quiet neighbourhood. Laid-back. Spacious. Peaceful.

And there's a garden. Oh yes. I do so miss having a garden, and my aunt has got a rather fabulous one. Forget about flowers... this garden is full of food. Just the way I like it.

Friday morning, I languidly wander off to the patio deck, walk down the stairs, and lo and behold, there's lettuce, so bright and verdant. We enjoyed those gorgeous lettuce leaves in a salad that very night.

Lettuce, you're looking good.

And just next to the leafy lettuce, the green beans sway, looking nice and crunchy.

Green beans, you're not too shabby, either.

I get distracted and wander off to another corner. Here we have tomato plants, and they're coming along nicely. Most of them are still green, but I spied this reddish beauty. I hope to sample one soon!

Oh tomato, you'll be mine one day.

There's also a tiny capsicum plant with tiny green capsicums. Very cute.

Baby capsicums, I look forward to you flourishing into handsome young men.

Mum and Dad have been raving about the zucchinis from the garden. I soon found the zucchini fruits, complete with zucchini flowers, growing out from the base of the plants!

Ah, zucchini, you're such a tease.

At this point Dad enthusiastically comes over and leads me off to the potato plants. "Let's see if we can dig up some potatoes!"

And so we did.

One of them had already sprouted, so we re-planted it.

Diddly dee, potatoes!

Then, together, we discovered these green-and-purple chillies.

I'd like to get to know you better, pretty chillies.

And not too far away, the strawberry plants, sitting pretty in a rectangular box of soil, where I found this young strawberry, blushing a pale pink.

You're destined for great things, my little strawberry. Yes you are.

Saturday afternoon, my aunt picks a few of the ripened strawberries. They look small and awkward; the colours are fairly subdued. But the taste... oh my. I can't remember the last time I had such perfectly sweet strawberries. They are beautiful, and I am so in love.

A strawberry in the hand is worth two in the bush...

And that's not all... but I think I'll leave the rest for another day! I'm sorry if the writing in this post seems a little choppy and unhinged - I put it together in a hurry. Hopefully the pictorial tour of the lovely produce makes up for it - and if you like what you see, I'll be back with more!

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Monday, 5 December 2011

balsamic thyme mushroom & potato fry-up

I like to make myself a good brunch on Fridays.

You see, I don't work on Fridays. I'm all relaxed... I potter around the kitchen, and I really get in touch with my ingredients.

I'll take the time to breathe in the scent of thyme.

I'll lick a bit of balsamic reduction off my fingers.

There are certainly plenty of things for which I can be thankful on Fridays.

balsamic thyme mushroom & potato fry-up.

This pan-fried mushroom and potato dish with shallot, thyme and balsamic vinegar... it's one of those things. It's vegan, but the mushrooms provide a meaty component to the dish, and it's gluten-free, but the potato satisfies those carb cravings. The shallots are deliciously charred, the thyme fragrant, the balsamic vinegar sweetly acidic.

Hearty, yet not too heavy. Robust, yet still quite gentle. My kind of brunch.

some of the ingredients...

pan-fried mushrooms and potatoes with shallot, thyme and balsamic vinegar

2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 French shallot (60g), thinly sliced
1 medium potato (150g), thinly sliced
10 small-to-medium button mushrooms (150g), sliced in half
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat up a couple tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and fry the garlic, shallot and potatoes.
When the potatoes start to char a little around the edges, put in mushrooms, balsamic vinegar and thyme leaves. Slosh in an extra tablespoon of olive oil, too, and even a little bit of water, if the pan looks too dry.
Stir-fry until mushrooms soften, then season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, add an extra dash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.
Try this with toast... perhaps with a gently cooked egg encasing a perfectly runny yolk. And it doesn't just have to be for brunch or breakfast, of course. It would also make a great side with your other main meals!

pan-fried mushrooms and potatoes with shallot, thyme and balsamic vinegar.

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Monday, 28 November 2011

mint & pineapple milkshake-smoothie

When is a milkshake not a milkshake? And when is a smoothie not a smoothie? These are the important worldly questions I ponder as I bask in the afterglow of a recent creation, which blurs the lines and cheekily winks at me in the gray area between the two commonly accepted definitions.

I hesitate to call it a milkshake. It's full of healthy ingredients and you could totally work it for breakfast. Plus, it doesn't even contain milk or ice cream. Then again... it does involve cream. A lush, pure cream, whipped till thick and tantalising.

I hesitate to call it a smoothie. It doesn't contain yoghurt or soy milk. That luscious cream makes it just that little bit more sinful. You could totally work it for dessert. Then again... it does involve fruit, lots of it. And it just seems so GOOD for me.

You can understand my dilemma.

So I've decided to call it a milkshake-smoothie. Problem solved.

A minty pineapple milkshake-smoothie... or smoothie-milkshake. Creamy fruit frappe, cream smoothie, cream shake?

This recipe actually came about because I was whipping cream in the blender and there was too much of it stuck in there. I couldn't let it go to waste. Oh no. I also happened to have bought a whole pineapple recently, which I couldn't finish, so I cut it up into chunks and froze them for the right opportunity - this turned out to be that opportunity. They truly rock it here.

So, healthy milkshake or naughty smoothie? Your call. 

mint and pineapple milkshake-smoothie
(serves 1)

8 mint leaves
125g frozen pineapple chunks (2/3 - 1 cup depending on chunk size)
60ml whipped cream (1/4 cup)*
80ml water (1/3 cup)
sugar, to taste (optional)

Whiz all ingredients together in a blender. Depending on how thick you like your shakes/smoothies, you might want to add the water gradually so that you can adjust the amount to your liking. Taste, and, if it's not quite sweet enough for your liking, add sugar, then process again briefly. Ta-da, you now have your very own milkshake-smoothie!

*Home-whipped cream is the best! You may use cream as a substitute for whipped cream - but use a little less - say 2 - 3 tablespoons, so that it doesn't taste too heavy.

A relatively healthy indulgence: pineapple and mint and a bit of cream... a beautiful threesome.

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Monday, 21 November 2011

vegan cashew wasabi leaf pesto

Hello, my little wasabi leaf*. Only some weeks ago, I was oblivious to your presence in this vast universe that we both inhabit. A few play-dates later, I think it's safe to say that we are now quite pleasantly acquainted, and I'm beginning to understand what makes you tick.

a wasabi salad leaf.

You have the flavour profile of wasabi root - with that unique hit-and-run spicy tingle - but you are much gentler on the senses. I enjoy chewing you slowly... your intriguing taste makes you a fabulous addition to salads. In my daydreams, I imagine you glistening under perfect slices of sashimi, begging to be savoured, and I gladly oblige.

But today, you have another role to play. In this pesto-inspired recipe, you dance up a frenzy with the lovely cashew. You're zingy, she's creamy. You spin, you whirl... you become one.

vegan cashew wasabi leaf pesto.

vegan cashew wasabi leaf pesto

50g wasabi salad leaves
50g unsalted roasted cashews (use less if you would like a more prominent wasabi flavour)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (or to taste)

Whiz wasabi leaves, roasted cashews, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic with a food processor or blender until it forms a slightly chunky paste. (You could also get there by grinding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle.) Retrieve, taste, and season to your liking with salt and pepper. That's it!

Other ideas: I might add a little chilli and mint next time! I'm also keen to try one that's closer to the traditional pesto - less nutty, and with cheese. Mmmmmm, cheese. Yes.

vegan pesto made with cashews and wasabi leaves.

Munch with carrot sticks. Spread on crackers or bread, bruschetta-style. Mix into mashed potatoes. Serve with eggs, seafood or steak. Stir through cooked pasta, hot or cold. Oh, the possibilities!

vegan pesto pasta.

*The leaf pictured and the leaves used in this recipe are actually not from the wasabi plant - they were created by intercrossing rare and unusual salad varieties, but they do taste so much like wasabi. For those of you in Melbourne, you may find these wasabi salad leaves here.
For those of you anywhere in Australia, you might try real wasabi leaves here.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

french lettuce, carlton

There is nothing like a lazy Sunday. Sleeping in till ten, maybe eleven in the morning. Waking up, but not getting up. Stretching hard, your feet pushing away the sheets. Then, slowly, you unfurl yourself off the bed, to go in search of food... and on this occasion, a few weeks ago, Simon and I decided to take a short walk to French Lettuce (237 Nicholson St, Carlton).

We've visited French Lettuce once before, and that time we had their baguettes, which we liked. Firm crusts, chewy insides. Light, fresh fillings. We went for a baguette again - one with chicken, avocado, salad leaves and tomato, splashed with just the right amount of honey mustard dressing.

fresh and delicious chicken baguette.

We also tried one of their sandwiches with frittata, pesto, semi-dried tomato and salad. I would probably have preferred a denser bread here, but the fillings were, again, well-executed.

a soft sandwich with a very nice filling combo of frittata, pesto and semi-dried tomato.

And of course, there are desserts. Oh, the desserts! We briefly admired the macarons, but decided to give them a miss...

an assortment of macarons.

And I very, very nearly went for these sticky date and pear puddings - they looked so deliciously moist. I'll have to come back to try them.

sticky date and pear pudding.

But then the sour cherry and pistachio tart caught my eye - it just looked stunning. What can I say? I'm superficial like that. Upon digging in, I found that while the crumbled pistachios were pleasant enough, they didn't do much for me in this context; however, the sour cherries were a winner - they provided such a lovely contrast to the vanilla cream hidden underneath.

pistachio and sour cherry tart.

French Lettuce is famous for their vanilla slices, with great reviews from Herald Sun and The Age. I'm not a vanilla slice connoisseur, but I can say that I enjoyed this, and so did Simon: the gentle crunch of the flaky pastry together with that fluffy and not-too-sweet custard made it quite the refined experience.

French Lettuce's famous vanilla slice.

Oh, and the rest of that Sunday was good, too. I met up with friends, had fun in the sun, and ate ice cream. Lovely!

The French Lettuce Patisserie & Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

fresh almonds... & green almond pickles!

green almond pickles.

You know what it's like. You're minding your own business, getting your groceries... and suddenly, out of the corner of the eye, you spy something. Something attractive. Something different. Something interesting. Something you'd never tried before. Something you'd like to try. Something that has so much potential... and you know, you just know that you could have something special together, if you'd only muster up the courage to give it a go.

fresh almonds, aka green almonds.

Ah, yes... I'm talking about fresh almonds, also known as spring almonds, or green almonds: the young, fleshy fruit of the almond tree that can be eaten whole.

Fresh almonds mature fast, so keep that in mind if you buy them. If you'd like to eat the entire fruit, do that while they're young - the outer skin turns hard and bitter as they ripen. Of course, all is not lost - you can then eat the nut inside. (Though technically, the part of almond we usually eat is not a nut, but the seed of the almond fruit!)

Anyway, I brought these little beauties home and immediately sliced them in half to investigate. Then I tasted them. The outer skin is tart, the astringent quality reminiscent of an under-ripe fruit, with hints of guava. The translucent inner kernel resembles a mild and refreshing jelly, with an almost lychee-like texture, and a subtle hint of sweetness.

cross-section of a fresh green almond cut into halves.

After sampling my fresh green almonds, I thought they would make fantastic pickles - similar to the ones my mum makes with green mangoes, which I love. And so it was that I made green almond pickles with my fresh almonds... and they turned out just as I hoped - sweet, tangy, with a hint of spice and salt.

We had some really good times, my pickled almonds and I. I'm glad I initiated* our sassy little romance... and I'm sure we'll meet again for round two.

*The almonds insisted they were actually the ones who initiated by looking at me, then looking away, then looking at me again, and that I totally fell for it hook, line and sinker.

300g green almonds (approximately 30 almonds, or 2/3lb)
2 medium-sized hot red chillies
1 cup water
1 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup Chinese white rice vinegar
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Wash fresh almonds. Slice each almond vertically into halves. For a neater appearance, trim their twiggy ends. If you like, you may also take out the kernels and eat them - the best part for pickling is the outer shell.
Slice chillies horizontally into thin rings.
Transfer the fresh almonds and fresh chillies into sterilised jars. (I sterilise my jars by washing them thoroughly and then letting them sit in boiling water for a couple of minutes.)
In a saucepan, stir water, sugar, vinegar, salt and nutmeg over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and pour over fresh almonds and chillies. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
Seal the jars and place in the fridge for a minimum of one week to allow the flavours to fully develop. Give the jars a good shake once or twice a day for the first three days.
After that, the pickles should keep for at least a month in the fridge, probably longer.

*Note: For those in Melbourne who may be interested, I found my fresh green almonds at Cato Fruits & Vegetables. No. 10-12, Cato Street, Prahran, Victoria 3181. Otherwise, other specialty or ethnic food stores might stock them from time to time. I hear they have short, sporadic seasons though, so it's a matter of luck and timing.)

pickled green almonds.

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

spicy, light & crispy salt and pepper tofu

Hello, everyone! Here I am, playing with oil again. Nothing crazy, just a spot of shallow-frying... and I've got to say, it's actually quite a wholesome and surprisingly delicate dish, this vegan, gluten-free salt and pepper tofu. I'm popping it into my mouth for a snack... I'm cradling it with gently steamed Asian greens for a meal. It makes a nice little weeknight dinner, or a weekend lunch for one.

So tell me... what do you look for in a salt and pepper tofu dish?

Light, crispy, and well-seasoned on the outside? Hot, silky and tender on the inside?

Something akin to this, perchance?

For me, the answer is yes, yes - and oh yes, that's it! Ah... little bite-sized bite-me pieces of tofu, with a bit of crunch and a bit of tremble...

Here, I used fresh Chinese-style beancurd of a semi-firm texture, the type that is usually sold in tubs of water. They're diced and tossed through a salty, spicy blend of rice flour and cornstarch - seriously, try this... it yields a truly fine, exquisite texture - then sizzled till crisp and golden.

I also steamed some bok choy, then conjured a dressing with light soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice, and freshly grated ginger to go with it. Unfortunately, I didn't note down exact quantities for this - but just taste as you go, that's what I did!

light & crispy salt and triple-pepper tofu

200g fresh Chinese-style semi-firm tofu
3 tablespoons rice flour
1 tablespoon corn flour (aka cornstarch)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground (optional)
oil, for frying

Cut tofu into cubes of 2 - 2.5 centimetres. (Approximately an inch or slightly under.) Whatever you do, just try to make sure they are all of similar size to ensure even frying later.
Thoroughly mix all other ingredients (except the oil) together to create a gluten-free salt-and-pepper flour blend.
Toss tofu cubes through the flour blend, making sure they are coated on all sides. Divide into four batches.
Pour oil into a small frying pan to a height of about 1 centimetre (1/2 inch).
Let the oil warm rapidly over high heat for about 30 seconds, then fry the coated tofu cubes a batch at a time, turning, until golden and crispy on all sides. Retrieve the tofu and drain off excess oil on paper towels. Loosely sprinkle with an extra pinch of salt, if desired.
Serve with vegetables, and perhaps a dollop of rice, and you've got yourself a complete meal!

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

my aspirations.... & my giveaway winner!

A few weeks ago, I hosted my first giveaway. The prize was a book called Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob. I asked those of you interested to submit your entry in the form of a comment answering this question: As an aspiring food writer, what are your goals and what are you doing to reach them?

I was touched by the thoughtful and heartfelt responses I got in return. There is beauty in our collective desires but also in our diversity as food lovers and writers. And because you have enriched me with your hopes and dreams, I, too, am inspired to share with all of you my answer to the same question.

However, to be honest, I'm not the kind of person who has very well-defined goals. I've always drifted through life... a life peppered with passing obsessions that eventually move along to give way to the next new flirtation. I look upon the people who know what they want - really know what they want, with an all-consuming passion and drive - and I often catch myself envying them.

Before I knew it, the years flew by, and it seemed I had very little to show for it. I began to feel trapped by my job, yet I didn't know what else I could do. I wanted more. I wanted a creative outlet. I wanted direction; I wanted purpose. I wanted to commit myself to changing the status quo.

So I started this food blog... the indolent cook.

I've been blogging about food for over a year now, and I'm enjoying it. Will this turn out to be just another one of my temporary infatuations? Will it bring me lasting contentment? Who knows. But I've always loved food, and I've always loved writing. I'm happy to see where this takes me.

So I continue to blog. I continue to read, watch, smell, taste and learn. I keep an eye out for opportunities and I seize them. Sometimes, the opportunities come to me. I'm still working full-time at my current job, but I've also started to do some freelancing. A few articles here, a few recipes there. Slowly but surely, things are coming together. I don't know what the future brings, but I am optimistic.

But enough about me. Now, on to more pressing matters... the announcement of the giveaway winner: Ashley! Congratulations Ashley, I'll be contacting you to arrange the delivery of your own copy of Will Write For Food. Hurrah!

For those of you who missed out, you can buy this book for very reasonable prices on Fishpond, The Book Depository or Amazon. You may also pop by Dianne's blog to keep yourself up-to-date with her latest articles.

I wish every one of you the best... keep cooking, eating and writing!

Love, leafy.

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Friday, 21 October 2011

carrot ice cream / carrot kulfi

It's funny how things change. I never understood the appeal of carrot milk when I lived in Malaysia. My cousin loved it, and would often order it at cafes and mamak stalls. I'd try it and be all, "I don't know, it's still kinda weird to me..." And she'd be taken aback - "Really?! It's so nice and refreshing!"

I could never understand it... but one spring afternoon in Melbourne, I finally did. As you may have guessed, it's not something I would normally make for myself, but I was experimenting with a carrot-flavoured milk recipe for research and work purposes (outside of my full-time job, I freelance as a recipe developer) so it was all in the name of professional shenanigans.

Now, I don't know whether it was because my tastes have changed... or if the ingredients I used were better in quality... or if my version of carrot milk was simply more suited to my palate. Whatever it was, I liked it. After all this time, I finally understood what my cousin was on about: it was so nice and refreshing!

My new-found friendship with carrot milk got my brain ticking, it did. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for me to take the leap from carrot milk... to carrot ice cream. A little bit sweeter. A tiny bit more decadent. And much, much colder.

yellow-orange kulfi-inspired carrot popsicles.

carrot ice cream / carrot kulfi

200ml pure cream, approx. 45% milk fat* (4/5 cup)
2 medium carrots (200g or just under 1/2 lb), peeled and chopped
200ml water
100g raw sugar (just under 1/4 lb or 1/2 cup)
a pinch of salt

Blend carrots with water. Filter the juice through a sieve/strainer. Reserve both the carrot juice and the carrot pulp.
In a saucepan, simmer together carrot pulp, raw sugar and salt until carrots are soft and no longer gritty**, stirring and adding a little water if necessary to keep it from completely drying out. Let it cool slightly.
Blend the carrot juice, sweetened carrot pulp and cream until thoroughly smooth and well-combined.
Freeze until firm in your choice of ice cream moulds.

*Pure cream in Australia is similar to double cream in UK and Europe, and heavy cream in North America.
**The softer the carrots, the smoother the texture of the ice cream.

sweet and creamy carrot ice pops, anyone?

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

simple pleasures: unhomogenised milk

"Love unhomogenised milk. LOVE. Come to mamma, you gorgeous little bits of cream."

That was my tweet over the weekend. Oh, good old-fashioned milk with light and lovely clouds of cream. What's not to love? I don't buy milk very often, so when I decided to get some recently, I chose to treat myself at my local providore with a bottle of full-fat, bio-dynamic and unhomogenised milk.

a bottle of biodynamic and unhomogenised milk.

Sadly, it appears that not everyone shares my sentiment... unhomogenised milk is the exception rather than the norm these days.

Quick summary: milk, left in its natural state (i.e. unhomogenised), eventually settles down so that the cream separates, floating to the top. Evidently this is unappealing to some - and thus homogenised milk was created. Fat globules are broken up with high pressure methods, enabling them to suspend evenly throughout the liquid, forming an emulsion.

I spent a large part of my life drinking homogenised milk, but the first time I tried unhomogenised milk, some years ago, I instantly fell in love. It was fuller... it was richer. It was even a little sweeter and nuttier. It tasted like... well, it tasted like what real milk was meant to be, and what it should be.

I can see how unhomogenised milk might be a bit of a culture shock for those who grew up drinking homogenised milk. It doesn't look clean and white and perfect. It's a gentle pale yellow with creamy clumps and clusters. When I opened up my bottle of milk, there was a large fatty puff sailing serenely on the surface. I had to shake the bottle vigorously to break it up, and even so, there were still stubborn little chunks remaining.

my unhomogenised milk, shaken but not stirred. ;)

Personally, I think those little chunks of cream are awesome; I love the way they melt in my mouth. After all, cream is fantastic stuff, so why wouldn't I want random bits of cream in my milk? Yeah, I'm all for it. Nom nom nom.

Now, when all is said and done, it's really an individual preference. However, if you've yet to try unhomogenised milk and it sounds like your thing, I highly recommend going for a full-fat version that is either bio-dynamic or organic, just to get the most out of it.

I hope you like it as much as I do!

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Sunday, 9 October 2011

chilli garlic cucumber in sesame oil

We're right in the middle of spring now. Flowers are growing, hemlines are shortening... and I am sneezing. Oh hay fever, how I do detest thee.

I'm not partial to pumping myself full of chemicals, but I had a terrible season last year, so when the first symptoms struck this time around, I surrendered immediately. Tablets and sprays, here I come! So far, they seem to be working. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I still like the idea of getting a little boost from natural remedies. Garlic is purported to be good for fighting hay fever. Apparently chilli also helps. With that in mind, I made this easy Chinese-inspired cucumber salad over the weekend.

chilled cucumber in a chilli garlic sesame vinaigrette

Boy, this may be a simple recipe, but it sure is potent. The cucumber is hacked up like firewood, bombarded with minced garlic, scattered with chilli and drenched in sesame oil. Subtlety be damned, this is a dish that shoves itself deep into the receptors of your taste buds and smirks, "here I am!"

chilled cucumber in chilli garlic sesame vinaigrette

2 lebanese cucumbers (or 200-250 g / 1/2 lb of any cucumber), peeled and cut into chunky sticks
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Chinese sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese white rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or 2 teaspoons light soy sauce)
1/8 teaspoon raw sugar

Toss all ingredients together till well-combined.
Cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Lightly toss again just before serving.

While sharp and satisfying at the time of consumption, this cucumber dish WILL result in hours of gloriously pungent breath. Not recommended for romantic dates, unless both parties have a garlic fetish.

Now, I have no idea whether this did anything to alleviate my hay fever, but I'm sure it did me good anyway. If you've had any success with natural remedies, do let me know!

chilled chilli garlic cucumber in sesame oil

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Monday, 3 October 2011

giveaway! will write for food, dianne jacob

Hello, dear readers. I'm hosting my first blog giveaway! Even if you're not excited, I sure am!

This book giveaway came about in a rather accidental fashion. I purchased a copy of Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob from online bookstore Fishpond awhile ago and after several weeks waiting for it to arrive, both the Fishpond customer service staff and I were convinced it was lost in the mail, so we organised for a replacement copy.

It turned out that the first order was just severely held up, so I ended up receiving TWO copies of Will Write For Food. Rather than sending the extra copy back to Fishpond, I asked them for permission to give it away on my blog instead, and they gave me their blessings. So here we are.

Will Write For Food, a book on food writing authored by Dianne Jacob.

Alright, I know there are many of you out there who love food... and writing about food. You will probably want to have a copy of this book... so let me tell you more about it.

If you have a strong interest in food writing, you may already be familiar with Dianne Jacob's blog. I discovered it earlier this year and have been a regular reader since. I find it to be constantly challenging, interesting and helpful, factors that spurred me on to my eventual purchase of Will Write For Food.

The chapters in the book cover blogging, freelancing, restaurant reviewing, cookbook and recipe writing, fiction and non-fiction writing, and getting published. I am only about halfway through at the moment, so I can't give a complete review of it, but I'll tell you this: Dianne gives me the realisation that my writing can be so much better, and tells me what I can do to achieve my potential. The examples in the book are illuminating, the advice insightful and the writing exercises practical.

For more in-depth and technical information on a particular food writing niche, you'll want supplementary resources (and Dianne provides helpful lists of reference books for this purpose, too), but this is a great overview and starting point. I'm glad I bought the book, and even though I'm yet to finish reading it, I can already see myself returning to it again and again to improve and revitalise my food writing.

A snapshot of the chapters inside Will Write For Food.

Now we get to the fun part... your chance to win your own copy of Will Write For Food! This giveaway is open to anyone who loves writing about food, regardless of where you are in the world, so to be in the running, just leave a comment telling me about your food writing aspirations. What are your goals and what are you doing (other than entering this giveaway!) to reach them? I'm sure there will be some really great answers, so I'll pick a handful of favourites and draw a winner out of those shortlisted.

Please ensure that there is some way I can reach you (e-mail address, twitter account, blog URL etc) if you win. The deadline is the 26th of October - I'll be going by the time stamp on this blog, which is based in Melbourne, Australia - and the winner will be announced shortly afterwards.

P.S. Besides Fishpond, you can also purchase this book at The Book Depository and Amazon.

P.P.S. For those who are not aware, I now have a Twitter account, and even more recently, a Facebook page! It's not compulsory for entering the giveaway, but if you would like to follow me on either, or both avenues, that would make me quite a happy girl.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

jalapeno rosemary potato fritters

Crunchy fried snacks are awesome. There is no dispute about this in my world. However, for the most part, I have been happy to sit back and relax as a paying customer while someone else prepares my crunchy fried snacks for me.

In an uncharacteristic move, however, I've recently taken to making my own crunchy fried snacks at home. Yes, I am still not fond of using and discarding all that oil. Yes, I still dislike the eau de grease that lingers in my kitchen and on me after the event.

But the rewards of taking things into my own hands are wonderful; it means I can bring my very own crunchy fried snack ideas into fruition. Take today's post subject as an example. I can't get these vegan and gluten-free jalapeno rosemary potato fritters at my local takeaway, but I can sure make them at home. And ain't that grand?

vegan, gluten-free jalapeno rosemary potato fritters.

jalapeno rosemary potato fritters (makes 12 fritters, serves 2 as a snack)

2 medium potatoes (approx. 300g or 2/3 pound)
1 - 2 fresh jalapeno chillies (may be substituted with other types of chilli pepper)
1 sprig rosemary
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup rice flour
oil, for frying

Prepping the ingredients...

Peel and shred the potatoes. Lightly rinse in cold water, then squeeze out excess water (but keep in mind that a little moisture is fine, and can actually help adherence when coating with rice flour) and set aside in a bowl.
Slice chillies lengthwise. Discard the seeds if you like it mild. Chop the chillies into thin strips.
Strip rosemary leaves from the sprig. You may leave them whole or roughly chop them.
Mince the garlic.
Toss together shredded potatoes, chilli, rosemary leaves, garlic, vinegar and sea salt.
Mix in rice flour and continue tossing until well combined.

Now the frying!

Prepare a pan or skillet for frying. Pour in enough oil (I used macadamia oil, but any oil with a high smoke point will do) to fill it up to between 2 - 3 cm, or 1 inch, and let it heat up over a high flame for a minute.
For each potato fritter, drop a heaped tablespoon of mixture into the oil and slightly loosen and flatten it to a more uniform thickness. The bottom of the fritter will cook faster, so turn it over once halfway through.
Fry until the fritter takes on a crispy golden appearance and starts to brown a little at the edges on both sides. I fried my fritters one at a time, but if you have a large skillet and deft hands, you could probably do a few at a time.

Drain your jalapeno rosemary potato fritters on paper towels, then serve on a plate while they're hot and crunchy. Enjoy these little bundles of joy with an extra sprinkle of salt and perhaps some freshly ground black pepper. Throw in a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt for good measure. Oh... and you know what else will go with this? A cold beer. Oh yes. Now that would be very nice indeed.

a stack of rosemary jalapeno potato fritters, anyone?

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

pandan & ginger tea

a warm cup of pandan and ginger tea.

I want a tropical holiday, I do. I want to stay in a quaint little wooden hut overlooking the beach. I want to enjoy a lovely salad glistening with lime and studded with chilli, before devouring a plate of smoky wok-fried noodles. I want a mango cocktail with a little pink umbrella.

The last holiday I spent in Southeast Asia was two years ago at a resort in Ao Nang, Thailand. I remember loving the cold herbal tea they served as a welcome drink to their guests. It turned out to be just a humble ginger tea - but as an icy beverage, it gave something a little different to the hot ginger teas I usually have.

Thirst-quenching. Perfect on a sunny day.

knotted pandan leaves, sliced ginger and water, ready to brew...

For my re-enactment of this ginger tea, I decided to throw in a few pandan leaves as well for extra tropical pizzazz. Pandan, also known as pandanus or screwpine, has been described as Southeast Asia's answer to vanilla. The taste is hard to describe - I find it smooth, mellow and soothing. Very vague, I know. You just have to try it. You can find pandan leaves in some Asian grocery stores. Fresh or frozen ones are preferable - dried ones tend to be much less potent.

In this pandan and ginger tea, the gentle touch of pandan counterbalances the spicy hint of ginger for a harmonious marriage of flavours.

pandan & ginger tea

4 cups water
4 pandan leaves, tied into knots
6 cm ginger (2.5 inches), sliced
3 tablespoons raw sugar (or to taste)

Bring all ingredients to boil in a saucepan.
Turn down the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes, covered.
Add sugar, stir till dissolved and remove from heat. Strain to discard ginger and pandan.
Serve hot or cold.

I chilled mine in the fridge for several hours before drinking, and added a few ice cubes as well. Rejuvenating!

iced ginger pandan tea.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

moshi moshi japanese seafood restaurant, port melbourne

Hello readers. Look at your lunch, now back to mine. Now back at your lunch, now back to mine. Sadly, your lunch isn't my lunch, but if you took a trip to Moshi Moshi at Port Melbourne, you could have a lunch like mine.

a mini oyster degustation, plus raw wagyu beef salad at moshi moshi, port melbourne.

Now that I'm done ripping off the Old Spice ad, it's time to tell you what I had... I had oysters. I had wagyu. I had Friday off. I'm living the life you wish you could have.

I kid. I actually ended up in Moshi Moshi (79 Bay Street, Port Melbourne) after being tragically failed by Melbourne's dismal public transport system on a cold wet morning. I shall spare you the details, but suffice to say, it turned out to be quite the blessing in disguise.

a steaming cup of green tea at moshi moshi.

Let's get started on the food, shall we?

I don't normally go crazy for oysters, but there was something incredibly enticing about Moshi Moshi's oyster menu. So much so that I ordered one of each of all the available options on their regular menu, plus an extra one they had in their daily specials.

Oyster degustation for lunch. Welcome to my world.

First of all, we have this lovely candidate - a fresh oyster with Japanese seven-spice dressing. I adored the seven-spice seasoning - it didn't pack much heat, but it does tingle ever so pleasantly on the tongue.

7-spice oyster, $3.5.

Next up, another fresh oyster, this one with moshimoshi dressing (soy vinaigrette and spring onion). Simple, classic and good.

moshimoshi oyster, $3.5.

I then beheld with barely contained excitement a deep-fried crumbed oyster with Japanese BBQ sauce. It looked awesome. It was awesome. The gratifyingly crunchy exterior gave way to the warm, juicy oyster within, the sweet, tangy sauce pulling everything together to create the perfect package.

crumbed oyster with japanese bbq sauce, $3.5.

This tempura oyster, served with lemon and salt, was from the daily specials menu. Come on, I'm not going to turn down anything deep-fried with Asahi beer batter. It was light, crisp, and quite the delicious tease with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt.

tempura oyster (asahi beer batter) with lemon and salt, $3.5.

But a girl can't survive on oysters alone. Which is why I also ordered the raw wagyu beef salad. The dressing was a triumph of sweet and umami flavours. The wagyu itself, with a slightly chewy texture not unlike sashimi, tasted exquisite - gentle, mellow and harmonious.

raw wagyu beef with julienne vegetables and special sauce, $9.8.

I enjoyed every bite I had that day at Moshi Moshi. Now all I want is a direct train, tram or bus to Port Melbourne from my apartment. One that stops right in front of the restaurant. Really... I don't think I'm being too greedy. Wouldn't you wish for the same thing?

Moshi Moshi on Urbanspoon

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