Thursday, 26 May 2011

a lemony pomegranate cordial

cross section of pomegranates.

Hands up if you adore the pretty pomegranate, with its jewel-like aril-covered seeds that burst and tingle with sweet and slightly tart juices upon their procession through the annihilation machine that is your teeth. In plain English, I usually enjoy them quite heartily with a spoon - but as I like a bit of variety and experimentation, I recently decided to do something a little different. I had two pomegranates. I had a gorgeous, freshly plucked lemon that I was just itching to zest. Thus I put two and one together, and made a lemony pomegranate cordial.

ingredients for the lemon-pomegranate cordial in a pot.

lemon-pomegranate cordial

2 pomegranates (approx. 1 cup pomegranate seeds)
grated zest of 1 lemon (approx. 1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup raw sugar
1.5 cups water
juice of 1 lemon (2 - 3 tablespoons)

Place pomegranate seeds, lemon zest and sugar in a pot. Pour in the water and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then turn down to medium heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, pressing the seeds with a wooden spoon every now and then.
Remove from heat, add the lemon juice and stir well. Let the cordial cool slightly before pouring through a fine mesh sieve into a sterilised jar or bottle. Press down hard on the seeds as you do so to extract the last traces of pomegranate juice, you don't want to waste any of that stuff!
This cordial will keep in an air-tight jar or bottle in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

*The cordial might appear murky brown at the beginning - but once you add the lemon juice, it is reborn a glorious ruby red.
*I sterilise my jars by washing them thoroughly and then letting them sit in boiling water for a couple of minutes.

straining my lemony pomegranate cordial into a glass jar.

I drink this two ways.

Lightly muddled with a sprig of mint and icy cold water, it's light, bright and refreshing.
Pair it with freshly boiled hot water, and it instantly transforms into a warm and soothing fruit tea.

Really, you can't go wrong either way!

a lemony pomegranate cordial.

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Saturday, 21 May 2011

burch & purchese sweet studio, south yarra: sensational desserts

Burch & Purchese finally have a home! There's been a lot of buzz lately with the opening of Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio in April at 647 Chapel St, South Yarra. The supremely talented pastry chefs Ian Burch and Darren Purchese, along with their fantastic team, have been busy creating a dessert haven about a 15-minute walk from where I live. Aren't I lucky! After a few weeks - I know, unforgivable considering my proximity - I finally made my way over there. And can I just say, I was like a kid in a candy store. In fact, I spent such a long time in the studio that Cath, the manager, wandered out and exclaimed, with some amusement: "You're still here!"

the burch & purchese sweet studio - where they fuse science with sweetness.

But who could blame me? The desserts here are so creatively designed, the sort that prompts you to go for a second look, and a third and a fourth. Then, when you're finally visually satisfied, there was the difficult and unenviable task of deciding which ones to buy and take home...

I'll set that aside for a moment, though, and take you through a photographic tour of the place. If you have a weakness for sweet things, you might want to have a bar of chocolate ready to temper the cravings that will no doubt result. (Ha, see what I did there?)

Alright, so the first dessert creations I saw when I walked in were these edible greeting cards on the counter. How cool are they?

edible greeting cards - $22 each.

The chocolate flower lollipops, stuck in edible soil, are also awesome.

chocolate flower lollipops in edible soil, $3 for each flower.

These are blackberry meringue clouds. I picked a sample from that tray in the background, and while I'm not a meringue person, I didn't mind eating these - the freeze-dried blackberry powder cut through the sweetness with a pleasant intensity.

blackberry clouds, $4 each.

There were a couple of magnificent cakes on display in the studio. You can spot the "flavour wall" behind them - this is where you can receive a consultation for designing a unique made-to-order cake, and apparently there are over 250 ingredients from which you can choose for mixing and matching.

a gorgeous chocolatey looking cake, and the flavour wall.

There were about a dozen different types of cakes for sale at the counter, all of which looked absolutely exquisite. The flavours and techniques that go into these cakes are truly impressive - they were comprised of fancy-sounding molecular gastronomy things like choc aerated shortbread, violet custard, rose gel and maple jelly spheres.

an assortment of individually portioned cakes, $9 each.

Burch & Purchese also offer edible art - a big one like this flowery picture, made from a variety of freeze-dried fruits, could cost somewhere in the vicinity of $1200!

edible art made with freeze-dried fruit - i think this was actually $1200!

I don't think they have Willy Wonka golden tickets, but I did find some glittery gold ingots.

chocolate gold bars.

There were also nougats...

i can't remember what flavour these nougats were.

And chocolate clays, which can be tossed into cookie batter or ice cream mixtures...

raspberry and white chocolate clay. there were also green tea ones. $6.

And a variety of spreads, jams, curds and honey...

spicy pineapple jam and chocolate hazelnut spread. single flavours are $10.5 and 2-in-1 jars are $12.

There were also cookies, crumbles, honeycomb, ice cream and fudge. You get the idea. I didn't take pictures of everything because at this point I was starting to feel like some kind of obsessive dessert stalker.

As fate would have it, I had put most of my money into a term deposit just the day before. This meant I could only buy a limited number of goodies. Just as well, enforced frugality is probably for the best when so many temptations abound.

Just to give you an idea on how dangerous a visit to Burch & Purchese can be, I'll tell you this. I'm not big on white chocolate, but I somehow ended up walking away with two white chocolate items. I mean, those passionfruit white chocolates lightly brushed with dark chocolate, they just looked so tart and alluring. And it was hard to turn down caramelised white chocolate with toasted macadamia nuts. It doesn't even look like white chocolate anymore with that lovely tint of golden brown. How can you reject white chocolate when it doesn't even look like white chocolate? How, I ask?

Now, first of all, I have to say that, unfortunately, these chocolates don't quite have that sought-after silky-smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture. I am guessing that this may be the inevitable side effect of all the fancy-schmancy stuff they do to it. However, I really liked the flavours.

The passionfruit chocolates had the characteristic fragrant astringency of passionfruit, with the taste of the white chocolate itself being fairly subdued. It's a great chocolate for someone who doesn't want something very chocolatey, and I mean this as a compliment.

white chocolates with freeze-dried passionfruit, $9.

The caramelised white chocolate was like a solidified version of dulce de leche, and I adored the addition of the toasty macadamia nuts, which balanced out the sweetness of the chocolate.

toasted macadamia caramelised white chocolate, $9.

I also bought this parfait-like invention from the individual cakes section. Tagged as Coconut, Passionfruit, Ginger, Mint, it is an intriguing concoction of - let's see - white chocolate mint wafer, ginger macaron, coconut mousse with brilliant white chocolate spray, passionfruit curd, coconut caviar, salted oat and ginger crumble.

coconut, passionfruit, ginger and mint dessert, $9.

I had great fun eating this and identifying each element! Once I had a taste of every component, I dug in properly and combined them all in a single bite. Sweet, tangy. Soft, chewy. Smooth, crumbly. It was an exhilarating symphony of flavours and textures.

a scrumptious spoonful of  burch & purchese dessert.

So... will I return to Burch & Purchese? You bet! They've created such an exciting space that is taking the Melbourne dessert scene by storm - and I am all caught up and keen to try more of their beautiful offerings.

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, 15 May 2011

purple carrot soup with ginger, rosemary and coriander seed

purple carrot soup with ginger, rosemary and coriander seed.

Grocery shopping is often regarded as a chore by many, but I love it. At any given opportunity, I spend a ridiculous amount of time comparing the prices, nutritional values and other perceived qualities of even the most ordinary of food items. When I come across something that gets my mental-recipe-ideas-gear going, though, I am often happy to set aside the obsessive-compulsive part of my personality and just go for it. It's sorta like how you'd throw out silly dating checklists when you feel the right chemistry with someone, you know?

my purple carrot.

And that was how it went when I saw this rather fetching purple carrot a few days ago. I'd seen purple carrots before, but while they inspired a mild curiosity in those previous occasions, I never took things to the next level. That day, something just clicked. So I did it. I picked him up, I brought him home, and I ate him... and yes, we're still talking about the purple carrot. And no, that is NOT an euphemism. Sheesh, get your minds out of the gutter.

chopped up purple carrot. please excuse the bad, garish artificial lighting.

purple carrot soup (makes 2 entree-sized serves)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium French shallots (80g)
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 very large purple carrot (200g)
1 medium potato (150g)
1/2 cup water
2 cups vegetable stock
salt, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar to taste

- Heat up the olive oil in a saucepan and fry the shallots until they brown at the edges. Add in the garlic, ginger, rosemary and and ground coriander seed and fry until fragrant.
- Add carrot and potato pieces. Pour in the water and vegetable stock, bring to boil, then simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
- Let it cool for 10 minutes and then puree in a blender in small batches. You may blend all of the mixture for a smooth soup or half of it for a semi-chunky soup.
- Return the soup mixture to the pot and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Season with salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to taste.

*This makes a light, yet still deliciously comforting soup. For a rich, creamy, non-vegan version, add cream to the soup at the step where the pureed soup is returned to the pot. Or you can still keep it vegan, and use coconut cream instead. Either way, the soup should turn a pretty pastel purple, and taste quite luxurious!

This soup was warm, gentle and sweet - all the qualities you want in a lover. In case you were wondering, though, purple carrots taste much like the regular orange ones, so you don't have to hunt down a purple carrot to enjoy this recipe! The purple is stunning, however, and of course, there's that novelty factor. Sometimes you just want to have a fling with a purple carrot... and there's nothing wrong with giving in to your hungry desires. Nothing at all.

purple carrot soup with rosemary, ginger and coriander seed.

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Monday, 9 May 2011

pan-grilled lime and pepper infused salmon and asparagus, topped with yoghurt, pomegranate and mint

Oh hello! I have a fancy dish. By my standards, anyway.

I blame it all on those cooking shows I've been watching recently, especially Masterchef, the reality TV show featuring amateur cooks, currently in its third season in Australia. In Masterchef land, plates are dotted with sauce, swiped with puree, and swirled with chocolate in a concerted effort to impress. Delicate cuts of meat artfully graze amongst idyllic fields of vegetables, exuding an air of confidence and serenity despite their impending fate.

Poorly equipped as I may be with my limited stash of kitchen supplies - not to mention cooking and decorating skills - I decided to embark myself upon a "pretty dish challenge", with a cruel and unintended 1-hour timeframe for cooking, photographing, eating and washing up, as this was a late lunch and I had to rush off to my uncle's house out in the suburbs for an early dinner.

Did I succeed? Well, sort of.

pan-grilled lime and pepper infused salmon and asparagus, topped with yoghurt, pomegranate and mint.

What might I say about my dish if I were a judge on Masterchef? (I'm a very busy girl, aren't I, pretending to be a contestant AND a judge in my own made-up challenge!)

Me (as a judge): "Your heart may be in the right place, but your execution is a little clumsy. The pieces of salmon are shoddily cut - perhaps you should've just left the fillet whole. And the asparagus stalks are not all trimmed to quite the same length. You need to refine your plating-up skills, but I do love the fresh and vibrant colours in this dish. Now let's see how it tastes."

*takes a bite and chews thoughtfully*

"The salmon is tender and juicy, ditto the asparagus, and I like the flavour hit of lime and black pepper. But it's not quite the complete dish, is it?"

Right, my time constraints meant that I was eating my portion of fish and asparagus off the pan as it cooked, so I didn't actually end up trying the full version with the yoghurt, pomegranate seeds and mint leaves. These all ended up in the one semi-pretty plate that I served to Simon. So he'll have to claim position as the second judge.

The thing is, though, with Simon, I don't really get very comprehensive feedback.

Me: "Time for lunch!"

Simon, grinning: "That's a little posh, isn't it?"

Me: "Don't laugh at me, just eat it. What do you think?"

Simon: "It's nice."

Me, playing insecure girlfriend/food blogger role: "Are you just saying that?"

Simon: "No, you know I'm not a big fan of salmon, but I'm finding this really easy to eat."

And that was it. On the plus side, Simon is quite an honest judge and has at times expressed reluctance to eat (or finish eating) certain dishes I made, so, considering he finished everything on the plate, I am quite content with this verdict of his. And you will just have to trust him.

pan-grilled lime and pepper infused salmon & asparagus, topped with yoghurt, pomegranate & mint
(makes 2 very modest lunch servings)

2 small salmon fillets (approx. 250g total)
12 stalks asparagus, trimmed
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 heaped tablespoons greek yoghurt
2 heaped tablespoons pomegranate seeds
20 small mint leaves

- Combine lime juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper and lime zest. Use half this mixture as a marinade and rub all over the salmon and asparagus. Reserve the other half for drizzling later.
- On a heated grill or frying pan, cook asparagus spears for about 4 minutes, turning occasionally and testing for tenderness.
- Pan-grill or pan-fry salmon on all sides - exact times will depend on the thickness of the salmon fillet. I cook them until they turn just opaque on each side, and the whole process invariably takes less than 10 minutes.
- For each plate, arrange asparagus spears in a tight square. Place salmon fillet on top. Add a tablespoon of yoghurt. Scatter pomegranate seeds and mint leaves in decorative fashion. Lightly drizzle with seasoning mixture, and sprinkle with more salt and black pepper if desired.

pan-grilled salmon and asparagus infused with black pepper, lime juice and olive oil, topped with yoghurt, mint and pomegranate.

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Sunday, 1 May 2011

balsamic portobello mushroom burger with bocconcini cheese, fried egg, lettuce and tomato

Why, hello, handsome.

I know there are plenty of you out there who simply refuse to believe in vegetarian burgers. But just bear with me for a moment. As a huge mushroom enthusiast, I want to share my joy with you in regards to my unprecedented mushroom burger success this weekend.

Portobello mushrooms. Also known as portabella mushrooms or field mushrooms. And very delicious.

The burger I am about to introduce is a juicy, sexy ol' hunk of mushroomy goodness, dewy with a lush balsamic vinegar dressing that winks with the piquancy of crushed garlic, shallot and herbs. The bocconcini exudes a creamy self-assurance, while the fried egg brings a little attitude. And ever so reliably, lettuce, tomato and crusty bread brings the whole package together. Yes. Yes, I think I'm in love.

Portobello mushroom marinating in a tangy dressing made with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and shallot.

balsamic portobello mushroom and bocconcini burger with fried egg, lettuce and tomato (makes 2)

2 large field/portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
8 baby bocconcini or 2 regular bocconcini, thickly sliced (may be substituted with other melting cheese)
a few lettuce leaves (I used green oak lettuce; spinach or rocket/arugula will also work well)
a few tomato slices
sea salt, black pepper and dried or fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme, etc.) to taste
2 eggs
4 slices of toasted crusty bread

- Combine garlic, shallot, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a liberal pinch each of sea salt, black pepper and herbs in a mortar. Grind, pound and mix well with the pestle to create a marinade and brush or drizzle this mixture generously over the portobello mushrooms. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
- In a bowl, toss lettuce leaves and tomato together in any leftover marinade and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/360°F fan-forced (200°C/390°F conventional).
- Place the marinated portobello mushrooms gills side up in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes.
- While you wait for the mushrooms to cook, fry the eggs to your liking, keeping each one separate, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Scatter bocconcini slices on top of the mushrooms and bake for another 3 minutes or until the cheese is just melted. Retrieve mushrooms from oven.
- To assemble each burger, layer lettuce leaves, one mushroom (cheese side up), a slice or two of tomato, one fried egg and more lettuce on a piece of bread, and top off with another piece of bread.
- Enjoy with wild abandon, casting aside all unreasonable thoughts of maintaining any sense of decorum.

Bocconcini mushroom burger with fried egg, lettuce and tomato.

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