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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