Sunday, 30 December 2012

pimm's lemon jasmine banana smoothie-cocktail
(vegan, alcoholic, and stupendously delicious)

I made this, one experimental morning, and fell in love instantly. Like a fruity, floral breath of fresh air, it scintillated my senses and seduced my soul.

A spiked smoothie to leave me invigorated and glowing with health and happiness... in the short time since the idea was born, I've made this many times over, and it shall, if all goes according to plan, accompany me as I say goodbye to 2012, and ring in 2013.

pimm's lemon jasmine banana cocktail-smoothie.

So at this moment, your mind is either running through all sorts of gleeful alcoholic smoothie possibilities or you're thinking, "This lady be crazy."

And before you start to worry... no, I'm not becoming an alcoholic. In fact, one of the reasons this breakfast cocktail came about was because I still had nearly a full bottle of the Pimm's No. 1 that I purchased for last year's New Year's celebrations. Yeah, I wasn't kidding in that post when I said I was bad at drinking.

Honestly, though, if you want to start your celebrations early, like, oh, I don't know - first thing in the morning - I can think of nothing better than this smoothie, a thrillingly clean, joyful cocktail of lemon, banana and jasmine green tea, with splashes of liqueur. (But please, don't drink and drive. Or do anything potentially precarious, for that matter.)

I used Pimm's No.1 here, which is nice and subtle, but I imagine this will also go well with a coconut liqueur, a lychee liqueur, or a ginger liqueur, for example, depending on the flavour profile that delights you. I opted for just 30ml (1 fl.oz) of alcohol, which is barely discernible, but you can probably bump that up a little, depending on the type of liqueur you use, how intensely boozy you prefer it to be, and what you plan to be doing for the rest of the day...

(By the way, if you're trying to behave and abstain, I've even made a mocktail version without any alcohol whatsoever, and it tasted just as glorious, let that be known.)

A little prep in advance is required for this cocktail-smoothie recipe, but it's all tremendously easy. The banana needs to be peeled, the flesh broken into chunks and frozen. The jasmine green tea, too, is brewed with warm (but not boiling hot) water, then left to steep and cool. This is all preferably done overnight; however, I've also made this with only a few hours' notice, with the encouragement of friends, and the help of a few ice cubes. It was so well-received that I couldn't make enough: it was love at first taste for them, too.

Now, without further ado, here's the recipe. Be warned: it is dangerously easy to drink.

a healthy cocktail with lemon juice, jasmine tea, frozen banana, and pimm's no.1.

lemon jasmine banana smoothie-cocktail
(recipe makes 1, multiply to spread the happiness)

120ml brewed jasmine green tea (4 fl.oz / 1/2 cup), chilled
1 small ripe banana of about 12cm/5", flesh chopped and frozen
30ml lemon juice (1 fl.oz / 2 tablespoons / half a lemon's worth)
30ml Pimm's No. 1, or some other suitably complementary liqueur (1 fl.oz / 2 tablespoons)
grated lemon zest and/or nutmeg, to garnish (optional)

Blend jasmine green tea, frozen banana chunks, lemon juice and Pimm's No.1 (or other liqueur of your choice) together until smooth. Pour into glasses, and garnish with a little lemon zest or nutmeg, if you like. Serve immediately while it's deliciously cold.

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

a quiet christmas

So... it's Christmas by myself.

Simon is in Perth, visiting family. Thanks to work, I have to remain in Melbourne. Curses!

Not to worry, though, we already had a mini celebration before he flew off. A very small affair, just the two of us, with puff pastry mince pies and vanilla ice cream.

puff pastry mince pies with pine sugar, by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose.

The mince pies are by Heston for Waitrose, and they got into my radar thanks to Sarah's tweets about them. I promptly found them stocked at my local Coles supermarket and bought a box to try.

On the packaging it says, "The magic of these mince pies is the rich mincemeat, which incorporates apple puree, lemon curd and rose water. Warm in the oven and then sprinkle with pine sugar for a real festive twist."

While it wasn't as luxuriously complex as I imagined (based on that description), they were still scrumptious and quite the treat - especially with that delightfully flaky puff pastry and the intriguing pine-infused sugar. We polished it all off in no time at all.

On Christmas Eve, I worked overtime and on my way home, I popped in to my local Chinese, Pacific Seafood BBQ House (210 Toorak Road, South Yarra) and treated myself to takeaway.

Hello, roast duck on rice!

takeaway - roast duck on rice, from Pacific Seafood BBQ House.

And that's about it for my Christmas celebrations. It's Christmas evening as I post this, and I haven't really done much today, but it has been peaceful and relaxing. And Simon will be back in a few days, hurrah!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

honey sage pistachio balls / energy bites

Honey sage pistachio balls. Sweet, nutty energy bites.

Christmas is coming, and while I'm not a traditionalist, I do inevitably get caught up in the excitement that comes with the abundance of edible treats, this time of the year.

This is also the time of the year when I try to challenge myself with making treats that evoke Christmas (see here for last year's achievement). If you think you've been seeing a lot of green in my posts this month, well, it's not a coincidence.

Let's talk about energy balls today. I pop over to Hannah's blog at Wayfaring Chocolate quite frequently, and I am often envious of the variety of balls in her queenly repertoire. However, not having a food processor, I've never made my own.

Recently, I finally thought, to hell with that - I am doing this, even if I have to use a mortar and pestle!

So that's what I did.

Yes, you may call me Superwoman.

Making energy balls without a food processor, the old-fashioned way - with a mortar and pestle.

Thanks to my medieval methods, I made only a small portion, so feel free to multiply the recipe as you see fit. Feel free, too, to adapt the recipe to suit your needs. For example, you can make it a vegan recipe by using maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar instead of honey. You can make it a raw recipe, too, by not baking the sage, using raw pistachios - no toasting, and using raw honey or agave. Oh, and if you have a food processor, you can just whiz everything together and cut down on the manual labour.

All that aside, let me just say I am now totally a homemade energy ball convert. Even with the extra work I had to do - which wasn't that difficult, really - I felt it was worth it. So wholesome. So delicious. And in the end, even with all the energy I exerted into making my energy balls, I think they lived up to their namesake and replenished me right back, with more to spare.

Plus, they're festive enough for a Christmas connection, all glistening green with speckles of red!

Honey sage pistachio energy bites.

honey sage pistachio energy balls with a mortar and pestle
(makes about 2 dozen marble-sized balls)
(I made this in 2 batches, as my mortar is modestly-sized.)

20 large fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, toasted
pinch of salt (not required if using pistachios that have already been lightly salted)
1 tablespoon honey (approximate, to be added in gradually and with care)

Preheat oven to 100ºC or 210ºF fan-forced (120ºC or 250ºF conventional).
Lay out sage leaves on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until dry and crispy.
While the sage is roasting in the oven, toast the pistachios in a pan, stirring frequently, until they release a pleasant nutty aroma.
Crumble dried sage leaves with a mortar and pestle, picking out any tough stems that did not break down.
Add the toasted pistachios and continue pounding, crushing and grinding into fine, loose grains.
Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Skip this step if the pistachios are already salted.
Add in honey, a little at a time, stirring and pressing the mixture with the pestle to check if the consistency might be ready for rolling. If in doubt, stop adding the honey and attempt the rolling earlier - you can always add more honey later, if you need to. Anyway, you can see that mine turned out quite shiny and moist - I could probably have used less honey, but it's all good!
So when you break off a small chunk and it rolls quite smoothly without giving you any trouble (e.g. cracking, falling apart), go forth and merrily roll those balls.

I shared these honey sage pistachio energy balls with Simon and we finished it within the day, but I would hazard a guess that they could keep quite nicely for a few days, covered, at room temperature, or a bit longer if you store them in the fridge.

Have fun, and enjoy!

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

much ado about matcha... weekend baking adventures

Kitchen disasters. We've all had them.

But oh, the joy when you salvage the mess and rise from the ruins!

I don't usually post my creations when I don't have a recipe to go along with it, but I'm a bit more relaxed these days. Plus, I was actually quite proud of how I saved the day, so here we go. My only regret is that I didn't take a picture of how awful the batter looked at the beginning, which would make the results here look all the more impressive. Hey, we can't have everything.

It all started with an idea. Gluten-free buckwheat matcha cookies.

gluten-free buckwheat hazelnut matcha cookies.

When I have an idea, I like to draft out a recipe and then adjust it in the real world, adding and subtracting as I mix, knead and taste.

In this instance, I had underestimated the amount of buckwheat flour I needed... and not only that, I didn't have any more of it left in the pantry. The batter was neither liquid nor solid, and it was crazy sticky. Shaping or cutting it into cookies was out of the question. I made a makeshift piping bag by cutting a hole in a plastic sandwich bag, and forced in the batter. Bad idea. The consistency wasn't good for piping either. And the batter was so gluey, I now had trouble getting it out of my makeshift piping bag.

My typically trusty spatula looked dirty, tired and helpless. SO I DECIDED TO USE MY HANDS. Desperate times call for desperate measures, or rather, they drive you to insanity... I know that now. Feeling wretched and with gummy green goo all over my hands, I imagined I looked not unlike a forlorn swamp monster.

I still refused to throw the lot away. Organic buckwheat flour ain't cheap, y'all.

Thinking hard, I remembered the hazelnut meal I bought a few weeks ago. Oh, come here, my pretties, and rescue me from the mire of despair! I finally had a workable batter, which I rolled into balls, then pressed down with a fork on the baking sheet. Fifteen minutes later, we have these babies. Not bad, really.

Cross-section of gluten-free buckwheat hazelnut matcha cookies.

But wait, there's more!

At some point during these calamitous proceedings (it's all a blur to me now), and before the hazelnuts came sprinkling at me with heroic exultation, I had, in a moment of resignation, decided to go with the flow, as you do, stirring more cream into a small portion of the batter, and pouring it into a cupcake/muffin case. Amidst the confusion, I nearly forgot about this little cake-in-waiting, but spied it in the nick of time and it went into the oven with the cookies.

And this was the result.

gluten-free buckwheat matcha cake.

It looked alright. It tasted even better. I mean, it tasted really, really good. The cookies were not bad, but this mini cake, soft, moist, and rich, was seriously luscious.

I didn't share it with anyone. It was only tiny, after all...

cross-section of gluten-free buckwheat matcha cake.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

chargrilled tomatoes, smashed avocado

I have to confess, I haven't been feeling a lot of motivation lately to be productive. My free time is invariably consumed with net-surfing and the hours just insidiously creep by. Chores and errands are attended to with sloth-like urgency. I have occasional bursts of inspiration and energy, but they seem to be far and few between.

I hope this phase ends soon! Luckily, the making of lazy meals has always come easily to me, and today's brunch idea is no exception.

This is an accidentally vegan brunch that I cooked up one Friday, based on what I found at Simon's place. I guess in a way it's almost like a deconstructed guacamole, except I didn't have any red onion, nor coriander (aka cilantro to my North American readers). And I used lemon instead of lime, and dried chilli flakes instead of fresh, etcetera. You can keep these additional and alternative elements in mind if you make this. But I digress. Simple, yet full of flavour, this is an easy-to-prepare meal that highlights the natural goodness of the ingredients.

chargrilled tomatoes on smashed avocado.

char-grilled tomatoes, smashed avocado

1st step: making the smashed avocado

1 small avocado (approx. 150g or 1/3 lb), peeled and pitted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
salt, chilli flakes and cracked black pepper, to taste

Mix avocado flesh, lemon juice and garlic together in a bowl. Mash with a fork to your preferred consistency. A smooth puree can be good but I like some little chunks of avocado remaining here and there for this dish - it gives a nice textural element to it.

2nd step: char-grilling the tomatoes

2 medium tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil, or more

Fire up the char-grill pan so that it's hot before you add the tomatoes.
Toss tomatoes in olive oil, then place on the grill. I like to grill it on both sides and get them quite soft, but if you only do it one side, make it the cut-side down. I did mine on cut-side for about 5 minutes, then the rounded side for about 3 minutes, then back to the cut-side again for 1 minute. If you're doing a bit of flipping around, as I did, make sure the tomatoes, or the area of the grill they're placed on, remain well-oiled on subsequent flippings, so that the tomatoes don't stick on the grill.

3rd and final step: assembling

Swipe the smashed avocado onto a plate, and top with the chargrilled tomatoes. And there you go - hot, sizzling, juicy tomatoes on a bed of cool, creamy, smashed-up avocado. Tuck in.

hot, sizzling, juicy tomatoes on a bed of cool, creamy, smashed-up avocado.

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