Monday, 30 December 2013

lavender green tea plum wine cocktail (serve hot or cold)

A cool lavender green tea plum wine, served on the rocks.

We're closing in on the end of another year and the beginning of a new one, yet again, and this means an alcoholic beverage recipe to mark the occasion, of course! In previous years, I've made ginger-lime-cider shandy, raspberry cucumber cocktail slushy, and spiked lemon-jasmine-banana smoothie.

This year, it's a very light and gentle plum wine cocktail, one that can be served hot or cold, so it doesn't matter whether you're in the Northern or Southern hemisphere - this is a drink for all seasons.

The inspiration for this drink stems from my trips to Japanese restaurants, where I've occasionally seen plum wine and green tea combinations, or ocha-wari, on the menu. For some reason I've never gotten around to ordering it, so I have no idea how my invention compares, but I will certainly treat myself next time I see ocha-wari on a drinks list. In the name of research, you understand.

This is a very flexible recipe, where you should feel free to adjust the amounts to your liking. Would you like tea with a hint of wine, or wine with a hint of tea? It's totally up to you.

Lavender green tea plum wine cocktail, served warm.

lavender green tea plum wine cocktail

First step - make the lavender green tea:

1 cup freshly boiled hot water
1 heaped teaspoon dried lavender buds (x2 if using fresh lavender), or a lavender tea bag
1 heaped teaspoon loose leaf green tea, or a green tea bag (a floral or herb infused one is lovely, e.g. jasmine green tea, or pomegranate green tea)
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Pour the boiling-hot water over lavender, and let it steep, covered, for 5 - 7 minutes. Then add in the green tea, and let it all steep together for 2 - 3 minutes. Strain to remove the buds and leaves. Add lemon juice. Use immediately for a warm cocktail, otherwise let it cool down completely, or chill in the fridge, for a cool cocktail. I would say that this will make up to 4 cocktails, at most, so multiply the recipe if you're planning on plentiful drinks.

Final step - make the lavender green tea plum wine cocktail:

lavender green tea
plum wine
ice cubes (optional)
sake (optional)

For a warm cocktail, combine freshly brewed hot tea, plum wine, and also, optionally, a splash or more of sake.

For a cool cocktail, combine chilled tea, plum wine, a few ice cubes, and also, optionally, a splash or more of sake.

I used a simple ratio of 1 part tea and 1 part wine for a fairly balanced flavour profile - about 1/4 cup of each, to create a small serving. You may use that as a guide, or find your own way!

P.S. I just thought of something. A bit of lychee syrup, or a fresh lychee garnish, would be an amazing addition! I've got to try that next time.

Drink up!

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Thursday, 19 December 2013

matcha green tea shortbread with raspberry sugar

Green tea shortbread with raspberry sugar.

Season's greetings! It seems that it has become a bit of a blog tradition for me to put up a colourful recipe at the end of each year to match the celebratory Christmas atmosphere. (Click here and here for the creations from the last two Decembers.)

This year is no exception. Behold, my happy, glorious green tea cookies, made in a shortbread style, with lashings of matcha powder and raspberry sugar for that festive appearance.

Did I also mention that they are delicious? The earthy, mellow bitterness of matcha, the sweet crunch of sugar on top with just a hint of salt, the buttery texture that crumbles and melts in the mouth. I made this green tea shortbread a few months ago, for a friend's party, and I was so filled with joy when I got not one, not two, but three expressions of interest for the recipe, even from those who don't normally bake. To these lovely people I apologise, as I have only now posted this recipe, after finally trying it again to make sure it works properly. Better late than never, eh?

Naturally colourful green tea cookies for Christmas! Or anytime, really.

For the green tea / matcha shortbread:

210g flour (1.5 cups)
8g matcha / green tea powder (5 teaspoons)
pinch of salt
150g salted butter (5 oz)
55g icing sugar / confectioner's sugar / powdered sugar (1/2 cup)
1 egg yolk

For the raspberry sugar topping (optional):

1 egg white, beaten (you'll use much less than this, save the rest to make something else)
raspberry sugar, or raw sugar stained with raspberry juice
fancy flavoured salt or fleur de sel, if you have it

- - -

Mix flour, matcha and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Vigorously beat butter and sugar together till they combine and take on a lighter, fluffier appearance. (If, like me, you take the manual approach and beat it by hand with a wooden spoon, feel free to sing "Beat It" for additional entertainment.) Add egg yolk, and gently beat again until mixed together.

Add the flour mix. Start off kneading it with the wooden spoon, but eventually move on to using your hands. It'll be quite a moist dough. Lovingly roll the dough into cylinders / logs of about 3.5cm (1.4 inch) diameter. Due to the fragility of the dough, I made 4 logs, as smaller logs are less likely to break.

Carefully wrap the dough logs with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Once the dough has done its time, retrieve from the freezer. Slice the logs into rounds of about 0.6cm (1/4 inch) thickness, and place on a tray lined with baking paper or foil.

Pre-heat the oven to 140°C / 285°F fan-forced (160°C / 320°F conventional).

If you would like to decorate your cookies as I have, brush the surface with a thin layer of egg white. Then scatter each piece of shortbread with just a few grains of fancy salt, if using (I allocated 3 - 5 grains of vanilla salt for each piece), and then a more generous sprinkling of raspberry sugar, or whatever pretty sugar you want to use. I bought my raspberry sugar, but you could perhaps try making your own, by rubbing a bit of raspberry juice through some sugar.

Place the tray of shortbread into the oven and let it bake for 16 - 18 minutes.

Remove from oven, allow the shortbread to cool, and enjoy! Also, merry Christmas! :)

Note - matcha (green tea powder) can vary in their potency. I've found that with a strong matcha, 6-7 grams / 4 teaspoons can be sufficient for this recipe, while a weak one will require 9-10 grams / 6 teaspoons. Therefore, unless you're already very familiar with your matcha and how much to use in recipes, I suggest trying this shortbread recipe with the recommended 8 grams / 5 teaspoons to start with, and with subsequent batches you can fine-tune your ideal amount.

A close-up cross-section shot of the green tea matcha shortbread cookie.

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Friday, 13 December 2013

a christmas pudding received, and a cranberry port spritzer recipe (to use up the stuff you don't want to drink straight)

Christmas comes early with a mini hamper containing Itha's traditional pudding + a brandy butterscotch dessert sauce.

Last week I received a complimentary treat in the mail, a little gift box containing a traditional Christmas plum pudding, and a bottle of brandy butterscotch sauce by Itha's Puddings & Gourmet Foods.

Truth be told, Itha Sanders, founder of Itha's Puddings, is a marketer's dream. An 80-year-old grandmother who has been hand-making her gourmet Christmas puddings for over 50 years (but only started selling them in 2010), using a traditional "cooked in the cloth" recipe inherited from her grandmother. How wonderfully old-school can you get?

This is what the pudding exterior looks like, with a dark, glistening pudding skin.

Itha's pudding, after unwrapping.

And this is how the pudding interior looks like - rich, moist, and heavy with fruit.

Cross-section of Itha's pudding.

In short, this is a quality pudding I could happily eat at home, or bring to a Christmas party. The only main downside has to do with dietary needs or preferences. The pudding and the dessert sauce I received are not preservative-free, and the sauce is also not vegetarian or vegan-friendly due to the presence of gelatine. If you can get past that, though, Itha's products are worth trying. I've tried the pudding both hot and cold, and enjoyed it both ways - it just really depends on the weather, and what I feel like at the time. The brandy butterscotch was beautifully smooth and luxurious, too. Together, they make a decadent combination. It's also a very sweet treat, as expected, so personally I enjoy my slice with a herbal tea to balance things out a bit. Yes, I know the usual pairing is to have Christmas pudding with ports and liqueurs, but I guess I'm a tame one.

A slice of traditional pudding with brandy butterscotch sauce.


But, wait, there's more! Here's a wine spritzer recipe which does happen to work nicely with port wines, and also, potentially, other reds, especially in the form of dessert wines or fortified wines. Going the spritzer route means that it's lighter, being diluted with soda; and cooler, with the addition of ice cubes. It's a hot Christmas and New Year's in Australia, so a cold, sparkling drink can be very welcome, indeed.

I created this recipe because a while ago, Simon bought a bottle of tawny port which was, quite frankly, rather unimpressive. I even remember asking him to re-consider the purchase at the time, because I had a feeling it wasn't going to be good, but did he listen? NO. So now we have this wine that neither of us really want to drink, with the choice to either bin it... or re-purpose it.

I chose to take on the challenge of giving it a new lease of life, and this cranberry port spritzer was born. If you, too, have a similarly regrettable purchase, this recipe may just rescue it. No guarantees, but it did make our wine more drinkable, and even enjoyable.

cranberry port wine spritzer
(makes 1 serve)

1/3 cup port wine (or other red wine, especially one that is a fortified wine or dessert wine)
1/3 cup cranberry juice drink
1/3 cup soda water / sparkling mineral water / carbonated water
3 ice cubes

Pour port wine, cranberry juice and then soda water into a glass. Top with ice cubes. You may adjust the ratio of the different liquids according to your taste. If you're feeling fancy, quickly bruise some fresh mint or basil leaves by pressing, rubbing and pinching them between your fingers, then add them to the mix as well.

Note: This can be a vegetarian/vegan recipe, but you'll have to use a vegetarian/vegan wine - many wines are clarified using animal products.

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Saturday, 7 December 2013

overdosa, fitzroy pop-up (+ other locations)

OverDosa pop-up in Fitzroy.

It doesn't get more Fitzroy than this. A pop up Indian shack selling vegan, gluten-free dosas and drinks, installed in an open-air-garage type space, next to a vintage bike store.

(P.S. Not all menu items are vegan - after all, I'm sure the rose lassi and the dill curd chutney had delicious dairy in them.)

The cutely named Overdosa (50 Rose St, Fitzroy + other locations) is such a place, and when I was hunting for an affordable dinner one night with Simon, it was what we found. I think I first heard about it via Cindy and Michael's post here, then I forgot about it, but stumbled upon it again during a hungry Googling session.

We were the only ones there at about 7 o' clock in the evening. They are currently open in this Fitzroy location on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am till sunset - and in summer, that usually happens around 8pm. (Check their Facebook page for up-to-date announcements of where they'll be, and when. Latest update is that they'll be doing weekends in Rose Street until March 2014.) The guys were playing foosball before they noticed us, and I momentarily wondered if I'd walked onto the hippie version of a Friends set. It's an incredibly laid-back place with such a relaxing vibe, I love it.

The OverDosa guys at work.

We plonked ourselves down on a colourful sofa, and started sipping away at our drinks. Simon chose a bottled mango drink labelled Maaza. It was sweet, like a nectar.

Maaza mango juice drink ($3).

I chose a rose lassi, which was delightfully creamy and tangy, though sadly the serving was a tad small. (Update: Tried cafe lassi on our second visit, still a petite serve but, as with last time, still delectable - coffee and yoghurt is an interesting combination.)

OverDosa rose lassi ($4).

The lentil poppers are crunchy on the outside, and fluffy inside. These were a little on the salty side for me so I just had a couple, but Simon loved the fragrant, savoury morsels, and he just kept dippin' them into the chutneys and poppin' them into his mouth. (Update: On our second visit, the lentil poppers were seasoned just to my liking - happy days!!)

OverDosa lentil poppers ($5).

The first dosa to arrive at our table was the spicy tamarind pumpkin. It was a perfect golden crisp, and pretty tasty, though not super spicy - if that's what you want, dig into the chilli chutney for more heat. We didn't feel like we really needed the chilli, though, because the dosa already had very warm flavours, which had us more inclined to pair it with the cooler chutneys, like the coconut one you see in this plate.

OverDosa spicy tamarind pumpkin dosa ($9), carrot salad, hot chilli chutney, and coconut chutney.

This dosa, the smoky eggplant with peas, quickly won our hearts. It was fabulously moreish; I'm a sucker for a good smokiness and this had it in spades. Again we felt this went better with the cooler chutneys, like the mint and coriander, and the curd and dill.

OverDosa smoky eggplant and pea dosa ($9), carrot salad, curd and dill, coriander and mint chutney.

I'm interested in coming by again for this smoky eggplant dosa, and I'd also like to try the classic potato masala which we didn't get the first time. (Update: Have now tried it, very nice too, but the eggplant one remains my favourite.) We didn't see any special menu items on that day, but a stalk of their Facebook page reveals that these in past have included flavours such as cauliflower, capsicum, coconut and cashew korma, or chai-cumin chickpea masala, both of which sound incredible, so bring 'em on!

Overdosa on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, 30 November 2013

odds and ends: a glimpse of my everyday cooking: noodles, soups and stews

Here's a lazy end-of-the-month post where I share with you the sort of things I cook regularly: noodles, soups and stews. For an indolent cook, these are easy, fuss-free dishes that don't take up much time or effort at all. I whip up meals like these ones in all sorts of variations all the time without jotting down any measurements, but I'll give you a quick tour anyway, and perhaps you'll be inspired to make something similar!

I love a good ramen. If my memory serves me correctly (ha! Iron Chef reference!), this is a vegetarian miso ramen I made with organic ramen noodles, bits and pieces of vegetables from the fridge, and free-range eggs. Gotta love the umami taste, and those wobbly, creamy orange yolks.

Vegetarian ramen.

This is a quick stew I made some months ago, using leftovers from a roast pork dinner. I added some tomato and onion to the roast pork and root vegetables, along with some water, cooked it for a bit until the flavours married, then threw in some coriander leaves.

Leftover roast stew.

A wondrous work lunchbox creation: blanched rice vermicelli noodles, fresh beansprouts, raw cashews, and a boiled egg. I sloshed in some lemon juice and soy sauce, then sprinkled on mint leaves, sliced red chilli, white pepper and salt. When I wanted to eat, I poured in some freshly boiled water from the kitchen kettle, let it sit in the container with the lid on for a few minutes, and voila! A gentle, soothing, vegetarian Asian vermicelli soup to enjoy at my desk. I really should do this more often, I was a very happy girl that day.

Just-add-hot-water vermicelli lunchbox.

Last but not necessarily least, I bought some organic Koshihikari rice recently, a Japanese short-grain variety. I paired it with pork, cauliflower, broccoli, lamb's lettuce, fatty pork, and miso to make sort of a rice stew, or soup.

Miso rice soup.

What are the types of dishes that make up part of your everyday life?

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

baked miso eggplant, or nasu dengaku my non-traditional way

Baked miso eggplant.

I've recently gotten into making my own baked miso-glazed eggplant (nasu dengaku, a popular Japanese dish). Along the way, I've added my little touches. My version of nasu dengaku is not quite traditional, but I really like it. Many recipes I've seen cook the miso glaze prior to brushing it on the eggplant, but being lazy, I've devised a miso glaze that skips the cooking step - no extra saucepans to wash, hurrah! Now, more about this miso glaze: Instead of sugar, I used honey. (For a vegan option, try maple syrup instead.) I also added two exciting ingredients - Chinese black rice vinegar, for its complex character; and ground dried chilli, for a cheeky hint of spiciness. I like using eggplants that are not too narrow (so that it's more satisfying to dig in), but also not too voluptuous (so that it cooks easily for the much-sought-after melt-in-the-mouth texture).

The results are some beautifully dark roasted eggplants which are sweet, savoury, soft and silky. Simon and I both adore this. Whenever I cook this at his place, I make sure we buy at least two eggplants, so we get a whole one, or two halves, each. Even then, he still likes to tease by naughtily, greedily asking me if all the eggplants are for him. I chastise him but I secretly love it - while still making sure I get my fair share.

Roasted eggplants with miso glaze. These may look almost burnt, but I can assure you it was actually perfection.

baked miso eggplant, or nasu dengaku my non-traditional way

Part 1 (the eggplants):
2 eggplants (about 300g each / 2/3lb each)
a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, to brush before roasting

Part 2 (the miso glaze):
2 tablespoons miso (choose a gluten-free version if you have such a dietary requirement)
1/2 tablespoon honey (or, for a vegan substitute, maple syrup)
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon black rice vinegar, aka zhenjiang / chinkiang vinegar
1/2 tablespoon rice wine (e.g. mirin, sake, shaoxing)
1/8 teaspoon dried chilli condiment (e.g. red pepper powder, chilli flakes, shichimi)

Part 3 (the garnish):
toasted sesame seeds, shredded nori, or thinly sliced fresh spring onions to garnish (optional)

Heat the oven to 180°C (360°F) fan-forced, or 200°C (390°F) conventional.
From the stem of the eggplant, slice down to cut each eggplant into halves of about the same size. Score each half with a criss-cross pattern, going as deep as you can without touching the skin at the bottom. This scoring step allows it to cook quicker and also makes it easier to scoop out to eat.
Brush, or rub in with your fingers, the cut side of the eggplant halves with a mix of salt and oil - a little should go a long way. Any neutral oil suitable for roasting is fine, I used rice bran oil.
Roast the eggplants in the oven, cut side up, for about 30 minutes. If your eggplants are very plump, you may need a bit longer. By the end of it, there should be some darkening on the surface of the eggplants, giving a toasted appearance.
While the eggplants are in the oven, prepare the miso glaze. Mix all the ingredients together until they're well-combined - and that's it!
When the eggplants are done roasting, retrieve from the oven and smooth on the miso glaze so that it evenly covers each of the cut surfaces. Then put the eggplants back into to the oven and bake for another 5 - 10 minutes, until the glaze starts to gently bubble.
Serve your not-so-traditional nasu dengaku on a plate. Add garnishes if you wish. Then, tuck in merrily with a spoon!

My not-so-traditional version of nasu dengaku.

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Friday, 15 November 2013

rustica sourdough, fitzroy: breads, cronuts, award-winning tart!

After stumbling upon Rustica Sourdough (402 Brunswick St, Fitzroy) many months ago, Simon and I quickly adopted it as our local bakery. I've posted about our happy discovery of their fig and fennel ficelle earlier this year, and ever since then we've continued to make more happy discoveries.

Take, for example, their roasted pumpkin bread, a supremely soft and fluffy semi-sourdough creation with plump and crunchy pumpkin seeds flanking the exterior.

Pumpkin bloomer, $6.20.

The sourdough rosemary and vine fruit loaf was quite small and expensive, but it was also incredibly generous with juicy raisins/sultanas. The fragrant, savoury touch of rosemary made it just that little bit more special and interesting.

Vine fruit and rosemary loaf, $6.75.

Then we have the cronuts (yes, you can find cronuts in Melbourne these days - yay!), which I would describe as doughnut-shaped flaky layered pastry. Despite their deep-fried nature, they felt pleasantly light on grease. I was impressed with the lemon curd cronut with its pretty balance of acidity and sweetness. The custard and jam cronut came second in terms of my preferences, but it was enjoyable too.

Lemon curd cronut, $4.20.

Jam and custard cronut, $4.20.

But if there is one thing with which I am absolutely and utterly in love, it is their passionfruit tart. I first purchased this thanks to a staff recommendation. It lived up to her exaltations, and then some. The passionfruit curd was beautifully intense, and together with the buttery shortcrust, this is a sexy treat that disappears fast. I was not surprised when it later took out a major award for Best Victorian Product at the 2013 Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards.

The award-winning passionfruit tart, $5.90.

We've also visited Rustica Sourdough in the evening, once. They started serving fancy-rustic pastas and burgers for dinner in August, however it seems that they've now decided to scale back and just open weekend nights for nibbles and drinks. Oh well. We did quite enjoy it that one time!

Meanwhile, there are still so many lovely baked goods I'm yet to try. I'm thinking my next bite will be of one of their intriguing chocolate violet crumble tarts...

Rustica Sourdough Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Friday, 8 November 2013

the cutest little carrots, and edible carrot greens

Simon's housemate has a little garden in the balcony, which is sort of a learning process in itself with travails and triumphs.

Recently, there was some excitement as the first carrots of spring were harvested. They were small, skinny, but extremely full of crunch and flavour, with an almost spicy zing as we chomped into them.

Amongst them, we found some incredibly adorable, absolutely tiny carrots. I love their irregular shapes, too.

The cutest little carrots.

There was also an abundance of carrot tops, or carrot greens. The below picture shows only a fraction of the whole compilation.

The lopped-off carrot tops.

This then ignited a discussion as to whether carrot greens are edible. I had a feeling they were, and I thought I might even have seen recipes for carrot greens before, but just to be sure, I confirmed this with the good ol' internet.

I found this nicely written post by Garden Betty, which pretty much says, go forth and eat those carrot tops! Barring any unusual allergies or intolerances, they are fine for consumption.

I chewed on some raw carrot greens. They had a rough texture that encourages a good jaw workout, and they actually do taste quite similar to carrots - but in lieu of the bright sweetness, there is an earthy, herbaceous hint of bitterness instead.

Smoothie with carrot greens.

I can imagine carrot greens being quite versatile - so far I have added them into smoothies, soups, stews, congee, and stir-fries. These greens certainly have attitude, and a lot to offer.

Have you had carrot greens before? How do you like them?

A very carroty congee with carrots and carrot greens.

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Thursday, 31 October 2013

raw zucchini noodles, aglio e olio style (and a giveaway *winners announced*)

Zucchini noodles, aglio e olio style.

When Kitchenware Superstore offered to let me pick a product from their online shop to try, I couldn't resist. Ever since I saw a friend of mine using a vegetable spiralizer to faciliate her raw food diet, I have wanted one of my own. Naturally, it didn't take me long to settle on the cute green Swiss-designed, German-made Betty Bossi Veggie Twister (and I didn't notice it at the time, but they also have a pink version!).

Practice makes perfect! I started off with uncertainty, but soon after this I was churning out raw zucchini noodles easily!

When one gets a vegetable spiralizer, one makes zucchini noodles. Yes, it's a cliche, but for good reason, because, quite frankly, zucchini noodles are awesome. Plus, I already had a zucchini noodle recipe in mind. I have always loved spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, so this is the almost raw, vegan, gluten-free version of that.

It turned out fantastically. There is a lovely kick from the garlic, accentuated by the touch of chilli. The olive oil coats every strand of the zucchini noodles, and the use of lemon and parsley cuts through to provide a tangy, herbaceous sparkle. Simon and I are already looking forward to using my new toy again soon for our future meals!

Zucchini noodles with lemon-garlic-chilli-oil and parsley, inspired by spaghetti aglio e olio.

zucchini noodles with lemon-garlic-chilli-oil and parsley (inspired by spaghetti aglio e olio)
(makes 1 serve for a light main, or 2 serves as a side)

2 small zucchinis (approx. 225g / 1/2lb total, or 15cm / 6" long each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1 small red chilli, finely sliced; or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

You may peel the zucchini or leave the skin intact, depending on your preferences. Cut off the tip and end. Use a vegetable spiralizer to make spaghetti-like noodles out of the zucchini. If you don't have a vegetable spiralizer, a julienne peeler will also work. Otherwise, you can try to shave the zucchini into long strips with a regular peeler, which may create more of a fettucine effect.

To keep my raw zucchini noodles fresh, I like to briefly drench them in a bowl of lightly salted water, then drain in a colander before setting aside for later use.

Warm up the olive oil over medium low heat. Add garlic and let it cook gently for about 1 minute, then add chilli and continue cooking for another 1 minute, or until the garlic turns lightly golden on the edges. Remove from heat immediately and add lemon zest and juice.

Toss the zucchini noodles together with the lemon-garlic-chilli oil, chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. I suggest that you let it rest for 10 minutes or so, to allow the flavours to develop further, then toss again. Serve and slurp!

If you like, add some raw or toasted nuts in the end, to make this a more filling, protein-rich meal. I think pine nuts or walnuts in particular would be great, but I imagine almonds, hazelnuts or pecans would also suit well. If you're not a nut person, I reckon some soft tofu could be really nice, too.

If you want to attempt a completely raw meal out of this, consider crushing fresh chilli and garlic into the olive oil to infuse it, so that you don't have to cook it. You'll probably need less garlic, since the raw stuff is stronger and sharper.

Delicious, so delicious.

Now we get to the giveaway part!

Together with Kitchenware Superstore, I am giving away 3 x $20 online gift vouchers which winners can use towards any purchase at the Kitchenware Superstore online shop.

This giveaway is open to all readers, but please note that if you reside outside of Australia, shipping costs may be quite prohibitively expensive, so double check that to see if it's still worth it for you.

For a chance to win one of the vouchers, please leave a comment telling me what dishes you would make featuring zucchini noodles. I will select 3 winners based on how likely I am to create the dish you describe.

Please ensure that there is some way I can reach you (e-mail address, twitter account, blog URL etc) if you win. The deadline, or last day for entry, is the 5th of November, 2013 - I'll be going by the time stamp on this blog, which is based in Melbourne, Australia. I'll announce the winner on the 6th of November, 2013 by updating this blog post, or you can also keep an eye out on Twitter or Facebook for an announcement. I will then contact the winner to organise the shipping of the prize.

*Winners announced!*

Congratulations to: Economies of Kale, Cate, and Winston! Your ideas are right up my alley and I am keen to give them a go. I will e-mail the voucher to you as soon as I receive them from Kitchenware Superstore.

To everyone else, I really enjoyed your responses too, and thank you for participating. I may have another giveaway coming up in the next few months, so stay tuned! :)

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

spring, hayfever, raw honey, bee pollen, and a berry smoothie

A healthy berry smoothie with fruits, greens, raw honey and bee pollen.

It's springtime! We're more than halfway through the season, and this year I have some secrets up my sleeve: raw honey and bee pollen.

I've heard that these two things may be used as natural remedies for hayfever, and as this is an allergy that has given me grief over the recent few years, I figured it was worth a try. This requires some planning - it's not meant to be an instant fix, but is best implemented throughout the year to build up your immunity gradually, so your body is well-prepared by the time spring and summer comes around. Or at least, that's what I've read.

Thus, in autumn this year, I started incorporating raw honey into my diet a few times a week. In winter this year, I added bee pollen to my repertoire. While we're at it, can I heartily recommend the bee pollen from Windarra Honey in Swan Valley? At the time of purchase, it was the first time I had ever tried bee pollen, and I absolutely fell in love with their product, which, according to the label, is gathered by their bees "from the pristine forests from the South West of Western Australia". I've grown to appreciate it even more since sampling another brand of bee pollen that a friend bought from a health food shop, which I didn't particularly care for due to hints of astringency and bitterness. My little jar of Windarra pollen, in contrast, has a wonderfully bright, pure, sweet taste - like honey in tiny golden nugget form. Just gorgeous.

A major word of caution, however. Bee pollen can cause serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions for some people. When I got my jar, I was advised to take just two or three granules at first to gauge my response - if all goes well, I can slowly increase my dosage on subsequent days, a few granules at a time. Suffice to say, there were no adverse effects for me, and these days, I usually consume about one teaspoon's worth each time, a few times a week.

With delicious, great quality bee pollen, I love eating it like candy, just by itself! Alternatively, I also throw it into smoothies - if you're not keen on the taste of your bee pollen, this is a good way to enjoy it. Here's a smoothie recipe you can try out - I like the gorgeous juxtaposition of purple and gold, plus it's healthy and tasty, too.

gold-studded purple berry pollen smoothie
(serves 1)

1 teaspoon raw honey
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup mixed frozen berries
10 baby spinach leaves
1 small banana, peeled and broken into chunks, fresh or frozen
1 lime, or small lemon, juiced, approx. 2 tablespoons of juice
1/2 teaspoon bee pollen, plus an extra 1/4 teaspoon to garnish

Stir raw honey together with water until it all dissolves. Blend this honey solution with the rest of the ingredients. Pour and serve with an extra sprinkling of bee pollen.

A pretty purple smoothie with flecks of gold.

Oh, and if you're wondering if my regular use of raw honey and bee pollen has helped ease my hayfever? It's still early days, but I swear I'm feeling a difference. I'm not completely cured, but the frequency, severity and duration of my hayfever attacks have been easier to deal with this spring. I've still had to reach for my nasal spray a couple of times, but the same time last year, it would've been more like a dozen times, plus I was also taking fexofenadine tablets as well, which I haven't yet bothered with this year. It may be a placebo effect, or a coincidence, but I wouldn't be surprised if there really is something to this natural remedy.

Do you enjoy raw honey and bee pollen? Have you tried any natural remedies for hayfever? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments!

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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

oven-baked celeriac chips

Oven-baked celeriac chips.

Celeriac, the knobbly root vegetable with a labyrinth of wrinkles and tangled ends. It is often described as ugly, but I've always found it to be intriguing and full of character. Also often referred to as celery root, it comes from a special cultivar of celery that is grown specifically for the root, rather than the stalks.


When I first tried raw celeriac, I found it reminiscent to some vegetables familiar to me in Asian cuisine, namely jicama and daikon. Others have described the taste of celeriac to be like a cross between potato and celery.

Meanwhile, my first experience of cooked celeriac was in a restaurant, in the form of a velvety celeriac puree, a silky mash that was at once simple, sensuous and comforting. Years later, the memory of that dish still stays with me.

So when I first bought celeriac, I decided to go with a similarly simple, warm, comforting route: oven-baked celeriac chips. More tender and less starchy compared to their potato cousins, these fat and chunky oven chips are a great introduction to cooking celeriac. It takes some patience while you wait for them to slowly roast in the oven, but it is so easy and you are eventually rewarded with tasty, addictive morsels with a gentle crispness on the outside and a silky juiciness on the inside.

Go on, try it!

Ready for roasting - celeriac tossed in seasoned olive oil.

oven-baked celeriac chips / roast celeriac
(makes 2 modest servings)

1 celeriac (approx. 600g, or 1.3 lb), peeled, flesh cut into 2cm / 3/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Prepare a big bowl of water with a splash of lime or lemon juice, or vinegar.
Peel celeriac, then chop into 1.5-2cm / 2/3-3/4 inch thick batons. Place the celeriac pieces into the bowl of acidulated water as you chop them, this keeps them fresh and happy.
When you're done with the chopping, drain and shake excess water off the celeriac in a colander.
Toss together the celeriac with olive oil, garlic, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Make sure it's well-mixed and that the celeriac is nicely coated - I like to give it a little massage as well to really rub the flavours in.
Bake at 200°C / 395°F fan-forced (220°C / 425°F conventional) for 40 - 50 minutes. Give them a flip and a stir halfway through. The time they need in the oven may vary, but basically you want them lusciously golden with browning edges.
These celeriac chips will crisp up a bit more after you remove them from the oven and let them cool a little, so give them some time to do their thing.
Feel free to sprinkle a bit more salt and black pepper to taste.

Other ideas: Next time, I might try it with chilli flakes instead of cracked black pepper!

Oven-roasted celeriac chips.

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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

the cutting table, collingwood

Simon and I usually pay for our own portion of meals when we dine out, but every now and then we  treat each other. On this occasion he paid for our lunch at The Cutting Table (126 Smith St, Collingwood), a little African cafe with generously sized mains for reasonable prices. (Yeah, I could totally have chosen a more expensive place to try - he got off the hook!)

We're partial to seeking out the chai at different places, and we liked the sound of the home brewed African chai. However, it was a touch too milky, and not strong enough on the spices.

Home brewed African chai ($4).

We were also intrigued by the Green for Life smoothie - there's probably not much that's African about it, but it was an interesting combination of avocado, celery, ginger, honey, cinnamon and milk... thick, creamy, and goes down with a pleasantly cool tingle.

Green for Life smoothie ($5.50).

I noticed a stack of petite African doughnuts at the counter when we were ordering, so obviously I had to try one. I like how they warmed it up for me before serving, with a dash of powdered sugar and trickle of honey. The doughnut had almost a muffin-like texture and was fairly decent.

Zlabia - African doughnut ($1).

It wasn't long before we received our mains. This is the Ugali chicken stack - free-range chicken fillet marinated in spicy lovers sauce (a tomato-based sauce with African berebere spice mix) and served on Ugali (grilled polenta in West African style) with salad, pita chips and tahini-yoghurt dip. The sides are alright, but the subtly sweet, saucy and succulent chicken and the firm, savoury polenta were definitely the stars of this show.

Ugali chicken stack ($12).

We also chose the African plate - special African dish of the day, served in the traditional way with injera bread, rice and salad. They had beef, chicken or vegetarian options available for this dish, and we went with beef. It came out like a thick stew, lots of flavour, but also very salty. Thankfully, the rice and the slim, soft, spongy, sour injera balanced it out somewhat.

African plate ($13.50).

Despite some fault-finding, I like The Cutting Table. The food was mostly tasty and left us full and satisfied without breaking the bank. Their menu includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. We had a meaty experience this time around, but I hope to return again for the vegetarian dishes, which sounded excellent - I suspect I'll have trouble deciding between the ancient Egyptian burger, the Moroccan chickpea and vegetable patty, the hot chilli lentil wrap, the ingera roll and the spicy tofu salad!

The Cutting Table also forms part of The Social Studio, a community enterprise that not only celebrates multiculturalism and ethical choices but also provides social support and education programs. Besides, you can browse and buy some really beautiful limited edition pieces designed and created on-site in their fashion shop just next door. They do good work, and I look forward to giving them continued support with future visits.

The Cutting Table on Urbanspoon

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