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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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

blood orange and olive oil shortbread (vegan)

Blood orange and olive oil shortbread.

Several weeks ago, I made blood orange cookies to bring to a friend's dinner. I was very pleased with my efforts - they were crunchy citrus bites of joy, and unexpectedly wonderful for a first attempt at a tentatively drafted recipe.

I felt there could still be improvement, however, so the next time I tweaked it a little - and as a result, I baked a delightfully gourmet tray of blood orange shortbread, zestier, softer and crumblier than my first batch of cookies. Simon and his housemates were my taste-testers, and this version was the clear winner - not only by way of verbal confirmation, but also in the telling manner of how they disappeared even more swiftly, one after another, in quick succession. Encouraged, I'm sharing this recipe with you.

But wait, there's more! This is not your typical shortbread. In addition to the sensuous blood orange, it is also made with extra virgin olive oil, which imparts a light, lilting elegance that sings and twinkles and kisses. Yes, it's a vegan shortbread! - and one so beguiling, you can bake it to impress vegans and non-vegans alike. Or enjoy, sneakily, quietly, just by yourself.

The lush, dramatic appearance of a sliced blood orange.

Blood orange and olive oil dough, ready to go into the oven.

Blood oranges have a short season, so if they are not available, feel free to use regular oranges instead. It'll still be delicious!

blood orange and olive oil shortbread

1/8 cup blood orange juice (30ml)
1 tablespoon blood orange zest
1/4 cup olive oil (60ml)
1/2 cup icing sugar (55g) aka powdered/confectioner's sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour (105g)
1/2 cup cornstarch (65g)

Combine blood orange juice, blood orange zest, olive oil, sugar, salt in a bowl. Whisk well.
Mix the flour and cornstarch together in a separate bowl.
Add in the flour mix to the liquid mix, and stir with a wooden spoon until you form a dough. Knead with your hands and divide into about 6 chunks. Roll each chunk into a ball, then into a log of about 3.5cm / 1.5" in diameter. This dough will be soft, oily and moist, making it quite difficult to shape - but do persevere!
Wrap up the logs in baking paper, and place them in the freezer for 45 minutes.
Retrieve the logs from the freezer and slice into pieces of about 0.6cm / 1/4" thickness.
Arrange the pieces on a baking tray lined with baking paper. They don't really spread out so you can put them close together, as long as you still allow for some breathing space.
Bake at 160C fan-forced (or 180C conventional) for 15 - 18 minutes, depending on how you like them. I am quite partial to a hint of toasty brown around the edges!

Good stuff... vegan blood orange shortbread, made with olive oil.

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