Thursday, 29 December 2016

mango-cherry cocktail-smoothie

A cider-spiked cherry-studded mango smoothie. A delicious seasonal drink for New Year's Eve in Australia!

I am no stranger to making cocktails that masquerade as smoothies. See: this raspberry-cucumber cocktail from 2011, and this lemon-jasmine-banana cocktail that followed in 2012. What can I say? I'm a smoothie fanatic, and I'm a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. So cocktail-smoothies, or smoothie-cocktails, well... they just work, for me. They're my perfect festive holiday drink!

Mangoes and cherries always appear prominently in the shops around Christmas and New Year's in Australia, so this time around, my creation is a fruit-a-licious cherry-studded mango cocktail with a subtle hint of alcoholic effervescence from apple cider (hard cider, for my North American readers). I downed the whole glass, and after the initial refreshing hit of coolness, it gave me just the right amount of warm and fuzzy, with no ill effects. Success!

Mango-cherry cocktail-smoothie.

mango-cherry cocktail-smoothie
(serves 1)

1 cup mango
6 cherries, pitted (more for a stronger cherry flavour)
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 cup hard apple cider or sparkling wine

Blend mango, cherries and lime juice with 1/2 cup water and 2 ice cubes. Pour into a glass, use a nice fancy one if you're feeling sophisticated. Top up with apple cider or sparkling wine. Sip it slowly or quaff it quickly - it's up to you!

Note 1: I used frozen diced mango and fresh cherries. I recommend that at least some of the fruit you use in this smoothie-cocktail be of the frozen variety, to ensure the end result is pleasingly icy-cold.

Note 2: If you prefer a non-alcoholic drink, feel free to use sparkling apple juice instead of apple cider to make this a mocktail!

Note 3: If you require this to be vegan-friendly, make sure that the alcohol you use has not been processed with animal products.

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Sunday, 11 December 2016

cookbook review: saraban - a chef's journeys through persia

Saraban cookbook by Greg and Lucy Malouf.

I have finally stopped procrastinating, and here is my final cookbook review for the year! Following my review a couple months back of Turkish cookbook Turquoise, I'm back with a review of Persian cookbook Saraban from the same authors, Greg and Lucy Malouf.

As we transit from spring to summer, the simple recipe for this refreshing beverage, dugh, caught my eye. This is a savoury yoghurt drink - called dugh in Iran, but known by other names in different countries - I've had it at a Turkish eatery, where it was called ayran, so I already knew I would like it.

Dugh is basically just yoghurt diluted with water and combined with salt - the one I had at the Turkish place used still water, but for this particular recipe, it called for carbonated water, which intrigued me. It also included lemon or lime juice, as well as dried mint - I processed my own by microwaving fresh mint until the leaves are crisp and dry and easily crumbled.

The trick to making a good dugh is to not be too shy with the salt. I don't advise going crazy with it, but you definitely want the brightness of the salt coming through to complement the sourness of the yoghurt. Done right, it's really uplifting on a hot day!

Dugh, a sparkling salted, minted yoghurt drink - also known as ayran, lassi, or tan in various regions.

The other recipe I tried from Saraban was the one for kuku-ye sibzamini - Persian potato cakes spiced with cumin, turmeric and black pepper, and studded with garlic chives and coriander leaves. I have to confess that I veered away from the ingredients quite a bit in this one, due to a desire to work with just what I already have - so I used cumin seeds instead of ground cumin, substituted spring onions for garlic chives, and completely omitted the self-raising flour.

I have to say, too, the Saraban recipe has left me quite curious about the taste of an authentic kuku-ye sibzamini - and whether the dominant element should be the potatoes or the eggs. For example, it calls for two desiree potatoes, but does not give any indication of the approximate size or weight of the potatoes. One would presumably then go for medium-sized, but even that can be subjective, so the results could turn out differently, depending on your choice of potatoes! Also, "kuku" is often described to be a frittata-like concoction, and therefore more of an egg dish - but the English title of "potato patties" muddies the waters yet again. Or in other words, I think too much.

Fortunately, despite my delinquent detours, the ambiguity of the recipe, and the perplexing internal debate, my batter held together - just, and the results were delicious.

Kuku-ye sibzamini - Persian potato patties with herbs and spices, served with a dollop of yoghurt.

Like Turquoise, Saraban is a visually stunning cookbook - I dare say it is even more exquisite, with its sumptuous colours and intricate cutout details - and certainly does a great job of showcasing Iran as a luscious, compelling travel destination. I couldn't help but marvel at interesting fare such as the koofteh tabrizi (giant meatballs stuffed with fruit and nuts), though I don't think I have the fortitude to attempt that dish. The recipe for ash-e sak (spinach soup with little meatballs), on the other hand, looks a lot less daunting, and I might quite possibly try it someday. Another one that could be up my alley is the mahi-e mast-gerdu - yoghurt-baked fish with walnut-herb crumbs.

Anyway, we shall see. I talk often here about perhaps doing this or that, but let's face it, I am not the most industrious person around, as per my blog name. Hey, at least I managed to fulfill my 2016 new year's resolutions in regards to reviewing my neglected cookbooks, right? So, you know... there's hope! :)

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Sunday, 20 November 2016

day trip to rottnest island: quokkas and more!

The quokka's irresistible signature smile.

Earlier last month, Simon and I did a day trip to Rottnest Island. It was my first time there, and also Simon's, even though he grew up in Perth! So it was all rather exciting. We'd seen the popularity of quokka selfies on the internet, and we were all wrapped up in the giddy anticipation of getting our first real-life glimpse of these adorable marsupials.

So I went there thinking all I wanted to see was quokkas, and I did and it was everything I could hope for -  but you know what, I fell in love with more than that.

One of the many salt lakes at Rottnest Island. Quite sure this one is Pink Lake, though it may possibly be Lake Negri.

But let's get back to the beginning.

First, we hopped on a ferry at Fremantle. Here's my first tip - there is usually some deal going on, so check the ferry operator websites and book according to the instructions to secure your special rates. You could potentially score a free ride for your birthday, or highly discounted fares on Tuesdays, for example! My second tip? The ocean may or may not play nice - our ferry trip over there made me feel quite ill, while the trip back was perfectly fine - so, get your seasickness remedies ready, just in case.

Ducklings stroll through the colourful vegetation at Rottnest Island. Awesome camouflage!

You can book a bicycle at the same time you book your ferry, which is cheaper and more convenient, but the ferry company had run out of bikes, so we just went to a rental bike shop upon arrival. This probably actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me as a petite person, as the store had a great selection, so I went through the options Goldilocks-style and it meant that I got to pick out just the right size helmet and bike for me. Oh, yeah, and upon walking our bikes out of the shop, we saw our first quokkas right then and there! And, um, yeah, we spent too much time hanging out with those quokkas because we were afraid that they would be our only quokka sightings for the day. But moving on...

We started cycling around Rottnest Island, and seriously, it took my breath away. It was so beautiful everywhere we went, I think I might be bold enough to say that this is the prettiest place I've ever visited in Australia.

I loved the gorgeous red and green vegetation...

Lush samphire at Rottnest Island.

 And the beautiful blue ocean waters...

Fabulous ocean views at Rottnest Island.

But as we cycled along, I did get a little bit concerned, as other than our initial sighting of quokkas outside the bike shop, we haven't really seen many others hopping around. Additionally, Rottnest Island is quite hilly, and as someone who rarely cycles, at certain points, despite all the beauty around me, I couldn't help but bleat plaintively.

This is a selection of oft-quoted phrases whilst I cycled around the island. "There are 12,000 quokkas on this island, where are they?" "Come out and love us, quokkas!" And during my strenuous uphill battles - "This is killing me..." "I'm so tired..." "I'm dying..."

Oh, and "Strugglesome..." a new made-up word coined by Simon that I adopted with gusto.

The hilly paths of Rottnest Island are perhaps not the most ideal for unfit cyclists like me.

We packed bananas, almonds, and water for this day trip, and after a couple of hours exploring the island on bike, we were ready to plonk ourselves down for a good resting and snacking session. We did just that at the Nancy Cove beach, taking in sweet views of Green Island as we rejuvenated ourselves.

The beach at Nancy Cove has a great view of Green Island.

With newfound energy, we continued on our merry way. More scenic loveliness ensued.

Sensational views at Little Salmon Bay, Rottnest Island.

It was mid-afternoon when we stumbled upon another party of quokkas. Look, I have no idea what the collective noun is for quokkas, but they're so cute that my heart does a little dance when I see them, so a party sounds appropriate.

At the time we went - the month of October - we saw some young quokkas hopping around, and they are so adorable! If you want to see baby quokkas still in their mothers' pouches, then probably May to August would be a better time to visit the island. But really, they're cute at any age, so I'd say you can't go wrong as long as you go on a day with decent weather.

Ridiculously cute quokka at Rottnest Island.

Other animals we met that day included a dugite (a venomous snake) by the side of the road - I didn't take a picture because I was paranoid that the click of the camera would trigger it to come after me, haha! - and we also observed a few dark and glossy king skinks, I find them to be so sleek and handsome.

A king's skink at Rottnest Island.

Eventually we returned to the main town area of Rottnest Island, gave back our bikes, and strolled around looking for something to eat. If I recall correctly, we got the burnt caramel with salty caramel swirl and the rum and raisin at Simmo's, and both were delicious.

Ice cream from Simmo's Icecreamery at Rottnest Island.

We also found a grassy area to sit down to eat our Subway sandwiches... and it was then and there that we found out that the Rottnest Island town area is where the naughty quokkas hang out and try to pry food off humans, and they can be quite aggressive about it!

And look, I would love to share if I could, but giving them human food and even water is actually very bad for them, and can lead to not only an unnatural dependence but also cause health issues and reduce their lifespan, and they are a vulnerable species as it is. So don't feed the quokkas! We actually got involved in a full-blown tug-of-war with a belligerent quokka who wouldn't take no for an answer in our efforts to adhere to this rule, and while he may have managed to steal a nibble in the process, we won in the end. Sorry, quokka! We're just looking out for you!

Boat and ocean - a tranquil scene at Rottnest Island.

I am so glad that we did this day trip to Rottnest Island, and I would love to go back again someday. I'd heartily recommend it to anyone - if you live in Perth, or if you're visiting for a holiday - whatever. It's truly an iconic destination of Western Australia.

What are your thoughts on Rottnest Island? Feel free to share in the comments section below!

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Thursday, 10 November 2016

raspberry goji smoothie

A super-delicious raspberry goji smoothie.

My love for smoothies continue, and this raspberry goji smoothie is my latest favourite creation.

It's funny how goji berries have, in recent years, become a darling in the Western world, lauded for its superfood powers and making endless appearances in smoothie bowls on Instagram. Growing up in our Asian household, goji berries are typically used in savoury soups and herbal teas, and I'll be honest, I was never a big fan, but upon the coaxing of my mum - "they're good for you, good for the eyes" - I'd reluctantly eat them, and at the end of the day, I didn't mind them that much.

Anyway, I purchased a packet of dried goji berries earlier this year - not because I was craving them, not because of their health benefits - but because I wanted to enter some health food competition thing to win a free holiday. Spoiler - I did not win the competition, and all I had afterwards, then, was this bag of goji berries and I had to come up with various ideas for consuming them.

I threw these goji berries into my muesli, added them to my ginger tea. I blended them up in various smoothies, too, but it wasn't until I made THIS smoothie that it felt like everything just fit together. My lost and aimless goji berries have finally found their home.

Dried goji berries for a goji berry smoothie.

raspberry goji smoothie 
(serves 1)

1 small banana
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon goji berries
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup water

- Blend all the ingredients together, adding more water if necessary if you would like a thinner consistency.
- Forget about what is a superfood and what isn't, and just enjoy the super-deliciousness of this smoothie.

Intensely red raspberry smoothie with goji berries.

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Monday, 31 October 2016

a little trip to melbourne

We spent a lot of time with my uncle/aunt/cousin's cat in Melbourne!

Wow, it feels like October is over before it's begun! It's true, time does fly when you're having fun! Simon and I spent ten days in Melbourne this month, and it's been great just lazing around, and catching up with friends and family while we were there.

We had quite an indulgent time, food-wise. Dinner on the first night were these delicious home-cooked lobster noodles.

Chinese-style lobster noodles.

A big batch of bak kut teh (pork ribs in herbal broth) was also cooked at some point, and I turned the leftovers into a vegetable-studded bak kut teh noodle soup.

Bak kut teh with vegetables and thick rice noodles.

We spent most of our time out in the suburbs with my parents and relatives, but we did also manage to catch up with a few friends while we were there.

I caught up with my ex-colleagues, and we had a nice lunch at Nara Thai. My chilli-basil pork with rice was gratifyingly spicy, and I enjoyed chatting with everyone at the table and getting all the latest news!

Stir-fried chilli and basil pork with rice on the side at Nara Thai Restaurant in South Melbourne.

Delightful conversation flowed over a delicious Indian dinner with our friends at Mukka in Fitzroy. I was particularly charmed by the bhel puri, a salad-like snack consisting of puffed rice, Indian snack mix and crunchy chickpea vermicelli, pomegranate, tomato, onion, lime, tamarind and mint.

The intriguing and delectable bhel puri at Mukka Indian Restaurant in Fitzroy.

And we were treated to a pleasingly light and fresh Japanese lunch at Ichi Ichi Ku Izakaya the next day. The sushi here was beautifully made, and the company of our friends was stellar. We only wished there could have been more time to hang out!

Fancy sushi rolls at Ichi Ichi Ku Izakaya in South Yarra.

Since we thought we might be looking at moving back to Melbourne sometime in the future and settling down, we spent one whole day checking out property inspections in the inner-city area. In between it all, we popped by Ba'get for quick and wholesome, cheap and cheerful Vietnamese food - just the thing to fuel us for the day.

Coffee and grilled pork vermicelli bowl at Ba'get Vietnamese Eatery in the Melbourne CBD.

And of course, amidst all the hobnobbing around, we do still always take the time to chill out with the cat, and we made sure he ate well, too.

He loves the mackerel!

Also, while I don't have pictures, my parents made zongzi (large triangular dumplings made with glutinous rice, meat and beans, wrapped in bamboo leaves), and that was awesome. My dad is very good at wrapping these things! He also bought durian for me, yum yum.

In conclusion, it's been fantastic to be back in Melbourne again after more than two years away - and we hope to return soon enough!

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Thursday, 29 September 2016

cookbook review: turquoise - a chef's travels in turkey

Turquoise cookbook by Greg and Lucy Malouf.

My third cookbook review for this year is of Turquoise: A Chef's Travels in Turkey. Written by husband-and-wife team Greg and Lucy Malouf, this beautifully presented hardcover cookbook offers captivating insight into the world of Turkish cuisine, complete with intimately descriptive tales of food adventures that spark feelings of wanderlust.

As per usual, I made a beeline for the simpler recipes. The first one that caught my eye was the recipe for smoky eggplant puree (the Turkish name is not provided in the cookbook, but the internet tells me it's called patlican ezmesi), which had an approachable list of ingredients - eggplant, yoghurt, lemon, olive oil, garlic, mint, and salt. I love, love, love the taste of smoky eggplant, and it is something I have not ever attempted at home - until now.

There were some fiddly aspects to this, but it actually wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as I thought it might be, and as I enjoyed it with some crackers, I daydreamed about how I could wow family and friends with this Turkish smoky eggplant dip in the future by serving it at a dinner party at home, or bringing it to a potluck. My only criticism is that there wasn't quite enough of a smoky flavour, even though I cooked the eggplant the proper way, directly over a naked flame, instead of the cheat's version of baking it in the oven. The recipe says to remove every bit of the skin to avoid bitterness, but I'm flirting with the idea of cautiously including some of the charred bits next time, to see if that helps elevate the smoky taste I so adore.

Smoky eggplant puree (patlican ezmesi) - a delicious dip.

A few days later, I turned my attentions to another easy recipe: the shepherd's spinach (kiymali ispanak in Turkish, according to my online research) attracted me with its friendly simplicity - this is a one-pot meal that doesn't put on any airs.

The recipe from the cookbook serves 4 to 6, and calls for a whopping 1 kilogram of spinach. I scaled it down to make just enough for a single meal. For some reason, the authors appear to have forgotten to include the addition of salt to this dish, but fortunately this was easily remedied, and trust me, a bit of salt makes a huge difference! The use of salt instantly turned this dish from bland to scrumptious, and I was happy with the results. Dotted with lamb, rice, and onions, and seasoned with a touch of tomato paste, paprika, and mint, this shepherd's spinach was rustic, hearty, and satisfying.

Shepherd's spinach (kiymali ispanak) - wholesome comfort food.

There are other recipes from Turquoise I'd love to try someday. Flipping through the pages, the Fish Doctor's stew with black pepper, lemon peel and mint - the authors' interpretation of a dish they ate at a seafood restaurant in Istanbul - looked right up my alley, as does the Beyran soup - an alluring breakfast soup with slow-cooked lamb, garlic and green chillies. And for dessert? I think it's got to be the sticky apricots stuffed with clotted cream. Yep, I think I've definitely convinced myself that I should come back to this cookbook again - and let's face it, when it's one as gorgeous as Turquoise, that's not a bad idea at all.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

ginger-honey poached tamarillo compote

Ginger-honey poached tamarillo slices, served with yoghurt.

All through winter I quietly passed by the box of seductive ruby-red tamarillos every time I shopped at my local grocery store, flirting with thoughts of random tamarillo recipe creations as I did so, but then I would continue to walk on, and that was that. As spring beckoned, however, my adventurous side took charge, and I finally took the leap.

This is my first experience with tamarillos, and I was actually - um - a bit nervous? Off I went to do some online research, and it was probably a good thing I did, as I found warnings about the intense bitterness of the tamarillo skin, and helpful instructions on removing it.

Tamarillo, also known as tree tomato.

So I immersed my tamarillos in a bowl of freshly boiled hot water, and after a couple of minutes, I retrieved them, made a cut at the top with a knife, and managed to peel off the skin without too much of a struggle. As I did so, the luscious scent of passion fruit hit me - oh, divine! Then I sliced up my naked tamarillos, and they looked ever so pretty.

Peeled and sliced tamarillo.

At this point I was still debating whether to have the tamarillos raw or cooked, so I sampled a piece. It tasted kind of like a passion fruit, tomato, and kiwi fruit rolled into one - there is definitely potential for deliciousness here, but for some reason, my tamarillos were more on the tart and bitter side, with not much going on in terms of sweetness.

I decided then and there to poach my tamarillo slices in a ginger-honey syrup, and this did the trick! I ended up with a nice tamarillo compote that paired well with yoghurt for a healthy breakfast - as shown in the pictures - but I have to say, I tried it with vanilla ice cream, too, and I loved that even more. If I am to make just one recommendation, I say go the vanilla ice cream option, you won't be sorry.

ginger-honey poached tamarillo compote

2 tamarillos
2 cm ginger
2 tablespoons honey

Place the tamarillos in a bowl. Boil some water, and pour enough over the tamarillos so that they are fully submerged in hot liquid.
After two minutes, drain off the hot water. Make a cut on the top of the tamarillos, and peel off the skin.
Slice the peeled tamarillos into rounds of about 1cm/0.5" thick.
Peel and thinly slice the ginger, and plonk it into a small pot or saucepan. Add 1/3 cup water, and bring to boil. Turn the heat down and let it all simmer for about 5 minutes.
Stir in the honey, and add the tamarillo slices. Simmer for another 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Discard the ginger.
Allow the compote to cool down slightly before serving it warm with vanilla ice cream, or you can also let it cool down completely before covering it and storing it in the refrigerator for later use.

Ginger-honey tamarillo compote with yoghurt.

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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

simple and wholesome: broccoli and prawn soup

Broccoli and prawn soup.

It is a wonderful thing when your ingredients shine. And the easiest way to achieve this, is to keep things simple, while harnessing all the magic you can with what you've got.

In the case of this broccoli and prawn soup, it's all about the prawn heads. Some people would rather not handle these parts of the animal, but by shying away from them you'd be shortchanging yourself. The flavour you can draw out from these things - it's just fabulous, infusing so much richness and complexity into the soup that you hardly need any other embellishments. I mean, aside from salt, pepper, and water, this is effectively a 3-ingredient soup. Grab the prawns, broccoli, and lemon, and you're set. So here we go...

A lemony prawn and broccoli soup.

broccoli and prawn soup (serves 1)

6 large prawns/shrimp, with shells and heads intact
1 cup broccoli florets
1 wedge of lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Chop off the prawn heads, and remove the shells. Throw the heads and shells into a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.
In the meantime, devein the prawns, and set aside.
When the liquid in the pot is reduced, takes on an orange hue and is wonderfully infused with flavour, discard the prawn heads and shells.
Add the broccoli florets to the prawn stock, and bring it to boil. Let the broccoli cook for 1 minute before stirring in the peeled and deveined prawns. Reduce the temperature and allow the soup to simmer gently for about 3 minutes or until the broccoli is tender-crisp and the prawns are just cooked through. Turn off the heat, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the soup into a bowl, squeeze in some lemon juice, stir with a spoon, and enjoy!

A simple broccoli and prawn soup, with a touch of lemon.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

c restaurant, perth (my first revolving restaurant experience!)

Pleasant views of Perth city and Swan River from C Restaurant.

Given that I work in a restaurant these days, I don't get tempted to dine out as often - but when I saw an online deal for C Restaurant in Perth, I couldn't resist. After all, it is a rare chance that one gets to have a meal at a revolving restaurant for such an affordable price - $49 for a main course and a drink for two. Plus, I'd never been to a revolving restaurant before, and I wanted to try it at least once.

Anyway, long story short, Simon is interstate for work at the moment, so I ended up going with his mum! We took the elevator straight up to the 33rd floor of St Martins Tower, and there we were - in this circular dining space. It rotates slowly, but there is definitely perceptible movement, and I have to confess that I felt a little strange at first. I did settle in eventually, but if you're prone to motion sickness, be warned.

I wasn't sure what to expect - it is generally said that you go to revolving restaurants more for the novelty and the views than for the food - but actually, I really enjoyed my lunch at C Restaurant. I had C’s famous homemade potato gnocchi with spinach, napolitana sauce and gorgonzola cream, and it was a fine example of comfort food done with luxurious elegance - the portion doesn't look that big, but the pillowy gnocchi along with the rich sauce, broiled to a delightful golden-brown, was indulgent enough that I felt happily satisfied afterwards.

C Restaurant's gnocchi with Napolitana sauce, spinach and gorgonzola cream.

Simon's mum had the free-range chicken breast with confit kipfler potatoes, sauteed kale, tomato fondue and gruyere cheese. I tried a little bit of it, and I was impressed by how perfectly cooked the chicken was - I'm generally more of a chicken thigh sort of girl, because I find that to be more succulent, but this piece of chicken breast was wonderfully tender and moist, and the accompanying elements were nicely done, too.

Having said all this, I'm no high-roller so I'm not sure if I could bring myself to pay full price to eat here, but with the online deal, it was definitely great value.

C Restaurant's free-range chicken breast with sauteed kale, tomato fondue, confit kipfler potatoes, and gruyere cheese.

As for the views? At C Restaurant, there is an outer circle seating just by the windows, as well as a slightly elevated inner circle, and we received a table in the latter section. While we didn't get a window seat (hopefully next time!), it was still fun to watch the scenery shift from where we were, over the hour or so that we were there. All in all, an afternoon well spent!

Another view of Perth from the C Restaurant vantage point.

C Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sunday, 31 July 2016

cookbook review: a month in marrakesh

A Month in Marrakesh: A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco.

Another installment in my "neglected cookbook series"! This time around, I explore A Month in Marrakesh, a fun cookbook that takes you on a tour of Marrakesh.

As an indolent cook, one thing I really like about A Month in Marrakesh: A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco, is that it has an abundance of simple recipes. There are also more complicated or time-consuming ones for the more diligent cooks, and I enjoy their inclusion, too - the pictures and recipes are still interesting to look at, and who knows? Maybe one day I will be up for the challenge! I also appreciate the sturdy, hardcover construction of the book. I'm not the daintiest person in the world, so fragile books are a bit scary for me. This one feels reassuringly solid.

If I am to mention downsides, it would be that the layout can appear slightly messy at times, and the easier recipes are narrated paragraph-style, in which the ingredients are not outlined in a list but are incorporated into the instructions. Some people may not regard this as a problem, but I personally find it easier to make shopping lists and prepare stuff when the ingredients are all tidy and structured. Thankfully, for the recipes with more steps and ingredients, it is still done the way I prefer.

Flipping through the cookbook, the recipe for harira soup caught my eye. Even though it calls for more than a dozen ingredients (if you're familiar with the recipes I develop myself, you know I have a penchant for very brief ingredient requirements), I found it to be pleasingly accessible. This is wonderful, nourishing comfort food - lamb, chickpeas, onions and carrots in a stew of tomatoes, fabulously flavoured with lush tablespoons of spices - paprika, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon. The suggestion in the book is to pair this harira soup with flatbread, but I had it with couscous and it was also lovely. I was so charmed that I made it again soon after my first go, and then, yet again. Definitely regular dinner repertoire material.

Harira soup.

I got lazy for a while, so it took me some time to try another recipe from A Month in Marrakesh, but I finally did, and made the stuffed dates from the dessert section. This is a super straightforward recipe, and the stuffed dates make superb snacks - great for gatherings and parties! Though, in my case, I ate them all by myself, one after another, while watching Four Weddings and a Funeral. That also works.

Basically, you get some dates, make an incision, remove the seeds, and pack in a cooked paste of ground almonds, lemon zest, sugar, water, butter and rose water. I didn't have rose water and didn't want to buy a bottle just to make these, so I used a splash of lemon juice instead - which I know is totally different, but hey, I often love a sharp zing of citrus in my desserts, and it definitely delivered here. I will admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I tasted the almond meal concoction on its own - it was edible, but not quite delectable, as far as I was concerned. But somehow, once the almond paste is married to the dates, some kind of synergistic effect takes hold, and I found these stuffed dates to be rather addictive! So, yeah, I like them enough that I think I will probably make them again. Next time, though, it will be to share with other people, not to devour all on my own!

Stuffed dates.

Anyway, that's my review for A Month in Marrakesh. I am happy with the two recipes I've tried, and hopefully I won't neglect this book too much in the years to come - based on my experience so far, I think it's safe to say that there is yet more deliciousness to discover amongst these pages.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2016 gardening update - tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, and more!

Home-grown tomatoes!

So, earlier this year, I said to myself (and to all of you, too) that I'd pursue this gardening thing.

I am happy to report that I did spend quite a bit of time in the garden this year, and it did yield me some lovely edible things in return for my efforts. Hurrah!

Let's start with the tomatoes. I had some plump and delectable medium-sized tomatoes that grew from compost (in the above picture), and also some sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes from the plants that were purchased from the shops (below).

Bite-sized cherry tomatoes.

My first harvest was delightful. I never knew that freshly picked tomatoes could be so aromatic - when I sliced up those bigger ones, the savoury scent of tomato was a revelation. Amazing. Speaking of which, I was also very fond of the scent of tomato leaves, which is similar. How would I describe it - it's like the taste of tomato, but for your nose. Just glorious.

Unfortunately, a brutal heat wave followed soon after, and then, autumn came along. I did manage to get a few more tomatoes after the initial batch, but they weren't as tasty, due to the weather conditions.

But I will always have the memory of that first harvest.

My first tomato harvest! It was so, so good.

I also sowed radish seeds. It was exciting to see the seedlings pop up soon afterwards!

Cherry Belle radish seedling.

And then to watch them grow...

Young radish plant.

While the seed packet suggested that my radishes (of the Cherry Belle variety) would be ready for harvest in 3 - 4 weeks, I found that if I left them in for a bit longer, they did get more voluptuous. In my case, they were still quite slender after a month, as seen in this picture - perhaps the growing conditions weren't optimal? But delicious nevertheless. And I ate the radish leaves, too - they're quite bitter raw, but once you cook them, they're quite mild and pleasant!

Also, there was a rat stealing my tomatoes and radishes at one point! I learned very quickly I had to pick the fruit as soon as they are just ripe, before the thief got to it - or to be even safer, cover up my plants! Such are the trials and tribulations of being a gardener.

A small Cherry Belle radish about 3 - 4 weeks after sowing the seeds.

Some cucumber seedlings also started emerging enthusiastically in late summer, but by the time they flowered, it was autumn, so I think the timing was too late - I never got any fruit out of them. However, did you know that you can eat cucumber leaves - which actually taste a lot like cucumber? I picked some of the younger cucumber leaves, sliced them up, wilted them in a noodle stir-fry - and I loved it! So much so that I'd be happy to grow cucumber again, even if it's only for the leaves!

Young cucumber plant.

And I scattered lettuce seeds into the garden, too, and this produced a mix of green and red lettuce. I watered them diligently, and they rewarded me by getting bigger and bigger. Annoyingly, however, keeping the soil nice and moist meant that oxalis weeds (seen here - the ones that look like clover) thrived as well. The good news is, oxalis is edible. The bad news is, they're very high in oxalic acid, and therefore can only be consumed in tiny quantities before you venture into potentially hazardous territory. The ugly news is, they're very persistent and will take over the garden any chance they get!

My lettuce patch!

Then there is what we call rocket here in Australia, otherwise known as arugula in America. If you like rocket, I highly recommend that you give growing it a go. I found them to be easy - once you nurture the plants past the youthful stages, they flourish with gusto, and seem pretty hardy and resilient. I really enjoyed picking the rocket leaves every so often, and using them in my various culinary endeavours.

Salad rocket, also known as arugula. The scientific name is eruca sativa.

Last but not least - there are always little surprises here and there when tending to a garden. I had a couple of unknown plants pop up after some rainy days in autumn - aren't the blossoms pretty? If any of you can identify either of these plants, please feel free to do so in the comments!

Unknown plant with purple flower in Perth, Australia.

Unknown plant with pink flower in Perth, Western Australia.

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