Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sweet Potato Molasses Muffins

Mid-November does not equal fall here in the Antipodes, but with all of the recipes and photos online of pumpkin, spice-filled delights, this American is craving a little Thanksgiving flavor.  I wish I'd made these last week when my wonderful parents-in-law were in town, but between birthday celebrations, watching the hubs perform at the Opera House (yep, he's pretty amazing), and visiting Sydney's best beaches and restaurants, we didn't have a chance.

The mum-in-law and I did combine our collective baking skills to recreate a family favorite cake of hers: chocolate yum cake.  We baked a gluten-free chocolate spice cake in a bundt pan, covered it with a mixture of honey, cream, and poppyseeds, and slathered a melted chocolate layer over the top. If she gives permission I may post a version here, it's different and delicious.

Back to fall flavors... I had half of a sweet potato and a ripe banana I needed to use up, so I scanned the web for muffin recipes and ended up adapting Kathy's vegan cinnamon pumpkin muffins over at HealthyHappyLife. The results were perfect: beta carotene blast from the sweet potato, aromatic spices, and the deep undertones of molasses.  Plus, these muffins have a great texture and bake up nice and tall.
SouthernSpoon blog: sweet potato molasses muffins
sweet potato molasses muffins hot out of the oven

They can easily be made gluten-free by using all g-f flour, and vegan by using almond or soy milk in place of the dairy milk. Happy fall to folks in the northern hemisphere!
SouthernSpoon blog: sweet potato molasses muffins

Sweet Potato Molasses Muffins
adapted from HappyHealthyLife
makes 12 muffins

2 cups flour (I used approx. 1 c spelt flour, 1 c gluten-free blend, and few teaspoons almond meal)
pinch of ground sea salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 tablespoon natural or brown sugar
1 1/4 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
1/4 cup skim milk (or almond milk, soy milk, etc)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons agave or brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 'flax egg' (1/4 cup warm water + 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds, let sit, stir till thick)
1/4 cup mashed ripe banana (or applesauce)
2 tablespoons rice bran oil (or other vegetable oil)

Preheat oven to 175C / 350F, and line a muffin tin with muffin cups or squares of parchment paper. Spray the inside of each paper liner lightly with oil.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl (flour through sugar).  In a medium sized bowl, mix the wet ingredients thoroughly (milk through oil).

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients.  If you're baking with gluten-free flours, there's no need to worry about overmixing (as you won't activate the gluten which can make the mixture tough), but if you're baking with gluten-containing flours, be sure to just mix until ingredients are incorporated, even if a few lumps of flour remain.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin, filling almost to the top.  Bake at 175C / 350F for 18-23 minutes, until done.  There should be a crisp, thick outer shell, and no crumbs should remain on a toothpick when inserted.  Allow to cool before serving.

These will keep for a couple of days, covered, at room temperature, or can be frozen and reheated in the microwave at 80% power for 15 second intervals.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Simple Salads: a Mango-Lime Slaw, and a Salmon, Feta, Chickpea, and Caper salad

Last Saturday night we had our first dinner-on-the-balcony of the season! The high was 80F at noon, and though it's still pretty cool overnight, it was just pleasant enough to dine outside.  I've had a few salad ideas pinned for the past few weeks and finally got around to gathering the (simple) ingredients to make a couple last weekend.

Our grill is out of gas at the moment, but I knew we'd want shrimp/prawns for our first dinner al fresco.  I got the last 1/2 kilo of big, fresh whole prawns from the fishmonger and stopped by the fruit/veg shop nextdoor to grab cabbage, mango, and limes to make a spicy-sweet, tropical slaw from Sprouted Kitchen.  This stuff was delicious!
Southern Spoon Blog: mango and lime cabbage slaw
mango and lime cabbage slaw, topped with sesame seeds
I decided to add some shredded carrot for color, halved the amount of honey (thought it might be a little sweet for our taste with a whole tablespoon), used a combo of Cholula and cayenne pepper in place of the ancho chile powder (hard to come by in Australia, thank goodness the stores here stock Cholula), and topped it with a sprinkle of sesame seeds rather than macadamia nuts.  It tasted great with our garlic-lime pan-fried prawns and a few cornbread muffins.

Sunday dinner I threw together this salmon salad with crumbled feta, chickpeas, and crispy capers that I've been eyeing from Sydney foodie-photography blogger What Katie Ate.  Her cookbook just hit the shelves here, and I've been inspired by her low-fuss, good-time-entertainment food focus. This salad was the easiest thing in the world, and so delicious.  Rather than poach salmon fillets, I just used a small package of smoked salmon, tearing it into strips.  I added a big handful of lightly steamed broccoli that I needed to use up.  I didn't bother pan frying the capers to crisp them up, just threw the capers directly onto the salad after rinsing them.  Forgot to get horseradish, so I improvised and made a dressing out of mustard, apple cider vinegar, and a little natural yogurt, thinning it out with some water.  The hubs absolutely loved this salad (direct quote: 'It's really filling and tasty, not just leaves and sh**. We should make this again').  Definitely going in our rotation for easy meals this summer.
Southern Spoon blog: salmon salad with feta, chickpeas, and capers
salmon salad with feta, chickpeas, and capers and a tangy mustard dressing

Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets

Friday nights in October the hubs and I have joined hundreds of Sydneysiders for the best selection of noodles this side of Chinatown.  As part of the annual Sydney Food Festival, some of the city's best-loved southeast Asian restauranteurs set up stalls around the perimeter of Hyde Park and invited the city to dinner.  Tables and rattan chairs, Chinese lanterns, live music, and a dancing dragon enhance the mood.
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
Night Noodle Markets, Sydney Food Festival
After scoping the stalls on the first night, we picked up shrimp skewers, Japanese seafood noodle stirfry, and a steaming plate of Thai massaman curry.  The spices were incredible-- I found a whole star anise pod in the curry-- an impressive feat considering the dishes were cooked for the masses in 5-foot diameter metal pans over open flames.  We then indulged in local, organic ice cream: black sesame, chocolate explosion, and a mouthwatering salted palm sugar. The salted palm sugar knocked our socks off with its beautiful toffee flavor.
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
fresh Thai chicken panang curry
The following Friday the hubs stuck with his trusted Japanese seafood noodles (plus an octopus pancake on a stick!), while I tried a Thai chicken panang curry.  This was the freshest curry I've ever had in my life!  Crisp and bright veg, aromatic sauce with whole Thai basil sprigs, and just a few strips of poached chicken over fluffy basamati rice. Again, the flavors were pretty miraculous considering the enormous pans used to prepare food for a crowd. We couldn't stay away from the ice cream stall, and this time tried honey and burnt fig with our salted palm sugar scoop: amazing.
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
salted palm sugar ice cream (the hubs photobombing)
For the final night noodle markets we met up with some friends to share the love.  The hubs kept it Aussie-style with crispy battered and fried calamari, shrimp, and crab, served with slices of lime and red chilis.  I had to have the panang curry one last time, it was even tastier.  Our friends helped themselves to a variety of dim sum and were pleased with their choices.  We all stayed late to watch the neon strobes light up the palms and flowering jacarandas and see the flying foxes wing their way over the park towards the North Shore. Can't wait for next year's Food Festival!  Keep an eye out for public food festivals in your city, especially those with a regional focus, and take along your adventurous tastebuds : )
Southern Spoon blog: Sydney Food Festival: Night Noodle Markets
Night Noodle Markets, Sydney Food Festival

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wedding Cakes! (Almond Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar Filling, and Triple-Berry Buttermilk Bundt Cake Frosted in Coconut)

Last weekend I was invited to contribute to the hubs' best friend's wedding by helping out with the wedding cakes.  Very exciting!  And my first 'wedding cake' attempt.  The bride decided she wanted a table of homemade cakes to which everyone could help themselves.  Love this idea, and it's the same thing my brother and his wife did for their beautiful Louisiana wedding (my mom's famous peach cobbler featured there).  The Aussie bride had already lined up a few of her soon-to-be-hubs' grandmother's famous ginger loafs, her maid of honor's mother's chocolate cake, and a lemon-lime citrus cake.  I spent a little while perusing my favorite cook books and food blogs and finally decided that there had to be at least two bundt cakes if a Texan was contributing to the dessert table.  The plan was to do an amaretto-almond cake from Southern Living and a triple-berry buttermilk cake from Smitten Kitchen.  Both had rave reviews and the pictures online looked divine.


Perth grocery stores at the end of winter/beginning of spring stocked no berries except for blueberries.  Undaunted, I bought a bag of frozen mixed berries and just picked out all of the strawberries so only blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries remained.  The batter was incredible, and I waited eagerly for the cake to bake.  I know from experience to grease and flour a bundt pan within an inch of its life, and some of the SK reviews had mentioned the cake sticking in the pan.  I let the cake cool almost completely before turning it out, and ran a plastic spatula all along the edges of the pan, but a few pieces of stubborn fruit still stuck to the sides.  I picked them off the pan and reattached them to the whole, but the surface of the cake was not smooth like the cake pictured on SK.  My bad for using frozen berries instead of fresh : (  Lesson learned.  Surely, I thought, the thick powdered sugar frosting will cover up any pock marks.


When glazed, this cake looked *nothing* like the beautiful one gracing SK's page.  It may have been the ugliest cake I've ever seen.  In distress, I searched through my sister-in-law's kitchen pantry to find something, anything to fix it.  I'd already baked the first cake, expertly drizzled almond glaze down its sides, and topped it with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.  It was magnificent.  Even after I'd scrapped the Southern Living recipe (amaretto is so expensive!) and gone with a Martha Stewart version instead.  But this triple-berry monstrosity was not presentable.  Not for a wedding, not for a house-warming gift, not for a 2-year-old's birthday party, not anywhere.  With three hours till the wedding, I almost left it on the counter for my sister-in-law's man to devour and baked a chocolate bundt cake instead.


I found a package of shredded coconut in the back of the pantry.  Perfect. Berries and coconut will be fine.  So I covered the entire cake in mountains of coconut, filling in the little holes where the berries had sunk or dislodged with more icing, more coconut.  It was not the most gorgeous cake in the world, but it was no longer the ugliest.  And it was the first to go at the wedding!  I had a small slice of both to taste them (yum), and the next time I turned around and spied the cake table, it was gone, with barely a coconut shred remaining.  Like all weddings, the little stresses in the build-up didn't matter in the end: everyone enjoyed great company, good food and drink, silly pictures and dancing.  It was a fabulous celebration.

Hope you've had time this year to party with those you love and share cake with a crowd in celebration of something wonderful-- a wedding, a birthday, a new life, or a sweet goodbye and good luck.

Southern Spoon Blog: Almond Bundt Cake with Brown Sugar filling
almond bundt cake with brown-sugar almond filling, topped with almond drizzle, sliced almonds, and powdered sugar (Martha Stewart recipe)

Southern Spoon blog: triple berry buttermilk bundt cake topped with lemon glaze and coconut
triple-berry buttermilk bundt cake with thick lemony glaze, dredged in shredded coconut (Smitten Kitchen recipe)

Simple Soy Salmon with Honey-Ginger-Chili Glazed Vegetables

Had an absolute craving for salmon on the way home from work today, and I knew there were some fresh carrots, broccoli, and mushrooms sitting in the fridge.  The resulting dish was an easy combination of ingredients I mostly had on hand (minus the fish), and it was ready in about 20 minutes.  Super weeknight meal: fresh, fast, and satisfying.

At the advice of the hubs, who picked up this tip from his father, I keep a big chunk of ginger root in the freezer at all times.  It comes in handy for quickly spicing up an average meal into something delicious.  Just break or carefully cut off a piece from the frozen chunk, slice the outer layer off, and chop while frozen.

Southern Spoon blog: soy salmon with honey-ginger-chili glazed vegetables
salmon and mushrooms basted with soy, crisp-tender veg glazed with honey, ginger, and chili
During our first year of dating in England, the hubs and I regularly cooked meals together in our tiny, shared graduate student kitchens.  His Dad's honey-soy stir-fry made frequent appearances because it was easy, cheap, and delicious, and it fulfilled the hubs' craving for Australian-Asian food the way homemade fajitas helped my Tex-Mex fix.  I'm sure our respective housemates didn't appreciate the strong smells that billowed from the kitchen, but that stir-fry was one of my favorites.  I've deconstructed it here into a main fish course and side of broccoli and carrots.  The ginger-honey-chili glaze for these vegetables is a winner, and it's a perfect contrast to the salty soy-basted salmon.   I usually have rice in the pantry, but was out this evening.  To make this meal stretch further, just make a pot of fluffy basamati rice and serve the salmon and mushrooms over the rice, with the glazed vegetables on the side.
Southern Spoon blog: soy salmon with honey-ginger-chili glazed vegetables
soy salmon and mushrooms
with honey-ginger-chili glazed broccoli and carrots
Chef's note: one of the best parts of this dish is the salmon skin, so make sure to get fillets that still have the skin on them.  Trust me, even if you don't usually prefer to eat the skin of cooked fish, this recipe might just change your mind.  It cooks up extra crispy as you panfry the fish and soaks up lots of the delicious soy sauce.  Along with the little slices of mushroom in the pan which soak up the soy juices, the skin and mushrooms are little explosions of flavor as you eat the mild, tender salmon.

Simple Soy Salmon with Honey-Ginger-Chili Glazed Vegetables
Serves 3

2 large carrots
1 medium-sized head of broccoli
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (I used rice bran oil)
2 tablespoons honey
1-inch slice of fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (to taste)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 500 g package (about 1 lb) deboned salmon fillets, skin on
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce (make sure to use gluten-free soy sauce if cooking g-f; sub coconut aminos if desired for paleo-friendly)
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Wash and peel the carrots, trim the tops, and wash the broccoli. Chop the carrots into long sticks, about   3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Cut the broccoli into long, thin pieces, slicing each floret in half. Chop the ginger finely.

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to the boil. Add the carrots, cooking for about 3 minutes. Then add the broccoli to the same pot and cook together with the carrots for about 3 more minutes. Drain the vegetables with a colander.

In the same pot (now empty), pour about 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the honey, chopped ginger, chili flakes, and a pinch of sea salt. Bring to low heat, and add the carrots and broccoli back to the pot, tossing gently to coat them with the glaze. Continue to keep the vegetables over low heat while the salmon cooks.

Meanwhile, heat a wide skillet over medium-high heat, coating the bottom with 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add the sliced mushrooms, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down to medium. Push the mushrooms to the edges of the skillet, and coat the bottom of the skillet with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Place the fish fillets, skin side down, onto the skillet, leaving a little space between each fillet if possible. Drizzle the soy sauce over the top of each salmon fillet, and top them off with a few pinches of freshly ground black pepper. Cook fish until just cooked through and opaque, approximately 7-9 minutes.

Serve immediately. Place a fillet of salmon on a plate and garnish with the mushroom slices, arrange glazed broccoli and carrots on the side.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Catching up, and Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges with Cherry Pecan Salsa

Too long since the last blog update...

In the past few months visiting friends, business travel, and family gatherings have filled up free moments.  I've eaten some amazing meals with great company and in fabulous locations (Perth, Cape Town, London)-- just haven't set aside the time to write about them!  I tried ostrich steak for the first time while in Cape Town (superb), and enjoyed fabulous wine in Stellenbosch and the surrounding vineyard-covered region.  The Dutch colonial-style hotel where I stayed near the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town made a mean pumpkin soup topped with coriander-infused popcorn.  The head chef visited my table to ask what I thought.  The recipe was the creation of one of his young, eager chefs, and they had been experimenting with the best herb for the popcorn.  The soup itself was velvety with a spicy kick, and the popcorn lent a bold herb flavor and pleasing crunch-- a winner in my books, and so I told the chef.  

Discovered adorable Bea's of Bloomsbury when meeting a friend for coffee in London.  I had a homey bowl of fresh fruit, muesli, yogurt, and honey to accompany my strong flat white, but I coveted my friend's thick-sliced whole wheat walnut toast spread thinly with butter and marmite.  I enjoyed a blissful dinner-for-one at Kitchen W8 the evening of our wedding anniversary, the only drawback being that the hubs was in the opposite hemisphere!  The informative servers made excellent wine recommendations for my meal choices.  An incredible starter of roasted beet, fig, microgreens, goat's cheese, and olive oil and chestnut purée drizzled salad was followed by pan fried sea bream fillet with garlic purée over a ragout of chickpeas, roasted peppers, and chorizo.  To finish, a bitter chocolate pavé garnished with new season's cherries, toasted buckwheat, and a cabernet sauvignon strawberry sorbet: divine.  

I had a nice and fresh quinoa vegetable salad with roasted eggplant dip (and a pecan-covered brownie) at Gail's Artisan Bakery, and a well-balanced fillet of herb-crusted sea bass with olive risotto, roasted tomatoes, and asparagus at Le Pain Quotidien.  Shared meals outdoors in relatives' gardens, soaking up the last warm rays of English sun, and even helped my cousin-in-law's husband create a side of grits for his slow-cooked lamb shanks (I'd gifted him the Texan grits when I moved to Sydney, fearful of the strict import laws for Australia).  A thoroughly enjoyable visit back to Blighty.    

As for recipes, I'll backtrack to the delicious grilled sweet potato wedges with cherry pecan salsa that I made to accompany our all-American hamburgers and corn-on-the-cob for July 4th.  The recipe can be found here at one of my favorite food blogs, The First Mess.  
Southern Spoon Blog: grilled sweet potato wedges with cherry pecan salsa, from The First Mess
grilled sweet potato wedges with cherry pecan salsa
Fourth of July was mid-winter in Australia, so while we hung the stars and stripes from our balcony, we didn't fire up the barbie for these.  Rather, I steamed them as per the recipe and grilled them on our indoor griddle set over the stovetop.  As a result, a few of the wedges were still a little firm in the centre.  I probably should have steamed them a little longer beforehand since the indoor griddle wasn't as hot as a bar-b-que would have been.  They were very tasty, though, and the cherry pecan salsa was a bright accompaniment to the spicy-sweet wedges.  

Highly recommended as a fun alternative to potato salad, baked beans, or whatever you traditionally serve with burgers.  The salsa would also be perfect over veggie burgers, pork tenderloin, or chicken.  I'll try this recipe again when we enter bar-b-que season (soon)!  More recipes to come... 

Southern Spoon Blog: grilled sweet potato wedges with cherry pecan salsa, from The First Mess

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thai Shrimp Soup with Ginger and Coconut

Before I moved to England my exposure to good southeast Asian food had been woefully inadequate.  The Japanese and Thai restaurants that I visited around the UK made up for lost time, and here in Australia this type of cuisine is even more abundant.  The balance of flavors achieved by combining salty, spicy, sweet, and vinegary components is now something I really enjoy.  Our access to fresh seafood is also a catalyst for making southeast Asian-inspired meals on a weekly basis.
Southern Spoon Blog: Thai Shrimp Soup with Ginger and Coconut
spicy red thai curry shrimp soup with ginger and coconut milk
This soup combines the strong flavors of fresh ginger and spicy red thai curry paste with a mild coconut milk.  Lime juice adds that perfect vinegary touch, and the noodles make it a filling dinner option.  You could easily substitute broken up fillets of fresh fish or even cooked rotisserie chicken for the shrimp, and also cooked white or brown rice for the noodles.  If you don't have fish sauce, substitute a tablespoon of soy sauce instead.

Requiring only one pot (and therefore minimal clean-up), this soup is perfect for a quick weeknight meal.  I made some when we had a friend from out of town dine with us a couple of weeks ago, serving it family style from a large soup tureen (heated in the oven before serving to keep the soup warm).  Everyone helped themselves to seconds, and it matched beautifully with a light pinot noir.  Enjoy!

Thai Shrimp Soup with Ginger and Coconut
Serves 4

4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
12 oz flat rice noodles
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, very finely diced
1 cup fresh green beans, washed and chopped into 2 inch pieces
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (white and green parts)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste (to taste)
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup fresh baby spinach, washed
2 cups (1 lb) large, peeled shrimp (fresh, or thawed if frozen)
2-4 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil (to taste)
juice from half a lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Green onion strips and additional lime wedges to garnish (optional)

In a large pot on medium-high heat, bring the chicken (or vegetable) broth, noodles, mushrooms, bell pepper, green beans, green onions, ginger, brown sugar, fish sauce, and red curry paste to a low boil.  Reduce heat to low-medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Carefully pour in the coconut milk and add the spinach and peeled shrimp.  Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes, until shrimp are pink.  Remove from heat and stir in the fresh basil and lime juice.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with long, thin curls of green onion and a lime wedge.  Serve hot.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Almond Honey Pear Spiced Oatmeal

Twice in the past two weeks I've had oatmeal (aka porridge) as a non-breakfast meal.  I made pumpkin and pecan spiced oatmeal for an easy Sunday dinner (after over-indulging on high tea at the Queen Victoria Building tea rooms--see blurry pic below--a beautiful treat from my sister-in-law and her man when they came to visit), and I made today's recipe for a late lunch this weekend.
Southern Spoon Blog: high tea at the Queen Victoria Building, Sydney
perfect high tea at the Queen Victoria Building, Sydney
I never leave myself enough time to make oatmeal in the mornings, going instead for cold milk and cereal (loving Oatbrits right now), or vegemite and avocado spread on multigrain toast.  But whenever I make a hearty oatmeal for a quick weekend lunch or dinner, I always save some for breakfast the next morning--then kick myself for not making it my first meal of the day more often.  This almond-honey-pear-spiced oatmeal, made with water, a little coconut milk, and served with an additional dash of coconut milk, is truly delicious, and gluten-free, diary-free, and (almost) vegan (use rice bran syrup in place of honey for vegan).  It tastes just like Autumn, and fills you up good.  
Southern Spoon blog: almond honey pear spiced oatmeal
apples or pears, spices, raisins and currants, almonds, and honey
Make sure to prepare the oatmeal with water first, adding the coconut milk only at the end so that it doesn't heat too much and make the oatmeal super-sticky.  I prepared mine with an electric stovetop, if you're cooking with gas use a medium gas heat and watch the mixture carefully.  
Southern Spoon blog: almond honey pear spiced oatmeal
autumn in a bowl: almond honey pear spiced oatmeal with coconut milk
The pictures show a batch made with diced apples because my pears weren't quite ripe enough, but pears are my favorite addition for their soft texture.  I used a combination of raisins and currants, but any dried fruit will do (cranberries, chopped dried apricots, etc, just make sure they're preservative free).  For another Autumn-inspired version, add a couple tablespoons of baked and mashed pumpkin or sweet potato.  Serve with an extra dash of coconut milk and a little drizzle of honey.

Almond Honey Pear Spiced Oatmeal
two lady-like servings, or one man-sized serving

1/2 cup rolled oats (make sure they're gluten-free if cooking g-f)
1 cup water
half a peeled pear (or apple)
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup raisins and/or currants
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
good dash of ground ginger
dash of allspice
little pinch of nutmeg
pink of freshly ground sea salt
1/4 cup coconut milk, divided (can use regular or light coconut milk)
1-2 teaspoons honey, to taste (plus another drizzle to serve)

Please the oats and the water in a small saucepan, turn the heat to medium-high.  Dice the pear and coursely chop the almonds.  Add the pear, almonds, raisins/currants, and spices (including salt) to the oatmeal.  

Heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on the mixture, and as soon as it starts to bubble turn the heat down to low.  Add most of the coconut milk, reserving about a tablespoon.  Stir for another minute, then remove from the heat.  Stir in 1-2 teaspoons honey, to taste.  

Serve hot, with the remaining coconut milk and a little additional honey drizzled on top.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Marinated Tempeh Stir-Fry

Tempeh is my new favorite protein to use when preparing a vegetarian dinner. The flavor of the fermented soybeans is well-suited to simple stir-frys, and the consistency is nothing like the soft or crumbly tofu I've had in the past. The first time I served it and asked the hubs what he thought, he responded 'I'm still not convinced this isn't meat' (as he devoured his bowl).  Ace.  

I usually make a variation on a theme of the recipe below, swapping out whatever vegetables I have on hand, and changing the flavor profile by adding sushi vinegar, basil, onions, fish sauce (sparingly!), etc.  So take this as a blueprint and go wild, using whatever marinade/sauce and vegetable combos you feel like.  Make sure your soy sauce and any other sauces or seasoning are gluten-free if you're cooking g-f.  

Southern Spoon blog: marinated tempeh stir-fry
marinated tempeh and fresh vegetable stir-fry

I've served this with both rice noodles (as pictured above) and rice, and I prefer a combination of brown and white rice.  The natural tang of the tempeh and the added marinade can be intense-- the rice does a good job of absorbing and more evenly distributing the strong flavors.  You might also try using a thinner Asian noodle, adding a teaspoon of rice bran or sesame oil after they are cooked to keep them from sticking.

I'm sure tempeh would also work well in a Thai-inspired soup or a Moroccan-style tagine, though I'm too hooked on this stir-fry at the moment to experiment with anything else.  Give it a go and see what you think-- it's a delicious alternative to the bean-based meatless meals we tend to turn to.  

Marinated Tempeh Stir-Fry
3-4 hearty servings

1 package tempeh (regular or your preferred grain mix, not pre-marinated)
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons sushi vinegar, sake, or rice wine vinegar
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
2 cups chopped fresh green beans
1 red bell pepper (capiscum)
Additional vegetables as desired (baby spinach, mini corns, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, etc.)
Additional seasoning as desired (1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, juice from 1/4 of a lime, 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes, etc.)
3 cups hot, cooked rice (white, brown, or combination) or thin Asian noodles

Chop the tempeh into 1 cm cubes, and place in a shallow dish.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and the sushi vinegar over the tempeh, tossing to coat. Leave to marinate while you chop the vegetables.

Finely chop the onion and garlic, then coursely chop or thinly slice the remaining vegetables you'd like to add to the stir-fry.  

Coat a wok or large skillet with a good spray of olive oil (adding a teaspoon of sesame oil if you have it), and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the vegetables and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, sauteeing for about 6-7 minutes, then the garlic, tossing evenly.  At this point, you may add a tablespoon of oyster sauce, a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of chili flakes, and/or the juice of a 1/4 of a lime, if desired.

Drain the tempeh and reserve the marinade.  Add the tempeh to the vegetable stir-fry and continue to toss until the tempeh is hot.  At this point, taste the stirfry and see whether you would like a stronger flavor.  If so, add the reserved marinade, a teaspoon at a time, until the desired flavor is achieved.  

Serve immediately over rice.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cajun Chicken and Rice

The weather's cooling down here and the leaves are turning, and I'm craving soups and stews and warm things.  I saw okra in the store yesterday and was immediately inspired to make something rib-stickingly cajun.  We had other plans for dinner, so I put that thought on hold-- and when I went to pick up ingredients this evening on the way home the okra was gone : (  Undaunted, I gathered celery, onion, bell peppers (Aussie 'capsicum') and a pre-roasted chicken and improvised.
Southern Spoon blog: Cajun Chicken and Rice
cajun chicken and rice
(pardon the un-aesthetic photo quickly snapped before dinner!)
After sauteing the chopped veggies with the spices, I poured in some chicken broth and a mixture of cornstarch and water to thicken the mixture.  If you do have okra, add a cup of the chopped vegetable, and halve the amount of cornstarch and water. The mixture will thicken naturally due to the slightly gooey insides of the cooked okra.  (Rather than cornstarch+water, you could add a teaspoon of filé powder if you have it on hand-- the dried, finely-ground sassafras leaves are often used to thicken up gumbo.)  I used a pre-roasted chicken for convenience, but you could also use raw chicken breasts or boneless thighs, adding them after the onions have sauteed for a few minutes.  Sear the chicken for a few minutes on each side, then add the other vegetables and continue to cook as specified below.  Shrimp would also make a tasty substitute.
Southern Spoon blog: Louisiana Wedding
My brother and his wife's perfect Louisiana wedding
My grandfather grew up in a tiny town in Louisiana, and much of my extended family are scattered throughout the state.  I love the seafood and lovingly-prepared home cooking that we enjoy every time we visit.  Exactly a year ago last weekend my brother married a wonderful girl who also has family roots in Louisiana.  A Gatsby-esque estate in Shreveport served as the perfect backdrop for their beautiful, laid-back garden wedding and fabulous reception (complete with every cajun dish you can imagine, spiked sweet tea, and a zydeco band).  Preparing this meal tonight reminded me of what a great time we had celebrating their marriage : )

Make sure you have Tabasco on hand, and laissez les bons temps rouler!

Cajun Chicken and Rice
makes 4 to 5 hearty servings

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (rice bran works well)
1 yellow onion, coursely chopped
3 large stalks of celery, coursely chopped (to make about 1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, coursely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coursely chopped
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms (and/ or 1 cup chopped okra)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (I used a bird's eye chili)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried parsley)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprkia
1/2 teaspoon dried fennel seeds, crushed
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour) + 1 tablespoon water, whisked smooth 
freshly ground sea salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons Tabasco hot sauce (plus more for serving)
4-5 large pieces of chicken from a pre-roasted chicken (bones removed)
3 cups cooked rice (white, brown, or a mixture of both)
lemon wedges to serve (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Add the onion and saute for  4-5 minutes, until it begins to brown.  (If you are using raw chicken, add the chicken pieces now, searing on either side for 2 minutes per side, then leaving the chicken in the skillet while you cook the other veggies).  Add the celery and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the bell peppers and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, until the peppers and celery are slightly softened.  Add the mushrooms (and/or okra) and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic, chili, parsley, oregano, paprika, and crushed fennel seeds, tossing the vegetables for about a minute so that they are evenly coated with the spices.  

Pour in the chicken broth and cornflour+water mixture, stirring carefully. Bring the mixture to a low simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes to allow the liquid to thicken slightly. Season with Tabasco, freshly ground sea salt, and pepper to taste. Add the pre-roasted chicken pieces, turning them carefully to coat them evenly with the sauce.  Turn down the heat to low and stir until the chicken is warmed.   

Place each chicken piece over a serving of rice, topping with the vegetable mixture.  Serve with Tabasco (necessary) and lemon wedges (optional). 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Seasoned Swiss Chard Chips

Kale chips are so hot right now.  I can't find kale anywhere in Sydney, and I've been eyeing the leafy greens looking for a replacement.  I finally realized that the cruciferous stuff in my local grocery store labeled 'silverbeet' is what we in the US (or UK) would call swiss chard-- very similar to kale.  So I carried some of the stuff home (sold with the long stems intact, so it's like walking along the street with a full-sized plant), and tried out some 'chard chips' on the hubs and some houseguests.  We all thought they were the perfect snack after an afternoon down by the ocean: crunchy, salty, well-seasoned, and not guilty-tasting!  Just what you want after seeing a beach full of trim and tan Aussies.  (This post has been in draft form for a while... when I first wrote it the weather was warm enough to spend the day sunning on the beach!)
Southern Spoon Blog: seasoned swiss chard/ kale chips
swiss chard chips seasoned with cumin, chili, and smoked paprika

I adapted these from a Smitten Kitchen recipe for kale chips.  Feel free to use kale or swiss chard, whatever you can find and whatever is in season where you are.  Experiment with your own spice combinations.  We preferred the cumin and chili seasoned batch to the balsamic-rosemary seasoned one, and next time I want to try a cajun batch.  These don't keep for very long, and are a bit hard to chew after the first day they're made.  So as not to let any go to waste, we just sprinkled the leftover chard chips on top of our pasta dinner the next night.  They would also work well as a pizza topper or stir fry add-in. Try some soon!

Seasoned Swiss Chard Chips
makes about 4 cups of chips

1 big bunch swiss chard (silverbeet), or kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

choice of seasonings:
2 teaspoons cumin + 2 teaspoons chili seasoning + 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon dried rosemary + 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Thoroughly wash and dry the swiss chard.  (I submerge it in a big bowl of water, shake it out, lay it out to dry for a while, then blot it with paper towels).  Remove the stems (including the stalk running through the middle of the leaf, otherwise it makes the chips soggy), and chop or tear the leaves into chunky strips.

Swirl the tablespoon of olive oil around in a big bowl.  Add the chopped leaves and mix the leaves around gently to coat them evenly with the oil.  (You may have to split the leaves and oil in half and do one half at a time if you don't have a big enough bowl).  Grind some sea salt and pepper over the leaves, then add your desired seasoning combination. Toss gently to distribute the spices evenly.

Heat oven to 300F/ 150C.  Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper (you will probably need to do two batches to make sure the chips bake evenly).  Spread the chips out evenly in one layer on the prepared baking sheet so that they are not overlapping and barely touching.  Bake for 20 minutes, until the chips are crispy and no moisture remains.  Remove from oven and let cool for a couple of minutes before gently brushing the chips into a bowl to serve.

Serve immediately, or within 4-6 hours of baking.  Swiss chard chips do not keep well longer than one day.  Use any leftovers as an add-in for pasta, pizza, or stir fry.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Homemade Hummus

I try to keep enough snacks on hand at work so that I'm not starving by the time I get home, but I still need to eat something as soon as I walk in the door. Hummus with crackers or carrots is a go-to snack for the hubs and me, and a few scoops are enough to tide us over till dinner. Food is pretty pricey here in Sydney, and hummus ain't cheap at $5-$7 for a small tub. Many brands have preservatives, which we have to avoid, and others really over-do it on the olive oil. So a couple of months ago I bought a jar of tahini and began making hummus.
Southern Spoon blog: homemade hummus
all you need for a batch of healthy hummus
It took a few batches to get the right consistency and flavour, but I've now got a basic recipe down and have begun experimenting with other ingredients (see the Variations below). Sometimes I'll make a double batch, using one can of chickpeas and one of canellini beans for a velvety smooth texture. To change up the flavour, I'll add a few roasted red piquillo or bell peppers with some cumin and paprika, or a spoonful of capers and chopped fresh rosemary.  The basic recipe below has a nice tang from the garlic and lemon.  If you want a more subtle garlic flavor, cover the garlic clove in foil and roast it in an oven at 400F/200C for 15-20 minutes.  Then peel and chop the roasted clove and add it to the mixture in the blender.

A food processor would work best for this, but I just use the blender I have.  I split the ingredients in half, blending one half of everything except the tahini, scraping that half out and setting it aside, then blending the other half.  I then incorporate everything in the blender and add the tahini last to thicken it up.  If you have a food processor (or a better quality blender than mine!), I imagine that throwing everything in at once and blending thoroughly would work fine.  
Southern Spoon blog: homemade hummus
the perfect snack: homemade hummus topped with extra virgin olive oil
and served with multigrain rice crackers.
Serve the hummus topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, accompanied by crackers and fresh veggies for dipping.  Experiment with your own add-ins and seasonings, and thank yourself for saving a little of your grocery budget! 

Homemade Hummus
makes about one and a half cups

1 can chickpeas, rinsed thoroughly and drained (I try to find one without added salt)
zest and juice of one lemon
1 clove garlic, peeled and coursely chopped (roast the whole clove in foil at 400F/200C for 15-20 minutes before peeling and chopping if you prefer a more subtle flavour)
2-4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling on top to serve
1-2 tablespoons tahini (I've been using tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds, which is darker and has a slightly stronger flavour.  Tahini from hulled sesame seeds will work fine, too)
freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste

Place the drained chickpeas, lemon zest and juice, garlic, 2 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a food processor or blender. If following any of the variations, add additional ingredients at this point. (If using a blender, you may find it easier to split the ingredients in half and blend in two separate batches, incorporating everything at the end when you add the tahini). Pulse blend for a few minutes until the chickpeas are almost completely processed, stopping to scrape down the sides with a spatula when necessary.  

If the mixture isn't blending well, add a little more water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture will blend more easily.  

Add the tahini and a bit of freshly ground sea salt and pepper, and give the mixture a final few pulse blends to fully incorporate everything. Add up to another whole tablespoon of tahini if you prefer a thicker texture. Taste test and add a little more salt and pepper as necessary.  

Serve right away, drizzling a little extra virgin olive oil on top, or cover and chill for up to 3 days. Serve with crackers (rice crackers are great), pita or turkish bread, and fresh vegetables for dipping.


Roasted Red Bell Pepper (Capsicum) Hummus: Add 1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper (capsicum) to the chickpeas in the first step of blending. To spice it up, add a little pinch of cayenne pepper or dried chili flakes, and a 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cumin and smoked paprika.
(You can use the roasted, marinated bell pepper strips that come in a jar, or you can also roast your own. De-seed a bell pepper and cut in half, place on a cookie sheet/ baking tray skin side up. Roast under the broiler (grill) in the oven, about 3-4 inches from the heat source, for 3-5 minutes, until softened and skin begins to bubble and slightly blacken.  Remove from oven and place in a sealed plastic bag for a few minutes to cool.  When cool enough to touch, remove peppers from plastic bag and peel off the skin, it should come off fairly easily after cooling in the bag.  Discard skins.)

Smoked Paprika Hummus: add 2-3 teaspoons smoked paprika (to taste) along with the chickpeas in the first step of blending.

Rosemary Basil Hummus (with or without olives): add 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh rosemary, 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh basil, and 2 teaspoons capers (rinsed) to the chickpeas in the first step of blending. If desired, add also a handful of chopped, pitted black olives in the first step of blending.

Curried Hummus: add 2 teaspoons curry powder to the chickpeas in the first step of blending.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Date Spice Cake with Bourbon Glaze

Happy Easter from the southern hemisphere! We are enjoying our luxurious four-day weekend here in Sydney, a much-needed, relaxing break. I've been scoping out deviled egg recipes for days, and it paid off as we feasted on a brunch of three types of deviled eggs, hot cross buns, toast and jam, a big fruit salad, and some chocolate for good measure. I should have made hot cross buns from scratch, but just couldn't summon enough effort during vacation to deal with yeast, rising times, kneading, etc.  Instead we got storebought ones from the local bakery which, after asking them about the ingredients, we discovered contained preservatives : (  one of a few allergies we have to be careful about in the house.  So our houseguest and I went ahead and ate the bakery buns, but I made a special hot cross bun-inspired cake that the hubs could also enjoy.  It's adapted from the lovely one here at Whole Family Fare.

Southern Spoon Blog: Date Spice Cake with Bourbon Glaze
date cake spiced with cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, topped with a bourbon glaze
I was low on cinnamon, so below is double the amount I actually used, but to capture the Aussie hot cross bun taste you'll need it.  I used a mixture of spelt, quinoa, potato flour, and all-purpose organic flour.  Since we'd already indulged on so many deviled eggs, this bundt cake uses a mixture of ground flaxseed and water rather than eggs to help the mixture bind together. Dates and a drizzle of honey through the middle of the batter make wholesome sweeteners, which are enhanced by a sinful glaze of bourbon and powdered sugar : )  I made the cake last night and let it sit overnight at room temperature so the glaze could seep in. We ate it for 'tea' today around 4pm, and it was delicious.  You could taste a touch of bourbon in every bite, and it was perfectly moist and tender. The batter will look and feel airy when you spoon it into the pan, and it bakes up nice and light.

I threw in a plum because I needed to use it up, but a small apple would also work well.  Hot cross buns typically have raisins dotted through them, but I found that chunks of dates remained even after I 'pureed' them in the blender, so I didn't add any additional dried fruit.  Feel free to add a half cup of raisins or currants if you'd like, or replace the lemon zest and juice with orange.  I've used yogurt in this recipe, but if you're going for dairy-free, just sub that with the same amount of (unsweetened) applesauce. If you skip the bourbon in the glaze, replace most of it with water, but add a teaspoon of vanilla for flavor.

This cake is perfect on its own, but would also be tasty with a dollop of plain greek yogurt, sweetened whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. Bake and enjoy!

Date Spice Cake with Bourbon Glaze
adapted from Whole Family Fare
makes 1 bundt cake

6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
1 1/2 cups flour (I used about 1/2 cup plain, all-purpose flour; 1/2 cup spelt flour; 1/4 cup quinoa flour; 1 tablespoon potato flour; and 1 tablespoon almond meal)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used about 1/3 cup rice bran oil and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil)
2 cups dates, soaked in warm water for 10-20 minutes, then drained, retaining 1/2 cup of the water
1 large plum or 1 small apple, finely chopped
1/4 cup plain, low-fat greek yogurt (or 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce for a dairy-free recipe)
zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from about half a lemon)
1/4 cup honey, divided
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons bourbon (or replace this amount with water plus one teaspoon vanilla extract)
1-2 teaspoons water

Grease and flour a bundt pan, and preheat the oven to 350F/175C.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the 6 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds.  Set this aside for at least 10 minutes to firm up into an egg-like consistency while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the flour(s), baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, pour the vegetable oil, the reserved 1/2 cup of date water, dates, chopped plum (or apple), yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and 1 tablespoon of the honey.  Blend together until fairly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides when necessary.  (If you're doing this in a blender rather than a food processor, you might find it easier to first blend just half of the dates with all of the other ingredients, then add the other half to the blended mixture and blend until smooth).  Stir in the flaxseed and water mixture.

Fold the date mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring just until incorporated.  Drop about half of the batter in spoonfuls into the bottom of the bundt pan. Drizzle the remaining honey over this mixture, then top with the remaining batter.  

Bake at 350F/175C for about 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate.  Let the cake cool for at least another 15 minutes before glazing.  For the glaze, mix together the powdered sugar and bourbon in a small bowl until you have a thick syrup-like consistency, adding a teaspoon or two of water if necessary.  Drizzle the glaze with a spoon over the mostly-cooled cake.  Store at room temperature for up to three days.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Raw Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Our oven stopped working a while back, and while we were waiting a few weeks for the repair I began experimenting with some raw food recipes.  I like the idea of packing your 'food pyramid' with veggies and whole grains, while replacing meat with nuts and other vegan protein sources.  I don't think I could ever switch to a majority raw diet, but I am certainly inspired to consume more raw sources of nutrients.  We have already transitioned to a much different food pattern here in Australia in comparison to our diet in England, especially with so much delicious, seasonal produce available.

However, we both still crave dessert during the week. Rather than bake up cookies like I used to (however reduced-fat and reduced-sugar they were), I've started making smoothies or, if we want to splurge, raw brownies.  Nuts, dates, cocoa.  That's all you need for raw brownies, and they cure a chocolate craving perfectly.

Southern Spoon Blog: raw chocolate coconut truffles
raw chocolate truffles dusted with lightly-sweetened coconut

I play around with the combination-- sometimes using walnuts, sometimes pecans, adding coconut, cinnamon, hot chili powder, etc.  Tonight my mixture wasn't coming together very well, so I dumped it out of the blender, into a bowl, added a tablespoon of brown rice syrup and a teaspoon of water, and rolled them into truffles.  I then dusted them in unsweetened, shredded coconut mixed with a touch of brown sugar.  Awesome.

Ok, so processed cocoa (I haven't sourced cacao nibs yet), brown rice syrup, and the tiny bit of brown sugar make these only un-officially 'raw'.  But they're pretty close, and they're much healthier treats than the ones from Godiva.

I just use a blender (plain old blender, nothing fancy) for these, but a food processor would work best.  Make sure your dates are a bit moist-- if they're dry, just soak them in water for 15-20 minutes, then drain. (Or, as all the raw food sites say, reserve the date water to sweeten your next smoothie).  Enjoy!

Raw Chocolate Coconut Truffles
makes about a dozen 1-inch truffles

3/4 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons almond meal (if you don't have any, just use a full cup of walnuts)
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup moist dates (if they're pretty dry, soak them in water 15-20 mins, then drain to use)
2 tablespoons unsweetened, shredded coconut (divided use)
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup (or agave syrup or honey)
1 teaspoon water (if necessary)
1 teaspoon brown sugar (or coconut sugar for paleo-friendly) (optional)

Mix the walnuts, almond meal (if you're using it), cocoa, dates, and 1 tablespoon of the coconut in a blender or food processor.  Mix until everything is very finely chopped/ground and the mixture is sticking together.  (If using a blender, blend the nuts first, then add the cocoa, blend till incorporated, then add the dates and coconut-- scraping down the sides when necessary).

Scrape the mixture into a bowl.  Add the brown rice syrup and stir together.  If the mixture is not coming together easily, add one teaspoon of water and stir together until it all comes together to form one big lump of dough.  Pinch off chunks of dough and roll into one-inch balls.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the remaining tablespoon of coconut and, if desired, the teaspoon of brown sugar (or coconut sugar).  Roll the truffles one by one in the coconut-sugar mixture until evenly coated.  Set the coconut-covered truffles in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before eating, or for up to four days. (Chilling really allows the flavors to meld and creates a denser, richer-tasting truffle).

Update: adding a couple of teaspoons of coffee liqueur (Baileys, Kahlua, Tia Maria, etc.) to the dough as you're blending it is a fabulous idea...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Velvety Vegetable Soup with Crispy Fried Shallots & Smoked Paprkia Pepitas

I boasted in last week's post about the glorious summery and salad-inducing weather we're having here in Sydney... but today all I wanted was a warm, veggie-packed soup.  My officemate has been working from home the past couple of days so as not to pass on her cold, but I felt it coming on this afternoon.  I popped some extra vitamin C, but knew I had to hit this thing full force to keep it at bay.  On the way home I trawled the produce aisles and loaded up on fresh cauliflower, carrots (orange and purple), sweet potato, ginger, garlic, and shallots.  I then went a little crazy with the blender and created a soup hearty enough for dinner for me and the hubs (adding some rotisserie chicken to his for extra protein).  He loved it, I loved it, my immune system and sinuses really loved it.
Southern Spoon Blog: Velvety vegetable soup with crispy fried shallots and smoked paprika pepitas
velvety vegetable soup topped with smoked paprika pepitas & crispy fried shallots

This soup is velvety smooth; it's lactose- and gluten-free.  (Not vegetarian as I used chicken broth, but you can easily sub vegetable broth if you'd like).  The soup itself has only a trace of fat, so I added some pan-warmed pepitas, and topped it with crispy fried shallots.  Yes.  Vegetable soup topped with onion rings.  Inspired by the fried shallots on this delicious-looking salad over at The First Mess.  Once the shallots are stirred into the soup, they lose a little of their crispy-ness, but they still taste delicious.

The flavor of this soup is not for the faint of heart.  Raw garlic and ginger give it a serious kick (like I may have to take my toothbrush and mouthwash to work tomorrow to use after I eat the leftovers for lunch).  But hey, go hard or go home, right?  Hope you enjoy this as much as we did.  

Velvety Vegetable Soup with Crispy Fried Shallots & Smoked Paprika Pepitas
5 hearty servings

1 large sweet potato, washed
1 head cauliflower, washed, with base of stem and leaves removed
2 1/2 to 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided (or vegetable broth)
3 large carrots, washed, peeled, with ends removed (I used 2 orange and 1 purple)
3 cloves garlic, skins removed
1- to 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, skin sliced off (to taste: more is better!)
1 cup water
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons flour (all purpose, or gluten-free)
rice bran or grapeseed oil (amount will depend on size of pot for frying, you'll need the oil to be about an inch deep)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
(Optional: 2 cups of rotisserie chicken, shredded)

Prick the sweet potato a few times over with a fork, and chop in half (not lengthwise, but into two smaller whole chunks of sweet potato).  Place the two pieces on a plate, and microwave until tender to squeeze, but not completely mushy.  (Timing will depend on your microwave.  I microwaved mine for 7 minutes on high heat, then turned them over, and microwaved for 3 more minutes at high heat.  You may also roast the potato in an oven at 400F/204C for about 40-50 minutes).  Remove the sweet potato halves from the microwave.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before carefully removing the skin with a fork and knife.  Chop into 1-inch pieces and set aside.

Pour 2 cups of chicken broth into a large pot and bring to a low boil.  Break off all of the cauliflower florets and chop each floret into halves or thirds. Place the chopped cauliflower into the pot of broth once the broth starts boiling.  Immediately turn the heat down to medium so it's just simmering, and cover.  Let the cauliflower simmer for about 6-7 minutes, until still crisp-tender when cut with a sharp knife.  Remove from heat.

While the cauliflower is simmering, grate the carrots through the large-sized holes of a grater onto a large chopping board.  Grate the garlic cloves and the ginger (also through the large holes of the grater), adding them to the pile of carrots.  Throw the grated carrots, garlic, and ginger into a blender with one cup of water.  Pulse blend, for a few seconds with each pulse, to get things moving around, then blend on high speed for 5-10 seconds, until only very fine chunks remain.  Add the cooked, tender sweet potato chunks and 1/2 cup chicken broth.  Blend at high speed about 5 seconds to incorporate evenly into the carrot mixture.  Pour the carrot-sweet potato mixture out of the blender and into a large bowl.

Using a large measuring cup (or a coffee mug), scoop up about one third of the cooked cauliflower and chicken broth from the pot and carefully pour into the blender.  The mixture will be steamy since it's hot, so remove the plastic center of your blender top and cover the gap with a tea towel (not a white one!  Might get stained from the colorful veggies).  Pulse a few times, then blend on high speed for 5-10 seconds, until velvety smooth.  

Open the blender and pour about one third of the pureed carrot-sweet potato mixture on top of the blended cauliflower.  Sprinkle a very small pinch of freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper into the blender, then replace the blender top (and tea towel).  Blend at high speed for about 5 seconds, until the cauliflower and carrot mixtures are well combined (you might have to stop the blender, remove the top, and stir carefully with a spatula to help the two veggie mixtures incorporate evenly).  Pour this blended cauliflower-carrot mixture into another large bowl.  Repeat the blending of the cauliflower, adding the carrot mixture (and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper), and incorporating the two veggie mixtures together two more times, until you have completely blended the cauliflower and carrot mixtures. 

Pour all of the incorporated mixtures back into the big soup pot, give it a big stir.  If you want a slightly thinner soup (it will be thick!), stir in another 1/2 cup of chicken broth.  Cover the soup and keep warm over medium-low heat while you make the crispy fried shallots and paprika pepitas. 

To make the fried shallots: Peel the shallot and slice it finely into little rings.  Separate the rings, and dredge in the flour, shaking off excess flour and placing the floured shallot rings aside. Fill a medium-sized pot with oil so that the oil is at least one inch deep.  Heat the oil carefully over high heat.  Toss in a dredged onion piece-- if it simmers for a few seconds and begins to lightly brown after 6 to 8 seconds, it's hot enough.  If it browns more quickly than that, turn the heat down slightly.  

Carefully toss a few dredged shallot rings at a time into the hot oil, stirring them around so they fry evenly.  Remove carefully with a fork when lightly browned (after 6 to 8 seconds), and place on a few layers of paper towel.  Repeat with remaining shallots, watching carefully that the oil doesn't get too hot and begin to burn the shallots.  When all the shallots are fried and resting on the paper towels, turn off the heat and remove the pot of oil from the heat. Sprinkle a little freshly-ground sea salt over the shallot rings, set aside.

To make the smoked paprika pepitas: Safely discard the frying oil, and use a paper towel to wipe out any remaining flour residue.  Return the pot to the heat source, and quickly add 1/3 cup pepitas.  (The heat is turned off, but will still be quite warm from frying the shallots if you have an electric stove.  If you are lucky and have a gas stove, turn the gas onto very low heat).  Shake the pepitas around in the pot a few times until the first couple begin to pop as they heat up.  Sprinkle the smoked paprika over the pepitas and shake them around in the pan to coat, continuing to warm them over the heat for about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  

Carefully stir the soup, then ladle into bowls.  (If desired, pour the soup over a little warmed and shredded rotisserie chicken).  Top each soup serving with a sprinkle of the smoked paprika pepitas and a few of the crispy fried shallots. Serve immediately. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Grilled Fig & Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey-Tarragon Vinaigrette

One of my favorite things about making a meal is surprising my husband with something he hasn't always loved (beans, salad, etc) and making it awesome!  He recently declared that he was so glad that he married me and (thereby) discovered that beans are delicious.  Victory!  Last night I made a richly-spiced dish of cannellini+kidney bean and roasted bell pepper enchiladas with a guacamole side salad over spinach, garnished with homemade, baked tortilla strips... I didn't have time to snap a picture before we dove in, so I'll wait to post that one till next time when I have a photo.  But suffice it to say that the 100% vegetarian meal gained the hubs' approval.  Score.  Enough about beans...

All day today I was craving a salad.  (It's summer here in the southern hemisphere: prime salad-craving season).  But if I want to make a salad for dinner it's got to be one that will also satisfy the appetite of my fellow diner (the one who has a history of distaste for beans and salad).  I had bought some ripe figs on sale a couple of days ago, and they were just about past their prime.  So on the way home I grabbed some greens and a little block of blue cheese to whip up a dinner-worthy salad.  We barely brushed a little soy sauce over the split figs, coated some butterflied chicken breasts in a splash of soy and a squeeze of honey, threw those on the barbie (grill), and I whisked up a little vinaigrette with some things from our pantry and little balcony herb garden.  The resulting salad was just what I had in mind: fresh greens, grilled fruit and lean meat, creamy blue cheese and walnuts, finished with a peppery sweet tang.  And we both enjoyed it!
Southern Spoon Blog: grilled fig and chicken salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and honey-tarragon vinaigrette
grilled figs and chicken + blue cheese and walnuts
I don't prefer drowning salads in dressing, so the dressing amount made is just enough to splash a little flavor onto the greens.  If you'd like a more generous drizzle, increase the ingredients for the vinaigrette to 4 tablespoons rice bran or extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 4 teaspoons white vinegar, a generous squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (or other mild garden herb).

Whether it's warm or cold where you are, this salad will brighten things up and fill you up, too.

Grilled Fig & Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey-Tarragon Vinaigrette
2 hearty main servings, or 4-5 first course servings

3 cups mild lettuce greens, washed and roughly torn (I used green oak lettuce)
1 cup fresh baby spinach, washed
5 fresh, ripe figs, rinsed and tops trimmed
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided (make sure it's gluten-free if cooking g-f)
2 tablespoons honey, divided
2 tablespoons rice bran oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
2 teaspoons white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice (about 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon (other mild, fresh herbs would work here, such as marjoram)
scant 1/4 cup coursely crumbled blue cheese
2-3 tablespoons coursely chopped walnuts
ground sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fire up the barbeque to medium heat.  Combine the lettuce and spinach leaves, and divide evenly onto two large dinner plates (or four salad plates); set aside.

Split the figs in half lengthwise, and brush just a bit of the soy sauce over the outside and inside of the fruit; set aside. Butterfly the chicken breasts and slice all the way through to make four thin portions.  Toss the chicken with the remaining soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of honey.

Place the chicken on the grill and cook for about 8-12 minutes, flipping when necessary, until chicken is still tender but no longer pink in the center.  (I've given a big window of time here because cooking time will depend on your barbeque).  Watch closely at the beginning to ensure that you turn the chicken before it burns.  The soy and honey will brown a bit, which is fine.  Place the figs on the grill, flesh side down, and cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Flip over to the skin side and cook about 2-3 minutes longer, until soft and slightly browned.

While the chicken is cooking, combine the rice bran oil (or extra virgin olive oil), remaining one tablespoon honey, the vinegar, squeeze of lime or lemon juice, and the tarragon.  Season with just a little salt and a generous grinding of pepper.  Whisk thoroughly, and sprinkle evenly over the plated salad greens.  Sprinkle the walnuts and crumbled blue cheese evenly over the salads, and top each salad with a tiny pinch of salt and more ground pepper.

Remove the chicken and figs from the grill when done.  Slice the chicken across the grain into thin strips. Arrange the chicken strips across the center of each salad, then arrange the figs evenly around the edge of each salad.

Serve immediately with a warm baguette or fresh loaf of wholegrain bread.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Brown Sugar Pavlovas

Pavlova is an iconic Aussie dessert (the Kiwis claim it, too... an iconic antipodean dessert, perhaps).  A crisp meringue holds lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit.  Delicious.

The pavlova's eponymous Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, traveled to the antipodes in the 1920s and was honored by a local chef with this dessert, created to resemble her swirling skirts.  This sweet treat is an appropriate post for 2012 as the Australian Ballet celebrates its 50th anniversary!

In my first couple of weeks in Australia, I dined with friends at Bill's, the restaurant begun by Australia's first Master Chef winner, Bill Granger.  I had my first authentic pavlova for dessert (following an incredible meal of moroccan roasted lamb).  Rather than the traditional sweet whipped cream, Bill dollops his pavlovas with a lighter combination of whipped cream and plain yogurt.  The slightly tart filling contrasted with the sweet base and fruit is mouth-watering, and even my most ardent Aussie guests approve of this departure from tradition.  I also like to make pavlovas with a bit of brown sugar, which gives the meringue a slightly caramelized flavor.

A pavlova ('pav' to the locals) is the perfect ending to a BBQ, and a must for Australia Day in January.  Any combination of fresh fruit can be used, but my Aussie husband assures me that passion fruit is necessary.  You can make one large pavlova, but they bake more quickly and are an easier presentation when prepared as individual shells.  Don't be intimidated by all the mixing, just keep going until the egg whites are thick and glossy and stand in stiff peaks when you lift the beaters out.  The meringue shells can be stored in an airtight container for a week, making it an easy dessert to assemble last minute.  Try them now for a taste of Aussie summer, or break them out for your first BBQ when the weather turns warm in your hemisphere!

(picture to come... every time I make these they get eaten up immediately!)

Brown Sugar Pavlovas
makes 6 individual pavlovas

4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
2/3 cups sugar (preferably caster sugar or superfine sugar)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
3/4 cups whipping cream (or, if you're in a hurry, 1 cup of light whipped cream from a spray can!)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt or greek yogurt
2 cups chopped fresh fruit (such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, passion fruit, peaches)

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.  Cover a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites, vanilla, and cornstarch in a large glass bowl until stiff peaks form.  Add the white sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating continuously.  Add the brown sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until the meringue is very thick and glossy.  Gently stir in the vinegar with a large spoon until incorporated.

Divide the meringue mixture into six equal portions on the parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Spread each portion into a shell about 4 inches in diameter, making an indentation in the center with the back of a spoon so that there are high ridges along the outer edges of each shell.

Place the meringues in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 280F/140C.  Bake for one hour, until the outsides of the meringue shells are firm (they will be very slightly brown because of the brown sugar, but should not darken too much).  Leaving the meringues inside, turn off the oven.  Crack the oven door slightly and leave the pavlovas inside for about four hours, or until completely cooled.  When cooled, carefully peel the meringues off of the parchment paper.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to one week.

When ready to serve, prepare the toppings.  Sprinkle a half tablespoon of powdered sugar over the chopped fresh fruit and gently toss; set aside.  Whip the cream and the other half tablespoon of powdered sugar with an electric mixer for about 6-7 minutes, until it thickens.  (Or just spray about 1 cup of light whipped topping into a bowl... this is what I usually do!) Gently fold the yogurt into the whipped cream.

Top each meringue shell with a generous dollop of the whipped cream and yogurt mixture.  Arrange fruit on top of the cream, and serve with a spoon.