True-Brown Aussie

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (1 of 3)

My first long haul flight was when I was just over the threshold of eight years of age.  I’m afraid my memories of it are scant, the strongest one being that I had the special job of carrying the mantapa, the small Hindu altar that my great-grandfather had carved out of rosewood.  A close second is the memory of the confusing emotions that each of us, myself and my parents, carried with us.  A healthy scoop of excitement stirred through a pinch of sadness and a heaped tablespoon of apprehension at the thought of starting a new chapter at our destination, Australia.

I had no appreciation of how brave my parents were then, leaping into a new life in a country they had never even visited.  Approaching with a few thousand rupees, a weak currency against the dollar even then, and a pocketful of hope, we were Sydney-bound with very little idea of what to expect.  As a family, we learnt our way around not only the Sydney streets, but also the Australian culture and vernacular.  We learnt fairly quickly that “How ya going?” invited an answer of “Good thanks!” or “Not bad!”, and not the reply “By bus!”.  It was a hard lesson when we realised that ‘Bring a plate’ meant a prepared dish, not what the phrase implies in a literal sense.

More than twenty-five years later, we are about as Australian as the average Australian.  We make pakoras on Christmas day, party on New Year’s Eve and go to the temple for Hindu new years.  When asked about our background we identify as Indian but while travelling outside Australia we are fiercely proud to declare ourselves Aussie.  We wear saris and bindis at Diwali to exchange gifts of new clothes, and gorge on chocolate eggs at Easter.  Rather than barbeques laden with meat and onions on Sunday afternoons, we spread dosa (south Indian rice crepes) onto hot pans and dunk them in chutney and sambhar.  On  Australia day, we have the added celebration of Indian Republic day, an interesting coincidence.  Some years, to be honest, it’s simply rest-day or spring-cleaning day!

The mantapa now inhabits my spare room, enclosing my small shrine.  It is where I pray before I go forth to conquer the day and before I sit down to a meal, whether Indian, Italian, Thai or Australian.  Like me, it is Indian-manufactured and Australian-developed, it’s wood as solid and un-weathered as my cultural identity.

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (3 of 3)

There are days when I feel not Indian enough and a few cents short of Aussie enough.  And other days when I know I am standing comfortably in the middle of the see-saw, perfectly balanced.  I am more a True-Brown Indian-Australian than a True-Blue Aussie, and this seems to work just fine.

Mangoes and coconuts are well-loved ingredients in both India and Australia and the Mango-Macadamia combination is a popular on in my adopted country.  These truffles pack all the flavour of mangoes, with the textural elements of coconut and macadamia butter.  They are vegan and free of refined sugar and gluten.

Happy Australia Day and Indian Republic day folks!

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (2 of 3)

MMC (Mango, Macadamia and Coconut) Truffles

Get:

100g dried mango, soaked in water for 1-2 hours
1/3 cup macadamia butter
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp protein powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
2 tbsp quinoa flour (or another 2 tbsp protein powder)
1/4 cup shredded coconut + more for coating
Coconut oil (optional)

Make:

Drain the water from the soaked mango.  Pulse the mango with all the ingredients, except for the extra shredded coconut and the coconut oil, in a high-speed food processor, until a smooth mixture forms.  Roll into tbsp sized balls, adding a little coconut oil if the mixture is too firm. Toss the truffles in the extra shredded coconut and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours.

Sticky Tofu Achari

 

Sticky Tofu Achari (6 of 6)

“This is myyyyyy version of sticky tofu!” said my cousin Murali, brandishing a wooden spoon excitedly and channelling Kylie Kwong. Heart surgeon by day, cuisine clinician by night, his eyes light up equally brightly for a new way to bake bread as they do for a pioneering technique for salvaging failing heart muscle.

A pleasant side effect of starting my food blog was that it has prompted people in my life to share recipes or volunteer to teach me how to make things. As far as food blogger occupational perks go, this is a good one. From this has come great things like my cousin Chai’s Ivy Gourd and Coconut Stir Fry and my mum’s Green Mango Rice.

Sticky Tofu Achari (4 of 6)

So on a recent whirlwind trip to India, I managed to squeeze in an eight-and-a-half minute cooking lesson with another cousin in the enormous granite kitchen that I have known since before I was tall enough to see over the counter-tops. While Indian pickle and soy sauce mingled in the air and tofu sizzled in the pan, I tried to attribute measures to Murali’s “Little bit ” of this and “Put some” of that.

I have waxed lyrical here about the confusing, delightful and piquant experience that is Aachar (Indian pickle). Here, the gravy of it is in cahoots with soy and tomato sauces. Together they form a sticky, flavourful coating over plump cubes of tofu and whatever vegetables are chosen to assist in the operation.  I have added my own touches such as fresh ginger, garlic and chilli.  I assure you, they are not a make-or-break so not having them shouldn’t stop you from trying this dish.  The vegetables are interchangeable, amounts are approximate and depend on taste.  Snow peas, broccoli and just about anything else you like should work well.  Unlike heart surgery, this dish is anything but an exact science.

 

Sticky Tofu Achari (1 of 6)-2

Sticky Tofu Achari

Get:

2 tsp Olive Oil
A few drops Sesame Oil (optional)
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
2 cm ginger, finely grated
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
Pinch Asofoetida
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 1/2 tsp uncooked urad dhal (white lentils)
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
250g firm Tofu, cubed in 1-2 cm pieces
1/3 cup Tomato Sauce (I used sauce with no added sugar)
1 tbsp Lime Pickle Gravy
1 tbsp Soy Sauce, then more to taste
1/ tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vinegar, then more to taste
8-10 spears of Baby Corn, fresh or tinned, sliced into 1cm pieces
Small red capsicum, chopped
1 1/2 cups Mushrooms (button, king or oyster), chopped

Make:

Heat the oils in a large wok, then add mustard seeds and dhal. Once the seeds have popped and dhal has slightly browned, turn the heat down to medium.  Add ginger, garlic and chilli, and fry for a minute or so.  Add asofoetida and turmeric and stir, then add tofu and toss until coated. If using fresh baby corn, add this at the same time.  Cover and lower heat, cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add cinnamon, pickle gravy and sauces, and about 1/4 cup water. Stir, cover and cook.  Check every 2 minutes or so, adding a little more water if needed, until the corn is cooked through.  Add the other vegetables, including the baby corn if you are using the tinned version.  Add a little water if needed, stir, cover and leave to cook for 2-4 minutes.

Add the vinegar and stir through. Taste and add more soy sauce or vinegar if needed.

Serve with rice or flatbreads, or toss through some noodles.

Sticky Tofu Achari (5 of 6)

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies (Gluten Free)

I spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about things like how exactly chick-pea water works as an alternative to eggs (it couldn’t….could it…??).  Or what the exact reaction is that happens when you whip butter and sugar together.  Or why 180 degrees celsius in two different ovens is never the same.  I guess it’s what comes with the territory when you are both a scientist and a food blogger.  A double occupational hazard of sorts.

Lately my neurons have been firing about incorporating vegetables and legumes into sweet baked goods like cake and brownies.  Throw stones at me if you will, but I have to say, I’m not convinced.

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (1 of 3)
From the point of view of adding moisture without adding fat, I suppose I get it. Sort of.  But for the purpose of ‘hiding’ veggies to boost one’s veggie intake? Unconvinced.  I for one would rather beetroot roasted and tossed with chunks of salty fetta and baby spinach, the whole thing doused with a squeeze of lemon juice, than lurking sneakily in a cookie.  If I soak a batch of white beans, it’ll be to toss them with parsley, chilly and olive oil, not conceal them cleverly in a mudcake.

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (2 of 3)

So here are my brownies. Gluten free and moist with coconut oil which will make your skin shine. They sing with cardamom notes and are brought gently down to earth with the richness of dark chocolate and pistachios.  Like most of the baked goods on this site, the sweetness is subdued so feel free to add a little more sugar if you like things a little sweeter.  And not a vegetable or legume in (or out of) sight .

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (3 of 3)

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies

Get:
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
Seeds scraped from 1/2 a large vanilla bean, or 2 tsp vanilla paste
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/2 tsp cinnamon
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate, melted
3/4 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.  Grease and line a shallow oven tray with grease-proof paper

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs.  Add sugar, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon and beat with an electric mixer until a smooth mixture forms.

In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate either in a bain marie or in 20 to 30 second bursts in the microwave. Stir through coconut oil, also melted.  Stir this mixture into the egg mixture until a smooth mixture forms.

Gently stir through the almond meal, salt and baking powder, followed by the pistachios.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake on the top shelf for 18-22 mins.  Remove from the oven when the middle of the slab is still a bit undercooked, and leave in the tray to cool.  Slice and serve!

Better with time

Being away from this space for four months has been tough.  It’s not that I didn’t want to be here, that I just wandered off without a care.  I thought about it a lot, I did! But this here little world of mine was crowded out by a new challenge, a study related one which according to the experts in my life makes me a glutton for punishment.

channa masala (1 of 4)

You see, if I post here, I want to be all here, giving it all I have.  This space needs nurturing.  It needs balance, the right amount of everything.  It is a cocktail, to be balanced with the right dash of spirit, a touch of sweetness and a zip of acidity.  It is a curry, spices tempered before the star of the show enters.  Cold tomato puree meets sizzling oil and popping cumin seeds.  The temperature plunges, then climbs again, liquid spluttering as the fire under the pot catches up.  In goes the protein and enough moisture to engulf it, stewing it in heat and flavour.  This is when you step back a little, letting the good things happen.  Chick peas that are firm to begin with, left to simmer in a sea of flavour, to soften slowly until they are barely holding together.  And when they meet a spoon or a tooth? All bets are off.

Those slowly softening chickpeas don’t ask for much.  A bath that is voluptuous with flavour.  For the sharpness of the chilli to tingle the tip of the tongue, then let others shine before it leaves an impression that accumulates with every bite.  That the slightly sour acidity of the tomato sings its song to brighten the palate.  That the sweetness of the onion and tomato develops with time, but never becomes more than an undertone.  And the salt? It’s the last to join the cacophony, in careful increments, giving all the other elements the power to do what they do best.

The chick peas soften, greedily absorbing spicy, sour, sweet and fragrant.  And we wait.  We cover, we simmer, we stir.  We stir first lovingly, then impatiently.  Most importantly, we taste and we tweak and we wait.

channa masala (3 of 4)

Like so many things, the flavour gets better with time.  A nice long simmer, yes but if you manage to make a big enough batch to save some for the next day, a type of magic happens overnight in that pot.  The kind of magic that makes yesterday’s curry strike an even deeper chord than it did when you first made it.  You see, a night together allows all the ingredients to get to know each other, to understand each other’s strengths and limitations, to work out how to interact harmoniously.  To wind up so flavourful that you can’t help but “Oh!” when you come back to it a day later.

There are probably a hundred or more minute variations to this classic dish. This is how I like it.  Plump, yielding chick peas.  A full-bodied sauce.  Sliced onions, a little firm and prominent enough to partner the chick peas.  And time.

Love, patience and time.

channa masala (2 of 4)

Channa Masala (Chick Pea Curry)

Get:
1 1/2 cups dried chick peas, soaked overnight or 2 tins of chickpeas
2 tbsp vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
1 onion, halved then sliced in half-rings
1/2 onion finely diced (you will use the other half in the sauce)
2 tsp Channa Masala
2-3 Bay Leaves
4 Cloves
3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp amchur powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
Salt
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Plain yoghurt (optional)

For the Sauce:
1 medium sized garlic clove, peeled
4cm fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 onion roughly chopped
1 tin tomato, or 4-5 ripe fresh tomatoes, quartered
2 hot green chillies
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Make:

If using soaked dry chick peas, they will need to be soaked overnight.  Once soaked, cook them in a pressure cooker or over a stove until they are cooked but still quite firm.  If done over the stove, they will take at least 30 minutes.  Drain once cooked and set aside.  If using tinned chick peas, drain and rinse in cold water.

Lightly toast 1/2 tsp coriander seeds with 1/2 tsp cumin seeds in a pan, until fragrant.  Grind these together to a rough powder with a mortar and pestle or electric grinder.

Add to all the other sauce ingredients and 1 cup water in the bowl of your food processer. Pulse a few times until a reasonably smooth consistency is reached.

For the tempering, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Do not allow the oil to reach smoking stage, use a moderate heat.  Add the 3 tsp of cumin seeds and when they have sizzled for a few seconds, add the cloves and bay leaves.   Add the diced onion half.  Fry for a few minutes on low-medium heat, taking care not to burn the cumin seeds, until the onion is a little softened.  Add the channa masala and chilli powder (for a spicier curry). Fry on low heat for another minute or so.

Add the sauce to the pan.  Add about 1/2-1 cup water to the food processor, blitz a few times, then add this water, with the remains of the sauce, to the pan.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Taste and add a little more salt or chilli powder if required. Drain and rinse the chick peas.  Add these to the pan, stir and cover.  Bring to the boil again and simmer on low-medium heat for about 30 min, stirring intermittently. Cook until the chick peas are softened and just holding together (they should not be allowed to disintegrate).  Add the sliced onions, separating the layers with your fingers, a few minutes before the chick peas are at that stage. If the sauce becomes too reduced, add a little water along the way to maintain a gravy consistency.

Taste and ensure the flavour is balanced how you like it.  Add a little more salt, chilli powder or amchur if needed.  if adding more chilli powder, cook for a few more minutes, stirring intermittently.  If you find the curry is too spicy, stir through 1-2 tbsp of plain yoghurt just before turning off the stove.  For a vegan option, leave out the yoghurt or use a little coconut cream.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with your favourite Indian bread, with raita or plain yoghurt on the side.  Like all other curries, this one tastes better the next day.

Notes:

Dried chick peas, Channa masala and amchur (dried green mango) powder, along with the other spices are available in Indian grocery stores.  Channa masala is a spice mix made specifically for this dish.

To speed things up use 1/2 tsp each of cumin powder and coriander powder instead of grinding these from whole seeds.  However I steer clear of bottled minced ginger and garlic.

Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwiches for a Nespresso Challenge, and a Giveaway!

Decoction (noun)

A concentrated liquor resulting from heating or boiling a substance, especially a medicinal preparation made from a plant.

                                                                – Oxford Dictionary

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (2 of 6)

It’s a jarring sound, decoction.  A sudden awakening from slumber by the cries of the vegetable seller from the street, and the racket of steel on steel as the maids wash the morning dishes.  It is the clanging of the heavy temple bell as early worshippers wake the Gods, offerings of fruit and flowers balanced in the other hand.  It is the impatient tooting of the horns of scooters ridden by morning commuters, some with saree clad wives perched sideways on the passenger seat.

Di-caack-shun when pronounced by a mami (aunty), is a little softer.  It is what South Indians call their coffee, brewed strong and slow, through a filter.  It’s rich aroma floats from the kitchen with that of freshly ground coconut flesh that is to be blended into chutney.  It wafts across the courtyard of a traditional Tamilian home to mingle with the intoxicating scent of jasmine blossoms and delicate incense smoke.  It is an unmistakeable morning scent, the promise of piping hot coffee in tiny steel cups alongside fluffy idlis (steamed rice cakes) and fragrant chutney.  For many South Indians, it really is somewhat of a medicinal preparation, an essential start to the day.  Until the first dose is taken, the morning cacophony can wait.

mocha ice cream (1 of 1)

No European coffee, prepared by professionals using noisy steam-spurting machines comes close to South Indian philter kaapi, lovingly brewed by mami baristas.  Rich and deep without bitterness and creamy with full-cream milk, sipping dose after dose from those stainless steel cups is an experience that cannot be mimicked by western coffee in paper cups.  When Nespresso sent me their new, limited edition Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru capsules however, I was surprised at how much the aroma and taste reminded me of South Indian coffee.  It’s deep, warm tones lend themselves perfectly to dessert and I couldn’t wait to create a sweet treat that incorporated this gorgeous blend.  My Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwich uses a modification of a spiced Indian biscuit, known as nankhatai, with rich and creamy no-churn mocha ice cream.  Coffee is no stranger to spices, at least in the middle-east, and the sharpness of cardamom helps cut through the sweetness and warm coffee tones.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (4 of 6)

It takes a little planning, this one.  The ice-cream should be given at least 12-24 hours to freeze, and the biscuit dough can be made and refrigerated at the same time.  The next day, leave yourself a little time to roll out, cut and bake the biscuits, then allow them to cool before crumbly biscuit meets cold, luscious ice cream.  The result will be a pleasantly surprising combination of flavours and textures, a dessert that does full justice to the lovely Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (5 of 6)

Before we get too carried away with this intoxicating business of coffee, ice-cream and whatnot, I have a couple of important things to mention.  Firstly, I would be super grateful if you would please head over to the Nespresso Facebook page at the end of this week, like the page and vote for my Monsoon Mocha Ice-cream Sandwich Recipe in the blogger challenge.  Thank you in advance!

Secondly, and more excitingly, I have a giveaway!  It is a stunning cookbook by Chef Kumar Mahadevan and his wife Suba Mahadevan, who own two of the best Indian restaurants in Sydney. Chef Kumar has also appeared on Masterchef Australia as an expert Indian chef.  From a personal perspective, my family and I are frequent diners at both restaurants and long before this giveaway was even in the works, I placed both Abhi’s and Aki’s in the guide to my favourite Indian restaurants in Sydney on Stay.com.  Having indulged in Chef Kumar’s dishes at the restaurants as well as at various events, I know that the recipes will not only work but will be delectable.  What makes this book special in my opinion is it’s lean towards South Indian dishes, delicacies from my part of India, many of which are not available in the majority of Indian restaurants outside India.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (1 of 6)

I have a copy of Chef Kumar’s cookbook, ‘From India: Food, Family & Tradition’  to give away to a lucky reader, along with a sleeve of the limited edition Nespresso Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru.  For a chance to win, tell me in the comments box at the end of this post, about your most memorable cup of coffee. What made it special? Was it the place? The person who was sitting across the table from you? Was it linked to an important event? Or was it just the taste of the coffee itself, good or bad?

The competition is open to those living in Australia only, and closes at midnight Sydney time on the 23rd of April.  Please leave me some way of contacting you- either a link to your blog or check in here for a reply in case you win! If I don’t hear back from you within 3 days of me contacting you, I will have to pick another winner.

I look forward to your entries and your memories.  Oh and I would be forever grateful for your votes (Click here, then vote for the recipe from One Small Pot)!

*This competition is based on skill and I will choose the answer based on my discretion.  Prizes have been kindly provided by Nespresso and Chef Kumar.  Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru capsules and a loan machine were also provided by Nespresso for creation of the recipe.  Words and opinions are my own.

**Update : the winner of the giveaway was Ilana Mendels with her gorgeous words about the coffee she sipped during her first visit to her home country. Congratulations Ilana!

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (3 of 6)

Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwich

Makes 24-28

Ice-cream recipe modified from a Nigella Lawson recipe.

Get:

For the Mocha Ice-cream:

240g (just over 2/3 cup) sweetened condensed milk
320ml double cream
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate
2 freshly brewed espresso shots Nespresso Monsoon Malabar Coffee

For the Coffee Nankhatai Biscuits:

180g butter at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
Seeds from of 8 cardamom pods. roughly ground
2 tsp cinnamon powder
2 freshly brewed espresso shots of Nespresso Monsoon Malabar (about 3 tbsp brewed coffee)
1 1/4 cups besan (chickpea) flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup coarse semolina
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Special Equipment:

Nespresso Machine

Make:

To make the ice-cream:

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 to 30 second bursts.

Brew the coffee and place in the freezer to cool.

Once the coffee and chocolate are cool, lightly whisk together the condensed milk and cream in a bowl, then add the coffee and chocolate.  Lightly whisk until combined.

Pour into a container and place in the freezer for 12-24 hours.

Be patient!!

To make the biscuits:

Brew the coffee and place in the freezer to cool.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and the cardamom and cinnamon powders. Whisk through the cooled coffee until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift all the flours, baking powder and salt together.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and combine with a spatula.  You will then have to get your (clean) hands in there to form a dough. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is smooth.  If it is too sticky, put it in the fridge for about 10 mins. Knead again for a minute.

Wrap in cling wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 3-4 parts. Flour the outside of the dough and place between 2 sheets of grease-proof paper. Roll out evenly into 5 mm thick sheets. using a round cookie cutter (about 7 cm diameter), cut the cookies out of the sheet. Leave the rest of the dough in the fridge and just take out sections as you are ready to roll them.  Repeat until all the dough is finished.

Lay the cookies out on baking trays lined with baking paper.  Leave 2-3 cm between cookies as they will spread a little.  Place the trays in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170 C.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10-12 minutes mins.  The cookies are done when they have spread a little and are slightly browned at the top and bottom.  They will be soft initially but will firm up after they cool.  Allow to cool completely before assembling.

To assemble, scoop the ice-cream into a rough ball using an ice-cream scoop and a dinner spoon.  Place the ball of ice-cream in the centre of one biscuit and place another biscuit on top.  Apply gentle, even pressure to the top biscuit with the flat palm of your hand until the ice-cream spreads a little between biscuits.  The biscuits will break easily, so it is important to be gentle.

Serve immediately!

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (6 of 6)

Earth Hour and biscuits that are out of this world

What would happen if every light and appliance in the country was switched off, for just an hour? Would we make a small, but notable dent in our consumption of energy resources?  Would we at the very least be reminded to only use what we need, to hit the switch on the wall when we leave the room, to be more aware of just how many lights we have burning at once?

cheddar cheese coriander biks (2 of 3)

Earth Hour is an annual initiative about exactly that……..a nationwide switch off, for one hour, tonight at 8.30pm.  In the lead up to today’s event, Earth Hour Australia has released Planet to Plate a cookbook consisting of 52 glorious recipes from Australia’s biggest culinary names, Matt Preston, Kylie Kwong and Jill Dupleix to name a few.  But it is not just the recipes that make this book unique.  Each chapter is punctuated by stories from Aussie farmers, those at the frontline of food production, who are the first to feel the profound impact of our energy consumption.  They talk about their long-standing struggles to produce good food that the nation can be proud of, in the face of climate change.  They gush about the land they love and the joy they take in farming, despite its difficulties.

I chose to share with you a recipe that caught my eye immediately.  Indira Naidoo’s Sage and Cheddar Biscuits were every bit as crumbly and buttery in texture as the beautiful image in the book promised.  A dearth of sage in my fridge steered me towards coriander and I succumbed to my usual temptation to pair it with chilli.  The result was a delicately cheesy, herb-freshened biscuit that delivers a sharp chilli spice.  The adaptation was easy and was a testament to how beautifully simple this recipe is.  Next time, I want to add in Ajwain (carom) or cumin and you too can experiment with spices and herbs using the basic recipe.  As an addition to a cheese plate or with a cuppa, as Indira says, they are pretty divine.  If you ask me, they made a pretty good afternoon post-photography session snack too.

Planet to Plate is available to order on the Earth Hour website here.

*A copy of Planet to Plate was sent to me by Earth Hour Australia, without obligation, and words and opinions are my own.

cheddar cheese coriander biks (3 of 3)

Chilli, Coriander and Cheddar Biscuits

Adapted from Sage and Cheddar Biscuits, Indira Naidoo, Plate to Page Cookbook

Makes 24-30 biscuits

Get:

150g butter, softened
225g plain flour, extra for dusting
125g tasty cheddar cheese, grated
1 small handful finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp hot chilli flakes
Generous pinch salt
A few extra coriander leaves for decoration

Make:

Place all the ingredients apart from the whole coriander leaves into a large mixing bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until they come together.  Transfer to a clean, floured surface and knead lightly for a few seconds.  Split the mixture into halves and roll each half into a 3cm diameter log. Wrap in cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Remove the dough from the oven and with a sharp knife, slice into 1 to 1 1/2 cm slices. Place the slices flat side down on 2 baking paper lined baking trays. Bake for 10-12 mins or until the tops are starting to turn golden brown.

Making Progress

It took a tough lesson that drove home to me the importance of following recipes while baking.  That looking squint eyed at a 1 kg bag of flour and dumping in approximately a third of it before dousing it in the wet ingredients does not necessarily produce a good, or even vaguely edible, cookie.  That forgetting to sieve the flour, then quickly losing patience while working the lumps out of batter, is a sure fire way to incite the wrath of the cake gods.

My first cake was born of the oven in the small, rented apartment that my family lived in as new immigrants to Australia.  Indian kitchens, traditionally, do not have ovens.  The only home-made cake I had tasted was the one that my mum used to make in the jaffle maker, the one she had excitedly purchased after attending a demonstration at a neighbour’s place.  She would follow the eggless recipe in the instruction manual that was also a cookbook, brand new to baking herself.  That cake was soft, sweet, and in hindsight, almost pancakey.  It’s surface was ribbed from the jaffle maker cake fitting and it’s crumb was loose and yielding.  It was, from memory, a good cake.

strawberry coconut cake (2 of 3)

My mum’s jaffle maker cake was what I envisioned when I and my childhood best friend, flour dusting our faces and every surface of the tiny kitchen, slid our dubious batter into the hastily preheated oven.  What emerged some forty nail-biting minutes later was more weapon than cake.  More desert than dessert.

The Rock Cake haunts me to this day.  It’s harsh surface hiding a dry, uncompromising crumb.  The raisins that studded it a humiliated version of themselves.  It’s alarming power to strain any knife that dared to challenge it.

It was a tough lesson but an effective one.

Thankfully these days I (mostly) follow recipes when it comes to baking, and I choose my sources wisely.  Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen is one of my go to sources for fail-proof recipes, especially when it comes to baking.  I came across this strawberry summer cake while browsing through her archives in search of a way to use the 2 half punnets of strawberries that had taken up residence in my fridge.  What I pulled out of the oven was delectable, a far cry from my first cake as an eight year old.  It was moist, dense and chewy with coconut (my only tweak), yet still somehow light and summery.  The strawberries took on the jammy character that berries will in the oven, adding tartness to sweetness, red stains to fluffy pale yellow.

It’s a cake to celebrate the dregs of summer, and perhaps more importantly, my birthday.

strawberry coconut cake (3 of 3)

Strawberry and Coconut Cake

Slightly modified from ‘Strawberry Summer Cake‘, Smitten Kitchen

Get:

85gm unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus extra granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
6-8 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved

Make:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.  Grease and flour a standard medium sized cake tin (I used a bundt tin).

Fold the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

In another bowl, use electric beaters to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined

Add dry ingredients gradually, using a spatula to fold in until just combined.  Fold in the coconut gently.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and scatter the strawberry halves, cut end down, over the top.  Sprinkle over with 1-2 tbsp sugar.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins, then reduce temperature to 170 degrees C and bake for 40-50 mins, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

strawberry coconut cake (1 of 3)

Freekah, Mint Pesto and Vegie Bowl (Vegan)

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (2 of 5)

I guessed that by this time of the summer, the mint scattered along the side of the house would have flourished, perhaps even enough for a pesto.  The crop started many years ago as a couple of tiny plants, one of regular mint and one of chocolate mint.  The chocolate mint has never served a purpose per se, but I defy any of you to walk past a cute little pot of emerald green leaves that smells ever so slightly of an After Eight mint without wanting it in your garden.

At some point in the history of the garden, both plants escaped the pots, intermingled and took up their sprawling residence in the garden bed along the side of the house.  It’s a little unruly, this part of the yard.  Little chartered territory given a slightly more dangerous edge by the stump of the lemon tree that my dad had to chop down owing to its infestation of ominous looking black citrus bugs with their toxic venom.  Definitely not for barefoot wanderings.

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (4 of 5)

Be-sandaled and armed with a basket and scissors, I made my way around the Tulsi (holy basil) and picked my way among the weeds, past the stumpy citrus.  Squeezing around the water heater, I was met with a lush mint crop large enough to supply a toothpaste factory.  A pesto was surely in order.  I tossed it with freekah (a type of cracked wheat) and with a few fresh vegetables, it made the freshest, most healthful lunch I’ve had in some time.  Sweetcorn is a must I think but as far as other vegetables go, You can pretty much pick your favourites.  I threw in carrot and snowpeas, but cherry tomatoes, blanched asparagus or broccoli, or pan-fried zucchini would work beautifully.

Want more healthy and filling vegetarian salad ideas? Try this lentil salad or quinoa salad.  Or screw the salads and make this fudge :)

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (1 of 5)

Freekah, Mint Pesto and Vegetable Bowl

Get:

3/4 cup dry Freekah
1 ear of corn
Olive oil
Other vegetables according to preference
Small handful sunflower seeds.

For the Mint Pesto:
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp almond meal
1/2 hot chilli
Small garlic clove (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Salt to taste

Make:

Place Freekah on the stove with twice the amount of water and 1 tsp salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 mins until cooked.  It should be tender but still a little firm and nutty. Drain, rinse  and set aside.

At the same time, boil the peeled corn in salted water in another pan for about 10 min.  Rub the corn with olive oil and char on an open flame or in the grill.  With a knife, carefully cut the corn off the cob.  Prep the other vegetables.

To make the pesto, blitz all the pesto ingredients (start with 1/2 tsp salt and add more to taste) in a food processor until a rough paste is formed.  Taste and add salt or lemon juice as needed.

Toss the pesto through the freekah.  Divide into 3 or 4 bowls.  Top with corn and whatever vegetables you choose. Finally, sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (3 of 5)

On Popsicles and Pooches

Coffee Cardamon pops  (1 of 3)

If you follow me on Instagram you would have seen that I’ve been so proud of my little boy this week.  After tearing a ligament in his knee and hobbling around pathetically for a week, I finally took the leap and operated.  We anaesthetised him, all 7.8 kg of cuteness.  We stuck a needle into his little spine to deliver epidural pain relief.  He had an entire team at his disposal.  An anaesthetist, a surgeon, a vet student, two nurses and two trainee nurses.  Many many two-leggeds for one tiny little nugget of a 4-legged.  Then he was all draped up and for a little while I could forget that it was my precious little fur-child I was doing major surgery on.  This helped as it had been all I could do not to curl up in a ball of nervousness leading up to the event.

Coffee Cardamon pops  (3 of 3)

Thankfully it all went according to plan and before I knew it I was packing a sleepy and sore bundle of fur into my car alongside his drip pump and medications.  Two days on, he is vehemently disagreeing with the post-operative plan to keep him confined and is demanding in true small dog style to be given access to the rest of the house.  He is using a well prepared arsenal of woeful looks, sad tail wags and softly incessant whimpers which even I as a veterinary professional am struggling to ignore.

But ignore we shall as the little body with the chubby little knee needs to heal.  And if Cookie can withstand and recover from major surgery as an eleven  year old pooch, I’d better do my part to ensure that his recovery is as smooth as possible.

Coffee cardamom pops (1 of 1)

All this has nothing to do with popsicles.  However I am a firm believer that coffee and popsicles are enough reason to indulge in coffee and popsicles.  These have a good caffeine buzz, with fragrant cardamom providing an extra jolt.  Sweetened with rice syrup, they are almost toffee like, the warm flavours complementing the freeze.  A grown-up popsicle, if you will.

Coffee Cardamon pops  (2 of 3)

Coffee, Cardamom & Yoghurt Popsicles

Makes 6

Get:

1/3 cup strongly brewed coffee
6 cardamom pods
1 cup full-fat Greek yoghurt
1/3 cup honey or rice syrup

Special Equipment:

Popsicle moulds
Freezer

Make:

Use a mortar and pestle to crush the whole cardamom pods until they break open and the seeds are roughly powdered.  Place the seeds and pods in the coffee and set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.  Once infused, pass the mixture through a strainer and discard the cardamom.

In a large bowl, whisk the yoghurt with the syrup or honey and cardamom infused coffee to form a smooth mixture.  Fill the popsicle moulds, insert popsicle sticks and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight.

To serve, dip the popsicle moulds in hot water to make it easier to lift out the popsicles.

cookie (1 of 1)

Comfort…..

……is that old pair of jeans that has molded perfectly to every curve of your body.  The ones that used to be a bright azure denim but now, after a hundred washes and many more wears, is a murky blue-grey shade of its former self.  Comfort is slipping these on, feeling them conform to your skin obediently and diligently ignoring that thinning area over the backside that one day is bound to give up the ghost, taking your dignity with it.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (1 of 4)

Comfort is bare feet.  The liberation you feel when you open the front door, kick off the shoes, stretch the toes and feel plush carpet between them.  It is going to the cinemas in your sweatpants and no make-up.  Comfort watches movies on the couch on New Years’ Eve while the world packs picnics, braves the crowds and catches trains home after midnight, blinking under fluorescent lights.

Comfort is a hug with one who you have hugged for so long that both your shapes have long ago imprinted into one another.

And yet comfort may be something else, like talking on a friend’s couch for hours about nothing and everything all at once.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (4 of 4)

Comfort is edible.  It is dhal, hot and salty, gingery and lemony, popping with cumin.  It is a roast potato with plenty of butter, solid to slippery liquid as it hits the steaming flesh.  It is hot chocolate, cold beer or a well-earned glass of wine.

Comfort is cheese and pasta.  Mac ‘n’ cheese.  Waistline defying mouthfuls of perfectly yielding pasta in a melty yellow matrix.  Throwing nutrition and caution to the wind to embrace it, comfort on a plate.

This one is from a cookbook which is the latest offering in the delicious. series by Valli Little, titled Love to Eat (ABC Books, Harper Collins).  The book navigates the home cook through a global journey, with each section holding recipes that are Valli Little’s take on flavours of that part of the world.  Comfort from each of the world’s corners.  For lovers of this series, this latest addition doesn’t disappoint, with practical and mouth-watering recipes that any home cook can tackle.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (5 of 1)

I have my eye on the Kashmiri Prawns from the Indian section and the Chilli Chocolate Puddings of Latin America.  But for now we have this Mac ‘n’ Cheese slice.  I used emmental instead of gruyere, rosemary instead of thyme based on what I could get my hands on at the time.  I unceremoniously dumped in a whole 500g boxful of pasta rather than the recommended 400g and found the recipe still worked well.  I also stopped short of pan frying the slices dusted with flour, mainly due to sheer laziness, but I’m sure this would add an extra layer of decadence.  The pasta I used was one from the Barilla gluten-free range, a shape that is cutely named ‘elbows’.  I wrapped the slices individually, refrigerating some to eat within three or four days, and freezing some.  They thawed very well and made a perfectly convenient lunch to look forward to.

What is your Comfort?

Disclosures: My copy of Love to Eat was sent to me by Harper Collins Australia, and pasta was provided by Barilla, but all opinions are my own.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (3 of 4)

Mac ‘n’ Cheese Slice

From delicious. Love to Eat, Valli Little

Makes 7-9 serves

Get:

400-500 g macaroni or similar shaped pasta
Olive oil, to drizzle
2 cups milk
1 onion, halved
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
80g unsalted butter
1/4 cup plain flour
1 1/4 cups strong cheddar, grated
1 1/4 cups gruyere or emmental cheese, grated
1 1/4 cups parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
Plain flour, to dust (optional)

Make:

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to combine and set aside.

Combine milk, onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat adn bring to a simmer.  Set aside for 30 min to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and line a large baking dish with greaseproof paper.

Melt 40g butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 mins.  Strain the milk into the pan, discarding the solids. Whisk the mixture until smooth and thickened.  Add the cheeses and stir to melt and combine.  Add the egg and stir to combine.  Season with freshly ground pepper and salt if needed.

Take the pan off the heat and add the pasta, toss to coat.  Transfer the mixture to the lined oven dish and spread evenly.  Bake for 30 mins or until the top is golden. Allow to cool completely then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Optional:

Cut mac ‘n’ cheese into 7 to 9 slices and dust with flour.  Melt the remaining 40g butter in a frypan and cook each slice as needed for 2-3 mins on each side until golden and crisp.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (2 of 4)