Pumpkin Ginger Lassi

Pumpkin Ginger Lassi (1 of 4)

A lassi is a traditional, cooling Indian drink that can be either sweet, often mango flavoured, or salty. Many a restaurant has been guilty of serving a sweet mango lassi that is astoundingly, eyes squeezingly sweet. That level of sweetness usually overwhelms an excessive mango flavour that can’t possibly be natural. For me, the stifling sugariness of it drives me towards the salty option. Yet my thoughts drift to lightly sweetened home-made lassi using fresh fruit, such as this cherry lassi.

Pumpkin Ginger Lassi (3 of 4)

When the good people of The Society asked me to come up with a Thanksgiving recipe, it was the perfect opportunity to create a drink combining pumpkin with Indian flavours. In Australia we are headed for a blazing hot summer and lassi is a much loved summer drink in our household for its cooling, filling properties. This is a sweet, but not over sweet version that combines honey roasted pumpkin with ginger and other spices. Finally, a sprinkle of toasted pepitas adds a surprising crunch. If you are feeling adventurous, you could even spike it with a little gin for a cheeky cocktail.

Pumpkin Ginger Lassi (1 of 1)

Pumpkin Ginger Lassi

Get:
350-400g butternut pumpkin
3-4 cm piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1 cup milk of your choice
1 1/2 cups yoghurt
The insides of 2 cardamom pods, powdered
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder + extra
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
Generous pinch saffron (optional)
Honey or rice syrup to taste
Small handful pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Equipment:
Oven
Stove and frypan
High speed food processor

Make:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut the pumpkin into large pieces (no need to remove skin) and rub the cut surfaces with honey. I used about 2 tsp for this. Roast on an oven tray for 25-30 mins or until very soft.

Scrape the pumpkin flesh out of its skin and place the flesh in the bowl of your food processor with the ginger, milk, yoghurt, cardamom, 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder, vanilla and about 1/4 cup honey or syrup. Blitz until well mixed and the ginger is shredded. If you think your food processor may not shred the ginger, finely grate it before adding it to the other ingredients. Taste and add more sweetener if desired, blitz again to mix. Place the lassi in the fridge to chill.

Place the pepitas in a frypan and toast on low heat for 3-4 minutes or until slightly browned and popping. Transfer to a bowl and toss in a small amount of cinnamon.

Serve the lassi chilled and sprinkled with the cinnamon tossed pepitas.

Pumpkin Ginger Lassi (2 of 4)

Spiced Orange Chocolate Spoons

Choc Orange spoons (1 of 4)

It is widely accepted in scientific circles that a little bit of chocolate every day does wonders for one’s general health, demeanor, muscular strength, bone density, complexion and sexual performance*.  Researchers have found that the substance can be taken in either liquid or solid form, hot or cold, in secret or with others of the same inclination**.  There is anecdotal evidence that sitting in one’s comfiest armchair and closing one’s eyes while taking this medication improves it’s efficacy, however further studies are required in this particular field***.  One point on which all scientists are in agreement is that the darker the chocolate the better****.

Here at the Therapeutic Chocolate Society, we strive to improve ease of administration of this highly efficacious therapy.  We strongly support consumption of chocolate in its solid form, pure and unmodified.  However if a liquid form improves ease of administration, and if the slightest hint of fragrant orange and warming cinnamon, with the subtlest of bites of fiesty cardamom improves the appeal of the treatment, we may have just the thing for you.

Choc Orange spoons (3 of 4)

Warm a cup of milk of your choice, hot enough to melt the chocolate but not so hot that it scalds your mouth. Stir gently with the chocolate spoon until all melted. Lick any residual chocolate off the spoon (it is important to consume the full dose).  Add a little sugar or sweetener if desired and sip until all gone.

You may feel a rich, creamy sensation coating the inside of your mouth.  You will experience a heat in your chest as the warm liquid trickles from your mouth to your stomach.  Approximately 100% of patients report a heady cocoa aroma that overtakes the remaining senses, a sprinkling of orange and spices lacing it’s edges.

All of these are normal and frequently reported side effects of hot chocolate made with Spiced Orange Chocolate Spoons.

Like life itself, it is a bittersweet experience of depth, complexity and ultimately, sweetness.

*This is likely completely fabricated.
**Also unproven
***There are no such studies being conducted, nor are there ever likely to be.
****This part may actually hold some truth.

Choc Orange spoons (4 of 4)

Spiced Orange Chocolate Spoons

Makes 12-14

Get:
150g good quality dark chocolate (I used 100g 70% + 50g unsweetened)
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
The insides of 4 cardamom pods, powdered

Make:

Lay out 12-14 teaspoons in a tray.  Alternatively you can use an ice cube tray.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts. Add the other ingredients.  Stir to mix well and place small amounts (about 1 1/2 tsp) of the mixture into the teaspoons or the sections of the ice cube tray.  If using the ice cube tray, insert wooden popsicle sticks into the centre of each cube of chocolate. Place in the fridge to set or in the freezer if there is a medical emergency requiring immediate chocolate treatment.

Stir into a cup of hot milk, sweeten if needed find an armchair and enjoy.

Like things extra chocolatey? Use two!

Choc Orange spoons (2 of 4)

Kale and Cranberry Toss

It’s been an indulgent couple of months largely owing to a cavalcade of Hindu festivals.  Starting with Ganesh Chathurthi, then Navrathri and the ultimate excuse for overeating, Diwali.  Dotted between them were birthdays, dinners out, a trip to a food bloggers conference where of course there was no shortage of incredible food, and Halloween.  In the middle of it all, I’ve found myself actually craving greens.  The timing couldn’t be better when I was sent the latest cookbook by accomplished chef and author Annabel Langbein, titled Through the Seasons (ABC Books) after her TV series.

Kale Cranberry Toss (1 of 3)

As the title suggests, this is a collection of fresh, delicious ways to use seasonal produce, real food at its best.  It is divided by the seasons with each section progressing from starters and salads, to mains and sides, ending as all good things should, with desserts.  There are also useful ‘how to’s’ such as making yoghurt and growing things from seed.  After my few months of excess, I for one have my eye on the Beachside Ceviche, Cucumber Salad with Dan’s Secret Sauce and the Baked Eggplant with Kasundi.  My sweet tooth won’t be able to resist trying the Chocolate Orange creams and Mexican Hot Chocolate.  The recipes are complimented by stunning photography that creates the mood for each season.

For now, we have a Kale and Cranberry Toss, a simple green side dish whose recipe I halved and slightly modified according the ingredients I had on hand.  What you end up with is orange scented, slightly softened kale dotted with tangy cranberries and the crunch of pepitas.  Kale is insanely good for you, and for those of you who haven’t quite been able to embrace it yet, this is a good way to start.  Also, I’m sure this one at least partially erases the over-indulgences of festivals gone by.

Just in time for the excesses of Christmas.

*Through the Seasons was a gift from ABC Books and Harper Collins.  As always, words and opinions are my own.

Kale Cranberry Toss (3 of 3)

Kale and Cranberry Toss

Serves 3-4 as a side dish

Slightly modified from Through the Seasons by Annabel Langbein

Get:

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot or small eschalot, thinly sliced.
1 small clove garlic, finely sliced
12-16 kale leaves
Finely grated zest of 1/3-1/2 and orange
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp orange juice
1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 heaped tbsp dried cranberries
2 tbsp pepitas, toasted
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Make:

Heat oil in a large frypan or pot and cook shallots or eschalots and garlic until soft, about 2 mins.  Tear kale leaves off stems and roughly chop.  Add the chopped leaves to the pan with orange zest and water.  Cook on medium heat, tossing, for 2-3 minutes.  Add orange juice, vinegar and cranberries and cook covered for 1-2 minutes until kale is slightly softened and cranberries are plumped.  Uncover and cook for another minute or so until all the liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat and toss through a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Taste and add a little more seasoning if needed.  Serve with toasted pepitas sprinkled over the top.

Kale Cranberry Toss (2 of 3)

Diwali, Coconut & Quinoa Kheer and Win Flights to India!

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (2 of 5)

Of all of the stories that are associated with Diwali, the tale of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman has to be the one that is dearest to my heart.  It is a tale of honour, exile, self-control and eventually, triumph.  This part of the epic Ramayana begins with the self-imposed exile of Rama after an administration bungle involving his stepmother and the throne.  Despite the pleas of his father the King, honour drives Rama into the forest, where he is willingly followed by Sita and Lakshman to begin what is to be an adventure-filled, fourteen year camping trip.

And what of Sita?  Her adoptive father, also a King, discovered baby Sita in the fields (one assumes she was discovered by one of his staff as what King would toil the fields?).  He is delighted with his find, which if you ask me is a refreshing change in the attitude of that time, when female babies were generally considered a consolation prize to sons.  He raises her as his own and when she is of marriageable age, hosts the equivalent of a celestial weight lifting championship to filter out the men from the mice.  Thus, Rama is found.  He is known in Hindu mythology as Purushottama, literally the Supreme Being, or Perfect Man (thereby confirming that on Earth, one may find Mr. Right but can forget any hopes of finding Mr. Perfect).

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (5 of 5)

So after having to suffer through watching keen suitor after keen suitor attempt to lift the heaviest bow in the world, the Princess Sita finds her perfect man, marries him and is rewarded with a honeymoon of more than a decade in the woods with no mobile phone connection and barely a hairdryer to her name.  As if having to wander around in the forest with your husband and the third wheel his brother wasn’t trying enough for the poor lady, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Ravana, an obnoxious demon with appalling table manners.

So Diwali marks the return from exile of the trio, after Rama proves his perfection by slaying the evil Ravana, rescuing his wife and bringing her back to civilisation before she can get herself into any more trouble.  Known as the Festival of Lights, an important feature of Diwali is the lighting of lamps and of firecrackers.  The flames and bursts are a symbol of good triumphing over evil, of light obscuring the darkness.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (1 of 5)

In Sydney, the law dictates that we be content with the lighting of sparklers and of small oil filled lamps, or diyas.  When I was in Mumbai as a child however, it was a different story.  Weeks before the much anticipated festival, we would stock up on firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  Then the day would come and after the religious rituals were duly observed and obscene amounts of food eaten, all of the inhabitants would gather in front of the apartment block, the youngest kids hoisted safely onto their fathers’ shoulders.

We would often start softly, with flower pots that would spray a bouquet of light upwards and chakkars (wheels) that would spin madly when lit, spraying colourful sparks unpredictably in all directions.  Some of the braver boys would venture onto rockets, placing them in used soda bottles. These had to be lit quickly, legs in take-off position, so that the mad dash to safety could be done before they launched.  The grand finale would be strings of tiny ‘Dum Dum’ crackers, named so for the deafening cavalcade of explosions that began when they were lit, leaving ears ringing till Christmas.  When the boxes of firecrackers had all been systematically reduced to burnt paper and the air was heavy with the strangely intoxicating scent of over-done popcorn, we would all head back into our homes (or each others’) to enjoy a vast array of sweets for dessert.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (3 of 5)

Firecrackers and sweets jostle for first place among the highlights of Diwali and in Australia, where the law is limiting, sweets win every time.  There are no rules against sugary, milky gratification and indulge we do, with at least three different types of sweets every year.  This year, I played with a variation on kheer, a popular condensed milk and rice pudding.  In this version, the quinoa lends a nuttiness which cuts through its creamy, mildly sweet coconut vehicle.  There is a pleasant coating of the tongue of thickened coconut milk and the delicate balance of the cardamom, saffron and vanilla that it carries.  Jaggery lends a warm, caramel sweetness, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have any on hand.  An abundant drizzle of toasted, crushed nuts is mandatory and gives the molars something to work on in an otherwise soft world.  I chose almonds and also used some Persian fairy floss that I happened to find strutting around in the pantry.  From a nutrition perspective, quinoa is mostly protein and therefore a healthier option to rice.  Also, the natural sweetness of coconut products means that only a small amount of sweetener is required.  Serve in small bowls, as both quinoa and coconut milk are filling entities and the last thing we all need is dessert fatigue*.

Now onto the competition! St.George Bank is giving away 2 tickets to India this Diwali (see the video below), and if I hadn’t spent my leave galavanting around Tuscany and the UK, I’d be entering.  To enter, all you have to do is snap a pic of some aspect of your Diwali celebrations.  Post the pic on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the #StGeorgeDiwali by 12 noon Sunday, October 26.  The best entry will win flights for 2 to India!  The competition is open to NSW, ACT and QLD residents.  For further info, including T & C’s, head to http://www.stgeorgediwali.com.au/

So whether your Diwali consists of Dum-Dums and squealing children, or quiet rituals and too much food, may it be filled with light, love and sweetness.  Happy Diwali!

Looking for other eggless sweet options? Try these chocolate burfi. or this raw mint slice, or these truffles or these ones.

This is a sponsored post, but words, opinions and ramblings are my own.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (4 of 5)

Coconut and Quinoa Kheer (Pudding)

Makes  8-10 serves

Get:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin coconut cream
50-70g jaggery, powdered, or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
The insides of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/8 tsp (generous pinch) saffron strands
1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean
About 1/4 cup crushed, toasted nuts of your choice

Make:

Boil the quinoa in plenty of water for 6-8 mins. Drain and rinse the quinoa well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the drained quinoa, coconut milk, coconut cream, powdered jaggery or brown sugar, powdered cardamom seeds and saffron.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the bean into the pan.

Bring gently to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the pudding has thickened to a porridge consistency.  Crush and toast the nuts in another pan while this is happening.  Serve topped with crushed nuts and whatever else happens to be serving a purely decorative purpose in your pantry.

 

Notes:

*We all know dessert fatigue is a myth, but the weak amongst us claim it exists.  Also, I may have made way too much of this and eaten it for breakfast 3 days in a row.

Jaggery is an unrefined Indian brown sugar that you can pick up at Indian grocery stores.

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute with vanilla extract or paste.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (7 of 2)

 

Mum’s Natural Cough Remedy

For the past week I’ve been struck down with bronchitis, resulting in a pesky, guttural cough that is as unsavoury as it is exhausting.  To say that I’m not great at being a patient is putting it mildly.  It took me several days to see the doctor for some antibiotics, and a whole lot of parental coaxing to convince me to take time off work to recuperate.  Having time on my hands is something I always crave, but time combined with a physical inability to do things I want to do is not quite what I had in mind.  After almost a week at home, I am truly insufferable and yet this tiresome cough lingers.

All this whining has a purpose, I promise.  There is a natural relief for coughing and head colds that I want to share with you, something that my mother forces into me at times like this.  A few days ago I was home alone with Cookie the pooch, and on my second consecutive night of incessant coughing, an activity that seems to be incompatible with sleep.  Sometime around three am, I had had enough and was feeling borderline murderous.  When I got out of bed and turned the light on for the third time that night, (ignoring an exasperated gaze from the long-suffering Cookie who had the misfortune of sleeping in my room) I knew that a solution had to be found.

Turmeric Pepper Milk (1 of 3)

So the stove was lit, milk poured, pepper ground and white yellowed with turmeric.  A short boil later, I was sipping my mother’s medicine for the first time without her insistence.  To say it worked, the cough subsided and I enjoyed a few hours sleep for the first time in what felt like forever would be an admission that my mother is right.  That she told me so, and that I would’ve done well to listen earlier.  And we know, you and I, that we never admit such a thing, regardless of how old or supposedly mature we are.

There are no pretensions about this milk.  It may be, at least initially, one of the worst things you’ve ever put in your mouth.  I don’t sweeten mine anymore, but you can and I suggest you do the first few times.  Honey would be the obvious choice because of its soothing properties.  You could also use a nut milk or soy milk.  Be sure to drink it as hot as you can possibly manage.  I think it works partly because turmeric has known anti-inflammatory properties which have long been recognised in Ayurvedic medicine.  Pepper was thought to have the ability to clear congestion but my personal theory is that in such a high concentration, it just annihilates the sensation in the nerve endings in the throat.  For whatever reason, this concoction, while unappealing in taste, seems to work well as a natural cough suppressant, and will provide some flu relief also.

Please don’t tell my mother I said that.

So tell me, what natural remedies do your family members swear by?

Turmeric Pepper Milk (3 of 3)

Milk with Turmeric and Pepper

Makes 1 serve

Get:

1 cup milk
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp turmeric powder
Sweetener of your choice, to taste (optional)

Make:

Place all ingredients in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir to disperse the turmeric.  Bring slowly to the boil and simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and drink as hot as you can handle.

Sleep well and allow those around you to do the same.

Turmeric Pepper Milk (2 of 3)

 

Mocha Tartlets

Mocha Tartlets OSP (1 of 4)

It took me a long time after university to stop associating coffee with the torture of exams.  Despite being an over-achiever at school, it took me quite a few years to get my groove at uni.  And so frantic, caffeine fuelled all-nighters were the rule rather than the exception during vet school, much to the surprise of those who knew me in high-school.  Couple that with the academically, physically and emotionally demanding nature of a vet degree, and it was a sure formula for one hot mess of a vet student come exam time.  That year that we had 10 exams to complete in a two week period is particularly memorable, and I think it was after that year that I resolved to get my act together so that I wouldn’t have to sit important papers on two hours of sleep and a whole lot of liquid stimulation.

A forced wake-up from an unfairly short sleep wasn’t even the worst of it.  The kicker was the mind-fog through which I would command the answers to surface as I tried to focus on the words on the page.  Finally, there was the fumble of a bus ride home, when my brain was too numb with lack of sleep to even process whether I had performed adequately in the exam.  Even to this day, looking at an energy drink brings back the faint nausea of those delirious, desperate and disillusioned all-nighters that I and my friends (yes, I had company in this silly behaviour) subjected ourselves to for 2 weeks every semester.

Mocha Tartlets OSP (4 of 4)

In the last few years I have felt that I am adult enough and forgetful enough to be able to savour the taste of coffee without the bone-chilling memories that my disorganised uni student self had attached to it.  Good coffee, made well, truly is a wonderful thing.  Those first few sips whose aromas fill the nostrils and which leave a trail of warmth down the oesophagus are a comfort and a wake-up call in one.

I take mine without sugar, always have, and find it is actually an offense to the coffee if sugar masks any of its flavour.  On days when I’m feeling a bit decadent, I will also dip a piece of dark chocolate into it, holding it in there for a few seconds so that I can inelegantly suck off the top layer of melted chocolate before dipping it back in.  Occasionally I will also drop a cube of chocolate in while the coffee is still very hot, so that I have something lovely to scoop out with a spoon after my last swig.

I don’t think there’s any uncertainty that I am all for the marriage of coffee and chocolate.  These mocha tarts combine those two great lovers, and the nutty, gluten-free base does much to ground the whole thing and cut through the bittersweetness.

Mocha Tartlets OSP (2 of 4)

 Mocha Tartlets (Gluten-free, refined sugar free)

Makes 18-20

Get:

For the Crust:
3 cups almond meal
115g butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 tbsp rice syrup or honey
1 pinch salt

For the filling:
2 cups raw cashews
1/3 cup strongly brewed, good quality coffee
1/3 cup Rice Syrup or honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
150 g 70% dark chocolate
1/3 cup double cream

Special Equipment:
Mini tart cases or a muffin tin, greased well
A high speed food processor

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.  Spread the cashews out on an oven tray and bake for 4-5 mins until just starting to gain colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

To make the crust, cut the butter into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl with the other crust ingredients.  Using clean hands, rub the butter into the other ingredients to form a dough that you can knead.  Knead for 2-3 minutes.

Pinch off portions of the dough the size of ping-pong balls (23-25g each).  Flatten each ball between the palms and press into the tart cases or cups of the muffin tin.  Press the dough evenly at the base and sides of the tins to a 3-4mm thickness.  Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 10-15 mins until the cases are an even golden brown colour.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before removing the cases from the tins.  Use the tip of a sharp knife to gently loosen the tart cases and facilitate removal from the tins.

While the tart cases are baking, make the filling.  Place the cooled cashews in the bowl of the food processor and blitz on high speed, stopping intermittently, until a smooth butter is formed.  Initially a meal will form, then a thick dough, then a smooth butter.  Add the coffee, cinnamon and honey or rice syrup and blitz until an even mixture forms, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all the nut butter is incorporated.

When all the tart cases are baked, cooled and removed from the tins, fill each one 1/2 to 2/3 with the filling.  Place them in the freezer for an hour or so until they are firmly set.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 to 30 second bursts.  Take off the heat and add the cream, stirring quickly to form a smooth ganache.  When the coffee filling has set, spoon small amounts (about a tsp) of the ganache onto the top of each tart and spread out a little with the back of the spoon.

Refrigerate until the ganache is firm. Serve as is or with a dollop of cream.

Leftover chocolate and coffee filling? Mix them together, firm up in the fridge and roll into balls to make mocha truffles!

Notes:

You could probably make 1 large tart in a standard sized tart tin if you prefer, although I have not tried that with this recipe.

Mocha Tartlets OSP (3 of 4)

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal Curry + Nourishing Spinach Broth

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 1

The young man always set his stall up just outside the main gate.  He would line the steel canisters up on the cheap plastic table, leaving the lids on until the first few walkers would trickle past.  The gate behind him led into a paved path, which encircled a large man-made lake called Sankey Tank.  Every morning, the sweetly smiling, crisp shirted young man would peddle his wares to the local residents who walked or jogged the popular Bangalore path.

Two large signs rested against the front row of vessels.

Nutritious and Healthy Hot Soups are Available Here explained the first one

Next to it, the other sign went on to list the options: Hot Ragi (millet).  Palak and Methi (Spinach and Fenugreek). Vegetable. Baby Corn.  Aloe Vera and Wheat Grass. 

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 2

In the earlier part of the morning, it was mainly the office-goers he served, confidently ladling hot liquids until he achieved the mixture that each customer looked forward to.  They would drink quickly, blowing into their cups between sips, then rush off with a wave to begin a new day.  Later in the morning came the housewives and retirees, often in pairs or threes.  There was no air of urgency about this bunch and they would linger a little longer around his stall, sipping the spiced, healthful broth and exchanging news.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 1

He wore no watch, but guessed the time according to the regulars.  The old man who fed the pigeons arrived at precisely eight am, and left at nine fifteen.  There was the trickle of school children that would begin at around 8.30 and trail off around nine. And the aunty who always wore a woollen beanie, regardless of the weather, usually arrived around ten.

Then, at around ten thirty, when all the walkers had walked, joggers had jogged and soup drinkers had drunk, the young man would meticulously pack away his things and head home.  Every day he would take pleasure in the lightness of the canisters at the end of the morning.  It made him happy that people liked his soup, so full of nourishment.  And it made him even happier that the cycle home from Sankey Tank at the end of his shift was always easier than the one he had done in the wee hours of the morning.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 4

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal curry

Get:

2 large bunches English spinach, leaves and tender stems only, finely chopped
8-10 fresh baby corns, sliced to 2-3mm pieces
1/3 cup dried split mung dhal
Salt
Lemon juice
Boiling water
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
2-3 dried red chillies, broken into large pieces

Make:

Boil the spinach in 2-3 cups salted water (enough to submerge it) for 5-7 minutes.  Drain and reserve the water.

In a large non-stick saucepan, dry roast the mung dhal, stirring continuously until they have gained a little colour and are fragrant.  Remove from the saucepan and set aside.

Boil the sliced baby corn in plenty of salted water until they are starting to become tender.  Then add the roasted mung dhal and cook until the dhal is mostly but not completely cooked.  Drain and reserve the water.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.  When the seeds have popped (adjust the heat to prevent burning them), add the other tempering ingredients.  Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, then add the baby corn and mung dhal.  If the mixture is a bit dry, add a little of the spinach water.  Add salt to taste- start with 1/2 tsp.   Stir through, taste and add more salt if needed.  Cook, covered,  until the baby corn is fairly tender and until any excess water has evaporated (you may have to cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end).

Squeeze in a generous about of lemon juice (start with a tbsp, add more according to taste) and stir through just before serving.  Enjoy with your favourite Indian flatbread.

Nourishing Spinach Broth:

Get:

The spinach and baby corn water from the previous recipe
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, split down the middle
1-2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and lemon juice to taste

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Make:

Boil all the ingredients (apart from the oil, cumin and lemon juice) in a pot for about 15-20 mins.  Add salt only if needed after tasting.  Strain the broth to remove the garlic and chilly.  In a separate small non-stick pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds.  When they have popped, add the mixture to the broth and stir.  Add lemon juice to taste.

Notes:

Mung Dhal, dry red chillies and all the spices are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 3

Raw Mint Slice for The Sweet Swap 2014

Mint Slice 3

The punch of peppermint is what first makes

It’s presence known in the rich nutty base

Then sexy dark chocolate, creamy with coconut

Widens the smile on the indulger’s face

Mint Slice 3

So as a nibble with tea

Or an after dinner zing,

This raw mint slice will make

Your taste-buds sing!

Mint Slice 4

Ok so a poet I clearly am not.  But I am kinda tickled pink with this recipe, and boxes of the decadent yet goodness-filled squares went out to three lovely bloggers.  Amanda of Chewtown, Bryton of Food in Literature and Cassandra of Journey From Within each received a box of these gluten-free, low sugar, raw goodies.  In turn, I welcomed sugary goodness in the form of Butterscotch Pecans from Fiona of Tiffin and Raw Date and Almond Truffles from Karla of Get On Up.  In its second year, the Sweet Swap, organised by Amanda (Chewtown) and Sara (Belly Rumbles) is a fun, innovative event that brings Aussie bloggers together and benefits a worthy cause.

Raw Mint Slice

Makes 24 squares, approx 4cm x 4cm

Get:

Base:
3/4 cup cashew or macadamia nut butter (homemade or store bought)
2 tbsp milk powder (or pea protein powder for a vegan option)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tbsp rice syrup
4 drops peppermint oil (available at cake supply shops)
1 1/2 tsp spirulina powder (for colour, optional)

Topping:
120g good quality dark chocolate
1 tbsp thick coconut cream* (see note)

To Sprinkle:
Small handful cacao nibs or shredded coconut

Make:

See the note below first regarding coconut cream.  Prepare a tray lined with grease-proof paper.  To make the base, place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir.  It will probably be a little too thick to stir, at which point you can knead with clean hands.  If the nut butter you use is on the runny side, you may need to add a little more milk or protein powder to achieve a bread dough consistency.  Press the mixture down into the tray to roughly a 6-8mm thickness.

To make the topping, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in 20-30 second bursts in the microwave.  When it is fully melted, quickly stir through the coconut milk before the chocolate seizes up.  Quickly spread the mixture evenly over the base and sprinkle with cacao nibs or coconut.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before slicing with a sharp knife.

Notes:
Use coconut cream with no additives (I use Ayam brand), and pop the can in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.  Then, open the tin without shaking and use the thick part of the cream off the top of the tin.

Mint Slice 2

Click the Month: August 2014

Cakes 9

I have cake!! Well, pictures of cake, anyway.  Some time ago I attended a cake decorating workshop with Celebrations Cooking in Sydney, where Andrew taught a small group of us how to work with chocolate to cover and decorate cakes.  I found the course so fulfilling and such great value that I recently attended another workshop, this time working with RTR, or fondant icing.  I think I’m hooked and will be attending more classes, of which they have many including more advanced cake decorating, pastry and cooking classes.

The best part?  At the end of each class, we all skipped home happily with the cakes that we had decorated, to eat or gift as we pleased.  And yes, those are sheep on my chocolate cake.

Cakes 1

Cakes 2Cakes 3Cakes 4

Cakes 5Cakes 7Cakes 9Cakes 8

This is not a sponsored post, and the class was paid for by Deepa.

Tuscany in Transit

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The man sat on a platform bench, directly in my line of sight as I peered out of the water-stained window of the train carriage.  His shirt hung completely open and the dazzling rays of the Tuscan sun reflected off the curves of his generous belly.  The equally reflective surface of his bald head was surrounded by a thick ring of dark, unkempt hair that spilled over the tops of his ears.  He held a brown glass bottle in one hand which he rested on his knee.  An unlit cigarette dangled from the fingers of his other hand.  It was lit as if on schedule by a passing man of about the same age who was, bafflingly, wearing a knitted beanie and sweater.  Large sunglasses were perched on the bare-chested man’s nose, heightening the sense that he should be the head of a crime ring in some Hollywood movie.  He held a grotesque fascination for me and before my train pulled away from Pistoia station, I fought the urge to take a picture, reminding myself that I was in his direct line of vision just as he was for me.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The train I was on was headed for Lucca, a walled city about 140 km from Florence.  Almost three hours earlier, I had entered Santa Maria Novella Station after a brisk twenty minute walk along the sun-baked streets of Florence.  I had approached a small biglietteria, a stall selling tickets for the buses that stopped on either side of the city’s main station.  There, I met the very first impolite person I had come across in Florence, an insipid man who reminded me (in appearance but not in attitude) of my high school economics teacher.  He had set his mouth, sliced his hands through the air and in no uncertain terms told me “Lucca? NO!” promptly turning away as if I had just asked for his bank account details.

A more kindly man at another stall had told me that he too did not sell bus tickets to Lucca, but that if it was him, he would take the train.  I needed no more reasons to opt for the train, especially as I hadn’t been looking forward to the queasiness that I often experienced on drives along winding roads.

Through a combination of my suboptimal touristic Italian and my misreading of the train boards (who knew that they would have both departure and arrival information?), I failed to board one train and had to wait an hour for the next one.  It gave me the opportunity to explore Santa Maria Novella station.  The hub of the Florentine rail and bus networks, it’s imposing ceiling was what kept drawing my eyes upwards.  An intricate arrangement of criss-crossed steel beams supporting panes of grey tinted glass looms over scores of purposeful commutors and bewildered tourists. It’s cavernous underside houses a string of shops selling anything from cheap clothing, to mobile phones and gelato.  The shopping was not exactly a must-do in Florence, but an acceptable way to while away half an hour or so, if one happens to misread the train time signs.

All that speed-walking around a city and missing of perfectly good trains makes one hungry and so I picked up a pizzetta (mini pizza) at a nearby pasticceria.  The round of flaky puff pastry was smeared with pizza sauce and topped with good prosciutto, a puddle of mozzarella and sprinkling of herbs.  It was a simple but satisfying snack that proved to be worth the train mishap.  I picked up another for the journey and vowed to replicate the recipe in my own kitchen.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 2

Finally aboard the train, I settled into one of the comfortably cushioned seats and set my bottle of water on the tiny table.  In front of me was a young African woman who was engaged in a very loud and animated phone conversation, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed looks she was receiving from other passengers.  Across from me sat a middle-aged man in army pants, sporting a mohawk and impossibly dark sunglasses.  He left the train at a station midway to Lucca, with a chesty swagger that I couldn’t help but watch.  A young, slim woman, probably a gypsy, walked up and down the aisles using printed flyers to beg for money.  As always, I was mildly surprised that she wore jeans and a sweater rather than the flowing skirts and jangly bangles of storybook gypsies.

So it was that for the eighty minute ride to Lucca, I took in the undulating emerald green Tuscan hills, dotted with old farmhouses and historic towns.  At each station, I admired the bright scarlet poppies that grew like weeds along the tracks and around the stone buildings.  I peeped at the laundry drying out of windows and in balconies, guessing what kinds of people lived there and how many.  I observed the Italians that I saw on the many platforms that we passed.  Some were intriguing like the very proper little old lady dressed all in grey, others distasteful like the bald, abundantly bellied platform sitter at Pistoia.

I was surprised to find the train mostly filled with residents rather than tourists.  For me, the gentle rhythm of a train has always had a lulling effect, and it was a forced time-out in what had so far been an overly active holiday.  I sunk into my seat, chewed on my pizzetta and I people-watched.  The good, the bad and like that bare-chested gentleman, the downright unsavoury.

A recipe is probably more effort than a pizzetta needs.  You see, it’s as simple as an assembling of tasty, quality ingredients followed by some oven time.  When Spiral Foods sent me a few bottles of their Sugo (Italian Pasta Sauce), I started using this to smear onto the puff pastry and it worked a treat.  It truly is a fresh, homely tasting pasta sauce.  If you are vegetarian, swap the prosciutto for a few thin slices of flavourful tomatoes or red onions.

In other news, can you believe this is my 100th blog post?? I must admit I’m a little shocked that one with as limited an attention span as myself (ohhh…..look…..a butterfly!) would have lasted this long.  But here I am.  And here you are, reading each new post and supporting me with your presence, comments and encouragement.

Thank you!  Keep coming back, and enjoy the Pizzetta.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 3

Prociutto Pizzettas

Makes 8

Get:

4 sheets good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
Melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup passata
1 tsp (3-5) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a couple of leaves
Generous pinch salt
8 slices good quality prosciutto
150g buffallo mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Quarter the pastry sheets.  Lay 8 pieces out onto oven trays and brush with melted butter.  Lay the remaining 8 sheets onto the brushed sheets, lining the corners up with the middle of the sides to form a star.

In a small bowl, mix the passata, basil and salt with a drizzle of olive oil, or use Spiral Foods Sugo straight up.  Taste and add a little more salt if desired, remembering that the prosciutto will be a little salty.  Spread the sauce over the middle of the pastry squares, leaving a 2 cm border clear all the way around each square.

Lay a slice of prosciutto onto each square and top with pinched off pieces of mozzarella, again leaving the border clear.

Scatter torn basil leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked and browned.

Tuscany in transit 3

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, however Sugo product samples were provided by Spiral Foods.