Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

“They were the only chocolate chip cookies I had ever baked. That’s because they were, in my mind, a certain kind of best. Not “best” as in the best in the world, or even the best I’d ever eaten, but “best” in the sense that I’d choose them, at least some of the time, over ones that actually are.

They were the best because they meant something to me.”

–          Jessica Fechtor, Stir.

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This post is part of Pinch Me, I’m Eating’s 2018 Novel Recipes series, a collaborative collection of posts from food bloggers highlighting recipes that are featured in fiction. Each post includes a book review and a recipe from the novel.

In her memoir Stir: My broken brain and the meals that brought me home, food blogger Jessica Fechtor tells of her life-threatening aneurysm that tore her life apart. More importantly, she tells of how she slowly but determinedly rebuilt her life and her health with the help of family, friends and food.

Having been a long-time reader of Fechtor’s blog, I knew and loved her gentle, eloquent and unpretentious writing style. The memoir is in some ways a very long blog post, but also gives the reader an honest insight into an unexpected, devastating illness and Fechtor’s refusal to let it overcome her. In Stir, Fechtor shares in her warm, engrossing way her experience with her illness intertwined with the history of how she met her husband, how the two of them fell in love and how they eventually got married. The flashbacks are helpful in understanding the incredible, resilient love between them, which sees them overcome this hurdle together.

Fechtor’s inability to study or work during her rehabilitation period drove her into the kitchen, creating meals to nourish her family and friends, and refocusing her attention while she healed. Her blog, Sweet Amandine, was born of this time in her life. And of course, there are descriptions of the food in Fechtor’s delightful style, the kind of style that is like a door opening into a cosy living room with a warm fire and a plate of freshly-baked cookies on the table. The kind of writing that makes one want to enter that living room, snuggle on the couch with the cat and be best friends with the writer.

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For me, Fechtor’s evolution into a food blogger struck a chord. I started One Small Pot five years ago at a time in my life when, while not comparable in magnitude to Fechtor’s experience, was devastating for me. With a rapidly failing marriage to which I was desperately holding on and a major career disappointment, I was grasping onto anything that made me feel in control and like I was making progress. This is when I discovered food blogging. Flicking through established blogs like Sweet Amandine, I was swept up in the words, the artful photographs, and the way food was linked with the human experience, and I wanted in. Without too much thought, I began my blog, and I held on to it like it was a life-raft, the one thing that wasn’t slipping from my grasp. To begin with, the photography was sub-optimal, the writing a little better but still somewhat pedestrian. I knew though, that I could do better and that by doing more of it, I would do better.

That marriage ended and, somewhat to my surprise, the world didn’t. The career path was reassessed and redirected, with the realisation that I could love doing more than just one thing. By then, my blog had blossomed into something I was starting to be proud of. A success after what felt like a series of fails. It was something on which I could refocus my attention and mould into whatever I wanted, after feeling I had so little control for so long.

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Fechtor is right. These cookies do not end my search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But they are definitely worthy of being one of a few very good choc chip cookie recipes. They are robust, with a hefty crumb, the textural quality that only wholemeal flour can offer and enough salt to cut through the buttery sweetness. So while this is not the be all and end all of choc chip cookies, it’s definitely worth making, tasting and sharing – several times – on your choc chip cookie journey. And then a few more times, just to be sure.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Slightly modified from Stir: My broken brain and the meals that brought me home by Jessica Fechtor (a Kim Boyce recipe).

Get:

3 cups wholemeal plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt + extra sea salt
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter softened (but not melted)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla paste
220g good quality 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped into ½ to 1 cm pieces

Make:

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1 tsp salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer or another separate bowl, place the butter and sugars. Mix on low speed using the paddle attachment or with a hand-held electric beater until starting to cream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Add the vanilla and mix.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low-speed until barely combined. Stir through the chocolate chips until fairly evenly distributed.

Scoop the dough into even sized balls using an ice-cream scoop. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the top of each ball of dough. Here, Fechtor recommends placing the balls on a tray, covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for 24-48 hours before baking. I have tried this method, as well as baking after refrigerating for 30 minutes. I didn’t find a noticeable difference between the two, but suggest you try both methods (more cookies for all!!).

When it is time to bake, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and lay them out on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Leave about 5-7 cm between the balls and each other, and the tray edge. Bake for 16-20 mins, until the cookies are beginning to brown. Remove from the oven when they are still soft, and allow to cool completely before sliding them off the tray and directly into your mouth.

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Lime and Pepper Rasam (broth)

The air has gotten a whole lot colder here in Sydney. Our balcony, while offering us unimpeded views of the city, is also exposed to sometimes aggressive winds. We often come home to find that anything that is not heavy or secured down has been ruthlessly thrown out of its place. Vegetation must be limited to heavy, solid pots against the sheltered wall. The gardenia I resurrected from a dried-up stick trembles behind the cane chair, refusing to bloom under such conditions. The spiny succulent sits against the door, resolutely maintaining its preference for the outdoors while it cowers in the corner of the door frame. There’s a trough of herbs which I planted with almost no hope for their survival, given my dubious history with keeping anything edible alive. Surprisingly, they stare at me defiantly, a few leaves tattered but still very much alive and almost productive enough to harvest for tossing through dishes.

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The winter quilt and heaters came out a few weeks ago. Winter clothes were unraveled from suitcases, some forgotten about, the reminder of their existence like a small retail-therapy buzz. Dragging ourselves out of bed an hour earlier to fit in a gym session seems like a mammoth undertaking, and we are more frequently hitting the snooze button to favour a little extra time in the warmth instead. Noses run unbidden and at the most inconvenient of times. Our throats are scratchy on occasion and each time, we wonder whether it’s a cold or worse still, the dreaded flu.

There are cravings for soup and these are dutifully satisfied. Rasam is a South Indian staple. It is what every southie kid remembers eating several times a week, mixed with rice and accompanied by a vegetable side dish. It is the antidote to sniffles, colds, and even the dreaded flu. Rasam is a delicate balance of spice, sourness and salty undertones. It takes a little practice but it’s worth getting just so. This version uses limes, as I was gifted a bag of these by a generous colleague with an overactive lime tree. Also, pepper to soothe the throat, the comforting sourness of tamarind and a few basic spices. Rasam is often made with lentils, but this one is more of a clear broth.

For more wintery comfort foods, try this dhal, Palak Paneer, or this Egg Curry.

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Lime and Pepper Rasam

Get:

1 golfball sized chunk of dried tamarind
2 L boiling water
7-8 cm fresh ginger, finely grated
½ tbsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 ½ tbsp tightly packed soft brown sugar or jaggery
Salt to taste
3-4 tbsp lime or lemon juice
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

For tempering:

2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
Pinch asofoetida (optional)
6-8 fresh curry leaves

Make:

Shred the tamarind with your fingers and place in a bowl with 1 cup boiling water, set aside. Place 6 cups boiling water in a medium sized saucepan on the stove. Add ginger, spices and jaggery. Bring back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. When the water that is soaking the tamarind is cool enough to handle, squeeze the tamarind within your fingers to extract the flavor into the water. Yes, it feels kind of gross but no pain, no gain. Set aside for another few minutes. Add salt to the rasam mixture, starting with 1 tsp. Stir to dissolve, and taste- you may need to add another ¼ to ½ tsp.

Strain the tamarind water into the rasam mixture, taking care not to include any chunks of tamarind. Simmer for another 10 minutes. If the mixture is getting too concentrated, add a little boiling water. Taste along the way. There should be a nice balance of pepperiness, and sourness form the tamarind which is offset by salt and sugar. Remember this is a savoury dish so sugar should not be the predominant flavor.

Once you are happy with the flavor balance, boil for another 10 minutes, then take off heat. Add 3 tbsp lemon or lime juice, taste and add a little more if a subtle flavor is not coming through.

To temper: In a small saucepan, heat oil on the stove. Add cumin seeds and allow them to pop. Add asofoetida, then curry leaves and stand back because they will sizzle and pop in a violent fashion. You may need to turn the heat down before you bolt to the other side of the kitchen. Once the spluttering tantrum is over, add the tempered mixture into the rasam and stir through.

Finally, add coriander leaves and stir. Serve mixed with rice or on its own as a clear soup. If it is a little too spicy for you, allow the sediment to settle and scoop the clearer liquid from the top, which will be less peppery.

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Pistachio, Fig and Happiness Granola Bars

Granola Bars 1Over the past eighteen months or so, some colleagues and I have been working on a very important project. To give you some background, mental health issues and even suicide are at high levels within the veterinary profession, a profession of which I am proud to be a part. Far too often it seems we lose a colleague to suicide. It may be someone I went to university with, someone whose name I’ve heard through other colleagues or maybe a vet who I’ve never known of but who has walked a similar professional path to me.

Is it that the profession naturally draws those who have an extremely sensitive aspect to their personality, which then predisposes them to depression and other mental health illnesses? Or is it that aspects of the profession, such as social isolation, poor financial return combined with a hefty university debt and the physical, emotional and intellectual drain of the job that drives the problem? In my opinion, it is likely a combination of all these factors. Whatever it is, it seems that those who look after our furry family members may need a little help looking after themselves.

With the lovely Anne from Small Animal Talk and a couple of our colleagues, and with the help of the Centre for Veterinary Education, we have put together the Vet Cookbook. It contains over 100 uncomplicated, tried and tested recipes from members and friends of the veterinary community in Australia and worldwide. But the Vet Cookbook is not just a Cookbook. It also contains personal stories from those who have been through hard times and kept going, to tell their tales. It contains essays on mental health, gentle snippets of advice on how not to sweat the small stuff and how to manage stress, and some downright funny ramblings. It is a symbol of collaboration, collegiality and a profession coming together. Apart from making a great Christmas present, any profits will be used to fund a resource to promote better mental health among the veterinary profession.

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One more thing before we get to the recipe, one of mine from the Vet Cookbook and perfect for last minute Christmas gifting if you haven’t managed to get it all together yet this yet (Note: If you haven’t this is ok). People like to refer to depression as the Black Dog. In our line of work, black dogs are patients…..to be nurtured, cuddled and made comfortable. So let’s call it what it is. It is depression, a mental illness, which can be as crippling as any physical illness.

Let’s call it what it is, let’s look it straight in the eye and let’s say “We see you, we know you have lessons to teach. But you can’t have any more of us. Not now, not ever.”

These granola bars come with a mood-boosting guarantee. They won’t solve all your problems, but in one study, 97.5% of subjects experienced increased serotonin levels and wider smiles after eating one of these*. They are packed with mood-boosting omega 3 fatty acids, zinc and magnesium in the form of flaxseeds, sunflower seeds and oats.  Also, all the good fats in the pistachios, seeds and tahini will help sustain you and hopefully keep you away from sugar-laden treats.

Oh, and chocolate. There is no explanation needed for chocolate.

*This study never happened. But these bars are still pretty darn good.

The Vet Cookbook can be ordered within Australia through http://www.cve.edu.au/vet-cookbook while stocks last.

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Pistachio, Fig and Happiness Granola Bars (or Granola)

Get:

¾ cup pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup flaxseeds
1 ½ cup rolled oats (or spelt oats)
8-9 dried figs, diced as small as possible
80-90 good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1-2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp vanilla powder or paste
½ cup tahini
¼ cup honey

Make:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Spread oats, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and chopped pistachios out on 2-3 oven trays and toast in the oven for 8-10min or until all the ingredients start to gain some colour. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Once cooled, place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss well. Add the wet ingredients and stir to coat.

You now have a choice- granola or granola bars. To make granola, crumble the mixture in a single layer on a couple of oven trays and bake for around 10-12 minutes, until the ingredients have dried out and gained some colour.

To make granola bars, spread the mixture out in a shallow oven dish and pack down to a 2cm thick layer. Bake for about 20min, until the mixture has dried out a bit, is holding together and is gaining some colour. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Using a sharp knife, slice into small bars of whatever dimensions you would like.

Distribute liberally among friends and colleagues. Keep a couple in your locker as snacks on those days when you are too inundated with work to have lunch.

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Uncommonly good

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If spending Saturday night browsing dinner plates online with my bestie is a sign of a homewares obsession, then I plead guilty. Send in the troops, it’s time for an intervention. Just give me a minute to hide the boxes of crockery surreptitiously tucked into the corners of the garage behind the poor neglected bicycle and suitcase of winter clothes.  

My friend and I, unsurprisingly, have different tastes in plate patterns were but we happily examined each other’s choices in detail. We debated over critical matters such as how much one should spend on daily use serveware and whether 23cm was a large enough diameter for a dinner plate. If you’ve made it this far without crying from boredom or seeking something more interesting like watching grass grow, then you too may share our penchant for all things kitchen.  I personally blame my problem on food blogging and the food prop madness that goes with it all. I’m sure there’s a perfectly acceptable explanation for yours too.

if gazing longingly at homewares is indeed your idea of a good time, have a peek at the many good things over at UncommonGoods. They are a company that focuses on ethically made goods from artists and small manufacturers, and prides themselves on treating their employees with respect. 

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Photo credit: http://www.uncommongoods.com

Also, they have lots of cool stuff. These Owl Mugs from here are so darn cute I wanna eat them up. Know a couple who have it all? Try the very funky customisable wedding gifts. After you’ve bought all your gifts, you just might accidentally stumble into this bit and pick out a little something for yourself like the ‘i eight sum pi dish’ that is pictured. Then, you’ll have no excuse not to make this pie, or this one. A business that operates ethically AND has a sense of humour. How scrumptious!

(For my Aussie readers, yes they do ship to us.)

Happy New Year dear ones!

*This post is sponsored by www.uncommongoods.com however opinions are my own.

Things in Jars

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These are for the rushed ones. The breakfast-in-the-car eaters. The early-start- endurers. The I-don’t-have-time-for-breakfast-but-damm-I’m-hungry’ers.

They say you shouldn’t eat on the run. They say you should sit down, meal on a plate, focus completely on the food, chew each mouthful ten times. Swallow, then take a breath before your next bite.

They don’t know how funny they are.

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Keep all your glass jars. The standard sized ones fit into your car cup holders and so are perfect for eating on the run without a food-in-car mishap. Take in mouthfuls during red lights. Sip between pathetic releases of the foot brake during the maddening shuffle of peak-hour traffic. It’ll keep you from mouthing expletives at the other drivers. A hunger cure and road-rage cure in one.

Once you are done, you can pop the lid on and deal with the smell later when you have to wash the thing after it’s been in the hot car all day. Keep all your glass jars and dedicate a shelf to them. Buy things in glass jars just so that you can finish it, wash it out and use it for meals on the run. The pasta sauces, the peanut butters, the honeys and the jams. Ask relatives for their glass jars. They’ll think you’re cuckoo and it’s mostly worth it.

Then make one or two of these options, either the night before or in the morning. A couple of these need a fancy-pants food processor, but some need very little equipment. Each recipe makes one serving, but you can easily double them to set yourself up nicely for the next 2 days. As you are rushing out the door, grab the jar of yum, grab a spoon and GO GO GO!

Jars to spare? Use ’em for nut butters, piquant quick mango picklelemon curd or apple & ginger relish.

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Thing 1: Mango Avocado Whip (freezes well)

1/2 cup fresh or frozen mango flesh
1/2 avocado
1/2 cup milk of choice
1-2 scoops protein powder
Handful of baby spinach, washed
1/2 tsp vanilla powder or paste
Seeds of 2-3 cardamom pods or ¼ tsp cardamom powder (optional)

Place all ingredients in food processor bowl, blitz until homogenous mixture. Top with coconut, berries, nuts, seeds, chocolate or whatever tickles your fancy. To turn this into a smoothie, add a little more liquid (milk, coconut water, water).

Tip: Place the ingredients (apart from milk and avocado) in small snap-lock bags and freeze in single serves, ready for blitzing in the morning.

Thing 2: 1 Minute Pesto Eggs

2 eggs
1 tsp pesto of choice
Small handful baby spinach
Oil (optional)
Shredded cheese (optional)

Spray or brush the bottom of the jar with oil (optional, makes for easier cleaning). Place eggs and pesto in jar and whisk with a fork or small whisk. Fold through baby spinach leaves. With lid off, microwave on high for 40 seconds to start with, then another 20 seconds. Sprinkle a little shredded cheese over the top before the second microwaving session if desired.

Thing 3: Choc, PB and Banana Smoothie (freezes well)

1 ripe banana
1 heaped dessert spoonful peanut butter
1 tbsp raw cacao or cocoa powder
1-2 scoops protein powder
¾ cup milk of choice

Place all ingredients in food processor bowl, blitz until homogenous mixture.

Tip: Peel and freeze and bananas that are in danger on over-ripening before they are eaten, to use in this recipe later.

Thing 4: Anne’s Overnight Oats

2 tablespoons of chia seeds (white or black)
½ cup rolled oats
One decent-sized ripe banana
¾ cup milk of choice
1/2 tsp cinnamon or vanilla (optional)
Honey or other syrup to serve (optional)
Fruit, seeds, nuts, shredded coconut, chocolate chips to garnish (optional)

Mash banana in jar. Add chia seeds, oats, milk and cinnamon/vanilla. Stir well. Store in fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Top with toppings of choice and sweetener. If using.

Adapted from a recipe by Anne who writes here.

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Balconies and Baked Yoghurts

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It’s the first night it’s been warm enough to sit out on the balcony. The city lights shimmer in the distance, a deceptively calm façade to the Friday night revelry within. To the right, the single red glow atop the harbour bridge winks in its rhythm, in conversation with its twin that adorns the tip of centre-point tower. To the left of the nightscape is the distinct neon green squiggle of the holiday inn, a fluorescent stairway to heaven that is another reference point. The lights merge into a softly shimmering veil on the water of the harbour, now still without even a moving boat to disturb its surface.

From across the road, a wall of jasmine sends tendrils of sweetness over the railing, a comforting reminder of spring.  Below, a couple enjoy an evening stroll, elderly dog pottering on a lead before them. Diffuse puddles of light created by street lamps briefly illuminate the tops of their heads as they make their way down the street. Somewhere in the distance, base notes of dance music are scattered into the neighbourhood breeze from a house party. It’s loud enough to remind me that someone, somewhere is on a dance floor, but far enough away to leave me glad that it isn’t me.

There are worse ways to spend a Friday evening.

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This dessert, if you get it right, is like scented silk.  The recipe’s simplicity is almost deceptive, and it almost seems unfair that something so divine can be so easy. It is an Indian dessert, but one I didn’t grow up with so when it was first made for me, I was in awe. While it is simple to make, it does take a little planning due to the hanging of the curd, baking, and chilling before it is ready to serve. Its’ texture is not unlike pannacotta if you get the baking time right. If you over-bake it, it will be a little coarser and more reminiscent of a cheesecake, and still lovely.

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Indian Sweet Baked Yoghurt with Cherry Vanilla Sauce

Makes 6

Get:
1 ½ cups full fat Greek yoghurt
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup full-fat milk
Seeds of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste
A few strands of saffron
Crushed nuts to serve

For the sauce:
200g pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste

Make:

Place the yoghurt in the centre of a piece of cheesecloth (for those in Australia, a clean Chux cloth works well). Tie the opposite corners together and suspend the curd from a low height where the whey can drip out. Try the faucet or a wooden spoon laid across the top of a bucket. Allow to hang for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

If using saffron, warm a couple of tablespoons of the milk and add the saffron. Set aside for a few minutes. Place the thickened yoghurt, condensed milk, vanilla and cardamom in a large mixing bowl. Whisk or beat with an electric beater on low speed until combined. Add the milk and saffron milk (if using) and beat again until combined.

Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins or glasses. Place these in a deep oven dish and pour water into the dish and around the glasses so that the water level is ½ to ¾ to the level of yoghurt mixture. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the yoghurts are set but still wobbly. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

To make the cherry sauce, place the sauce ingredients into a thick-bottomed saucepan with the vanilla bean husk if you used a bean. Add a splash of water (about ¼ cup). Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low heat for about half an hour, or until the cherries are easy to break down. Allow to cool, then discard the vanilla bean and blitz the mixture in a food processor until it is a rough puree. Spoon the mixture into the glasses on top of the chilled baked yoghurt. Top with crushed nuts just before serving.

Cucumber Raita

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I’ve been dabbling in a spot of scuba diving. A surprise to myself as well as those who know me. Being painfully un-athletic and colossally uncoordinated (who put that wall there?!), I never saw myself in a wetsuit, 20-something metres underwater, breathing from a tank and incredibly, not freaking out!

Being a serial over-thinker is something I’ve had to push aside. Because really, if I allowed myself the luxury of thinking about it……………..I am underwater, people!! Breathing from a tank!! With compressed air in my lungs!! Air that can diffuse into my bloodstream and form painful bubbles if I come to the surface too quickly!! This is not natural!! Humans were not supposed to breathe underwater!! What was I thinking?? Why would I jump out of a perfectly good boat or walk off a perfectly good shore to breathe through a tank underwater?!?!

So as you can see, my usual over-thinking habit has no place here. Instead, I am learning to quiet my mind and enjoy the peace and beauty of the underwater world. The stillness and slowness and floatiness of it all makes it a beautiful, almost a meditative experience.

If I’m lucky, I’ll see something awesome to distract me when my mind wanders to unwanted places. A gorgeous school of fish, zebra-striped with fluorescent green dorsal fins, engaged in a perfectly coordinated dance. An underwater flash mob.  Or will it be a baby shark, hiding under a soft coral, biding its time until it is big enough to survive the big bad ocean?

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Raita has nothing to do with scuba diving. Nothing whatsoever. There is nothing unnatural about this refreshing yoghurt dish, a standard side in every Indian restaurant. It is the cooling element to any Indian meal. This is the way I like it, with a base of smooth yoghurt, sans cream and sugar which seem to feature in many restaurant versions.  Ginger and some light spices give it depth but keep it light and refreshing. Finally, tempered cumin seeds add a crunch that makes you want to interpose them between your front teeth just to enjoy it.

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Cucumber Raita

Get:

2 cups loose/watery plain yoghurt OR 1 1/2 cups yoghurt and 1/2 cup water
2-3 cm ginger, finely grated
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp mild paprika (optional)
Salt to taste
1 telegraph cucumber or 2 small lebanese cucumbers, finely diced (peeled or unpeeled)
1/2 small red onion, finely diced (omit this if you dislike raw onion)

For the Tempering:

1 1/2 tsp vegetable/canola/sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 or 5 curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Make:

Place yoghurt (or yoghurt + water) in a large bowl with ginger, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir with a whisk until well combined and smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed- the mixture should only be salty enough to neutralise the tartness of the yoghurt.  The mixture should be no thicker than a pancake batter, so add a little more water and stir through if needed.

Add cucumber and onion and stir through gently.

In a small non-stick pan, heat the oil. Turn the heat down to low-medium and add the cumin seeds. Once they have popped, add curry leaves and dried chillies. Fry for a minute or two until the leaves are crisp. If using fresh leaves, you may need to step back or use a lid to protect yourself from oil splutter (see my post on tempering here).  Add the oil mixture to the Raita and stir through.

Garnish with coriander and serve as a side dish.

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A Giveaway! And Chocolate Cake for One (Vegan, Gluten-free).

It’s been almost a decade since I last lived on my own, in a poky little flat above a veterinary clinic in North-West London. It was furnished with mismatched, tired looking pieces, and in the kitchen was a washing machine which I initially thought was cactus.  One day, a couple of kicks and a few expletives later, it miraculously came back to life and worked surprisingly well from then onwards.

The flat shared an entry with the clinic’s waiting room, and so I would often find myself sidling past curious wet noses who would sniff eagerly at my bags of groceries on the way in or garbage on the way out. The bathroom was adorned in lustrous, cracked maroon tiles with gold accents that may have had its’ glory days in the 1970’s. Entertainment was provided intermittently by the patrons of the Irish pub next door and by another neighbour who would regularly and loudly assure the entire neighbourhood that ‘Jesus would save them!’ at convenient times such as four o’clock in the morning. The apartment was what the kinder of us would call ‘full of character’, an apt introduction to the colourful place that is London.

At the time, I bought myself a book called Live Alone and Like it by Marjorie Hillis, whose cover declared it to be ‘A 1935 Bestseller’. The quirk in me couldn’t resist as not only was it on the ‘3 for 2’ table at Borders, but it boasted chapters titled A Lady and Her Liquor, Pleasures of a Single Bed and the intriguing You’d Better Skip This One.

Ms Hillis’ advice, although many decades old, is strangely still relevant. She advises against self-pity at being alone, warning that “Not only will you soon actually be all alone; you will also be the outstanding example of the super-bore”.  She doles out practical advice on the merits of saving money, for example, and cautions that “…..eventually, if no husband has turned up and no obliging relative has died, there comes a horrid conviction that putting aside a little something for a rainy day is not such a bad idea.”  In a chapter delightfully headed When A Lady Needs a Friend, Marge gets straight to the point with “….the truth is that if you’re interesting, you’ll have plenty of friends and if you’re not, you won’t- unless you’re very, very rich”.  Truest of all are her words on furnishing and decor, “This is your house, and it’s probably the only place in the world where you can have things exactly as you please.”

And the discovery that I could do just what I wanted in my space was a delightfully liberating one. Bake cookies at midnight! Paint the wall bright blue! Accumulate framed art that I never hang! Walk around without pants on! (Close the blinds first!!)

Oh…..and chocolate cake for dinner!

I want to equip you with this recipe, for those times when nothing but chocolate cake will do. This is a recipe for chocolate cake for one, made in the Tefal Cook4Me electric pressure cooker (which I have gushed about previously in my last post), so that it’s nice and moist.  If you are interesting enough to have a friend or a chocolate-loving date over, then just double the recipe and divide it into two ramekins.  It is gluten free, can be easily made vegan, and is (gasp!) even nourishing, with its healthy fats and proteins.  Most importantly, it is quick to make and fuss free.

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Oh! Oh! Oh!! I also have some gorgeous Tefal 17cm Santoku knives to give away to you, my dear readers! To enter, drop me a comment here.  What I want to know is, what do you enjoy doing when you have the house to yourself?  Please keep it clean, obviously! I will pick a couple of my favourite revelations to send these gorgeous, soft-handled knives to.  I can only send to Australian addresses, and you can enter as many times as you want with separate comments.

So tell me, what is your favourite home-alone activity or indulgence?

*Cook4Me and Santoku knives were kindly provided by Tefal, however all opinions are my own.

choc pud 3

Pressure Cooker Chocolate Cake for One

Get:

1/3 cup almond meal
1 tbsp buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder or raw cocoa
2-3 tsp brown sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste or powder
Tiny pinch salt
2 tsp milk (use non-dairy milk for vegan option)
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp full-fat youghurt or aquafaba (for vegan option)

1 1/2 cups water

Make:

Place all the ingredients apart from the water in a small mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Place in a ramekin.

Remove the steamer basket from the Tefal Cook4Me. Pour 1 1/2 cups of water in the bottom of the main pot. Place the ramekin in the main pot. The water should come up to about halfway up the outside of the ramekin.

Close and lock the lid of the Tefal Cook4Me. Choose recipes, then choose the ‘Chocolate Sponge Pudding’ setting.  Press enter through all the steps and then accept the cooking time.

When cooked, carefully remove the hot ramekin from the cooker and eat the cake straight out of the ramekin with a dollop of cream, ice-cream or Greek yoghurt. Feel free to enjoy for dinner without judgement or disapproving eyes.

Notes:
Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chick peas or beans, or the cooking liquid from the same. It is full of protein and a great vegan egg replacer.

Tefal Cook4Me and Spiced Chickpeas with Coconut

I’m the first to admit that I have control issues in the kitchen. The stove is a ship and I, its captain.  This makes it near intolerable for anyone who dares to help me put together a meal.  It also makes it very difficult for any sophisticated appliances to be truly useful in my kitchen.  My need for control means that I must stir the pot myself, pottering between that and chopping of the next ingredient to be added, while simultaneously shooing out anyone who ventures in.

Cook4Me 3 colours

When Tefal asked me to trial their Cook4Me Electric Pressure Cooker, I have to admit I was sceptical. I am a stovetop pressure cooker user from way back, refusing to be swayed even by an exploding-dhal-from prematurely-opened-cooker incident a few years ago.  Would I still be ‘hard core’ with an electric pressure cooker, I wondered?

I don’t know exactly when I officially joined the Tefal Cook4Me camp. Was it the heart-achingly moist, buttery fish fillets I made using the ‘Sweet Chilli Salmon’ recipe?  Or the realisation that I didn’t have to pay attention and count the whistles from a stovetop cooker in order to ensure my lentils were cooked but not pureed?  Whatever the trigger, the result is that I now use my Tefal Cook4Me almost every day.

You guys, this thing not only cooks things to perfection, retaining moisture and flavour, but it also tells you how to do it!! It is programmed with loads of gorgeous recipes that take you through the cooking process, step by step, for 2, 4 or 6 people. Even an intuitive cook like me is quite happy to minimise the firing of neurons at the end of the day and still end up with a delicious, healthy meal.  Also, this thing is one sexy looking machine! I know, I know……I saved the most important bit till last.

Picture 4166
Picture 4166

A lot of things are supposed to change your life these days…..appliances, cars, cosmetics. The Tefal Cook4Me may not change your entire life, but it sure will transform the way you cook, especially if you like quick, healthy, simple meals that are easy to clean up afterwards and so, so good to eat.

Oosli, or Spiced Black Chickpeas with Coconut, is a traditional South Indian Dish, popular during festival times but made throughout the year. It is a protein rich dish, perfect for those who rely on non-meat sources of protein, but also delicious as a filling workday lunch.  The earthiness of the legume is offset by the freshness of coconut and a subtle-but-definitely-there hint of lemon.  If you can’t find black chick peas, you can also use regular chick peas.

Tefal Cook4Me was kindly provided by Tefal Australia, however all opinions are my own.  Cook4Me images are from Tefal.

Spiced Chickpea coconut  (4 of 5)

Spiced Chickpeas and Coconut (Oosli)

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Get:

1 cup dried small black chick peas, soaked overnight
2 tsp coconut or vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch asafoetida
½ to 1 hot green chilli, split down the middle
2 dried red chillies broken into large pieces
8-10 curry leaves
3 tbsp fresh or fresh frozen (thawed) grated coconut
Salt
Lemon Juice
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Special Equipment:
Tefal Cook4Me Electric Pressure Cooker

Make:

Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas. Place in the Cook4Me pot with plenty of the water (chick peas should be completely submerged with about 1 cm of water above them).  Choose manual on the Cook4Me panel and reduce the time using the dial to 2 minutes. Press ok to start.  Once your Cook4Me beeps to indicate that it is finished cooking, allow the pressure to dissipate (about 5-10 minutes).  Open the lid of the Cook4Me and remove the pot to drain the water from the chick peas.  The chick peas should be cooked through but firm.

Replace the empty pot into the Cook4Me and use the manual option to choose the ‘Browning’ setting. With the lid now left open, heat the oil in the Cook4Me pot.  Add the mustard seeds. Once they have popped, add turmeric, asafoetida, red chillies and green chilli.  Cook, stirring gently for 1-2 mins.  Add 4-5 curry leaves (they will splutter so step back or momentarily lower the lid).  Once the curry leaves have crisped, remove the green chilli and discard.

Drain the cooked chick peas and add to the pot. Add 1/2 tsp salt to start with.  Stir and leave to cook, with the lid lowered (but not latched), for a couple of minutes.  Add the coconut and remaining curry leaves, toss through.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Stir again.

Turn off the Cook4Me and add 1 tsp lemon juice. Toss through, taste and add a little more lemon juice to taste.  The dish should be a little lemony but this shouldn’t be a dominant flavour.

Sprinkle with coriander just before serving. Serve as a side dish or as a vegan protein-rich main dish with flatbreads.

Notes:

All the ingredients should be available in Indian grocery stores.

Spiced Chickpea coconut (3 of 5)

Where I like to eat

With age comes wisdom, independence and a reduced tolerance for all things annoying. Also, a slower metabolism and a reduced ability to go out for big greasy meals without feeling like a garbage dump for the next few hours. More and more, I am favouring restaurant meals that leave me feeling light and nourished, not clogged up and overly full.

Asian food, especially Vietnamese fare is often a winner. I’m slightly obsessed with the quirky ambiance of the tiny corner establishment Madame Nhu. Their fresh tasting pho leaves me feeling positively angelic, that is until I find my legs taking me up the road to have the best gelato I’ve ever tasted at Gelato Rivareno. Other fabulous pics in the area are Xage, Yullis and Miss Chu, which serves a knockout frozen crushie besides the flavoursome food. If you go to Yullis, you really must leave room for dessert. Further into the city lights is Home Thai, which offers cheap, fast and no-nonsense Thai street-food.

If you don’t want to find that elusive empty parking spot in the city, Saigon Bowl offers good, authentic suburban Vietnamese fare.  I won’t order the dumplings anywhere except New Shanghai, where you can watch them being made and really taste the quality ingredients in the fillings. I have daydreams about their prawn wontons that are served in a divine peanut and sesame sauce.

Bamiyan, also suburban, offers Afghani cuisine, which feels a bit like a lighter version of Indian cuisine. As a bonus, you will probably be able to park right outside, a real luxury in Sydney.

staypost

Being an Italophile, I seek my fix at La Disfida, also a suburban gem. Again, order dessert here or I will have to seriously reconsider our friendship. Sven Viking Pizza has been a pleasant surprise. I had no idea the Vikings made pizza but gosh they do it well! My most recent mouth-watering discovery is Soffrito, where they make handmade pastas that melt in the mouth. I dined here with two friends and each of our meals were flawless.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of indulgence however and the Chicken Institute will sort you out for all of your fried chicken needs. You’ve ruined the diet anyway so you may as well follow up by gorging on some Turkish ice cream at Hakiki.

For some more dining recommendations, have a peek at Stay.com’s new travel app.

This post was sponsored by the super clever people at Stay.com but all opinions and recommendations are my own.