Raw Mint Slice for The Sweet Swap 2014

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.

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Rose and Raspberry Celebration Tart for OSP’s 1st Blogiversary!

Rose raspberry tart 1

I’ve been like an excitable little kid, anticipating this day. The day that marks a year of blogging for me. A year of breathlessly rushing into the kitchen after a day at work to try out a new idea I had. To make it truly amazing so that I can share it with you all. A year of thinking way too much about every canape, main meal and dessert I ate. Of putting every dish through a deep analysis to figure out how I could make it at home, what interesting twist I could give it and more recently, what I could do to make it sugar-free. Twelve months of drawing on my imagination and the things that have inspired me to decide how I want to style the dish and the best way to photograph it to provide a visual complement to my words.

Also, perhaps closest to my heart, the words themselves. The stories I would tell and the windows that dish would open up into the inner workings of my mind. Because for me, food is as important as it is because it always tells a tale, triggers a memory or incites an emotion. There is a commonality between my mother’s family’s puliyogare, and a terrine served at a fine dining restaurant. Between that three ingredient fudge and that delicate, seven layer cake that graces the window of the upmarket patisserie, looking far too pretty to plunge a spoon into.

Raspberries 1

That connection may not be in the ingredients, the method or how it is served. What all food has in common is that it was made by hands that are controlled by a mind with a story to tell, a history to either reveal or protect and thoughts to express.

Food is sustenance, for nourishing and for fulfilling. But it is also for sharing, for drawing people in and for bringing them together. A bowl of warming soup that you slowly savour while watching television, curled up on the couch on a wintery evening. The pudding that is eaten slowly, each syrupy spoonful punctuating words that you share with someone you are just getting to know, while you try desperately not to let the sauce dribble inelegantly down your chin. The cup of too-hot tea that you blow the steam off before you settle your head back onto the shoulder of your sweetheart.

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It is a privileged position, this one. To be able to view food this way is a function of a comfortable life. But it is how I view food, and I thank you for allowing me to share that with you for the past year. This yearling space of mine means more to me than perhaps I could ever explain. A creative outlet, a happy place and a raft that has helped keep me afloat through what has been a challenging year. Each comment, glowing or otherwise, every tiny piece of interaction and encouragement has made my heart smile.

At the basest level I have discovered rosewater, cashew cream, how to steam puddings and how wonderfully therapeutic bread-making is. I have found rice syrup, Quinoa and kale. I have worked out what makes a good food prop and just how much light I need for a photo session. Beyond that, this small corner of mine has given me so much more.

Rose raspberry tart 4

We have come a long way, you and I. From that first kulfi recipe with its endearingly awkward photographs to now, when I finally feel I am getting a grasp of things. We can go further, we know this. We have so much more to discover about each other, to share over a cup of coffee and a chocolate truffle.

This blog is growing too. I am working to make some positive changes here in this space and outside it.  So do stick with me.  For there is no-one else in the world I can imagine moving forward with.

Thank you all for sharing the past year with me, it has meant more to me than you could possibly know.

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Rose and Raspberry tart (Vegan, Gluten-Free, fructose-free)

Feeds 6-8

Crust recipe modified from here

Get:

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups almond meal
Generous pinch salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp rice syrup

For the rose and cashew cream filling:
1 1/2 cups raw cashews
Water
2 tbsp rosewater
1/3 – 1/2 cup rice syrup or honey

To decorate:
2 small punnets raspberries, washed and patted dry
Anything else you desire- chocolate, crushed nuts etc etc etc.

Make:

Immerse the cashews in water and soak for at least 3 hours.

To make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 175 C.

Place the almond meal, salt and baking powder in a large bowl and mix well.
In another bowl, whisk the coconut oil and syrup. They will not mix very well but do your best. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and with clean hands, crumble everything together and knead lightly until a dough is formed.

Grease a tart tin and press the mixture evenly into its base and about 1 1/2 cm up the sides. Bake for 15-20 min or until golden brown.

To make the filling:
Drain the cashews and rinse. Place them in the bowl of a high speed food processor. Add rosewater, syrup or honey and 1/3 cup water. I found 1/3 cup of syrup to be adequate, but taste and add a little more if desired. Process on high speed until a smooth or slightly coarse cream forms, scraping down the sides as needed.

When the tart base has cooled, remove it from the tin and fill with the cashew cream, spreading evenly. Refrigerate for 20 mins before decorating with raspberries and whatever else you choose. I used some dark chocolate leaves that I piped.  You can of course, opt for another fruit if you wish!

Raspberries 3

Bounty Bar Popsicles for SABH (Low-Fructose)

Bounty bar popsicles 1

I’ve ditched the sugar again and apart from a couple of planned (and one unplanned) cheat days, I have been well on track.  After I fell off the wagon towards the end of last year, I made a decision to quit the white stuff again in the new year.  Isn’t it funny how we consider new years eve such a major milestone in our decisions?  As if on the 1st of January we somehow get that extra push we need to make a positive change in our lives.  Really, it’s just another date, isn’t it?

So I’ve taken on a slightly different frame of mind now.  This time around, it is all about what I deserve….remember we talked about that?  From a health point of view, what I deserve is a healthy, well nourished body that I fill with goodness.  After all, you can’t expect to get the best from this vehicle that has been assigned to you in this life unless you give it the very best care, no?

And so it is that the menacing ‘I MUST LOSE WEIGHT’  has been replaced by ‘I deserve to be happy with myself, inside and out and a positive step towards that is to be slimmer and healthier’.  Is that not much kinder, friends?

Like any affirmation, it is to be repeated.  We humans are creatures of habit and our mental patterns, created over years, take gentle persistence to break.  So I remind myself daily of my decision to ensure I have what I deserve and try not to berate myself too much when I slip up.

Try it, dear friends.  Let’s treat ourselves with kindness, and the universe will do the same.

Bounty bar popsicles 3

I was a tad excited when this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop theme of Popsicle Party was announced.  This month it is hosted by the lovely Swah from Love Swah. 
These chocolate covered, coconut popsicles are a frozen, low-sugar version of the Bounty Bar, a popular Australian chocolate bar.  If you want them to be dairy free, leave out the yoghurt but the result will be a harder popsicle.

Bounty bar popsicles 4

Bounty Bar Popsicles (Low-fructose)

Makes 6-8 depending on size of moulds

Get:

270 ml (1 tin) full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
4 tbsp rice syrup
1/2 cup frozen fresh grated coconut
150g good quality dark chocolate

Make:

 Whisk all ingredients together except for the chocolate.

Pour into popsicle moulds.

Freeze until set.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20-30 second bursts, stirring in between.

Dip  the popsicle moulds in hot water to loosen, then dip the popsicles one by one into the dark chocolate or paint it on with a pastry brush.

When the chocolate has set, place back in the popsicle moulds (they won’t fit as well) and in the freezer until ready to eat.

Notes:
Frozen coconut is available at Indian grocers.
I had a little mixture left as I have small popsicle moulds, and I poured this into an ice cube tray to throw into my smoothies.

Bounty bar popsicles 2

Rose and Saffron Pots De Crème

Rose Saffron Pots 3

It’s a funny thing, is rosewater.  Too much of it in a dish and each bite is like a group hug with a gaggle of perfumed grannies.  Although, get the balance right and you are greeted with a sensation that is more a scent than a flavour.  A nuance that adds a romantic and intoxifying quality to the dish, whether it be a scented middle eastern fried rice, a soft and yielding Turkish delight or the Indian Gulab Jamun.

In India, rose is a default flavour, much like chocolate or strawberry in Australia.  Growing up, rose milk, rose Kulfi and the Gulkand (rose jam) that my mum used to buy me from tiny footpath stalls in Bangalore were well-loved and anything but exotic.

Rose Saffron Pots 4

We Indians have the middle-east to thank for rosewater, which was obtained by chemists in the ancient Islamic world using a steam distillation method.  We now not only use it in our cooking, but also in Ayurvedic medicine and as a perfume.  It is not uncommon for unsuspecting wedding guests to be sprinkled with a liberal amount of it upon their entry to the venue as a welcoming gesture.

Rose Saffron Pots 1

When a friend gifted me a copy of the beautiful Delicious Home Cooking by Valli Little, I immediately zeroed in on the recipe for Honey Pots De Crème, the cogs in my mind turning as I worked out how I could make it a fructose-free version with Indian flavours.  The result was a smooth baked custard wafting with the fragrance of roses and saffron, which lends itself to a biscuit for dipping or a sprinkling of nuts as it pleases you.

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Rose and Saffron Pots De Crème

Modified from Delicious Home Cooking, Valli Little (ABC Books, Harper Collins)

Serves 3-4 in ramekins or 7-8 in shot glasses

Get:

150ml thickened cream
1/4 cup + 1 tsp rice syrup or honey
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp Rosewater*
Generous pinch saffron strands
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tbsp pistachios (optional)

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

In a medium-sized saucepan, warm the cream, milk, rosewater, saffron and syrup or honey until just simmering (but not boiling!).  Stir gently to incorporate the syrup/honey. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little.

Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into a mixing bowl.  Put the bean casing into the cream mixture.

To the bowl with the vanilla seeds, add the egg and egg yolks.  With an electric beater, beat until pale and a little thickened.  Add the egg mixture to the cream mixture and stir until well combined (do not beat or you will create more froth).  Set aside off the heat for 5 mins to infuse.  In the meantime, boil a kettle of water.

Place the ramekins (3 or 4) or shot glasses for smaller portions (8) in a deep ceramic baking dish.  You can also use small glass jars.  Strain the mixture into a jug and divide the mixture between the ramekins or shot glasses.

Set the dish with the ramekins on the middle shelf of the oven and carefully pour boiling water into the dish to a level about half of 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake for 40-45 mins or until set but with a slight wobble.

Remove the dish from the oven and carefully lift the ramekins out of the hot water and onto a tray.  Allow to cool completely, then chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.  I roasted the pistachios for about 6-7 mins, then crushed them and sprinkled them over the Pots de Crème before serving.  You could use anything that provides a bit of a crunch like other nuts, wafers or honeycomb.

*Rosewater is available at Indian and Middle eastern grocers.

Rose Saffron Pots 6

Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake bars and 5 Tips for Safe Pets this Season

Halloween is coming!  And in anticipation, I present you with these Pumpkin Cheesecake bars which I assure you, you will love as much as I do.  The base is one that refuses to play second fiddle to the fresh, tangy topping.  It is packed with nuts and shredded coconut, providing a roughage that contrasts nicely with the smoothness of the cream cheese and pumpkin.

I used melted dark chocolate to pipe these funky little black cats, and adorned them with shiny edible pearls for eyes.  You can of course choose whatever design you please; witches hats, bats, evil eyes……the world is your cheesecake!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars ingredients

Speaking of cats and holidays, for those of you who have four-legged family members, I thought I’d put together a list of ways to care for them during this season.  Our beloved furry friends can get a little neglected during the festivities and that, as well as the insanely hot summers we experience here in Oz mean that vet hospitals are the busiest during this time.

Here are a few important ways to look after our creatures over the next few months…….

1.  Watch what they gobble: Our pets love a Christmas feast as much as we do.  In fact, we often see patients that have eaten something silly, causing them to become sick.  Nothing ruins a holiday like having to spend an hour in a busy waiting room of a vet hospital!  When pets eat fatty foods such as bacon, sausages and sweets, it can trigger a condition known as pancreatitis.  This is a very painful and debilitating condition whereby the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing vomiting and a lack of appetite leading to dehydration and illness.  Most cases are treated with hospitalisation, antibiotics and IV fluids, but severe cases can be fatal.

Fatty foods aside, certain foods such as onions, chocolate, raisins and many others are actually toxic to pets.  So while you enjoy your meal, treat your pet to something pet-friendly such as a raw bone or doggy treat, and ask visiting relatives nicely not to feed the pets human food or leave it lying around within reach.

Pumpkin cheesecake bars ingredients2

2. Remember that things that are not food can seem edible:  In addition to eating inappropriate foods, some dogs (think Labrador!) have a knack for eating things that really shouldn’t be eaten by anybody!  While you are celebrating the holidays, your pooch may do the same by gulping down something that may get stuck in his or her gut causing an obstruction.  Some holiday related things that I have had to fish out of doggy intestines include wine corks, skewers, fish hooks and corn cobs.  Believe me, spending Christmas eve elbow-deep in a dog’s abdomen is no fun for the vet, the dog or the anxious owner!

3. Protect against nasty critters: In Australia, the heat tends to bring out some of those nasty creepy crawlies that we are well known for.  Paralysis ticks are a horrible little bug, and if I could choose one species to be extinct, it would me this one.  They latch onto an unassuming animal and proceed to inject them with a poison that paralysis first the legs and then the respiratory muscles.

There are one or two good products available from vets to protect dogs against these ticks and they should be used in high risk areas such as national parks and near water bodies.  Unfortunately none of these products are highly reliable and you should search your pet after visiting these areas, focusing on the head and neck.  If you notice any signs of paralysis such as weak legs, a change in bark or breathing difficulty, veterinary care should be sought immediately.

Snake bites are also more common during summer and this should also be treated as an emergency.

Pumpkin cheesecake bars 3

4.  Stay on top of routine treatments: Ensure your dogs are fully vaccinated.  Diseases such as Parvovirus and Canine Cough (Kennel Cough) are more frequently transmitted in the warmer months.  Parvovirus occurs mostly in young, inadequately vaccinated dogs and causes severe vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration.  It is also a condition that can be fatal due to the profound dehydration and weakness it causes.  Vaccinations and worming can often be overlooked during the excitement of the holiday season so stay organised!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars 1

5.  Beat the heat: Keep your pets cool during the scorching summer months.  Keep them indoors or provide plenty of shade outdoors.  Ensure there is plenty of clean drinking water within reach, and add ice cubes to it on hotter days.  Pets should not be left in cars on hot days and if this must be done, leave a couple of windows open a notch, don’t leave them for more than a few minutes and park the car in the shade.

So with a bit of care and vigilance, your furry friends can enjoy the holiday season while staying happy, healthy and out of hospital!

Hoping I haven’t put you off your food with all this vet talk and on a brighter note, here’s the recipe for my Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars for October’s SABH.  The lovely JJ from 84th & 3rd is hosting this one.  These bars are gluten-free, vegetarian and fructose free (not including the decoration).

Happy Halloween to you and your pets!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars 2

Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Makes 8

Recipe for the base is from Sarah Wilson’s Blog

Get:

For the base:
1/2 cup nuts- hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or macadamias work well
1/2 cup shredded or dessicated coconut
1/3 cup nut meal- I used almond
2 tbsp unsalted butter

For the topping:
1 block (200g) cream cheese
1/2 cup pumpkin puree*
2 1/2- 3 tbsp rice syrup or honey
1 tsp allspice
1/3 cup almond meal

To  decorate:
About 10 squares dark chocolate
Sprinkles, pearls, et al
A piping bag or homemade version (try this tutorial)

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Use a food processor to grind the whole nuts to a very coarse meal with some small chunks.  Place in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients.  Using your (clean) hands, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a sort ok kneadable dough.  Press the mixture into a grease-proof paper lined loaf tin or a deep baking tray if you decide to double the recipe.  The base should be about a centimetre thick.  Bake on the middle shelf for about 15 mins or until firm and very slightly browned.  Allow to cool before adding the topping.

Place the topping ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until well combined and smooth.  Pour the mixture over the cooled base and spread evenly.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing into 8 even squares.

Line a tray with grease-proof paper or a silicon mat.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in 20-30 second bursts in the microwave.  Place in the piping bag and pipe shapes of your choice.  At this point, I placed the edible pearls to make the cats’ eyes.  Place the tray in the fridge till the chocolate sets.  Once the cheesecake bars are set and sliced, decorate with the chocolate shapes and any other decorations you wish to use.

*I make pumpkin puree by placing a chunk of pumpkin, skin and all, on a tray in an oven preheated to 180 C.  Bake until the pumpkin is quite soft, about 30 min.  Scoop out the flesh and mash by hand or using a food processor.

White flowers

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Fructose-free Lemon Curd from a Lemony Bounty

I’ve set about the task of growing herbs in my balcony with a stubborn determination which is not entirely typical of me.  Mind you, gardening for me is an undertaking that requires nothing short of the stubbornest of determinations because despite my best efforts, I seem to fail miserably at growing anything.

Anything apart from mould in bowls of questionable things in my fridge, that is.

lemons 1

Of course like all other products of my generation, I blame my mother entirely for this particular deficiency.  She once told me that when she was a child, she planted some seedlings and rushed out excitedly the next day to pull them out of the soil to check if the roots were growing.

Needless to say there was not much of anything growing after that.

Lemon Juice

As luck would have it, Dad is actually quite a competent gardener and I can almost forgive him for not passing on the gene as he keeps me adequately supplied with whatever is flourishing in their garden.

So while the basil languishes in our balcony and the dill shrivels pathetically next to it, my parents’ garden has a curry leaf tree that has reached alarming heights, chilli plants that frequently sprout their spicy red fruit and a lemon tree that produces impressive numbers of citrusy goodness every winter.

When my parents handed over a bag of the aforementioned lemons, it was immediately clear to me that I would not be able to use all of the fruit before they dried up to half of their juicy selves.

Lemon Curd 2

Following this was the thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try my hand at making lemon curd.  That’s right, for the first time!  Surprising as I have always found the sweet, creamy tang of lemon curd at once delightful and refreshing.

I then decided that one first wasn’t enough for the day and decided to make a fructose-free version of said lemon curd.

This version uses dextrose, which is a glucose powder.  It is slightly less sweet than regular lemon curd but I found it sweet enough.  You could probably add a little more dextrose if you wanted to.  You can use lemon curd for lots of things- tarts, lemon meringue pie, cake.  Or just spread it on toast.  I am planning more lemon curd related posts in the future so stay with me fellow citrus-lovers.

So what are your favourite ways to use lemon or other fruit curds? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section.

Lemon Curd 1

Fructose-free Lemon Curd

Makes just under a cup

Modified from Gifts from the Kitchen by Annie Riggs via The Patterned Plate

Get:

2 eggs

Juice and finely grated zest of 1 1/2 lemons

62g butter, cubed

110g dextrose

Make:

Beat the eggs and place in the heatproof top bowl of a double boiler or Bain Marie.  I used a large thick walled ceramic bowl.  Ensure the water in the lower vessel is not touching the bowl at the top.  Add the other ingredients and cook on moderate heat for 17-20mins, stirring every few mins.

Stop cooking when the mixture is the consistency of a thick custard.

Allow to cool for a few mins, then place in the fridge to speed up the cooling process.

Place into a sterilised jar and in the fridge.  Mine lasted a few days in the fridge.

Notes:

To sterilise glass jars, wash with soap and hot water and place the jars and lids upturned on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 160 C for 20 mins.

If  fructose-free is not your thing, replace the dextrose with the same amount of caster sugar.

Lemon Curd 3