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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Aussie Apple, Berry and Yoghurt Breakfast Jars

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What I forgot to mention in my first blogiversary post is the lovely, warm community of bloggers that this little hobby-whatsit has opened up to me.  And what I deliberately left out, partly because I’m only just getting a taste of it and it seems almost too good to be true, and partly because they really are just a bonus, are the experiences I have been opened up to in the world of food.

Last weekend was a perfect combination of both if these fringe benefits, as I and a few other food bloggers headed off on a day trip to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.  There, in a town called Bilpin, we got to visit some beautiful apple orchards and meet the growers who bring some of the sweetest, juiciest apples to our fruit bowls.

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There is a joy in being able to trace the food we eat from its beginnings, through its journey and finally onto the table.  At Saliba Fruits, second generation farmers Joe and Lily Saliba welcomed us warmly and took us through the process of apple farming.  We first meandered a little through the orchards, admiring the squat, fruit-laden trees in their fruit-bat proof netting like babies in a nursery.  What got us all a little bit excited was what we dubbed the ‘apple day spa’, a conveyor belt system where the crisp red globes were first washed, dried, polished, hand-sorted and packed into baskets for market.  And when we found out that the little guys actually get their own sunscreen to protect them from the harsh Aussie sun?  Well, we were positively gushing!

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From there, we visited Bilpin Springs Orchard, a pick-your-own farm.  Cedric greeted us and led us around more apple trees, as well as trees laden with lemons, peaches and navel oranges.  He told us about the farm’s preference for organic farming methods whenever possible.  He explained to us how to choose a good apple and what to avoid.  He then set us loose among the trees and armed with baskets, we set about picking to our heart’s content.

Around us, families were doing exactly the same.  Parents filled baskets while their city-slicker kids revelled delightedly in the fresh air and wide open spaces interrupted only by trees whose branches were weighed down by things you could eat.  It was good, clean, safe and inexpensive fun and something I would recommend to anyone.

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A satisfying day in all, and made even more so by the armfuls of apples that we all went home with.  It turns out an apple a day really could…you know, do what they say, as the little guys are packed with vitamins and minerals that help lower the risk of some chronic diseases.  Their skin especially is rich in poly-phenols and antioxidants, which we all know is a good thing.  Aussies, look for the Aussie Apples sticker as not only are they home-grown, but they are seriously delicious fruit.

Breakfast is an important meal for me and not only does it have to be filling, but also tasty and transportable, given my tendency to be running late at all times, to everything!  These breakfast jars incorporate apples, berries and yoghurt, making them an anti-oxidant and protein party in a jar.

I was a guest of Aussie Apples, Saliba Fruits and Bilpin Springs Orchard.  This is not a sponsored post and my opinions are my own.

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Apple, Berry and Yoghurt Breakfast Jars

Makes 2 generous serves

Get:

2 small Aussie Apples, diced small
1 tsp coconut oil or butter
1/2 cup frozen berries of your choice
1/2 tsp + 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp rice syrup or honey
Greek yoghurt (about a cup)
Small handful pepitas
Small handful shredded coconut

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 C.  Place the pepitas on a tray and toast in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until they have swelled.  Add the coconut and bake for a further minute or so until it has browned slightly.  Toss both in a bowl with 1/4 tsp cinnamon.

In a non-stick sauce-pan, warm the coconut oil.  Add the apples and cook for about 5 mins.  Add the berries, syrup, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and vanilla extract.  Stir and cook on low-medium heat, covered for 5-7 mins or until the apples are tender.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

In jars or glasses, layer first the fruit layer, then the yoghurt, then fruit again, then yoghurt.  Top with the toasted pepita and coconut mixture and drizzle with any leftover sauce from the fruit mixture.  Remember to take a spoon and eat in the car whilst stuck in traffic.

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