Pear and ginger jam + why porridge is best toasted

 

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I’ve been watching a lot of Chef’s Table on Netflix lately. Not only is it visual food porn, but you get a fascinating look into what drives + inspires some of these movers and shakers in food. Of course there are so many variables and influences that make a person cook the way they cook, and a restaurant’s style is something that evolves over time, but I began to get a sense of one thing that ties a thread between them all – that they were all quite rooted in place. Not in the sense that they didn’t leave their restaurants, but that their culinary identity was something that was coloured, flavoured and nuanced by the history of the place where they’re from.

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It leaves me thinking about where I am, the country/region/city I live in, and what are the flavours and nuances of this place. I also think about what food traditions we have in New Zealand – do we even have many, in comparison with some of the deep cultural and ritual ties to food other societies have around the globe? Big questions of course, and not something to be answered immediately, but it’s been on my mind more so lately. To say you cook seasonally is an achievement. When we live in a time of constant access to basically whatever foods we want, the idea of the seasons affecting our food supply almost seems outdated. Applying that restriction to the way you cook can seem like suddenly cutting off access to 90% of the ingredients that you use.

That restriction can sometimes be liberating, too. While there are many things in our diets that aren’t grown here, there’s a bounty of things that we do produce. Instead of feeling tied to what can’t be used (no more lentils! pineapple! chocolate!) I started to become excited about what we could grow here and how to celebrate it. If seasonality were a mission, I’d totally accept.

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This recipe is based on two things that we have no trouble growing: pears and oats. Pears hit their peak about a month back, but they’re still showing their faces around the markets for a little while yet. This is a great jam to start with if you’ve never made jam before. Depending on what variety of fruit you’ll get different textures, but regardless of type you’ll make something sweet and delicious that’ll brighten breakfasts to come. The ginger is delightfully spicy and the vanilla lifts it to another level of luxury.

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On a winter morning, when the kitchen windows are all fogged up, there’s nothing quite like a bowl of porridge. One of the best ways to coax flavour out of grains is by toasting them lightly before cooking. These nutty, gently tanned oats plus a wee handful of chopped dates makes this porridge a standout. Have a bowl of this and tell me you don’t feel content.

PEAR AND GINGER JAM
makes about two cups, or two peanut butter jars worth.

1kg pears, washed, cored and diced
300g sugar
2-3 lemons, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 vanilla pod (or two tsp vanilla essence at the end)
a pinch of salt

Fill a saucepan with all of the ingredients and put it over a medium-high heat. Stir frequently, until it begins to come to a boil.

While you wait, begin sterilising your jars. Place in the oven on a tray and turn on the oven to 150C. Leave them in for twenty minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the jars in there to stay hot. The jar lids can be sterilised by pouring boiling water over them then leaving to dry on a clean tea towel.

Once it’s boiling, turn it down a bit and leave it to simmer away for about half an hour. Basically we’re waiting for the stage when the pears can be pretty easily mashed against the side of the pot with a spoon.

You have two options from here on out: one) mash your jam with a potato masher and leave more texture in your finished jam, or two) use an immersion blender and get that baby nice and smooth. Either way, return it to the heat when you’ve finished and bring it to a low simmer. Keep stirring and simmering for about 10 minutes, then shut off the heat and get ready to pour. Now’s the time to remove the vanilla pod if you were using one, or add the essence if not.

Pour into the jars, leaving about 1/2cm air space at the top of the jar. Screw lids on tightly and put aside to cool.

Stores 2 months room temp, and one month refrigerated once opened.


TOASTED OAT AND DATE PORRIDGE

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup wholegrain oats (not the tiny porridge oats, we want the big ones)
1 cup water
small handful of chopped dates
1/4 cup milk, plus more to serve

Melt the butter in a small pot with a lid, then add the oats. Stir occasionally over a medium heat until the oats begin to go a golden colour and smell toasty and fragrant. This will take about 3-5 minutes.

Add the water (careful, steamy!) and bring it back to a boil. Once there, add the dates, turn the heat off and leave it to sit for about twenty minues, or however long it takes you to have a shower and wake up.

Once you’re ready bring it back to a boil then simmer for about 5 minutes, or until creamy enough for your liking. I tend to over cook mine so it looks a bit too dry, then top it up with milk and cook that down for a few minutes – makes it creamy but not too rich.

Serve with homemade jam and a splash of milk

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Dukkah (#1 DIY Christmas Gift)

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It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write one of these! I would apologise for my absence but, hey, we all get busy and know what it’s like to have to let some things fall to the wayside a bit as other priorities take over. (That mosaic plaque you started in 2013 and sits untouched in the garage… the herb garden started out of the best intentions but now offers only a bounty of weeds for picking… you feel me?). Unlike a pot plant or a small child, a blog will always be there exactly as you left it, regardless of how regularly you water, feed, or sow into it. Whether people still bother to read it is another story -kudos to you!- but it still remains an outlet to write; to share; to cook.

In other news, it’s almost Christmas! Though you’d have to live under a rock not to notice Ms. Carey’s charming but radio-bashed rendition of All I Want For Christmas blaring from every retail centre in the nation, I thought it’d be worth reminding you. Why? If you’re at all like the rest of the population chances are you still have gift shopping to do. I’m not judging, no way, I’ve only just managed to get my A into G and sort something out. And only mere days before the grand jour dawns upon us, stress levels and credit card bills are a-rising. Instead of adding insult to injury and suggesting you go out and buy, buy, buy, I’ll offer a simple solution:

Make gifts yourself.

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This isn’t a new concept, I know, but if you’re gifting for those foodies in your life (heck, anyone who eats food) the old scorched almonds and box of Lindt chocolates routine could do with a bit of a switch up. Who really needs more sugar this time of year anyway?

Dukkah, which you’ve likely come across at a dinner party or potluck on a platter with crusty bread and olive oil, is an Egyptian condiment made with herbs, toasted nuts, seeds, and a whole lotta spices. Traditionally served with bread and oil, I wouldn’t hesitate to scatter it liberally on a whole host of foods: salads, hummus and dips, roast veges, etc etc. You get the picture.

I’ve bagged the dukkah up in small packs of a couple tablespoons as little gifts for family, but by all means wham it all in a jar and stick a cute label on it if you’ve got someone particular in mind. Christmas can be that easy! Now, go forth and sprinkle. #dukkahoneverything

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DUKKAH
Makes about one cup, but I’d go ahead and double it (as I have in the photos) – if you’re going to the effort to make it for someone else you’ll enjoy having some on hand yourself as well.

1/2 cup of nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, up to you.)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
a good pinch of fennel seeds, about 1/2 teaspoon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
a pinch of sumac, optional
black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 180*C and measure out your ingredients (optional, but having everything already measured makes you feel like a boss when mixing it all together).

Pop the nuts on a small baking tray and toast in the oven until they start smelling amazing, 5-10 minutes. If hazelnuts are your nut of choice, rub them against each other in a tea towel to slough off any loose papery skins. Tip the nuts into a food processor to cool, then pour your seeds into the tray and toast them too until the aromas waft from the oven. This will take 4-5 minutes, but keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Once the seeds have toasted, let them cool on the tray. When both nuts and seeds are cooled, whack all the ingredients into the food processor and pulse until they’re the texture of rough breadcrumbs. Err on the side of larger pieces – you can always pulse more, but you can’t unpulse once the nuts begin to form a paste.

Keeps for just over a week in an airtight container, though I dare you not to use it all up before then.

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If you’re after a bit more inspiration, here are a few links to things you can make yourself that will go down a treat:

If you have any other great DIY gift ideas I’d love to hear them!

Have a lovely christmas; eat, drink, be merry, and eat even more.

Luke xx

 

Curried Kumara and Coconut Soup

edit 5Tomorrow is the first day of spring, and it couldn’t have come sooner. While there’s an official change of season, I can tell you that though the sun is showing its face more often it can still be f-ing cold. This soup, then, is not so much a celebration of all the bounties of spring, but rather how warm and invigorating a meal can be when the weather report refuses to budge.

There’s something that a bowl of soup does to a person under the weather. The Danish have a word, hygge, that gets much closer at describing this effect than English does; it’s hard to translate, but it’s in the realm of “cosiness,” “warmth” or “a hug on the inside.” As an alternative version to the Danes’ word, I now endorse the use of soup belly to describe this phenomena. Besides, it’s already got a definition on urban dictionary so it’s begging to be used.edit 2There’s a whole slew of emotions and concepts that are much better articulated by foreign languages than our own tongue. A personal favourite has to be Germany’s “Kummerspeck“, which is excess weight gained from emotional overeating – literally translated as grief bacon. (Words for your personal googling pleasure: Backpfeifengesicht and Bakku-shan.)

If you are in a habit of eating your emotions, though, at least say goodbye to the grief bacon and give this a try. Lightly spiced, sweet and creamy, I’d say I probably eat this soup – or a version of it – once a week. Not only does it amaze me how cheaply the ingredients can be found, it’s unbelievably quick. This is the kind of dish I’d make on the weekend and freeze in single servings, too. If you or anyone you know is a poor student, let this soup be proof that healthy, speedy and dirt-cheap need not be exclusive.

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CURRIED KUMARA AND COCONUT SOUP

For a Southeast Asian variation, the curry powder + mustard seeds can be replaced with a tablespoon of Thai red curry paste. A squeeze of lime juice at the end will take this to a whole new level too.

1 onion, diced
1″ fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon of coconut oil or ghee
a pinch of salt

2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds (optional)
a good grind of fresh black pepper

3/4 cup red lentils
1 medium orange sweet potato/kumara (~140g) diced into 1-2cm pieces
200ml coconut cream

Heat a saucepan over a medium heat with the oil or ghee. Once melted, add the onion, ginger and salt and fry for a couple of minutes until the onion begins to soften. Once soft, stir in the curry powder, mustard seeds and black pepper and heat through for a few minutes until fragrant – you may need to add a splash of water every now and then to stop it from burning or sticking to the bottom.

Add the red lentils and diced kumara to the pot, then cover with two and a half cups of water. Bring up the heat, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the lentils sticking to the pot. It’s ready when the lentils and kumara can be easily crushed with a fork.

Pour in the coconut cream and blend until smooth (an immersion blender is ideal, but it can be done carefully in a regular blender in small batches). Salt to taste, and serve.

Serves 3-4.

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Roasted Yam (Oca) and Feta Salad

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Great news, my first semester is over and I’m on holiday! I’m quite pleased I made it this far (Without having a breakdown! Or killing anyone! Or taking a long walk into a deep lake!), but truth be told right now I’m not thinking a whole lot about the six months past, I’m just euphoric deliriously excited pleased about the study-free days ahead of me. Throughout the term I kept having images of a horse being drawn forward by a carrot dangling in front of him; I think I’m the horse and the two week break was the carrot.

Now that I’m in the midst of these holidays, I have to be quite conscientous not to just waste my days. It’s all too easy to sleep through the morning and lose half your day – and if you’re anything like me (90% of thoughts centered around an upcoming meal), you’ll spend half of the remaning day making an elaborate late breakfast/lunch. So, to combat this, here’s me not being a lazy lobster and doing something productive. Behold, yams!

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Yams have been popping up at markets all over the city for about a month now, and I began to feel guilty for not having cooked with something that seemed to be in such seasonal bounty. Checking out potted herbs at my local market, I spotted a bag of organic, baby yams that were dirt cheap. The elderly lady manning the stall said they grew in her back yard in a space where she wanted to plant spinach, so she dug them up and was happy to get rid of them. I explained that I hadn’t cooked them before myself, and had only eaten them occasionally at my aunty’s when I was younger. Before I’d even finished telling her how we’d eaten them a grave look came across her face and she told me, in a stern but loving way that only a grandmother could, to “never, ever boil yams. I looked blank so she continued, “just promise me that you’ll roast them, boy.” Hardly being one to disagree with someone so empassioned about vegetable cooking methods, I gave her my word, handed over my small change and headed home with a bag full of produce and a head full of ideas (and warnings).

After a quick google on how other people cooked this un-boilable vegetable – I wanted a second opinion, okay – it became clear that what we call yams in this country are not called yams elsewhere. So, to clear up any confusion, I’m not talking about the large, sweet potato-looking root vegetable named yam in the U.S. What we’re dealing with here (oxalis tuberosa) go by a few names, including oca and New Zealand yam. While they’re incredibly common in New Zealand, I’ve heard they can often be found in Latin and African markets in Europe and the U.S.

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ROASTED YAM (OCA) AND FETA SALAD

I encourage you to do what you can to find true Oca/New Zealand yams, but if they prove evasive, this salad is also delicious with chunks of roasted sweet potato, parsnip, beets or other earthy root vegetables – just add a splash of cider vinegar to the roasting dish to account for the yam’s natural acidity. A good cultured nut or tofu cheese (this or this) makes a great vegan alternative to the feta, too.

500g yams, larger ones cut in half
olive oil, salt + pepper

125g sheep or goat feta
a large handful of parsley, chopped
1 avocado, diced
1 cup cooked brown rice., or more as needed

extra-virgin olive oil
half a lemon, juiced

Preheat the oven to 200*C. Toss the yams with a splash of oil and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through, until soft when pierced with a fork.

Crumble the feta into a large mixing bowl, add the parsley, avocado, roasted yams, and cooked rice. Toss with a healthy glugg (~two tablespoons) of olive oil and the lemon juice, then serve while still warm.

Serves 2-3.

Vegan Butternut and Kale Quiche

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I’m learning a lesson big time in how to look after myself. Sure, I’ve acquired all the basic skills. I brush my teeth, cook my food and do my washing (#thanksmum), but apparently there’s a lot more involved in keeping a human happy, healthy and sane. The first few months of my training – and, let’s face it, new life – have been nuts. Unfortunately the honeymoon period didn’t last long and the reality of the situation kicked in. My idea of the institution I had auditioned for was turned on its head and I realised that acting isn’t always fun. Getting up before the sun has fully risen to walk to physical warm-up has had me scrambling for a sense of motivation that, at times, never showed up. And don’t even get me started on how cold this city is becoming.

Hard work as it is, there are a bunch of positives. As my first semester progresses, the things I’m learning are drawing me in more and more. I’ve developed a real interest in screen work that I hadn’t explored before. I live in a superb apartment with superb flatmates. The Sunday produce market is only a couple of minutes away. Living in Wellington is dope. Like the Beach Boys song, this city hums and pulses with good vibrations. Some talk of cities that never sleep; I feel like this city is the type that knows how to party but also gets a good night’s rest and wakes up the next morning refreshed and ready to go.

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I’ve found that looking after yourself is not a list of tasks, but a relationship. The best piece of advice I’ve been given since starting drama school is deceivingly simple: be gentle on yourself. Whether you develop a practice of checking in with yourself and not judging what you feel, or you take some time to walk to the waterfront and sit for a while; the scale of what you do isn’t important, it’s that you just do it. We’re often told by our tutors to “feed ourselves creatively,” though I think this applies to life as a whole. What do you actually need right now? Is it a nap, a hug, to sing, or to chill out with a cup of tea? There’s value in slowing down and making sure that you’re still staying afloat before you continue trying to swim.

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If you think I’ve taken this metaphor too far and can’t redirect it back to the quiche recipe, you underestimate me. I remember reading Heidi Swanson talk about being kind to your future self. The idea struck a chord with me, and I feel this quiche does that very well. One session in the kitchen on the weekend, and you’ve got lunches on lock for at least half the week. Rather than throwing together a rushed peanut butter sandwich, I’d prefer to slip a slice of this into my bag and sit down with a hot drink. Wouldn’t you?

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VEGAN BUTTERNUT AND KALE QUICHE

While roasted butternut squash is hard to beat, feel free to use carrots, zucchini, sweet potato/kumara or whatever is in season as long as the cooked quantity remains around the 2 cup mark.

4 cups cubed butternut squash, 500g (~ 1 medium squash) or 2 cups roasted squash
1 tablespoon coconut oil
a good pinch of coconut sugar, optional
salt + pepper
1 bunch of kale, stemmed and chopped

2 cups chickpea flour
3 cups of water

1 onion, finely diced
oil, for sauteeing
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons mixed herbs
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon miso (the darker the colour the more savoury the dish’ll be)

Preheat oven 200C/400F, with a rack in the top third. Grease a quiche tin or a springform pan (much easier to remove after cooking). Toss the cubed squash with the oil, sugar and salt + pepper and spread in a single layer on a naking sheet. Place in the over and bake for 20 minutes, turning once halfway, until cooked through and caramelised on the edges.

While the squash roasts, heat pan over medium heat. Throw in the kale plus a splash of water and pop the lid on, leaving the kale to steam. Toss every few minutes until wilted, then drain in a mest strainer and leave to cool.

Whisk the chickpea flour with two cups of the water in a bowl and set aside. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and sautee the onion in a splash of oil until it’s translucent and soft, about 3 to 5 minutes, then stir in the nutritional yeast, herbs and spices. Pour in the remaining cup of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, vigorously stir in the water/chickpea slurry and take off the heat immediately Place the miso in a small bowl and thin it with a spoonful of the chickpea slurry, then add it back to the pot and stir well.

To the wet mix, fold in the kale and baked squash pieces, then pour into your prepared tin or pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes until firm to the touch and golden on top. Because it’s too soft to slice cleanly when warm, it’s best allowed to cool down before serving.

Serves 4-5

Bulgur and Roasted Roots with a Capsicum Dressing

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I hear the terms “five year plan” and “ten year plan” bandied around a lot. Apparently some people know exactly where they want to be, what they want to be doing and who they want to be with in the year twenty-nineteen. Their faces beam with pride as they share, in detail, every step they intend to take in order to meet their goal.

I, for one, am not this kind of person. I do possess the ability to think ahead in relatively small chunks (should I shower today? Yeah, probably), but until I can remember my own appointments or decide what pants to wear in the morning I’ll leave the future planners to do the rest. I am, however, a constant goal setter. This means that, for the most part, I have something to aim towards. Last week, yours truly finally achieved one of his biggest goals. While I certainly don’t have a five year plan flow-chart, I know that for the next three years of my life I’ll be pursuing an acting degree at the country’s top drama school. I’ll move to a different city, make new friends (?!), and learn skills and techniques for a career that I’ve been dreaming of since, well, forever.

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Cooking dinner is like life. Some people do really well in the planning area, soaking beans and marinating tofu twelve hours ahead, and others arrive home without having given dinner a thought, wanting something on the table reasonably quickly. This veggie and bulgur salad is a great addition to any repetoire, as once you’ve got the oven heated, it’s only half an hour to dinner. Tender roasted baby carrots, beets and orange kumara are paired with nutty bulgur and a ridiculously moreish grilled red capsicum dressing. The recipe even makes enough to spread on a few crackers as impromtu hors d’oeuvres while you wait for the rest of the meal to cook.

Did I mention that it keeps brilliantly in the fridge for easy lunches throughout the week? You’re welcome.

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ROASTED ROOTS AND BULGUR WITH A CAPSICUM DRESSING

We often keep a jar of roasted capsicums in the fridge, so I’ve used those here. Switch this up with whole-grain couscous instead, or if you’re after something gluten free, millet and brown rice work well too.

3/4 cup coarse bulgur wheat
1 3/4 cups water

200g carrots, about 7 baby sized, cut into even pieces
250g beetroot, trimmed and cut
200g orange sweet potato or kumara, trimmed and cut
1 teaspoon coconut oil or ghee, melted

2 roasted red capsicums, drained if from a jar or homemade
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 zucchini, grated
a large handful of fresh parsley or basil, chopped (reserving a little to garnish)
1 spring onion, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 200C / 400F and place a rack in the centre.

Bring the bulgur and water to a boil in a small pot with a pinch of sea salt. Cover, reduce to a simmer and let cook for ten minutes. Continue to check every five minutes, and remove from the heat when you can no longer see water on the bottom of the pot when you sneak a teaspoon down the side. Leave to rest.

While the bulgur cooks, toss the carrot, beetroot and sweet potato with the melted coconut oil and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes, tossing half-way though, until the beets are easily pierced with a fork.

In the meantime place your capsicums, sunflower seeds, garlic and salt, paprika and lemon juice in a blender or food processor and pulse until it begins to look smooth. Pour in the oil and blend again until creamy.

Fluff the bulgur with a fork and toss with the roasted roots, zucchini, herbs and dressing (reserving about 1/3 for serving). Pile into a serving dish, scatter with the remaining herbs and spring onions and add extra dressing if desired.

Serves 4 as a main, 6-7 as a side dish.

Spring Beetroot Muffins

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Coming home from my European adventure felt good and, all clichés aside, there really is nothing like lying down in your own bed after three months of sofa fold-outs and hostel bunks. That being said, it’s been tough going from getting up every morning in an exciting city (Stockholm, I love thee) to waking in my own room. Leaving at the end of Summer on the continent I was greeted (well, smacked in the face) by the drop in temperature here. While I’m fortunate that it’s spring and I missed the worst of this years winter, I can see my tan fading already… Who am I kidding, my tan comes from a bottle😉

Being spring, I’m in fresh produce heaven. Dad and I go to the local growers market every Saturday  morning (Mum comes too, if it’s not raining) and pick up our bounty. Every week we tend to buy a bunch of fresh beetroot, normally roasting it or grating it into salads, but this week it’s the star of the show in a batch of muffins!

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In a throwback to my hummus post, I’ve opted for a Persian twist, adding in a splash of deliciously tart pomegranate molasses and a sprinkle of rosewater to up the anti. Middle eastern cooking is taking over this household at the moment, so it seemed only for to apply these touches to the muffins!

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SPRING BEETROOT MUFFINS – makes 8-9

While the more “exotic” ingredients can be easily found at your local ethnic/bulk foods store, if you would rather opt out of the Middle Eastern theme you can definitely go the carrot cake route here – adding in a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and a pinch of cloves instead. 

300g beetroot (about 3 medium sized)
1 egg, or 1 flax egg
1/3 cup coconut sugar
1/3 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup buckwheat flour + 1/2 cup whole spelt flour (or 1 cup flour of your choice)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
a pinch of both ground gloves and cinnamon

4-5 dried figs, diced into small pieces
butter or oil, to grease

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Grease a muffin tray and set aside. Peel and grate the beetroot and mix it all in a bowl with the egg, sugar, apple sauce and oil (I find it easiest to do this by slipping on a pair of rubber gloves, placing a bowl in the kitchen sink and grating directly into that – it helps to minimise any magenta splashes and stains). Fold in your dried fig pieces.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and soda, and the spices. Add to the wet mixture and fold together until there’s no more visible dry flour in the mix.

Spoon into the greased muffin tin, about 1/3 cup in each hole. If you have a 9-hole tin, perfect. If you have a 12-hole like I did, pour about 2cm water in each of the unfilled muffin tins to stop the muffins next to the empty spaces burning. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a skewer/toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean.

In the photos you can see that I’ve drizzled icing over the muffins. It’s made from couple rows of dark chocolate, melted, and mixed with a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses – I haven’t included a proper recipe for that yet, as it didn’t set like I’d hoped. Feel free to make your own and let me know if you have a winner!

Curried Potato and Cauliflower Dal

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As I’m watching the rain cascade off the roof onto the garden outside it becomes very obvious that the sunny days and ambient temperatures are now gone, off flirting with another part of the world. This dramatic reduction in sunshine and degrees has pulled most of us inside, and with this change in the atmosphere it seems almost necessary that we find our warmth elsewhere. While I certainly could just turn the heat pump on, and in reality it’s been on low all day, there are myriad other ways to bring about a comforting snugness.

Comfort food is an extremely personal thing. Some couldn’t ask for anything more than a plate (read: entire dish) of decadently carb-abundant macaroni cheese. You, perhaps, are particularly partial to a bowl of hearty vegetable soup, simmered for hours until the whole house smells just as nourishing and restoring as the soup tastes. What I’ve begun craving -more than I normally do, that is- are curries and dishes with a real depth of flavour. I do love cheesy pasta, don’t get me wrong, and a wholesome soup certainly does have its place, but rather than reaching for creamy indulgence and borderline-glutton richness I’ve been more inclined to want dishes also filled with warming aromatics, herbs and spices.

Curries, as a general rule, tick all of the above pre-requisites. I started brainstorming all of my favourite curry dishes to see if there were any similarities or points I could draw upon to make my own ultimate comfort dish. This list, like any self-respecting westerner, included butter chicken -sans meat of course- for its decadently smooth sauce. I played around in the kitchen a little, threw bits and pieces of whatever seemed like a good idea in a pot, and hoped for the best. The result? Well, this.

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I began by sauteeing an onion and a diced capsicum in a little oil until translucent and slightly golden. I added a chili, several cloves of garlic as well as a touch of coconut sugar for sweetness (also because of this article and a growing desire to caramelise everything I cook). Once the edges started to colour and there was a delicious layer of browning sugars on the bottom of the pan, in went a tin of tomatoes. This, simmered for about ten minutes with another can of water, was blended with whole milk yogurt, tomato paste and a pinch of salt into a sauce that could have rivalved velvet for its smoothness and sheen. Butter-chicken-inspired sauce set aside, I moved onto the real flavour powerhouses of the dish.

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After adding spoonfuls of whatever spices were available at the time into a mortar, I pestled it (yes, that’s a verb apparently) until I was satisfied that I could justify not working out the next morning. Into hot oil it went, along with enough turmeric to stain the entire town’s wooden spoons.

Now time for the filling, I reflected on my prior list of curries. Being quite succeptible to a good serving of aloo gobi, I knew cauliflower and potato were strong contenders. Equally enjoyed, though, was a good red lentil dal, but would it be too much to add legumes as well? Nonsense, I told myself, as I threw in large handfuls of all of the above. Now coated in a heady spice oil, in went the tomato-yogurt sauce and enough water to cover the vegetables and lentils.

The hardest part about all of this might just have been waiting for it to cook.

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CURRIED POTATO AND CAULIFLOWER DAL or ALOO “I DON’T KNOW” GOBI

This recipe can be easily veganised by using coconut/soy yogurt, or simply with coconut milk instead. If taking the coconut milk route, check the acidity of the sauce as you might need to add a touch of lemon or lime juice to brighten things up. Feel free to swap in other vegetables, too, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

SAUCE ME
1 dab of ghee or coconut oil
1 onion
1 red capsicum
1 teaspoon coconut sugar
1 medium heat red chili, or between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon red chili powder
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 400g tin tomatoes + 2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 cup whole milk yogurt
salt, to taste

Heat a saucepan over a medium heat and melt the oil, adding the onion, capsicum and sugar once the oil is hot. Sautee for several minutes, then add in your garlic and chili. Once the garlic has started to become translucent, throw in your tomatoes and half a tin of water. Bring back to the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Using a stick blender (or very carefully, in batches, in a jug blender) whizz it up adding the yogurt towards the end. Set aside.

SPICE ME
2 teaspoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon cardamon seed
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seed (or 1 of black seeds)
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric + a good pinch of black pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala, or your favourite curry powder + 1/4 t cinnamon (optional)

In a mortar and pestle grind up the first four spices until roughly broken up. Add in rest of the spices and stir together. Set aside.

COOK ME
2 cups potato, 2cm dice (about 2 medium potatoes)
3 cups cauliflower broken into florets (about 1/2 a medium cauli)
1 cup red lentils

2 teaspoons ghee or coconut oil
water, as needed

Heat your oil over a low-medium heat and throw in your spice mix, stirring constantly until the smell hits you in the face and the mix isn’t lumpy (don’t let the oil get too hot – keep it low at first and add a teaspoon of water if needed to cool it). Add in your potato and red lentils, stirring to coat them in the spice mix, and then pour in all of your tomato-yogurt sauce. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes, or until the potato is just past half cooked. Add the cauli and 2/3 cup of water and bring back a simmer for 10 minutes, this time uncovered, stirring occasionally. You may need to add water from time to time to loosen it as the lentils swell up and thicken the sauce.

Remove from the heat and serve on top of brown rice or with warm flatbreads + yogurt and cilantro to garnish.

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Don’t let the long ingredient list or method put you off making this. Chances are you have what it takes to make this in your house right now. If not, use whatever you have and make it work – it’s that kind of dish. In the meantime, I’ll just sit at home in the warmth avoiding having to think about packing (leaving in twelve days? Who me?).

Protein Power Bars

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As much as I’ve tried to ignore the fact that it’s winter, there’s no denying it now. While it’s still not really that cold, the rain has set in as a gentle reminder that our sunbathing days are long gone (who am I kidding though, it’s not like I could ever actually tan anyway). Now instead of spending my days outside frollicking in the fresh air I’m forced to entertain myself. Of course I could spend this extra time planning for my trip to Europe  – in exactly 24 days!!! – but that would count as “planning” and I don’t think I want to risk frightening my parents. Besides, I’ve built a great deal of my reputation around procrastination. Why stop now?

I’ve been trying to get a new recipe up on here for weeks now, but every time I have a free day it seems to be swallowed whole by the ever-increasing list of things I have to get done. This, combined with the fact I’m not even at home all that often, has meant I’ve been quiet on the blogging front. Nevertheless, I’m here today partly because of the aforementioned rain but mostly because I have a little (edible) something to share.

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Let me present to you my raw protein power bars. Since I started eating vegetarian I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way I’ve felt. I have more energy, I get sick far less, and I’m not succumbing to the afternoon slump like I used to. One thing I have noticed though, is that I seem to have a bigger appetite than I had before. All jokes aside about vegetarians being hungry because they only eat salad, it puzzled me a little. I had done my research into where to get your protein, in what forms, blah blah blah, but recently I thought perhaps that by upping the protein intake in my diet I might feel more satiated.

Thus, this recipe was born.

One of these seems to make a huge difference to how hungry I am, and coupled with a muffin or a piece of fruit for afternoon tea I can keep going until dinnertime. I’d been making a variation of these bars for quite some time now, but after a few simple ingredient switches and additions I managed to nearly double it’s protein content. If you cut this bar into sixteen pieces each serving has about 14 grams of protein and a quarter of your recommended daily iron. Not bad for a snack bar!

RAW PROTEIN POWER BARS

If you’re not a huge fan of spirulina’s taste feel free to halve the amount and replace it with cacao without dramatically reducing the protein quantity. You can also switch up the nuts used here, as long as you stay around the 2 cup mark in total. I’ve used hemp seed meal simply because it’s the only hemp product, besides oil, legal for sale in New Zealand (don’t get me started on this, crikey) but if you can get your hands on hemp seeds just whizz 3/4 cup in a food processor or spice grinder to get a coarse powder. Finally, if you don’t have raw cacao, feel free to use normal cocoa powder.

1 cup almonds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup hemp seed meal, or ground hemp seeds
1/2 cup ground flax seeds, approx 3/4 cup whole seeds before grinding
2 tablespoons (22g) spirulina powder
1/2 cup cacao

4 tablespoons coconut oil
3/4 cup date puree (try this method with any dried date)
1/2 cup water

optional: toasted buckwheat, cacao nibs, bee pollen, dried coconut

Place your nuts, sunflower seeds, hemp, flax, spirulina and cacao in your food processor and pulse until everything is crumbly but not quite like breadcrumbs. Mix together the date puree and water and pour into the processor with the coconut oil, pulsing again until it starts to stick together and make a ball.

Dump it out into a bowl and give it a good massage, making sure there are no lumps of oil. Now’s the time to mix in any crunchy add-ins, too. Don’t worry if it seems quite sticky, as the ground flax will absorb the water as it sets.

Line a baking dish with cling wrap or baking paper and press the mix evenly into it, placing another piece of wrap/paper on top to press it out smoothly. Pop into the freezer for about 30 minutes to chill, then slice into 16 pieces.

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// Makes 16. Keeps for 1-2 weeks in the fridge, even longer in the freezer.

Raw Buckwheat and Turmeric Porridge

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Breakfast has a special place in my heart. As soon as I get out of bed I relish nothing more than filling my grumbling void of a stomach with something satiating and substantial. This is partly due to necessity, as I’ve been informed that I’m not the happiest of campers when hungry, but largely because I love eating and breakfast is the first eating experience of the day.I’m sure you know several people who swear that they’re fine not eating breakfast, and, in fact, find that eating first thing only makes them hungry for the rest of the day – I, however, am not one of those people. Should you encounter me before I have eaten, or happen to stand between this bleary-eyed teenager and a bowl of porridge, I apologise in advance.

I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.

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As the seasons change (come on though, it’s Autumn now and we’ve had one cold day) I find myself reaching for different types of foods, not only to provide different and more exciting flavours, but also to keep me full for longer. Now that I’m working nearly full time and on my feet all day, my school-routine-accustomed body needs fuel like never before. It’s also the time of year where my immune system tends to fall behind a little and I become more succeptible to coughs and colds. Because I can’t afford to get sick at all for the next three weeks – a play I’m in opened a few nights ago – I’ve started relying on my diet more to boost me up and keep me at my best. This recipe is a direct result of that, managing to keep me satiated and help keep the colds at bay.

Let me introduce you to my double whammy breakfast dream team.

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Profile one: Buckwheat, nutritional superhero.

Buckwheat, contrary to its name, is not actually related to wheat at all. In fact it’s not even a grain, but a fruit seed related to plants like sorrel and rhubarb, which means it doesn’t contain any gluten. This makes it perfect for those who are gluten-intolerant, obviously, but it’s also so nutritious it would be silly for the rest of us not to eat it as well!

Buckwheat is a complete protein, as it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, so it’s a great choice for those who don’t eat animal products. It’s especially easy because it doesn’t need to be combined with any other foods to provide a high quality protein, and it’s ridiculously versatile too. It can be ground into flour and used for pancakes or for baking, it can be toasted and cooked (heard of Russian Kasha?), it can be added to muesli and granola mixes for crunch, and it can be soaked in water to soften it to make a raw porridge. On top of all that it is packed full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Oh, and did I mention? It’s delicious.

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Profile two: Turmeric, inflammation fighter.

Turmeric has been regarded as a powerful healer for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine, and recent research is proving just how potent and incredible it is. The vivid yellow hue of many Indian dishes can be attributed to the use of turmeric, however the colour is thanks to its active ingredient curcumin. This super bright coloured pigment is one of natures finest anti-inflammatories, meaning it helps reduce inflammation (read: damage or sickness) in our body. Inflammation in itself is not always a bad thing, in fact it’s a necessary part of fighting off bugs in our body, but the problem is when it goes on for a length of time. Chronic (long lasting) inflammation is a factor in many common Western diseases, but our hero curcumin can inhibit all sorts of the molecules which play a part in causing the inflammation!

Interestingly enough though, curcumin is actually poorly absorbed by our bodies. This means that we can eat all the turmeric we want, but most of the good stuff doesn’t make it into our bloodstream. When consumed with another awesome ingredient, piperine, the amount of curcumin we absorb skyrockets. Where can we get piperene? Black pepper. In fact, adding a pinch of pepper whenever you use turmeric can increase the amount of curcumin your body absorbs by an astonishing 2,000%!

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Moving onto the actual food now. This breakfast has been my saving grace. It’s easy, cheap, nutritious, filling and it even helps keep the sniffles at bay. I nearly always soak the buckwheat overnight in a glass of water, but if you’re not the organised type (ahem, monday mornings) then a quick soak while you have a shower will do the trick.

Imagine sitting down to a giant bowl of this before a big day. Forget bacon and eggs, mate. Buckwheat porridge is where it’s at!

RAW BUCKWHEAT & TURMERIC PORRIDGE

This recipe is totally adaptable. If you’re not into bananas, just use a touch more milk and some honey or maple syrup for sweetness. Why not even throw in a little cinnamon while you’re at it. Use whatever milk you have on hand, coconut water or even plain ol’ H20. Add in a few dates and some cocoa if you want, or use apple juice, fresh ginger and a pinch of ground cloves. Just promise me that you’ll try it with turmeric and black pepper, too.

1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats, soaked in 1 cup of water overnight
1/3 cup oat or almond milk
1 banana, peeled and broken up
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 pinch of black pepper

Place all your ingredients in your blender jug or stick-blender vessel and blitz like there’s no tomorrow. A small food processor will mix it but you mightn’t get it as smooth.

Serve, topped with whatever your heart desires. Today, I opted for fresh pear and persimmon, bee pollen and cacao nibs. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Serves 1, but is easily doubled.

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