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Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

avocado smoothie, two ways

In drinks, gluten free, summer on 21 February, 2011 at 1:24 am

Just a quick, hastily-composed post tonight to share with you one of my favourite things. I’ve just had a magnificent weekend in Auckland filled with dear friends and music and good food and sunshine and this is incredibly cheesy but I couldn’t stop smiling even when I returned to Wellington today because the sun was out, the water was still and  it was one of those afternoons where you’re deliriously, achingly glad to exist; I made tacos for dinner and watched the free circus and saw the moon rise over the harbour and now it’s somehow Monday morning (just) and I’m sitting in bed, shell-shocked, bleary-eyed,  cheeks sore from the perpetual grin I’ve had plastered on my face since finishing up work Friday afternoon.

So there it is: I love summer. Who doesn’t? And I love avocados, which – conveniently enough – are plentiful right now. And one of my favourite ways of having them is not in the usual guacamole or mashed up on toast (both obviously awesome uses though), but blended into a cold, sweet smoothie.

I know what you might be thinking: Really? Sweet? Avocado? But it’s perfectly legitimate – avocados are bland enough to go either way, and creamy and decadent enough to carry a bit of sweetness through without being too over-the-top.

I think the first time I had avocado in sweet form was in Indonesia a few years ago where it was served as a shake drizzled with chocolate sauce. And then, while living in Singapore there was a little shop selling the creamiest avocado smoothies just around the corner from my apartment. I’ve been hooked ever since. In Wellington aside from making my own I’ve also had good versions at a couple of Vietnamese restaurants.

They’re incredibly simple to make, so these are hardly recipes, but I’ll share them just the same. Be warned that you’ll need to add plenty of sugar (or other sweetener), otherwise these will taste like a weird, bland, drinkable guacamole. Not nice. But get it right, and oh boy. These are thick and creamy, rich yet refreshing, so addictive.

AVOCADO SMOOTHIE:

Scoop out the flesh of 1 avocado and put in a blender together with a handful of ice cubes, a generous splash of milk* and plenty of brown sugar** (at least a couple of tablespoons, if not more – depends on how big your avocado is, how sweet you like it, but as I mentioned before, these require more added sugar than your usual fruit smoothie). Blend until smooth and creamy. Give it a stir and taste for sweetness/consistency; you may need to add more milk or sugar.

*Feel free to substitute other things here: I like using rice milk if I have it around (which is admittedly not often) because it’s already kind of sweet. Like I said: sweetness is key. This is not health food.

**I’ve also sweetened these with honey, maple syrup, agave nectar and white sugar; I’m pretty sure sweetened condensed milk is the norm in certain parts of Southeast Asia. All seem to work pretty well; brown sugar is just what I usually have on hand.

Somewhat channeling that very first chocolate-syrup-drizzled Indonesian shake is this chocolate version. Nothing much more to it except the addition of cocoa powder. Still, it’s a whole different experience – chocolate and avocado go surprisingly well together.

CHOCOLATE AVOCADO SMOOTHIE:

Follow the instructions above, but add a generous shake of cocoa powder (at least 3 or so tablespoons) in the mix. Taste for chocolatiness/sweetness and adjust as necessary.

I can imagine other variations working well, like maybe banana, or chocolate-banana, or maybe even blueberries? So far I haven’t tried anything other than these two basic versions I have on standby for hot, sunny afternoons. Tomorrow (today!!!) looks to be another good one – I may just have to branch out and try something new. In the meantime, so should you. Make these.

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cherry, vanilla + walnut sticky buns

In baking, breakfast, sweets, year-round on 15 February, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I’ve been trying to think of ways to use up this dud cherry-vanilla jam* I made a couple weeks ago.  I had this vague idea of making sticky buns inspired by the cranberry and pistachio ones at Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli out in Lyall Bay (holy crap they’re amazing) and THEN the ever-so-awesome Laura from Hungry and Frozen made these Norwegian cinnamon buns out of Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess and that’s all it took – I was sold. Sticky buns it was.

Sticky buns and walnuts are natural friends, as are cherries and vanilla and walnuts (if I attempt to make cherry jam again I’ll include walnuts à la this recipe from Curious Kai). And thanks to some onto-it family members (box stuffed with assorted food = best Christmas gift ever) I had plenty of walnuts lying about.

I love the ceremony involved in making sticky buns: clearing off a big space to roll the dough into a big, flat sheet, spreading the filling over the top, adding way more butter than you think any rational person should ingest (maybe laughing maniacally as you do), coiling up the whole thing into a neat cylindrical roll, slicing and arranging the buns-to-be. There’s a lot of anticipation involved, and it comes to a head when they’re sitting in the oven releasing that fresh-bread-plus-so-much-sugar-and-butter fragrance.

Although making cinnamon rolls has long been on my list of favourite weekend activities, for some reason I couldn’t find my trusty dough recipe. Luckily I had been looking through How to Be a Domestic Goddess after reading the aforementioned Hungry and Frozen blog post and settled on using the dough from Nigella’s recipe for schnecken. Not that I’d made it before. But it sounded like it might work.

CHERRY, VANILLA + WALNUT STICKY BUNS: (makes roughly a trayful)

For the dough (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Schnecken from How to Be a Domestic Goddess):

Mix together 500g flour, 50g sugar, 1/2tsp salt, and 15g fresh yeast (get this! it’s amazing and cheap. or if not, you can use half that amount of regular active dried yeast). Combine 75g unsalted butter and 150ml milk – Nigella says to melt them together in the microwave, which worked just fine – and beat in 2 eggs. Add this liquid mixture to the dry stuff, mix it up, make some dough. Then knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and pliable, and form into a big doughy ball. Butter (or oil) a large bowl and roll the dough in it (so that it’s coated in butter), then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean, moist tea towel. Let it sit for a while in a warm place (hot water cupboard? in the oven on the very lowest setting? or maybe your house is naturally warm?) for about an hour, until doubled in size.

Go do something else for a bit and when you come back the dough should be gloriously proud and puffy and smooshy; knock it around a bit and give it a knead or two to bring it back down to size.  Roll out on a floured surface into a flat, long rectangular shape (Nigella says 60x30cm, but I didn’t measure) and slather the filling mixture all over the dough.

Filling mixture?

Here’s where things get a bit tricky. Since I was using dud cherry-vanilla jam that was too sticky to spread, I softened about 250g jam in about 100g melted butter and spooned this concoction over the top.  Since I don’t recommend going to the effort of making homemade dud-jam (I mean, you can…), you could do one of a couple things:

1. You could mix non-dud jam with a little less butter (maybe 50-75g depending on the consistency of your jam) and 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract and spread this over the dough.

2. Or you could skip the jam altogether and pour over 50-75g melted butter mixed with 1 tsp vanilla paste/extract and sprinkle about 1/2 cup sugar over the whole thing, and scatter dried cherries all over the surface. It’ll turn out a bit different, but still good – think raisin-studded cinnamon roll.

Whatever you end up doing, eventually you”ll sprinkle more or less 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts over the whole thing, and carefully roll it up lengthwise so you end up with a long, python-like hunk of dough (okay, maybe not that big, but sort of thick and snaky). Be sure to keep things tight but not too squashed together.

Cut into slices like you’re making sushi (and, if you’re anything like me when I make sushi, eat the raggedy end bits before anyone sees). I cut mine about 1 – 1 1/2 inches thick. Place into a buttered baking tray – it’s okay if they’re pretty close together – and let prove for 20-30 minutes.  This is a good time to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

When the buns have proved, and are nice and puffy and cosily tucked in together in their tray, pop this into the oven for 20-25 minutes and wait for your house to start smelling incredible.

When they’re done, you can eat them plain, or you can drizzle with a simple white icing – I usually start with 1 tbsp milk for every 1 cup icing sugar and add more milk and/or sugar as needed to make a gooey, not-too-runny icing.

Give these to everyone you know; they will love you for it.

*dud cherry jam: it all started out with good intentions, inspired by a tweet by @summerfieldsfds, I semi-ruined it -added twice as much sugar as I should have (forgot to adjust for quantity), and simmered it for far too long (absent-mindedness may have played a part in this). What I got was a very solid, un-spreadable, overly sweet, sticky mass. With chewy cherry bits. Not so nice for toast. However, it was perfect for filling these sticky buns. Not that I’m suggesting you go out and make your own homemade dud-jam for this, but…

lemongrass + ginger syrup

In drinks, gluten free, summer, syrups and cordials, year-round on 12 February, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Last Sunday I picked up a couple stalks of lemongrass from the market. If you’re reading this from Wellington (or, I suspect, anywhere in the North Island based on all the weather-related tweets and Facebook statuses I’d been seeing) you’ll certainly know that this summer has been wetter and muggier than usual.  And when the air hangs thick with moisture and I’m finding myself breaking into a sweat just from walking (so unusual in Wellington!) all I’m after is something clean and fresh-tasting, sharp enough to cut through the oppressive humidity.

Which is how I arrived home with a few stalks of lemongrass. I had this vague idea that I was going to make some sort of syrup with it, and when I got home remembered this ginger syrup I’d made a few months ago from one of my favourite Japanese cooking magazines. And you can’t get much more of a clean-fresh combination than lemongrass and ginger.

This syrup filled my house with the most incredible aroma while simmering away – almost like I’d been cleaning my house (with high-end, natural cleaning products) without any of the scrubbing or mopping.

LEMONGRASS & GINGER SYRUP:

Wash & cut up 2 stalks lemongrass and 1 knob ginger (it’s fine to leave it unpeeled, since you’ll be discarding it anyway). Place in a little saucepan with 250-300g sugar and 2 cups water and bring to the boil, then turn the heat right down and let it simmer for a while until the liquid is golden and syrupy (I think mine took about 45 minutes but I was haphazardly checking on it). Tell your flatmates/mum/visiting friends that you’ve been cleaning the house with this new luxury organic lemongrass all-purpose cleaning spray (this will only work if your house actually looks clean). Once the syrup’s done, strain into a bottle/jar/other airtight container and let cool. It will probably stay good in the fridge for a couple weeks, if you don’t use it all by then.

All that simmering wasn’t doing much to cool down my house (probably the only downside of making this syrup on a steamy day), and syrup by itself isn’t very refreshing.  So I pulled some ice cubes out of the freezer, sliced up some cucumber, and made a couple of cold drinks. I guzzled mine down in one go (hello, brainfreeze!).

LEMONGRASS & GINGER SODA WITH CUCUMBER & MINT:

Put some ice cubes in a glass. The more, the better (though I do realise not all freezers have awesome ice-making capabilities and you may need to ration them, as I did). Pour a generous glug of lemongrass & ginger syrup (recipe above) over the ice; top up with sparkling or soda water. Garnish with a couple slices of cucumber and a sprig of fresh mint. Stir it up and get it down.

These would probably also be awesome with gin. Though I haven’t tried yet.

I’ve been drinking these all week, even though the humidity started to subside over the last few days (though it feels like it’s back somewhat today) and we’ve been having gorgeously crisp mornings and cooler nights.   They’re the perfect drink to carry you through the summer heat into early autumn.

 

A new (fig) leaf, and the first of late summer’s fruit

In late summer, salads on 7 February, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Hi.

I’m Millie from Gusty Gourmet, a blog I co-write about (mostly) eating out in my adopted hometown, Wellington, New Zealand.

I started this blog because I realised I like cooking and eating at home just as much as I like eating out. Maybe even more. And also maybe because I’m turning 25 this year and it’s probably a good idea to start being a bit more financially responsible (I’m not talking major penny-pinching here, but getting out of my overdraft might be a good start).  And I’ve probably been annoying lots of my friends on Facebook by uploading photos and blurbs of recently-cooked meals. And I’d been pondering the idea for a while and then, yesterday, the lovely Kate of Lovelorn Unicorn offhandedly suggested it on Twitter. So I took it as a sign, and here I am.

Yeah, so everyone has a cooking blog these days. It’s OK. Here is mine!

On Saturday I carried a single fig home from Moore Wilson’s. And by ‘carried’ I mean gingerly, between thumb and forefinger, or cupped in the palm of my hand, while all the other groceries jostled about in a bag, but apparently not gently enough to avoid marring the delicate skin of the oozing-ripe fruit. That’s OK. Scars are stories, after all.

I’d been eyeing the figs up ever since they started popping up at Moore Wilson’s, next to the berries, a little nudge to the shoulder that, hey, late summer, it’s here. And on Saturday, I finally caved (at nearly $30/kg right now they’re not something to be taken lightly, at least on my budget) and picked the closest-to-burstingly-ripe fruit I could find.

It was an interesting day. While Wellington heaved with costumed locals and visitors in various stages of public drunkenness and revelry I trudged home in the muggy mist and, home alone, sliced up the most flawless fig (aside from a newly-inflicted scrape, but you know, that’s character).

I’m one of those people who gets way too excited about the first produce of each season. Perhaps annoyingly so: recently a (probably now rather bewildered) friend emailed me with a simple question about what fruits are coming into season now and I replied with a breathlessly rambling discourse filled with cliche phrases like “in full swing” and “at their peak” and “picking up speed” and I’m pretty sure I used the word “exciting” one too many times and not enough full stops. Kind of like that last sentence, but about three times as long and with about a third of the content.

Anyway, I never know quite what to do with the first fruit (or vegetable) I buy after months, sometimes almost a year, of not tasting whatever it is. Do I eat it plain, savour it for what it is, save the adulteration for later on when there’s plenty around and the price has come down? Or do I dig up the stockpiled recipes I’ve been waiting all year to make?

And this fig – it’s been at least a year since I’ve had one. Maybe even longer; I was overseas most of this time last year. So there was a lot of trepidation over what to do with this: the first fig of 2011.

In the end, it was dinnertime, I was hungry, I had some goat cheese in the fridge and some pine nuts waiting to be used. So I snuck a couple cheeky slices of fig while I assembled this salad.

Innovative and different? Perhaps not. But it was simple, and the perfect showcase for the first fig of the season.

FIG, GOAT CHEESE & PINE NUT SALAD (for 1):

Cut up the juiciest, ripest fig you can bring home without destroying in your shopping bag (ideally you’ll have more foresight than me, and bring one home to ripen). Tear up some goat cheese (I used bûche de chèvre), combine this with some salad greens – peppery rocket would be ideal, but I just used mesclun mix – and a scant handful of toasted pine nuts*. Drizzle with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar** and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper. Eat. If you get all the components in one forkful you may melt with delight.

*If I had time or inclination to do more dishes I’d toast these in a little skillet but this time I just popped them in the microwave until they started to smell fragrant and, well, nutty. I’d say it took me about 30 seconds in my microwave, but yours may be different.

**If, like me, you don’t have that beautifully syrupy aged stuff on hand, fret not. It’s not exactly the same, but I found that reducing the regular stuff in a little frying pan (there goes that dish I’d saved by toasting the nuts in the microwave) until it was nice and thick worked just fine for these purposes.