homemade: pomegranate lemon tea

I saw an article the other day about a retired couple who had embraced sustainable living and the very in-vogue concept of ‘zero waste’ to such an extreme that they took an entire year to fill up one rubbish bag.

Now, I am nowhere near this level of dedication and while I can admire it, I am not completely sure that I could aspire to it. That being said, like much of my cooking, my recent pomegranate obsession (here and here – if you’re interested) left me with one by-product that I could bear to see go to waste – the pomegranate skin.

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Even though it isn’t something I would want to eat, the pomegranate’s skin is brightly coloured and fruity scented, it would be sad to see it go to waste and it also has a whole truckload of health benefits.

Trawling through the internet looking for interesting uses, many people suggest adding dried pomegranate skin to your shampoo and other beauty products for silky hair and smooth skin.

I’m not one to put the hard yards into anything if there isn’t going to be a benefit to my taste buds so instead I made a pomegranate and lemon powder to make tea infusions and flavour dishes in a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean way. Any added beautification is just a bonus!

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Using as much concentration as possible, I sliced the outer layer of blood-red skin away from the soft, white pith, and did the same with two small lemons. You can dry the skin in the oven like I did for my dried citrus peel or in a slow cooker like these limes – I used the slow cooker so I didn’t have to pay so much attention to them. Leave the lid slightly ajar once the pot has heated up and mop up any condensation with a paper towel.

Once the pieces are brittle enough to snap, you know they’re done. Remove them from the slow cooker and once they are cooled, crush them into a relatively fine powder in a mortar and pestle.

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Steep a teaspoon of the powder in hot water for a fruity, homemade tea, add a sprinkling into a sauce for a fruit punch. Or make your own grenadine syrup without any sugar by mixing equal parts of powder and hot water before diluting with ice cold sparkling water.

what i ate for christmas

Now that Christmas is done and dusted, we can all get back to blogging.  But first,  I need to get back into the habit of knowing what day of the week it is.

So before I do anything that strenuous, and before I got into any such detail of my Christmas creations, I will leave you with a little teasing taster of what’s to come..

Breakfast begun with champagne and toast; I know that you’re thinking toast doesn’t really constitute a fanciful meal. It does when the array includes walnut and date conserve, confit duck, gorgonzola, roasted tomatoes and honeyed ricotta.

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The afternoon meal included a lemon-crusted lamb rack beside a bundle of home-grown new potatoes. These were accompanied by a fresh, zingy salsa verde and pungent olive tapenade. Rounding out the meal with a salad of roast butternut, crunchy spiced almonds and creamy homemade feta and button mushrooms stuffed with blue cheese. Safe to say, we were all in dire need of a nap afterwards.

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The day ended with chocolate-coated strawberries, salted caramel chocolate tart and muffin puddings. All while sipping fresh, minty limoncello cocktails.

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All in all, a fun, relaxed day in the sun, lying by the pool and gorging ourselves on chocolates… all without anyone throwing a plate or any other object at another family member… this year.

ode to the pomegranate

I had never really come across pomegranates before I relocated to Europe and was astounded by everyone’s obsession with them. Round and regal, with skin a strong, matte red, filled with tiny pellets; tart in flavour and vibrant in colour, pomegranate was this week’s pick from the market.

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The form of pomegranate that people are most familiar with is grenadine syrup. Dark pink and sickly sweet, to say the French are obsessed with it is an understatement! A guzzle of syrup topped with anything from water, lemonade or even beer is many people’s idea of a thirst-quenching treat.

Me, I prefer my pomegranates the natural way; popping a handful of the little red raindrops in my mouth – a million little explosions with every crunch. All it takes is a bit of a whack on the shell with the back of a wooden spoon!

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What I have also found interesting about Europe’s love of this interesting fruit, is how much it has been absorbed into architecture – in particularly in the south of Spain.

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The word pomegranate is derived from a bunch of Latin words essentially translating into apple of Granada, and oh, how Granada has taken that name and ran with it!

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Patterns painted on buildings and printed along tiles, buildings and fences topped with crowned bronze orbs – an elegant yet quirky touch to theming an entire region.

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wine talk

Almost everywhere you go in this day and age, any restaurant which offers wine matching with a meal seems to be head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sophistication; an in-depth knowledge of wine has been deemed the epitome of food knowledge, and because France is synonymous with food culture, they have become the (probably self-appointed) specialists on wine.

I think there are a range of reasons behind this; being a waiter in France is a high calibre profession, say what you will about French waiters, there is an art and science to it that they alone seem to have discovered. It also could just come down to French snobbery.

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On the subject of snobbery, I once had an encounter with a French man in regards to wine snobbery which sees me seething with hot anger, still to this day. In my opinion, becoming knowledgeable on wine is something that takes time, years even; not a skill that you just instantly gain. This gentleman had a differing opinion. We were at a house party, he was offered a glass of wine, cask wine – something I am not particularly fond of, but this particular wine was reasonably good. Yet he had a distinct opposition to cask wine; ‘I only drink nice bottles of wine’. He continued to talk about his extensive knowledge on the subject so I inquired as to how he had obtained said knowledge. His answer: being French meant that he was genetically designed to just know these things, absorbing it almost by osmosis just by being around people who are always drinking wine. Anyone non-French who grows up around people who are always drinking wine would just say they were raised by lushes.

Decent wine doesn’t necessarily come in a bottle and I think many people get hung up on how much they are willing to spend on wine – a huge price tag doesn’t automatically signal a perfect blench. That is not to say that a Saint Émilion or a Chateau d’Yquem are not exquisite – there is top shelf and then there is completely out of reach to most of us. Here, I am talking about the midrange stuff; you don’t have to spend half a week’s wage on a bottle of wine. Looking at wine reviews in magazines and results from wine awards, it is interesting to see that the usual winners are not the ones with the highest price tag, in fact the priciest bottle usually ends up floundering in the middle of the rankings.

Which brings me to my final point: Cooking with wine. People seem to have an aversion to cooking with anything but the wine you are drinking. The point of adding wine to cooking is to infuse the meal with the flavours of the wine, it doesn’t matter how smooth or rough the wine’s texture, velvety or harsh – any marks of the vintage will evaporate off with the alcohol, simmering down to the fruity tannin tones is what is really important here.

Conclusion: as someone whose wine tasting experience starts and ends at Beaujolais nouveau, my wine knowledge is actually rather limited. I know when to serve red wine and when to serve white, I know that the depth of colour in a red comes from the amount of sunshine on the grapes, and that’s about it. I think the idea of owning a vineyard would be wonderful, but maybe a little bit of expanding my knowledge practically would be a better first step.

peanut butter banana milkshake

Continuing on the recent theme of drinks of the fruity and delicious variety, today I am going to share something a little different to my usual ware and fare.

I was flicking around on the internet the other day – I am constantly amazed at how quickly I find my very detailed search has moved onto a rather unrelated topic – and I came across a delicious looking recipe on the little kitchen for fried banana milkshakes.

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I love fried bananas; the caramelization of the sugar is my favourite part and I love the granulated crunch that surrounds the soft fruit. I fell in love with the pictures on the blog post and knew that I had to try it – so I did, with a little twist. Bananas are wonderful when combined with peanut butter; a salty crunch meets soft and sweet, and both flavours are relatively subtle so I knew neither would overpower the other.

Thinly slice four bananas, Julie uses two but I adjusted the proportions to be fruitier, rather than creamy… and also a bit healthier! Fresh bananas will hold their shape better than frozen; although they will end up being blended together so it doesn’t really matter. If you are using frozen bananas like I did, and if you don’t have a lightsaber, here is a good method of peeling them if you didn’t have the foresight to do that before popping them in the freezer.

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Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large fry pan, add two tablespoons sugar; white, brown or raw – your preference, and add the bananas.

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Once the bananas are beginning to show the slightest signs of caramelization, stir through a tablespoon of peanut butter – crunchy adds another dimension to the finished product, but again, it’s something that you can decide based on how you like it. Set aside to cool after about 5 minutes.

Blend the bananas with ½ a cup of milk and two scoops of ice cream. I used French vanilla (or as they say in France, just vanilla) but chocolate or strawberry would both make great combinations. Pulse until the shake is at a smooth consistency and it’s ready to enjoy.

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The flavour combination is one of the oddest I have ever tasted; the glass is packed with four bananas so I know it has a decent amount of nutritional value, but it tastes so sinfully good that I just don’t believe that. Maybe that has something to do with all of the ice cream?

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As someone who isn’t particularly a ‘health foods’ person, this peanut butter banana shake is a great, healthy dessert option, or something I would feel really good about drinking for breakfast, just don’t ask for any nutritionists’ opinions on that idea…

limoncello granita

We all know Italy as the land of pizza and pasta, beaches almost as beautiful as the people and so much sunshine it seems unfair to the rest of the world. It is one of the most widespread and well-known food localities, and we all have a favourite Italian dish which has no doubt, been bastardised by inauthentic interpretation. But there is so much more to discover than pizza and pasta; it is a nation of food just waiting to be discovered.

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Woody smoke fills the air, competing with the noise of the restaurant crammed to the brim with patrons giddy off wine and delicious food. An evening in the Ligurian countryside is always an evening of discovery; a hearty meal of panigacci (see above; a dish that I am too timid to ever attempt to recreate!) followed by this boozy little treat: Limonita.

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Pale and tangy, slushy with a little crunch, limonita is essentially a limoncello granita. Icy and easy to drink, it is a great after dinner digestive on balmy summer nights – and so easy to make at home!

I have had to do a little experimentation with this recipe because nothing I have found on the internet sounds anything like the way it was explained to me – although that could just be due to a lack of a common language. You might want to adjust the quantities of each element, but this is how it got my tastebuds tingling.

Step one: fill a champagne flute with crushed ice.

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Step two: add a shot of cream.

Step three: add a shot of limoncello.

Step four: add a tiny dash of vodka.

Finally, give it a bit of a stir and you’re ready to go!

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The trick is to get the balance of cream and ice just right; it is essentially a dessert drink, so fresh and creamy that you should be able to close your eyes and feel like you’re drinking ice-cream with the zesty lemon flavour lightly prinking your tongue.

If you are in the mood for a for something with a little more punch, you can make a dairy-free version; replace the cream with a shot of vodka and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and away you go.

oh oh limoncello

“So you just shot it?” “Yeah, that’s how we do it in Italy.” My introduction to limoncello, followed by an acidic burning sensation lancing down my throat, a sensation I can only imagine is not too dissimilar to gasoline. Save to say, you aren’t actually meant to shot limoncello, and a gaggle of Italians chuckling at the sight of two spluttering tourists confirmed that it was not how they do it in Italy.

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Limoncello is sweet and syrupy, glowing yellow like the warm Italian lemons which lend it both its name, and its tang. Served ice cold, the subtle aromas are perfectly refreshing on a balmy summer’s night. Aromas that I found out the hard way, are followed up by a brick wall of hard liquor – commercially brewed with an alcohol content our about 24%, many Italian nonni consider themselves limoncello-producing connoisseurs, who opt for a staggeringly higher number.

Even though limonello is seen as an exotic after-dinner liqueur, it is by no means difficult to produce – I tried it, and here’s proof.

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Step one is relatively easy, buy a big jar, some lemons and some alcohol. Any kind of alcohol. Okay, not quite, but almost – any non-flavoured, clear grain alcohol. I chose vodka because the alternative was gin, and gin is reminiscent of rather awful university days. If you are feeling like a bit of a big spender, opt for 100 proof; 80 proof will give you a slightly different end product but will do (that’s what I did, so I will talk about those difference later).

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With a paring knife or vegetable peeler, remove the rind from one lemon for each 100ml of alcohol you are using. Things to take into consideration include, but are not limited to, the size of your jar – mine was a 500ml jar so I used 400ml of 80 proof vodka and therefore, 4 lemons.

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Make sure you have included as little of the lemons’ pith as possible, dump your lemon rind into your jar and plonk the vodka on top. Screw the lid on top of the jar, place it into a dark cupboard and there, the hardest part is done.

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Give the jar a swirl at least once a day to get the flavours mingling- they will be well mingled in around for days, but they longer you leave it, the deeper and more infused it will become. I waited a month, I dare you to do the same.

Once you are sick of waiting, buy a funnel and make sure you have drunk the leftover vodka so you are left with a nice, big, empty bottle. Strain the warm, golden liquid and transfer into the bottle – take a moment to truly take in its beauty. Then take a moment to make some sugar syrup. The amount of sugar syrup you will need depends solely on your tastebuds and partly on the strength of the alcohol you used. If you used 80 proof (like me), you will need to use less than if you used 100 proof, otherwise you risk making it too sweet and altering the chemical balance which can lead to you limoncello freezing solid (also, like me). Using the previous lemon algorithm, begin with 1/8 cup of sugar, and 1/8 cup of water per lemon – you can always add more, but you can’t take it away.

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Heat the syrup until the sugar has dissolved and leave to cool slightly before adding to the lemony liquor. Once it has cooled, pop it in the freezer until it is ready to serve. Chances are, if you used 80 proof it might still freeze, if that happens, just keep it in the fridge and serve with an ice cube.

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So, how do I think this little experiment went?

failure: technically
success: practically
delicious: obviously

mazagran granita

As the temperature creeps into the high 30’s, it is almost as important to keep cool as it is to keep hydrated. Even though I know it is so necessary, I always have a hard time forcing myself to drink water on days like these – be it lying on the beach or having a picnic in the park; no matter how cold your bottle of water is when you leave the house, it quickly becomes lukewarm and not I find that never quenches my thirst.

I recently had a leftover pot of coffee – I had brewed it before remembering that drinking coffee in 30°C heat makes no sense, so I devised this little goodie with the leftovers; perfect for a cool afternoon snack on the balcony or a light dessert in the balmy evening air. I present you with my mazagran granita.

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Mazagran is also referred to as Portuguese Ice Coffee, although it actually originates from Algeria. I first came across it while I was visiting Portugal last year, however I had been drinking a version of it for years prior, mazagran is essentially an Iced Americano served with a lemon wedge and a little more sugar than is socially acceptable to add to your coffee.

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Such a refreshing drink, but I wanted to make it into an even more refreshing dessert – and what’s more refreshing than shaved ice?! It is by no means difficult to make, although it does take a bit of time and attention. Mix half a litre of black coffee with 4 teaspoons of sugar and the juice of half a lemon. I used plunger coffee but you could also use 6 shots of espresso and add cool water to make up the difference. Leave it to cool before popping into the freezer.

After 40 minutes, ice crystals should have begun to form around the edges of the bowl, break them up by mixing through the liquid. Repeat this step every 20 minutes as the mixture becomes mushy and thick, until the entirety of the dish forms thin, coffee-coloured shards of ice.

Serve as is, or divide into parfait glasses or dessert bowls, top with candied lemon or a dollop of whipped cream. For an adult version, add a dash of dark rum before freezing and substitute the lemon juice for orange juice.

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apple skin tisane

I have recently been trying to make a conscious effort lower the amount of waste coming out of our kitchen, I generally hate to throw anything away as it is but I have been thinking a bit about sustainability and ecofriendly-ness and I found an awesome way of using the apple peel left over from my tart; apple skin tea.

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I know that the name doesn’t make it sound like the greatest thing, but it was actually really good, and so easy to make! Essentially it is equal parts apple skin and water, then flavoured with anything you like; a vanilla pod, a cinnamon stick, you could even add dried citrus zest for a sweet, fruitier flavour.

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Just add the ingredients into a pot, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes before draining the apple skins out. You will be left with a soft pink liquid which you can drink hot as a tisane tea, cold as a juice or even reduce it down to use as a cocktail flavouring. Or you could do as the French do and add it to a coup de champagne and make an apple kir royal.

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