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.

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how to: roast pepper hummus

The beginning of the year is always a hard time to get back into the swing of normalcy and even though we are almost a month into 2016, I am still finding it difficult to function.

The beauty of it being summer means that I can get away with running on 70% manpower; it’s easy and acceptable to focus dinners around salads, masses of raw vegetables and things easy to cook; like corn.

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I recently tried my hand at making hummus; it’s fun, it’s healthy, and because it doesn’t involve any cooking, its quick and stress-free to whip up and still elevates the flavour and vibrancy of even the simplest of dishes.

Here is the recipe I use; it’s the most basic of basic recipes and works as a great template for experimenting with a variety of flavours. I added slow roasted red bell pepper in these photos, but roasted eggplant, olives or even carrots could be used.

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Into the food processor we add: 400grams of chickpeas – that’s one can, 2teaspoons of tahini paste for a rich and nutty sesame flavour, a clove of garlic (or more!), ½ a teaspoon of salt, 3tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil and the juice of ½ a lemon. Top this off with whatever additions you choose and whiz it up until it’s smooth and creamy.

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Summer is the time for cheese boards and meze platters in the sun; a vibrantly coloured bowl of hummus makes a brilliant addition served alongside toasted pita chips, dotted on a pizza or even added to your favourite salad.

fennel-crusted aubergine salad with kale and pomegranate

As 2015 rolled to an end I was working on my pre-summer recipe repertoire and begun a bit of a love affair with fennel; the bulbs, the seeds and the fronds seemed to find their way into many a dish I created. Here, here and here are a few of them.

And now I am going to add one more to the list – fennel crusted aubergine served with a fresh and earthy kale and pomegranate salad.

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I must admit, this recipe was a bit of a ‘best-case scenario’ kind of thing – no one who I was cooking it for had much confidence that my idea was going to work. But it did! The eggplant came out beautifully soft and buttery sweet and the fennel fronds added a hint of smoky, liquorice crunch almost.

And it was so easy!

I sliced an eggplant into 1cm disks, salted them liberally and let them sit for about 20 minutes. I picked the fronds off a large fennel bulb and roughly chopped them, adding them to a bowl with a tablespoon of ground almonds, salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Once I had accomplished this task, I rinsed and dried the eggplant, I submerged each slice into a bowl of egg wash and coated both sides with the fennel frond mixture before placing them onto an oven tray, drizzling with olive oil and baking at 180°C for 30 minutes. I flipped them over at the halfway mark and topped each rondelle with a tiny dollop of butter – just for good measure.

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While the eggplant baked to delicious perfection, I shredded a bunch of kale leaves to form the base of the salad; dressed simply with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of apple cider vinegar and of course, sea salt and black pepper. I know kale is no longer the health food du jour, but I don’t care – I never ate it for its trendiness and actually like the taste; earthy leaves with a satisfying crunch and a savoury pepper favour boarding just on the edge of bitterness. Yum!

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The bronzed eggplant rings sat atop this deep green forest of kale, and for an added pop of colour, I added a scattering of pickled radish and some spherical sunset red pomegranate seeds. Each one bursting with sweet flavour to counterbalance the rest of the flavours.

Just a simple dish really, a feast easy to prepare that will blow any dinner guests away – and that’s even before they taste it!

fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

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Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

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Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

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Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

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While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

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Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

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It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

aquafaba meringues (how the internet lied)

I am not one for ‘health foods’ or self-enforced dietary ‘requirements’, I steer clear from trendy health regimes and stick to food that just tastes good. But I recently stumbled across a fad that was just too intriguing to pass by – aquafaba.

I know that it sounds a little like a low-impact form of exercise for senior citizens, but aquafaba is actually the salty, gelatinous brine that chickpeas are stored in. I have often pondered at how to use it; I attempt to be as zero waste as possible and chickpea brine was the one thing that I couldn’t find an appropriate use for. Cue vegan meringues…

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Aquafaba meringues are a great example of why you shouldn’t believe everything that the internet tells you; after scrolling through countless pictures of cute little tarts topped with crisp and egg-free meringue, I thought I was on to a fool proof new dessert. It appears I was wrong.

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First step – drain the liquid off of a can of chickpeas and eat the chickpeas for lunch. Next, whisk the brine until it forms firm peaks, like you would if you were making meringue in an ordinary universe. Surprisingly, it works – and as the liquid plumps up with air bubbles, the salty flavour seemingly evaporates.

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Whisk through ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of baking soda until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is nice an firm. Spoon dollops onto a tray of baking paper and bake for 30 minutes at 140°C. Or so they say…

I opened my oven, hoping to see a tray of crunchy white globes. Instead, I was greeted with this:

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A tray of sticky sugar syrup, amber in colour and bubbling at the surface. I don’t know if I hadn’t beaten the aquafaba long enough, or hadn’t added enough sugar. Maybe it can only be used like Italian meringue, or maybe the internet had lied to me. If anyone can help me with my vegan-induced dilemma, I am all ears!

lentil, fennel and mushroom salad

SAM_3508Salads are a great way of experimenting with food; much of the planning can be done in your head during the day and they are often quick and easy to throw together, plus the trial and error process is always an interesting way of finding a great flavour combination.

As summer approaches, I have seen fennel salads popping up on menus all over the place, and even though the ones I have sampled have been delicious, they haven’t exactly been substantial enough to work as a standalone meal.

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The obvious solution to this problem was to make my own and see what I could string together.

A fennel bulb looks like a beautifully ridiculous onion, with fine green feathers sprouting from the top. Its flavour is sweeter and more subtle than onion or leek and coats anything it touches in a faint liquorish scent – I find the seeds a little overpowering but the bulb makes a great base to a salad; it even works as a substitute for lettuce!

Slice one fennel bulb as thinly as you can and combine with the zest and juice of one lemon. I diced a couple of black olives and mixed them through too, with a bit of the olive brine for saltiness and a dash of cider vinegar for tartness.

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Peel and half about six mushrooms, coat them in egg wash and roll them in breadcrumbs, I used panko because the pieces are larger; meaning they crisp up better and aren’t so prone to burning.

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Fry the mushrooms in butter at a low heat – you want them to cook through without burning! Transfer the mushrooms, and any dislodged crumbs to a plate and add a few of your favourite spices to the leftover butter. I used cinnamon and chilli powder. Add a can of drained lentils and stir so the spices are evenly distributed. You only want to heat the lentils for a few minutes; just enough to warm them slightly and get rid of any excess water. It goes without saying, but dried lentils that you have cooked yourself will always be better as they hold their shape better and tend not to go mushy.

Distribute the fennel between two plates and top with a mound of lentils. Balance the mushrooms on top and sprinkle with some diced red bell pepper and chopped parsley for a bit of colour.

pumpkin infused brisket

With fear of repeating myself, I am trying with all my might not to start with post by saying how much I love my slow cooker. But it’s true. As well as using it for soups and stews in the winter, my favourite use of it is for slow cooking brisket.

Brisket is a fatty cut of beef which, while generally quite tough, turns tender when cooked over a long period of time. The flavour is deep, the meat is rich and falls apart at the slightest touch.

Cooked in a smoky barbeque or chipotle sauce, it’s great for Texan-style pulled beef sandwiches. I often drown a slab it in diced tomatoes to make a deliciously moreish Bolognese sauce, but this time I wanted to try something a little different.

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I found a portion of frozen pumpkin soup in the depth of my freezer and thought it was an opportune moment to get some experimentation underway.

The flavour of my soup was fresh and cooling; laced with dried limes and cumin seeds so I wanted the meat to be spicy in contrast. I coated the meat in a dry rub of dried herbs, curry powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger and lots of black pepper and set it to one side.

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Next, I diced an onion into the thinnest slithers I could manage and crushed a couple of cloves of garlic. I threw it all into the crock pot with a glug of oil and nestled my brisket on top, dusting the leftover spices in as well. I coated the meat with my pre-made soup; a little under two cups. As a final touch, I added a homemade stock cube and ½ a cup of water to get the flavours circulating.

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After leaving it to stew all day, I pulled the meat apart with two forks and added half a red pepper, thinly sliced. Starting with a bed of roasted new potatoes, I added a layer of shredded spinach and topped with a heaped serving of brisket and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. The heat of the meat cooks the spinach slightly, without wilting it beyond recognition so the dish didn’t come across as too heavy which is great for any hearty meal when it’s not winter!

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the chapter continues: making sourdough

I have always imagined that becoming an artisanal baker would be a rather idyllic and romantic way of living life. That is probably because while my imagination cascaded ideas of kneading dough and eating crusty bread, drenched in olive oil, it also conjured up an image of doing so in a 17th century villa surrounded by fields of sunflowers that doubled as my (currently non-existent) children’s magical forest play land.

I know the reality of that ever happening is slimmer than a slice of biscotti, but it’s nice to have dreams, isn’t it? Maybe I would settle for having a house with a wood fire oven, that way I could make pizza too!

It’s great to have things we want to attain in life, but most of the time we have to start out small; in this case, a small oven – this is how my first attempt at making sourdough went.

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To say it was a dreary morning sounds like the beginning of an unoriginal film noir script, but it was. I only mention that because the drear filled me with dread that I was not in the best of weather conditions for bread making. But I did it anyway – I’m a trooper.

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I measured out two cups of my pungently fresh sourdough starter and swirled through a tablespoon of melted butter and ½ of a cup of warm milk. Next, I sprinkled in a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar before sifting in 3 cups of plain white flour.

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The best way to make bread dough is with your hands, though I do suggest loosely combining the mixture with a wooden spoon before taking to it with fist one and fist two. Tip the dough (and any particles that haven’t stuck together) onto a floured surface and knead with the heel of both hands for about 5 minutes. You will probably definitely need to add a touch more flour.

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Using your fingertips, roll the dough into a big, flat oval and roll up like you would if you were making a cinnamon roll. Knit the edges together between thumb and forefinger, place on a tray and leave to rise for about 3 hours.

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If you’re a little bit phobic about it not reaching the optimal rising temperature like me, try putting it in a warm oven for the time it takes to rise.

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Remove the loaf from the oven and heat to 190°C. Bake the bread at this temperature for 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 175°C and baking for further 40 minutes.

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It is ready to eat at soon as you pull it out of the oven. Dense and zingy, it is perfect just smeared with a layer of butter, but it also makes a great accompaniment for dinner because it is so flavoursome and savoury. Serve on the side of a stew or top with left over tamarillo salsa!

a taste of south america – tamarillo salsa

I can’t sit still for long, I try to stay in one place for an extended period of time and it just makes me feel anxious. I am always thinking of future holiday destinations and daydreaming about where I want to go next.

My current obsession is South America, in particularly, Argentina. I went to an incredible Argentinian barbeque recently and while I was being rolled out the front door, my mind started swirling around ideas of how I could recreate many of the brightly coloured, punchy dishes in my own kitchen.

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As you can imagine, a barbeque joint is going to be packed to them brim with meat so I wanted to dream up something a little lighter but still with that South American kick. Taking inspiration from the vibrant buildings and streets of downtown Buenos Aires, the tropical flavours that come with year round sunshine, and what I could find scrounging around the kitchen cupboards, I whipped up a quick tamarillo salsa.

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Tamarillos are such a wonderful fruit; tart and oozing with dark orange blood, hands stained purple from scraping the soft flesh out of its casing is a sensation that fills me with childhood nostalgia. Their flavour is also a perfect contrast to the sweetness of salsa’s primary ingredient; tomatoes.

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Dice three small tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, if the seeds are quite watery then discard them. Dice the flesh of one tamarillo, and ¼ of a red onion for a sharp flavour and an added pop of colour. Add them to the tomatoes. Dice one red chilli or ¼ of a red bell pepper; which you choose depends on how spicy you want it – if you’re not a spice fiend then use the bell pepper as it possessed a similar flavour to the chilli without the fieriness.

Add the juice of ½ a lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of rock salt and another of raw sugar, add a teaspoon of smoked paprika for an optional extra kick if you so desire.

Combine well and leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – the longer you leave it, the more time the flavours have to combine and meld together – after a day you can hardly distinguish between the tiny cubes of pepper, tamarillo and tomato.

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This is a wonderful accompaniment to steak, lamb or chicken, or even heaped onto a piece of toasted ciabatta for a tropical bruschetta fusion.

dried herbs; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

I once dated a chef who detested dried herbs. And I really mean detested, to the point of often commenting to wait staff when a dish used dried herbs, and I don’t mean nice comments. It’s safe to say, we are no longer together.

I love dried herbs, I think they are handy in every style of cooking. And even though they never have the same flavour as fresh herbs, I wouldn’t necessarily say their flavour wasn’t as good.

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The issue I find with fresh herbs is that, unless you keep them in a little pot on the windowsill, you run the risk of never using them because, like me, it is far too much of a hassle to run to the front porch to pick some parsley while you’re in the midst of cooking.

Because of this reason, I noticed that a) I was hardly ever using fresh herbs and b) my herb pot was barely noticeable underneath the tangles of lime green that used to be a quaint little parsley plant but has more recently transitioned into a fully-fledged tree. It was going to seed and I had to do something about it.

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So, I spent the better part of an hour snipping any useable leaf off the plants before some serious pruning; cutting the plants back to within an inch of life. Obviously I did all of this while trying to avoid disturbing the snails and other creepy crawlies that have set up shop down amongst the weeds.

Drying herbs is by no means a difficult task and there are a range of ways to do it; from hanging it in bushels above the window, dancing in the breeze and basking in the sunshine, to using a dehydrator or slow cooker. I opted to do use the oven because I was not overly confident that the sunshine wouldn’t give way to rain, and there was a table hen in my slow cooker.

Low difficulty factor aside, the time factor is rather high – it does involve having the oven on for most of the afternoon so it’s a great excuse for avoiding any social contact on a day when you would rather be sprawled out on the couch or sipping a mojito on the veranda.

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Rinse your herbs, pat them dry and leave on a tea towel until all surface moisture has evaporated. Spread them artistically on a baking tray lined with baking paper and take a moment to admire their pure, green beauty. Insert the tray into an oven which is set at slightly above body temperature – mine was just below 50°C and prop the door slightly ajar with a folded tea towel.

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Depending on how much you are drying, and I suggest you make the quantity rather large, the drying process will take at least 3 hours but do not take them out until they are as dry as a dead autumnal leaf. The low temperature won’t set them alight if they are left in slightly too long – I went to bed and woke up in a panic-stricken state at 2am because I hadn’t turned the oven off, and mine turned out fine!

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Once they are out of the oven and completely cooled, crush them and store in a jar or airtight container, this can be done either by hand or with a mortar and pestle. The leaves will break up as you jam them all into the jar anyhow.

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One last word of advice; make sure you label the jar rather boldly, we wouldn’t want anyone seeing it and assuming it’s something else… you all know what I mean, don’t make me say it!