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.

SAM_3623

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!

SAM_3624

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.

SAM_3625

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.

Advertisements

olive tapenade; christmas condiment?

Since Christmas was over a week ago, we can now begin to look back at it in a nostalgic frame of mind, reminiscing over the lovely time we had and start counting down the days until the next one. I like to spend as much of January as I can talking about what we all ate to carry the magic on for as long as possible.

In my household, we never do Christmas the ‘traditional’ way; we never have a turkey, we don’t play Christmas carols and we decorate a baby fruit tree which we later plant during my mother’s “Christmas spirit ceremony” – a little unconventional but over time I have come to accept it as our version of normal.

SAM_3702

This year was no different. My father was hell-bent on serving a lamb rack from Christmas lunch, something I was never going to object to! I put myself in charge of preparing the condiments and allocated the lamb preparation to Dad; roasted with a simple crust of panko breadcrumbs and preserved lemon, it was moreish and crisp, the tartness of the lemons nicely juxtaposed with the sweetness of all the butter used to hold the crust together like a fantastic culinary clay.

SAM_3705

I digress; the condiments, that’s what I am really talking about here, the condiments. Clinging onto the usual theme of a summer Christmas in a Southern Europe-inspired household, condiment number one was a velvety and zingy olive tapenade.

Olives are always a staple in my pantry; without a jar of olives, I get a sort of meal creation anxiety. It’s for this reason that I thought it was a must that I incorporate my favourite purple pebbles into our celebratory meal.

SAM_3699

Olive tapenade is by no means a difficult side dish to create; it doesn’t involve a large about of kitchen prowess and you only need to invest a small portion of time into it.

For my recipe, here’s what you’ll need:

SAM_3627

A jar of olives – I opted for Kalamata olives but it is completely up to your preferences
3 cloves of garlic – more or less as you see fit
2 tablespoons of capers
a small handful of fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons of dried parsley
the zest of a lemon, and half of its juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
a good crack of salt and pepper

You can add anything else you like, obviously stick to ingredients with a Mediterranean feel – sundried tomatoes, anchovies, even figs. Or just keep it nice and simple and let the olives do the talking.

A few notes, too: it’s 100% okay to use extra virgin olive oil here because the tapenade isn’t cooked; the smooth, smoky flavour of the oil is not wasted.

Regardless of if you are using Kalamata olives, black Spanish or green Italian olives, I strongly suggest you buy them whole and pit them yourself. In my opinion, the flavour will be better and the texture of your tapenade will be sleek and not mushy. It’s great if you have, or can locate a cherry or olive pitter (which is extremely difficult if you don’t live in Spain), but slicing them with a paring knife and removing the pits by hand doesn’t take too long.

SAM_3636

Now onto the ‘recipe’: place all of your ingredients into a blender or food processor (or use a mortar and pestle if you’re hard-core!) and whiz until combined and smooth. It is such a beautiful shade of burgundy that you might want to paint your kitchen with it!

It’s ready to eat straight away but the flavour will deepen the longer its left – it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

SAM_3706

I spread it liberally over the juicy lamb and used the leftovers as a colourful addition to our many Christmas cheeseboards and even spread it over pieces of crusty bread as an easy afternoon snack.

What was your culinary highlight of Christmas?

 

new year, new me

Quite frankly, I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I do, however, think that it is important to take some time to both reflect and look ahead – why it must happen at the end of one year, I am not really sure.

Screenshot (17)

But I am not here to critique people’s life choices, I am here to put down in written form some of my musings for the year to come. Similar to much of the work that we laid out in Blogging 201, I have been tossing about some ideas of how and where I will take this blog in 2016.

It has been rather difficult to evenly distribute between all that I have wished to; Travel, Food and Life in general. Not that I have ever really struggled to find something to write about but I have noticed that the general content focus has varied significantly from time to time.

Travel
Now that I am in one stationary spot for the foreseeable future, I find it really hard to write about travel. At this stage there isn’t a lot more I can do apart from writing in retrospect, which I guess I can make do with but I feel like there is something slightly untruthful about it. Rose-tinted glasses some may say.

Food
I will always have a focus on Southern European cuisine, even though I’m no longer based there. It’s my automatic go-to and what I enjoy researching. Even so, I find myself branching out a bit; I do love Middle Eastern cooking and I have noticed that more and more international and fusion dishes are making their way onto the blog. I guess it all depends on what I have time to make.

Life
This is something I am a little stumped with; how much of one’s life should be incorporated into one’s blog? It is talked about at length in Will Write for Food but I can’t decide where I sit. I think that’s be I think as long as it fits with the blog’s concept, then it’s fine with me.

Writing 201
I have enrolled in another writing course for February of 2016 to work on finding, and expanding what my story really is. If anyone wants to join me in this, let me know; here’s the link.

The January Cure
I have also signed for another month long task – this one is aimed a little bit at Life Admin and decluttering the home before the year gets into full swing. It’s called the January Cure and it’s a collaboration between Apartment Therapy and the kitchn. I’ll post updates as I go, but once again, please feel free to join me!

Screenshot (18)

As 2016 swings into action, there’s how I see it going, or at least beginning, for me. But we don’t know what we don’t know, we know where we are going to start (for me it’s lying in the sun!) but where we will end, is all part of the fun!

 

 

christmas countdown: stollen

The meaning of Christmas varies depending on where you are in the world. I’m not just talking about the way you celebrate it, or what it means to you – spiritually or otherwise. In every corner of the world, Christmas varies on all sensory levels; the way to looks, tastes and sounds, and the way it smells.

In New Zealand, a typical Christmas is a barbeque of sizzling sausages and an ice cold beer in the evening sun. On the flipside, my Christmases in France revolved around roasted goose and mulled wine, Christmas sweaters and staring out the window at the dreary, grey gloom. I know which one I prefer but here is something about a winter Christmas that is leaps and bounds ahead of the antipodes in festivity.

And that is the Christmas smells.

20151218_143717[1]

This year I have found myself craving those warm, comforting smells; cinnamon, cloves, pine needles and ginger. Instead of brewing up a batch of mulled wine – which I didn’t think would go well with the temperature in the mid-twenties, I decided to try my hand at making stollen.

Stollen is a dense, festive bread from Germany, it is full of nuggets of sweetness and all of the flavours, textures and emotions associated with Christmas. Traditionally made with almonds, candied fruit and lemon zest, I decided to mix things up a bit by substituting in cashews, crystalized ginger and dried citrus peel.

SAM_3599

First things first, you need to get your dried fruit nice and drunk. I mixed a cup of raisins and a cup of candied ginger and fruit peel, chopped, with three tablespoons of Pimm’s – or orange juice if you’re not one for baking with booze. You could also use rum but I like the rich, fruity undertones of Pimm’s and use it in cooking often.

SAM_3601

Next up is the yeasty sponge; combine a tablespoon of yeast powder with ¼ cup of warm water, ¾ cup of warm milk, a teaspoon of clover honey and a cup of flour. Mix into a thick paste, cover with cling film and leave the yeast to do its thing. If your house isn’t too warm, then sit the bowl next to a heater for 30 minutes or until the surface of the mixture is speckled with bubbles.

In a separate bowl, whisk one egg and combine with ¼ cup of honey, ½ cup of butter and a pinch of salt. Toast ½ cup of chopped cashew nuts and add to the mixture, along with ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and 2 cups of flour.

SAM_3607

Add the yeast mixture and the boozy fruit and combine into a thick, wet dough. Slowly add another 1 ½ cup of flour until the dough isn’t so sticky. Knead for five minutes of a floured surface.

Once the dough has come together, roll it in a little vegetable oil and leave to rise. What I hate about so many bread recipes is that it always says the dough will double in size; mine never does and it makes me nervous for the end product. Nervous without cause, in fact.

SAM_3612

Divide the dough in half and roll into flat ovals. Brush the surfaces with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I used granulated sugar, but you could use icing sugar or even a layer of marzipan. Fold the ovals over on themselves and knit the edges together, making sure no air is trapped inside and the seams are tightly secured so they don’t rip open in the oven like one of mine did!

Leave to rise for another 45minutes before baking at 190°C for 25 minutes.

SAM_3619

As soon as you take the loaves out of the oven, baste them again in melted butter and dust with a thick layer of icing sugar which will melt and be absorbed into the breads outer crust. Delicious!

SAM_3621

Serve it hot as it is, or cold next to a steaming cup of coffee. On the rare chance you have anything left past a day or two, smear each side of a thick slice in butter and pan-fry until crisp and golden. A decadent, toasty holiday treat!

virtual walking tours

Easing back into real life after a holiday is always tough, especially after an extended vacation of endless summer days in a sunny daze. What I find is a healthy alternative to pining for white-sanded beaches while curled up in a ball in a dark room is going on virtual tours of my favourite places on Google Maps.

SAM_2483

Portovenere

999690_10151577246231305_431153270_n

Rugged and rocky beaches, twisting cobble roads and gelato stores on every corner; Portovenere is my favourite hidden Italian gem. It sits on a shagged outcrop, nestled high above the Mediterranean in Northern Italy – just down the road from the picturesque (and tourist-saturated) Cinque Terre. As the coast continues from Riomaggiore, the railway veers into La Spezia, taking the tourists with it, making a cramped bus trip the easiest way of reaching Portovenere. Snack on focaccia and breathe in the warm, salty air – if you’re lucky, you might even see a wedding in the shady piazza.

1014009_10151577243356305_1885626243_n

Lisbon

Lisbon is a city of great variety; flat coastal promenades and buildings perched on hilltops, wide open plazas and windy little side streets. Essentially there is something for everyone. I love walking along Avenida Ribeira das Naus; watching the ferries crossing the harbour, revelling at the Praça do Comércio and visiting the markets. The best thing about visiting the city on street view is that you avoid all of the throngs of tourists!

SAM_2468

Vienna

One day in Vienna and you are without a doubt that that this city was once the centre of Europe; the opulence and elegance of each buildings’ façade is unlike anything I have ever seen. Even though it’s not as easy to virtually walk about the city as most other places, it is one of the easiest places in the world to just sit and stare at the chalk-white buildings and watch the world go by.

speculoos – belgian spice cookies

What I love about travelling is how easy it is to carry on dreaming about the holiday long after it has finished; flicking through an album of photos on a rainy day, recreating dishes in your own home, or getting really desperate and taking a tour through a city on street view on Google Maps.

923065_10151418508536305_1772783746_n

My first trip when I arrived in Europe was to Brussels, where I discovered the magic that is speculoos – a bronze coloured treasure that I was delighted to find, accompanied almost any cup of coffee ever served in France. They were so readily available that it never occurred to me that I was more than capable of giving them a whirl in my own kitchen.

936388_10151418511056305_2130631608_n

I am happy to announce that I have since remedied this problem.

SAM_3447

Speculoos, also known as Belgian Spice Cookies, are dark caramel in colour, sweet and gingery in flavour and brittle in texture. Describing them almost as a crunchy piece of gingerbread may not be the most glamourous of definitions, but it is certainly the most accurate. The perfect consistency for dunking into a cup of coffee or steaming hot chocolate, they are also decorated with the cutest little pictures.

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon of allspice (or you could use ground cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 cup of butter
  • ½ cup of white sugar
  • ¼ cup of raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

I know it sounds like a bucket load of ingredients but that’s all part of the punch of flavour that comes hand in hand with these biscuits!

SAM_3427

Begin by sifting the flour with the spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl cream the butter with the two sugars and vanilla extract. Even though I have used raw sugar here, you can use brown sugar if you wanted; it will give it a smoother finish but I like them a little granulated for extra crunch.

SAM_3431

Gradually combine the dry ingredients with the creamed butter until you have dough that is soft, yet firm. As with any dough mixture; if it’s too dry, add a bit of water; and if it’s too wet, add a bit more flour. You shouldn’t have this problem because it is almost saturated with butter, keeping it smooth and silky.

SAM_3432

Form into a ball, wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate from at least an hour.

SAM_3441

On a layer of baking parchment, roll your dough into a thin, flat rectangle. For a nice finishing touch, roll over the layer with a patterned rolling pin (aren’t these so cool?!)

SAM_3445

Baking at 175°C for 25 minutes, the dough will still be soft and spongey when it comes out – don’t continue baking it! It will harden as it cools down, and it’s at a perfect consistency to slice into squares with a pizza cutter (or a knife, should that be easier).

SAM_3446

Enjoy with a cup of coffee at break, or after lunch, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Perfect for a bit of happiness when the weather is grey and dreary.

les différences entre nous

There are many aspects of life that we all take for granted, and I’m not talking about the usual things; having a roof over our heads, running water and food on the table. I’m looking at this from a more day-to-day level, like knowing what shop to go to when you need to buy blu-tac. Moving to a new country, even when you’re not faced with the language barrier (even if there isn’t a direct colloquial understanding – a topic for another post, on another day), you will always find yourself earning for the familiarities of the way things work back home.

France may take the cake when it comes to sweets and pastries, but trying to get your banking done is far from a breeze – no matter how buttery and soft that pain au chocolat is, stepping into a bank branch will have you dreaming of home. Like much of France, from supermarkets to boulangeries, banks are never open on Sundays, and often closed Mondays too, they are usually closed for Saturday afternoons and sometimes even after lunch on Wednesdays. If you do manage to get into the branch while it’s open, you better hope that it’s the branch you’re registered with. With today’s technology, I was used to walking into any branch, anywhere in the country and being able to open a new savings account or set up my internet banking – sadly that’s not the case. Speaking of internet banking, I had to register my phone number, get sent two different codes by post and register my overseas account (also by post) just to transfer anything in or out of the account. Le sigh.

Brigitte Bardot in “Vie privée”
Brigitte Bardot in “Vie privée”

 Once you have found a way of accessing your money, you might want to go and do something fun with it. You may even want to do it with some friends. If you do manage to find someone who can leap over the language barrier, you may still find yourself sitting alone at the bar. Don’t worry, it’s not that you’re boring, its jus that everyone is outside taking a cigarette break. New Zealand isn’t a nation teeming with smokers, quite the opposite in that many smokers find themselves looking through the window of the bar, stamping their feet to ward off the cold as their friends all sit inside having fun and enjoying the warmth. France is the opposite; there have been many a time that I have found myself alone at a table of six, or even lounging over four barstools as all of my friends stand in the cold, smoking and enjoying each other’s company.

The differences are not all bad, European bars and restaurants always seem to have somewhere to hang your coat. I have often found in New Zealand, much to my infuriation, that the only place to leave your coat is hanging off the back of your chair, or in a crumpled mess next to the dance floor. In Europe, it’s different. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs all have hooks under bar benches and free coat checks at the door. It’s the ideal student job – working as a vestiare at a nightclub; all of the hustle and bustle of a bartender without ever spilling beer all over your feet.

You win some you lose some, the grass is always greener somewhere else and all the rest of those sayings. No one said it was easy; settling into a new way of life always takes time but it always works out in the end.

how to not get mugged

They say that it happens to every traveller at least once as they meander across Europe; getting mugged is almost seen as a rite of passage, an event that upon surviving means that you have transcended the threshold of tourist and become something bigger.

Garnering some real travel nouse may seem great, but getting mugged isn’t too fun. While I managed to make it in and around the continent without getting swindled of anything valuable, I did witness one or two criminal encounters along the way and have come up with a couple of pointers to avoid any unwarranted visits to the police station.

10478674_10152244184396305_7431512789384752716_n

  • This goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway – don’t be flashy with your brand new iPhone. Keep it in your front pocket when you’re not using it, not waving about in your hand as the sunlight reflects off the screen, attracting unwanted eyes. And don’t use it as you walk down that derelict, yet picturesque side street, especially at night and especially if you’re alone. Better still, just don’t have an iPhone. No-one was ever interested in stealing my phone, probably because it looked like it came straight out of 2004.

556491_10151664776596305_213451086_n

  • Invest in a sturdy bag. I’m not saying you should walk about with a fanny pack everywhere you go; that will probably just draw more attention to you as a tourist. A friend of mine once had a little bag that she would throw over her shoulder by a thin little strap, one strong tug and the strap snapped and the bag was whisked down the street by un voleur, never to be seen again.
  • Another one that should go without saying is not to carry your passport with you unless you’re actually going to another country. This rule won’t really stop you from getting mugged but it will save you a lot of hassle and peace of mind if you do. Hostels have lockers and getting a new passport is a rather difficult, expensive and time-consuming ordeal from what I’ve heard.

944615_10151441705761305_260999928_n

  • If you’re visiting a non-English speaking country, chances are the locals won’t like you. It’s a bold statement but it’s true; maybe because often tourists are annoying or maybe because there is still a bit more xenophobia in the world than we would like. To avoid sticking out as a monolingual foreigner, don’t speak loudly in English amongst yourselves and don’t flail about as you do it. A gaggle of excitable young English speakers can make for an easy target – so if possible, refrain from having any fun in public.

10392517_10152319327536305_1959515771564119565_n

A lot of this is easier said than done, so I think the sagest piece of advice is to have your wits about you, look out for your friends and hope for the best. And if it happens, you’ll come away with an interesting tale for years to come about police officers making the culprit apologise to you before leading him off in cuffs, or chasing someone through the windy streets of a little port town while the locals gawked at you.

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.

SAM_0229

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.

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.

1014196_10151577246366305_1189782723_n

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.

SAM_3243

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.

SAM_3240

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!

1003179_10151577246741305_1890365944_n

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.