Fruits of the summer

I’m a big believer in breakfast. That old adage ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like pauper’ is a great way to develop healthy eating habits. Of course, I make deliciously huge feasts for dinner sometimes, but I also make sure to eat in the morning.

The abundance of fruits this summer makes it easy to come up with lots of good fruit options for breakfast -- like strawberry mango smoothies, berry pancakes or French toast with peach compote. This morning I wanted to combine fruit with something slightly unusual.

A few years back one of my best friends and roommate at the time introduced me to brown rice in the morning -- not a common thing to eat in the morning but nevertheless delicious. Instead of the usual oatmeal, brown rice offers a unique take on standard porridge.
I cook the rice as I normally would and then add soy milk and lots of warm spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and a little clove. For a touch of sweetness I add maple syrup (the real stuff -- no corn syrupy imitations please!).  In keeping with my ‘fruits of summer’ theme I add a bunch of berries, peaches and bananas, some flaked almonds and dried currants. I promise that mornings won’t be the same after this!

brown rice porridge
serves 2
½ cup brown rice – I use a long grain rice like basmati
star anise
soy milk – 1-2 cups
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger
¼ tsp ground clove
1 tbsp maple syrup
fresh fruits - strawberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines - anything!
dried fruits like black currants

First, place water and star anise in a pot and bring to the boil.  Add rice and cook (takes approx. 25 mins). Drain and leave aside. In the same pot, add cooked rice and cover with soy milk – If you like your porridge more watery add more milk as you go along. Add spices and maple syrup and cook on a low heat so that the rice absorbs the flavour.  After 10-15 minutes your rice should be thick and creamy – taste and add more milk/maple syrup as needed.
Top porridge with fruits – both fresh and dried, and nuts.

Options: you could use frozen fruit if you don’t have access to fresh berries, figs, homemade jam/preserves
You could use any other type of milk – cow, almond, rice...

Spectacular spores

Mushrooms are an interesting ingredient. I often wonder how these strange and delicious fungi have come to be such a common, everyday item on our grocery list. There are many mushroom varieties – shitaki, oyster, button, portobello, chanterelle, pineforest, to name just a few. Since some mushroom varieties are poisonous, I can’t help but wonder about the number of people who risked their lives to try this marvelous fleshy substance…
For many vegetarians and vegans, mushrooms represent a hearty, meaty alternative but they are often overlooked as a stand-alone dish. They are unlike any vegetable in flavour and texture and you’ll find mushrooms to be a great carrier of both strong and gentle aromas. While there are a million ways to serve mushrooms, I love to sauté or bake them and dress them with mustard, olive oil, fresh herbs, garlic and lots of lemon. 
Since they are little sponges of flavour, never, ever wash your mushrooms as they will end up watery and tasteless. Simply brush off the dirt, slice and cook. I place them in a hot pan with the slight bit of oil – add salt and let their natural juices come out for them to cook in.

baked mushrooms
serves 2 (or 4 as appetizer)

12 baby portobello mushrooms
sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp mustard – like French dijon
½ tsp dried chili
1 lemon, (use half for zest and all juice)
1 garlic clove – grated/minced
1 tbsp fresh parsley chopped

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C
In a bowl, mix extra-virgin olive oil, mustard, chili, lemon zest and juice, minced garlic and parsley.  Leave emulsion to sit aside while you prepare mushrooms. Brush dirt off mushrooms – slice into halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake mushrooms in oven for 5-8 minutes, take out and pour over lemon emulsion and bake for another 5 minutes or so. To serve, drizzle a little more extra-virgin olive oil on the mushrooms and serve with fresh crusty baguette.  Don’t forget a glass of wine! Enjoy.

Pumpkin 'pots du fromage'

Our holidays were spent visiting family and close friends in wintry cold Canada and US. Having been living in sunny Sydney for the last year and a half made the icy cold that much more of a serious shock to the system. But while I never, ever thought I would say this, I miss the Canadian cold. We walked around the city while it snowed, ate hearty and warming foods and it was incredibly cozy. I am a sucker for nostalgia it seems.
I wanted something that would remind me of hibernation-inducing winter desserts. So naturally I looked to the quintessential winter food (and one of the only winter foods in the store here in Sydney): pumpkins! I’ve used this fabulous squash before for my pumpkin tart recipe.  But given the heat I didn’t want to use my oven nor did I really want all the buttery richness of pastry, so I decided to make something light and fresh that would still remind me of my Canadian winter.
I decided on pumpkin pots de crème but found I had run out of cream and eggs. What I did have on hand was cream cheese and ricotta and so I made ‘pumpkin pots du fromage’ –- not an official name of a dessert but of course everything sounds better en français.
This is an easy dessert to make. You need only a few main ingredients – fresh pumpkin, vanilla extract, cream cheese, ricotta cheese, brown sugar. I used low fat cheeses to keep with the fresh-and-light theme (and because beachwear is unforgiving). The pumpkin is perfect for adding sweetness and body and the spices provide a unique taste. This dessert feels so much more indulgent than it is! See recipe below.

pumpkin pots du fromage
serves 3-4 small servings

400g pumpkin (I used kent but you could use butternut squash)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp each ground clove, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg
3 tbsp low fat cream cheese
3 tbsp ricotta cheese
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 digestives biscuits or graham crackers

You can either roast the pumpkin whole with skin on for 30 mins at 180 degrees C or peel and cut into small pieces and steam for 10 minutes (keep aside a few small pieces for decoration). Pass soft pumpkin through sieve or place in food processor and puree. Once cooled add vanilla and spices, mix in cheeses and sugar. Place mix into pots and refrigerate. Just before serving add decorative pieces and crumbled biscuits.

For decoration: cut pumpkin into small cubes and cook in a little butter and maple syrup until cooked and caramelized.

A summery sunday supper

Every single morning I wake up and make myself a strong cup of coffee, usually spiced coffee (recipe here).  I seriously cannot function without a dose of caffeine but this morning I tried something different: I had a cup of green tea with lemon and a fruity smoothie  -- nothing greasy or rich in fat. This change is one attempt at trying to be healthier this year. I will try to eat more foods rich in anti-oxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, and other energy-giving nutrients.
Seeing as I love fish and know that sardines are rich in minerals I though it would continue my healthier 2011 regime by making fish for supper. Sardines have a strong flavour that can carry intense aromatics like garlic and onions and fresh herbs like rosemary and parsley. They are small fish and have an oily texture which requires the use of citrus like lemons. Sardines are not only healthy and a great protein but they are really easy to grill or bake. Try out my recipe.

baked sardines with roast fingerling potatoes
serves 4

for fish
10 whole sardines – easy to clean or buy already cleaned and butterflied*
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon
½ bunch parsley chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary – use dried if you don’t have fresh
4 cloves garlic
sea salt and black pepper

for potatoes
12 fingerling potatoes
1-2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon - zest and juice
1 tsp sumac (a lemon scented spice used in middle eastern cuisine)
2 tsp lemon thyme
1 red chili deseeded and chopped
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise and place in oven safe dish –- make sure it’s large enough for the potatoes to be spread out.  Mix chopped herbs and spices with oil, lemon zest and juice, chili, salt and pepper and pour onto potatoes. Make sure to cover mix all over potatoes and place into oven. Bake for 20-30 mins.

In a separate oven tray lay out butterflied sardines. Use half the lemon for juice and cut the other half in slices. In a small bowl, mix olive oil, herbs, salt, pepper and juice from half the lemon. Pour mix over sardines and dot with lemon slices. Leave to marinate in fridge 10-15 minutes. Take out and place into oven for the last 10 minutes of potato cooking time.

Serve with fresh greens and aioli* -- enjoy.

*to butterfly fish means to lay out flat and remove bones – if too daunting a task just buy sardines cleaned and cook whole – the recipe will still work!
*you can either make aioli (like a mayonnaise) or buy it from a gourmet deli