Tapioca temptation

Tapioca needs a new image.  Considered to be one of those old-fashioned, plain and boring items, tapioca is one of those desserts that all too often appears in hospital food. But these wonderful, chewy pearls are so much more exciting thank you think.  They have serious potential.
A number of cultures use tapioca – a starch that comes from the cassava root – in their cooking and baking. Growing up in my Indian home, we used tapioca to make payasam.  A milk (cow’s or coconut) based dessert, sweetened with sugar or jaggery (a dark sugar byproduct that tastes like molasses) and spiced with saffron and cardamom, payasam is an Indian dessert staple. There are a number of different versions of payasam, depending on which ingredients you select from a long list that includes rice, lentils, semolina, raisins, and almonds.
For my tapioca image overhaul, I decided to use one of my favourite flavours: coconut. I cooked the tapioca in water and separately made a liquid mix of coconut milk and coconut sugar, vanilla and a pinch of cardamom. I served this rich, coconut infused pudding with raspberries and flaked almonds  - simple and delicious!

coconut tapioca with vanilla and raspberries
serves 4

1/2 cup tapioca pearls
4 cups water
1 1/2  cups coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut sugar (or alternative sweetner)
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch cardamom

Bring a pot with water to boil, add in tapioca pearls and cook while stirring – about 10-12 minutes until almost transparent.  Strain and keep aside.  In another pot, add coconut milk, coconut sugar, vanilla and cardamom and mix well on medium heat.  Add cooked tapioca and cook a few more minutes (adjust for taste and thickness).  Take off heat and keep aside to cool down.  I like to refrigerate my tapioca for a few hours to let the flavours infuse and to ensure the pearls increase in volume, which adds to the creaminess of the dish. 
If using raspberries, add a bit of sugar and mix to form a delicious sweet liquid and add to tapioca and finish with almonds. Enjoy!

A little foodie photography project

Dear friends I have something excitng to share with you.  A little while ago, my new blogger friend Aurelie at Pause Gourmande (a lovely French blog) asked me to participate in an interesting blogger project.  She was going to put together an online magazine and asked me to share a few photos and recipes.
Here is the link to the magazine’s spring issue.  I think it looks great and that Aurelie did a fantastic job of turning this project into a beautiful magazine.  I love the compositon of her photographs and the light and subject is always gorgeous.
The magazine and all the recipes (spiced chocolate date cakes and red wine braised lentils) are in French. I adore the French language and encourage you to try my recipes out! For those who don't read French – no worries – I’ve posted everything about the recipes below…
A common dessert here in Australia is sticky date pudding – a velvety rich date cake topped with a buttery rich caramel sauce. Not that I don’t love indulging in creamy, heavy desserts (they definitely have a place in my kitchen!), but the warm and sunny weather here often inspires me to make something lighter yet still rich and generous. These spiced chocolate cakes are moist and have a great natural sweetness provided by the dried dates. I use warming and fragrant spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger to add a kick to the subtle flavours of dark chocolate. This may sound a little heavy but these little bundt cakes require only a small amount of flour, which makes them moist, light and airy - just perfect for a lovely sunny day! Once cooked and cooled I keep them in the fridge because I love the texture of a cooled spongy cake. You can serve the cakes on their own, dusted with cocoa or with some vanilla whipped cream and/or ice cream. Try making them and you won’t be disappointed.

spiced chocolate date cakes 
recipe makes 4 smallish bundt cakes
*use organic ingredients where possible

180g dates (pitted)
280 ml water 
1 tsp baking soda
60g dark chocolate – broken into small pieces
60 g butter, softened
20g raw sugar
2 eggs
100g self raising flour (if using plain flour make sure to add baking powder as a raising agent)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cardamom
pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Place a small pot with dates and water on medium heat and bring to the boil.  Once at boiling point, turn off the heat, add baking soda and let sit 10 minutes to cool – then blend mixture until reaches puréed consistency and stir in chocolate pieces.  In the meantime, in a separate bowl beat butter and sugar until creamy, add in eggs one at a time until well incorporated.  Add date mixture to bowl and stir well.  Sift in flour, ground spices and pinch of sea salt. Pour thick batter into greased bundt moulds and bake on centre shelf in oven 30-40 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean.  Take out and let cool on racks. To finish dust cakes with dark cocoa powder and enjoy. 
Lentils are a common dish at my house – they are not only inexpensive but they are also wonderfully versatile and can carry lots of different flavours. A lot of Indian cooking is based on the use of lentils: it not only adds protein and heartiness to vegetarian dishes but also thickens soups and sauces. There are many varieties of lentils but one of my favourites (which actually isn't that common in Indian cooking) is the Puy lentil or French green lentil. Since puy lentils hold their shape during cooking, they keep their lovely toothsome texture. The small little discs of speckled green lentils are not only useful for salad type dishes but they are also beautiful to serve on a plate. The flavours in this dish aren’t complicated –  I sautéed onions, garlic and carrots, deglazed with red wine, used lots of fresh herbs like bay leaf, rosemary, thyme and basil and finished it with a splash of balsamic vinegar for an added richness and sweet tang. I served my lentils with sautéed chicory greens and pan fried halloumi cheese.

red wine braised lentils with fresh herbs

recipe serves 4

1-2 tbsp olive oil
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped           
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 fresh bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1 cup Puy lentils, rinsed
½ cup red wine (I used a full bodied wine like Cabernet Sauvignon)
3 cups water or stock
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes
sprinkle of dried chili

Place a Dutch oven or sauté pan with high edges on medium heat.  Once pan is hot, add oil and onions, carrots and garlic to sauté for 5 minutes. Add bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and lentils – stir for a few minutes.  Add red wine to deglaze pan and cook off alcohol – about 1-2 minutes.  Add 3 cups of water or stock and simmer until lentils are just cooked about 20-25 minutes.  Make sure to add more water if needed to finish cooking lentils.  Season lentils well with sea salt and pepper, add balsamic vinegar and stir 1-2 more minutes.  Once off the heat, add a little extra virgin olive oil and stir through fresh cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of dried chili. 

Serve lentils on their own or with sautéed chicory and pan fried halloumi as I’ve done. Of course, this dish must be enjoyed with glass of delicious red wine.

Distinctly different muffins

Did you know that carrots were originally purple? I remember hearing this piece of information years ago and I also remember wondering why they would ever change such a beautifully coloured vegetable. Later, when living in Holland I learnt more about the Dutch, their love of orange and the making of the orange carrot.
After spotting these dark-purple-almost-black heirloom carrots at the store I just had to try and see what they tasted like. Besides their gorgeous indigo colour, the shape was like any other common carrot. The taste, however, was somewhat different.
These purplish carrots had a more bitter flavour than their sweeter orange cousins. Their stronger taste matched their crunchy texture well; their 'feel' resembles that of other root vegetables like parsnips. Purple carrots are thought to have many nutritional qualities and their bitterness might account for this ‘health’ factor. 
I decided to make muffins with my carrots and they turned out distinctly different than my usual recipe for muffins (click here and here for more muffins). They were tasty and their beautiful, almost beetroot-like colour, added a colourful touch to a regular carrot muffin. The recipe is simple: I used two types of flour – millet and plain – added yoghurt for moisture, coconut for flavour and finally added dried blackcurrants for sweetness and colour.

purple carrot muffins with coconut and blackcurrants
makes a dozen
*use organic where possible

1 1/2 cups flour (half millet, half plain)
1/2 cup coconut
2 tsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1/3 cup raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup oil (non fragrant oil like canola, rice bran etc)
2 medium purple carrots, grated
1/3 cup dried blackcurrants

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius

In a medium bowl, sift in flours, add coconut, baking powder, salt and sugar – stir to combine. In a separate bowl add wet ingredients. Add in eggs, yoghurt, vanilla, oil and combine well. Add wet ingredients into dry and mix well but be careful not to overwork as it will toughen the texture of the muffins. Add in grated carrots and currants. Mixture should be thick but not too dry. Place into muffin pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean. Take out and let rest. I keep my muffins in the fridge – perfect for a morning or afternoon snack. Enjoy!

A crunchy craving

The other night I had a serious craving for a snack that was sweet and salty. I thought about baking but I just couldn’t muster the energy to actually get off the couch and whip, beat and mix anything in a bowl!
So my next thought was popcorn - not the regular kind, but the most deliciously sweet, salty, sticky and crunchy caramelised popcorn. I aptly named this creation: sea salt and caramel popcorn.
The combination of dark, rich vanilla-scented caramel with a hint of saltiness was the perfect answer to my lazy cravings. It was ridiculously simple to make and even easier to eat!

sea salt and caramel popcorn

70g (about 1/3 cup popcorn kernels)
50g sugar
1/2 honey
80ml water
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 ml (1/2 tbsp) cream (you don’t need this but it adds a softness to the caramel)
1 tsp sea salt

First line a baking sheet with baking paper.  Make popcorn – I used an air popper but you can also use a stovetop method. Keep popcorn in a large bowl. For the caramel, place a small pot on medium heat. Add sugar, honey, water*, butter and vanilla and stir until sugar dissolves – let it come to the boil (don’t stir) and cook until golden/caramel coloured. Add in cream  and cook until thick.  Take off heat and add sea salt. Pour caramel over popcorn – mix through and place onto baking sheet.

The popcorn will keep for a few days in a sealed container but I didn’t have any left to keep!

Note: I used a small amount of caramel – my main reason for this is that I wanted to indulge but not overindulge. 
*not all caramels use water but I used it instead of using more butter.