Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mushroom and Bean Vegan Jambalaya

A month of American food wouldn't be complete without my favourite American dish - jambalaya, a Louisiana speciality. Discovering this delicious dish essentially made me want to go to Louisiana! This jambalaya uses field mushrooms and vegetarian sausages instead of the traditional meat. Traditional jambalaya is also laden with green capsicum, however, I've left this out because it makes me sick - but if you are partial to a bit of green capsicum feel free to add it in, although I don't think it needs it!!

I've also made this recipe using brown rice instead of white, it was also fantastic. You just need to increase the amount of water by about 2 cups and increase the cooking time by at least 20 minutes. 

5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 field mushrooms, washed and chopped in large chunks
3 vegetarian sausages, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1/2 cup dry sherry
4 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups basmati rice
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tin diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tin cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin Kidney beans, drained and rinsed
(More hot water, as required)

To Make
1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or soup pot. Sauté the onions and celery for 2-3 mins. Add the mushrooms and veggie sausages and sauté until the veggies are cooked.
2. At this stage you'll notice the bottom of the pan is getting all brownish from frying the veggies. So - deglaze the pan by adding the sherry (you'll notice all the browny bits come right off the bottom and make your dish a lovely rich colour). Add the tomato paste as well and heat through.
3. Add the uncooked rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3-4 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, tinned tomatoes, bay leaves and all herbs and spices. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring very frequently for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through, you may need to add more water as you are going to stop the rice sticking onto the bottom depending on how thirsty your rice is.
4. When the rice is almost cooked stir the tinned beans through. When the rice is fully cooked serve.

Serves 4.

I've submitted this recipe to the Vegan Virtual Linky Potluck - click here to see the other entries.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Candied Sweet Potatoes

Here is a slightly unusual dessert for those of us not from the US of A. Candied sweet potatoes, also known as candied yams or candied sweets. This is a dish which represents traditional American cooking, and it often part of thanksgiving traditions.

It may seem an odd concept, but using sweet potato as a dessert is common in many countries. When I had Cambodian food month, we had a sweet potato and sago dessert which was delicious. These candied sweet potatoes are simple to prepare, make for a very affordable dessert and will surely be novel and surprising to any guests you serve them up to.

4 medium sweet potatoes (or 3 large)
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp margarine
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange zest

To Make
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
2. Peel and slice the sweet potatoes, and arrange in a baking dish.
3. Combine all remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and place over a medium heat and heat through.
4. Pour over the sweet potatoes and cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes, taking it out and stirring occasionally.
5. Remove the foil and lower the oven heat to about 160. Bake an additional 20 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.
6. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a serving bowl and spoon the syrupy sauce over them. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Vegan Pecan & Molasses Pie with Spiced Pumpkin Whipped Cream

As soon as Southern USA was requested by a reader to be my featured cuisine for a month, I immediately knew I had a prime excuse to make pecan pie! I love pecans, but sadly they're so expensive that I don't get to use them very often in my cooking. But now I had an excuse - so I went out and loaded up on expensive delicious pecans! Nuts are also very festive, so pecan pie is a perfect Christmas dessert.

This pecan pie is a bit of an "adult" version - laden with rich sticky molasses instead of sweeter alternatives such as maple syrup. I did this because I love molasses and because blackstrap molasses is so good for you that I can almost convince myself that it's something healthy! 

The perfect accompaniment is this light pumpkin whipped cream. Made from whipped coconut cream and flavoured with pumpkin and Christmas spices. Santa will surely remember you favourably next year if you leave him out a slice of this pecan pie tonight!

Pecan & Molasses Pie

100g plain biscuits
10 dates, soaked
1/4 cup date soaking water
2 cups almond meal
1 cup flaxseed meal (ground flaxseeds)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
250g raw pecans
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup rice malt syrup
2 tbsp arrowroot
1/2 cup soy milk
3 tbsp ground flaxseeds
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

To Make
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
2. Place the biscuits in a food processor and blend until reduced to crumbs. Remove and set aside.
3. Place the dates in the processor and puree until they form a smooth paste. You can add some of the soaking water in to help the process. Add the almond meal, flaxseed meal, cinnamon and biscuit crumbs and pulse a few times to combine. Then add the 1/4 cup of date soaking water and process until it comes together.
4. Grease a 22cm springform cake pan (or pie dish if you prefer) well and line the bottom with baking paper. Press the crust mixture into the sides and bottom of the pan. You don't need to go very far up the sides, as it is only a shallow pie. Even it out by pressing firmly with your fist or with the bottom of a tumbler.
5. Bake the pie crust for 10 minutes, then remove and set aside while you prepare the filling.
6. Spread the pecans out on a tray and lightly toast them in the oven - should take about 7-10 minutes (this varies, depending on how hot your oven is!).
7. Whisk together then soy milk, vanilla, salt and ground flaxseeds and set aside. Place the molasses and rice malt syrup in a small saucepan and place over a low heat, stirring often, until melted. Sprinkle the arrowroot over the top and whisk it into the hot molasses. Remove from the heat and whisk in the soy milk.
8. Transfer the pecans to a bowl and stir through the molasses mixture. Spread this over your crust and bake again for about 20 minutes. It'll be bubbling hot when you take it out of the oven, so allow it to cool completely before you add your pumpkin whipped cream (otherwise the cream will melt all over it).

Pumpkin Spice Whipped Cream

1 can coconut cream, refrigerated for at least 24 hours
3 tbsp pureed cooked pumpkin, cold
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To Make
1. When you open the tin of coconut cream you will notice that the top is a very solid thick cream. Scoop out all of the solid thick cream on top (you can reserve the liquid to use in another meal – like a curry or a smoothie).
2. Put the thick cream into a bowl and mix well using a hand held electric mixer. Move the beaters up and down to try and get as much air into the cream as possible. Add the cold cooked pumpkin, vanilla and the spices and continue to beat until it forms a thick cream.

This month I'm featuring lots of delicious food from Southern USA!
Check out my other recipe posts:

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Bean Soup in a Jar! (Easy Edible Christmas Gifts)

How are your Christmas preparations going? I hope you aren't too stressed! If you're at a loss as to what to give your loved ones or you need a couple of extra stocking fillers - this may be the idea you need! Gift giving can be fun, but it can also be stressful. If you don't know what to buy for someone, or you find yourself in a position where you have to buy something for someone that you don't know very well, then a thoughtful edible gift is a great idea. It means you don't risk cluttering up their lives/houses with something they don't want/need. It also means you don't risk wasting your money on something that they might just re-gift or throw out.

Simple home made gifts also carry a greater degree of thoughtfulness  because you took the time out to make them yourself! Classic home made edible gifts include jams, personalised super gingery gingerbread people, and jars full of biscuits - such as spiced shortbread, orange and pistachio biscuits, Croatian cracked pepper spice biscuits,or Afghan pistachio biscuits

This year, however, I wanted to take a slightly healthier route! Many of my friends and family are trying to eat a bit healthier, either by cutting back on sugars, on wheat or on processed foods. I have no desire to tempt them off their approach to eating a bit healthier! 

Giving a recipe in a jar is not a new idea - there are plenty of lovely recipes out there for giving biscuits in a jar, cupcakes in a jar or brownies in a jar. It involves layering the dry ingredients in a "sand art" style and attaching a label with brief instructions to add the wet ingredients and bake. You need to make sure it something nice and simple though! Even if you are gifting to an accomplished cook, nobody wants to get a gift which will feel like a chore for them to use!

These jars of bean soup are pretty, easy to personalise, easy to cook (for your recipients) and best of all they are perfect for last minute gifts. All the ingredients can be bought at your local supermarket and they take you only about 10 minutes to assemble.

Here is what you'll need to make 5 jars:

5 x empty 500ml jars
5 x 375g packets of dried beans*
10 bay leaves
5 stock cubes

You can use any beans you like - but try to stick with beans that are all of similar size. Using some small, some medium and some large will result in a soup which will cook unevenly and will be a pain in the arse for your recipients. So steer clear of big lima beans or small lentils. I've used cannellini beans, kidney beans, black eyed beans, dried peas, and chickpeas. All of them have similar cooking times. You could also use: adzuki beans, mung beans, borlotti beans or black beans.

It's not rocket science, simply place 2 bay leaves in the side of the jar and pour the beans in layers into the jar. You'll probably need a scant half cup of each of them to fill it up, but there is no need to measure! Place a stock cube on the top and you're done!

Next you'll need to make up some little labels for the jar. Whatever you like - some cardboard, ribbons, nice pens.

Here is what you need to label to say:

Bean Soup
1. Remove bay leaves and stock cube.
2. Soak beans in cold water for 24 hours.
3. Drain and rinse the beans.
4. Put beans, bay leaves and stock cube in a pot with 2L of water.
5. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
6. Add vegetables of your choice and simmer a further 20-30 minutes, or until beans are cooked.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Succotash (American Beans and Corn)

I'm actually finding it quite challenging to fit all my Southern USA posts and my Xmas posts in at the moment, especially because I'm also busy getting everything ready for Xmas itself! But I've managed to find a few minutes to share another recipe with you from Southern USA. It's a deceptively simple one. You might look at it and think it'll be a bit ordinary, but you have to believe me when I say it is quite special. Simple - yes. Easy - yes. Healthy - yes. But also full of flavour!


2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
3 cobs fresh corn
2 x 400g cans lima or butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 jalapeño chilli (I used preserved ones from a jar, so they are slightly milder. If you use fresh, just use half)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste

To Make
1. Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until transulcent. Add the garlic and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes (including any juices) and cumin and cook for 2-3 minutes.
3. Cut the corn kernels off the cob (reserve as much of the liquid that comes out if it as well). Add the corn (and any corn juices), beans, chopped jalapeño and vegetable stock.
4. Simmer, covered for about 10 minutes. Remove lid and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Candy Cane Brownie Parfaits

Christmas is fast approaching, I hope you are not stressing out! I've always been a plan-everything-majorly-in-advancen kind of person, so I never find Christmas too stressful. I bought most of my presents while I was travelling in Sri Lanka in July, so I've just been doing some final edible gifts to go with them. I'm a big advocate of edible gifts. Most of the people in my family don't actually need more stuff, and if they do then I don't know what it is that they want. So, a thoughtful handmade edible gift saves space in their house and saves them ending up with something they didn't actually want or like. I've tried to go for some different gift ideas this year, and I'll share them with you in the next few days - so keep your eye out!

In the meantime, it's time for the last Sweet Adventures Blog Hop of the year! There have been some great hops over the year - and I'm glad to say I have managed to squeeze in an entry to all 12 of them! Wow. Here are the other great themes from this year:

November's Vegetable Hop - Jus Alpukat (Indonesian Avocado Milkshake)
August's Berry Hop - Sugar Free and Vegan Raspberry Fudge
July's Nut Hop -  Best Ever Vegan Carrot Cake  (I got this one in just in time, but it never appeared on the link list so you may have missed it!)
June's Pie Hop - Easy, Sticky, Messy Banana Rum Pie
May's Tea Hop - Thai Red Tea Vegan Jelly with Poached Apples
April's Lemon Hop - Lemon Curd 'Cake Sandwiches'
March's Layers Hop - Rhubarb and Apple Sago Parfait
February's 'Love' Hop - African Almond, Pistachio and Orange Blossom Bites
January's Choc Hop - Black Forest Shots & Truffles in 3 Flavours: Paprika, Tahini & Strawberry Gum
December's Festive Hop - Chocolate Ice-Cream Christmas Pudding

This time round, being December - the theme is "Sweets for Santa". It is at this point I must confess a secret, I've had this dessert going round in my brain since last Xmas! Last year, right after the rush of Xmas - I happened upon a box of crushed up mini candy canes in the reduced section of my supermarket. Because they were all smashed, and because Xmas is over, they were 99c for the box! I bought them immediately and squirrelled them away. They've been sitting in my cupboard ever since and now I finally get the chance to bring you my Candy Cane Brownies (in parfait form!).


1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
50g dark chocolate
2/3 cup smashed candy canes

Vegan Brandy Whipped Cream
2 cans coconut cream, refrigerated for at least 24 hours
2 tbsp soft icing mixture
2 tsp brandy
More crushed candy canes, to garnish

To Make:
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powder in a bowl.
3. Add the water and oil and mix into a thick batter.
4. Melt the chocolate in a metallic bowl sitting on top of a bowl of boiling water (make sure NO water gets into the actual chocolate, just use the heat from the boiling water to heat up the metallic bowl).
5. Stir the melted chocolate and the smashed candy canes (see note below on smashing up candy canes) into the mix.
6. Grease a small-medium square baking dish and line with greaseproof paper (this is important, as the candy canes will melt as they bake and become very sticky). Spread the batter evenly into the dish.
7. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely, it is best if you can refrigerate them before assembling the parfaits, so the brownies can firm up.
8. To make the whipped cream: When you open the tin of coconut cream you will notice that the top is a very solid thick cream. Scoop out all of the solid thick cream on top (you can reserve the liquid to use in another meal – like a curry or a smoothie).
9. Put the thick cream into a bowl and mix well using a hand held electric mixer. Move the beaters up and down to try and get as much air into the cream as possible. Add the sugar and brandy and beat until it pretty much resembles thick cream.
10.To assemble, break up pieces of the brownie and place in the bottom of a glass (tumbler, martini glass, wine glass, beer glass - all work well!). Layer some cream on top and then repeat with another layer of brownie and then cream. Decorate with a layer of crushed candy canes

Makes 6 parfaits (varies, depending on the size of your glasses)

Tip: If you make these in advance, add the crushed candy canes on top just before serving, so they stay nice and crunchy.

What is the best way to smash a candy cane?

Smashing up candy canes into fine pieces can be easier said than done. Food processors don't work too well for candy canes - so here are some tips. The easiest way to smash your candy canes is if they come already in individual wrappings - just leave the candy cane in the plastic wrapping and then go to town on it with a meat tenderiser (yes, for some reason I own a meat tenderiser although I have never used it for tenderising meat) or a mallet. Or a hammer, for that matter. If you find they're not smashing up as easily as you'd like, you can put them in the freezer for a bit to make them more brittle. I didn't find this step necessary though.

If they're not in individual packaging, just put them all in a ziplock bag and then bash at them the same way, you'll end up with some holes in the bag but that doesn't really matter. Once they're all smashed up, snip the corner off the bag and you can pour out your shards easily and without making a big mess.

Happy Smashing!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Vegan Chili Pone (Texas Chili Con Carne Casserole with Cornbread)

This month is Southern USA month, and I feel like it wouldn't be complete without a shoutout to the American phenomenon of "chili". Because I'm focusing on Southern USA, of course I'm talking this time about "Texas Chili". This is a dish which presents a challenge to non meat eaters. Why? Because Texans are adamant that Chili should not contain beans (more is the pity!). I'm also allergic to capsicum which means that is out for me as well. So if I remove the meat and capsicum from my Chili and I'm not allowed to put beans in - what am I left with?? Tomatoes, onions and chilli. Not really enough to work with.

So I decided to substitute the meat with bulghur, which has a similar chewy 'minced' sort of texture. It doesn't taste like beef of course, but I put in a bit of beef stock (no animal content) to try and beef it up a bit. Excuse the pun. Since it was a pretty simple Chili, I decided to make it into a 'Chili Pone' (I'm not sure how that is pronounced - is it pone to rhyme with cone?). I'd never heard of this before, but it was suggested to me by a reader when I started featuring Southern USA food. Chili Pone is a casserole of Chili topped with cornbread, which sounded right up my alley because I love cornbread!

I've made cornbread for this blog before, my Razlevjak (Bosnian Cornbread).But I'm always happy for an excuse to experiment with cornbread! A few things I should point out about it - firstly, American cornbread it made with cornmeal. Cornmeal is slightly finer ground than polenta and slightly coarser than maize flour (not to be confused with cornflour/cornstarch which is the white powder used for thickening). As far as I'm aware I've never seen this cornmeal as defined this way in stores in Australia. I have access to maize flour, corn starch and polenta. So, I used polenta because I didn't have any cornmeal and because I love the textured corny taste that polenta gives to cornbread.

Secondly, I was told adamantly by an American that Southern cornbread is unsweetened, so despite the fact that most of the Southern Cornbread recipes I found on the internet involved adding sugar, I left out the sugar.

The result? The cornbread casserole idea is genius and I'm going to make so many more casseroles with cornbread on top now! The Chili turned out delicious, although, I have to say would have been even better with some beans in it :)

Southern USA Chili Pone


Bulghur Chili
2 tbsp oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapeño chilli, fresh or preserved
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp smoky paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup bulghur
6 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1 cup strong beef stock (use a vegetable based stock powder such as Massel)
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup soy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp ground flaxseeds
1 cup flour
1 cup polenta
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup baking powder
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup water

To Make:
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic and jalapeño, and sauté a further 2 minutes.
3. Add the dry spices and cook for another 30 seconds then add the bulghur and stir to coat with the spice mix.
4. Add the tomatoes, oregano, beef stock, soy sauce and tomato paste. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes.
5. To make the cornbread: combine the soy milk, apple cider vinegar and ground flaxseeds. Whisk together and set aside for about 5 minutes to curdle and thicken.
6. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir well. Make a small well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the soy milk. oil and water. Mix well until it forms a smooth batter.
7. Once the Chili is cooked, remove from heat and transfer to a medium sized casserole dish. Spoon the cornbread batter over the top of the Chili. It doesn't have to be too neat, as the cornbread will expand and rise to create an even covering as it cooks.
8. Bake, uncovered, in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the cornbread is crisp and golden. Serve.

This dish can also be made in advance and reheated in the oven. It is important, however, to always reheat the dish (and the leftovers) in the oven, otherwise the cornbread will go soggy!

Serves 4-6.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Summer's Glow (Yellow Watermelon Cocktail)

You know how I've been posting and tweeting about improving my food photos? Well, this one is shamefully a testament to how far I had to go. Sadly, food photos take patience and sometimes I just want to put down the camera and eat or drink whatever is there immediately. In some cases, if I failed to get any good shots then I make the recipe again and have another go. In this case, that wasn't possible.

Why? Because it contains a somewhat obscure ingredient. Yellow Watermelon! My lovely partner currently works in the fruit and vegetable department of a supermarket, and one day when they were cutting up the watermelons they cut one open to find that it was bright yellow inside! The staff immediately bought all the pieces of it and my partner proudly brought it home, knowing I would be excited by a somewhat exotic ingredient! In another sad photography fail, I didn't actually take any photos of the yellow watermelon, but you can check out what a yellow watermelon looks like here.

Most of it I just chopped up and ate. But I thought it would be silly of me not to blog something about it, and it just so happens that the Eat the Alphabet challenge bloghop is on it's last hop for the year. That means it's X, Y and Z time. Somewhat challenging letters, but luckily I can show you my Yellow Watermelon Summer Cocktail.

Summer's Glow Cocktail

500g yellow watermelon
2 cups vodka
1L lemonade
Juice of 2 limes
Fresh mint
Ice, to serve

To Make
1. Chop the watermelon and remove the seeds.
2. Place in a blender with the vodka and a few pieces of ice. Blend until completely liquid.
3. Add the lemonade, lime juice and plenty of torn fresh mint. Stir gently and transfer to a large jug or glass bottle to serve. Serve over ice, with additional mint sprigs, if desired.

Serves 6.

~ You can, of course, make this with pink watermelon instead. It will be just as delicious, although I would suggest calling it a Lover's Glow, to suit the pink colour.
~ It is preferable to chill the watermelon, lemonade and vodka before hand, so that the drink will be nice and cold when you serve it.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Food Photography Props on a Budget

Good food photography is a big part of food blogging. A part which I have lazily neglected for far too long. I've made a recent commitment to myself to improve my food styling and food photography skills, and you may have noticed I've been putting a bit more effort into my shoots lately. One of the things I read a lot on the internet is food bloggers complaining about how expensive it is to run a food blog. They're right, there are considerable costs involved, but I'm going to prove to you today that food styling props doesn't have to be a major expense. I'm going to show you what I bought today for just $5.7 (hint: it's everything you see in the picture above).

How did I manage this much stuff for so little $$$? The answer is simple: op shops. Op shops have shelves and shelves of donated cutlery, crockery,glassware, platters, napkins, table cloths and tea towels. They're selling them from anywhere between 10c to $2 usually. All you need to to is have a sift through and find the best pieces. Op shops are ideal for food blogging props, because often all you need is one bowl or one plate - so you don't want to buy a whole set!

If you're really smart you'll keep your eye on the bins out the front of most charity shops labelled as "free". Often you'll find single plates, mismatched mugs or bottles with no stopper. I picked up these three glass bottles (2 clear, one teal) for free outside my local charity shop. Sure, there is only one cork stopper between the three of them, but I didn't really want stoppers anyway.

Not bad for free huh?

Now let me show you what else I bought:

The wide white bowl in the background (a staple in your food prop arsenal): $0.10
The matching blue plate and cup: $2 (perfect for plating up soups and breads, dips and dippers, desserts with fresh fruit on the side or even a casserole with a side salad)

The white ceramic milk jug: $0.50
Three new napkins: $0.20 each

Set of five gorgeous ceramic mugs for $0.50 each. That's $2.50 for 5 mugs (I admit, I bought these for me because I loved them, not because I needed them for props).

The total cost of my shopping trip was a bank breaking $5.70 - for 15 things. Not too bad huh?

So if you're thinking about food styling props, don't stress - it's easier to find affordable options than you think! Another great option is garage sales, usually run by people who just want to get rid of old stuff rather than get much money for it. The perfect place to find vintage plates and single pieces for your styling. So, grab your local newspaper and find 4-5 garage sales happening near you this Saturday. Set yourself a $20 limit and see how much you can bring home!

Happy food styling (and keep your eye out for these pieces in my future food photos!).

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Peach and Bourbon Cobbler

Southern USA month is a great excuse to make cobbler, which is a dessert that we don't make often enough! There are plenty of different fruits commonly used in cobbler, but I thought I'd go with a classic peach cobbler, jazzed up with a splash of bourbon. It was great to have an excuse to use up the bourbon that I had sitting in my booze cupboard (yes, I have a whole cupboard dedicated to booze) which I bought to make Rainbow Banana Pancakes with Bourbon Syrup. I don't have much else to use bourbon for, so the bottle has been sitting there ever since. Now, thanks to this juicy cobbler, I have one less bottle in my booze cupboard!

2 kg peaches
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tbsp flour

2/3 cup soy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup wholemeal flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarb soda
1/4 cup castor sugar
7 tbsp non dairy margarine
1 tbsp bourbon
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup flaked almonds (optional)

To Make
1. Wash the peaches, remove the stones and slice roughly. Place in a bowl and add the bourbon. Stir through and set aside to macerate for an hour or so.
2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.
3. Whisk together the soy milk and apple cider vinegar and set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and sugar. Cut the margarine into the mix and mix with an electric hand mixer until it forms a crumbly consistency.
5. Add the bourbon and cinnamon to the thickened soy milk. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
6. Add 1-2 tbsp flour to the peaches and stir through. Layer the peaches in a large baking dish and spoon dollops of the batter on top. You don't have to smooth it out, the batter will expand and come together as it bakes, giving you a cobbled texture.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove and sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top. Switch your oven to the "top"/grill setting and cook the cobbler for an extra 1-3 mintutes, or until the almonds are slightly browned. Keep your eye on this the whole time, as flaked almonds burn really easily! As you can see from my picture, I took my eye off mine for a second and they overcooked slightly. It's a fine line!

Serve warm, you can add ice cream or whipped cream if you like.
Serves 6.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Orange Blossom and Almond Friendship Cupcakes

They say that every little girl dreams of her wedding. I didn’t. But I did often think about which of my friends I would pick as my bridesmaids. I’m not sure why, but I found the prospect of picking bridesmaids exciting. I loved the idea of honouring some of my friends with a gesture that said “you are important to me”. When I was young though, I was always glad that I didn’t have to pick bridesmaids just yet, because I had so many friends that the decision would just be too hard. How could I pick just a few when I had so many friends? Is it ok to have eight or nine bridesmaids? It’s only been about 7 years since I finished school, but how things have changed. I still think about it sometimes, even though I have no plans to get married. Only now I feel happy that I don’t have to choose because I’m not sure if I can think of that many people who have really been there for me when I needed it.

When I was a child I used to wonder why my parents didn't seem to have as many friends as me. When I was in primary school I had so many friends to play with, when I was in high school I could easily have 50 people to invite to my party. So, what happened to all my parents’ friends? Now that I'm getting older I have a much better understanding. These days I can put almost all my friends under one of two categories: those who are moving away from me and those who never get in touch.

Those who are moving away are people who care about me and love me, and I know that the fact that they’re moving away isn't personal. I wish them the best of luck and I’m happy for them. It still saddens me though, and it can’t help feeling that it’s them saying “I don’t really mind it I barely ever see you anymore”. They’ll still remain friends, but it’s not the same. You can’t really expect somebody to be there for you if they’re in another country, another time zone, another world away.

Those who don’t get in touch are the ones who never text, never call and never take action to organise any catch ups. This also includes the ones which pull out of the things I organise consistently and at the last minute.  So, I see them only if I contact them or I organise an event and they don’t bail at the last minute. On the few occasions that I do see them they always exclaim “we should see each other more often, we should organise a time to do {whatever}”. Yet, I don’t hear from them again until the next time I get in touch. There are a lot of reasons for this, of which I can guess at. Sometimes it’s because friends value their relationships more then they value their friendships, sometimes it’s because they're too lazy to organise things and sometimes it’s probably because they’re not actually that interested in seeing you.

The other day I needed some time away from home. This happens when you live with somebody, you occasionally just need some space. I went out for a walk and I was trying to think of somebody that I could visit at short notice just because I needed to be away from my house and spend some time with a friend. The sad thing was, I couldn’t think of anybody.

Perhaps tv shows raise our expectations of friendships, just as romance movies raise our expectations of love and relationships. Maybe shows like Sex and the City create unrealistic expectations? Is it too much to expect to have a close group of friends who love you, make time for you, contact you often and are physically and emotionally there for you when you need it – even when they have boyfriends, work and children? I guess it probably is. I’d love to know what other people think, please share your thoughts below.

This reflection on friendship accompanies these beautiful little cupcakes for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s an issue that is on my mind a lot at the moment. Secondly, because I made these lovely cupcakes with a friend while we caught up over tea and it was lovely. While we were eating and drinking tea, I took this photo. It makes me feel happy because to me it symbolises the simple pleasure of making time to catch up with a friend.

Orange Blossom and Almond Friendship Cupcakes

1 cup of soy milk
1 tsp of apple cider vinegar
¾ cup of sugar
¼ cup of oil (I used rice bran oil)
2 Tbsp of roasted almond butter
2 Tbsp of orange blossom water
1/2 cup of almond meal
1 cup of plain flour
1 ½ tsp of baking powder

2 Tbsp of orange blossom water
1 tbsp of almond/soy milk
1 ¼ cups of icing mixture
1 Tbsp of roasted almond butter
Whole almonds, to decorate (optional)

To Make:

Preheat oven to 180 Celsius.

1. Whisk together the soymilk and apple cider vinegar
2. Add sugar, oil, roasted almond butter, orange blossom water and almond meal and whisk until well combined.
3. Sift in flour and baking powder and whisk until combined.
4. Divide into 12 patty pans.
5. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool.
6. To make the glaze: combine all the glaze ingredients in a bowl and mix well until smooth. Drizzle over the cupcakes once they are completely cooled. Top with an almond, if you like.

Makes 12 cupcakes (and reminds somebody that you love them).

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mint Julep for Southern USA Month

Quite exciting news - December is here! That means summer has arrived, Xmas is close and another year is almost over. I love December. But there is another exciting thing happening this December - Southern USA Food Month. Requested by a reader, initially I was surprised to have the US suggested. Not that I have anything against the US, it's just that most of what the rest of the world sees of US food is cheeseburgers, ribs and fast food in general. Not really my cup of tea. But, he went on to specify - not just anywhere in the US, he wanted Southern USA food. 

It's a good thing that he specified because it seemed to me that once I started looking I found all sorts of region specific food. USA is a BIG country so I would never be able to do justice to all the regional foods. So, for those of us who don't live in the USA (yes, I had to google this) - what exactly does Southern USA encompass? 

This is just a map I got from google images, not sure why PR is on there.

There are a few different definitions of which states make up Southern USA (or I should really say - South Eastern USA). Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. That's what I'm going with this month, although I won't have time to showcase cuisine from each state.

As the majority of my readers are from the USA, I'd love you to offer up some suggestions as to what I should cook. My initial reading has yielded some great ideas that I will be giving a try, and I was very pleased to find reference to several classic Southern USA cocktails. I'm always keen for an excuse to try out a new cocktail, so I noted them down to try. The easiest one was a Mint Julep, apparently popular particularly in Kentucky, where they use spearmint. 

I recalled reference to a mint julep in one of my old cocktail books, so I dug it out and had a look. It's pretty straightforward. Smashed mint with sugar, bourbon and crushed ice. I made up the first one according to my cocktail book. But I was underwhelmed, in fact it felt like drinking straight bourbon on ice. More mint needed! So I went back and changed it around quite a bit - I don't know if that means it's no longer authentic, so I apologise if any American Cocktail fanatics take umbrage at my changes!

1/2 bunch fresh mint
3 tbsp castor sugar
2 tbsp water
4 measures bourbon
Crushed Ice (Note: crushed ice can be hard to come by if you don't have an ice crusher or snow cone maker. I don't have either. You can put some ice in a ziplock bag, cover with a tea towel and smash it up with a sturdy rolling pin or meat tenderiser).

To Make
1. Tear up the mint and put in the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the sugar and the water. Smash the mint into the sugar. I use the end of a large wooden spoon for this, but I believe bartenders have a specific tool for this sort of ingredient-smashing. Use whatever you like, just make sure the mint is well smashed up. It should form a bit of a pulpy paste with the sugar and water.
2. Add the bourbon, put the lid on and shake. 
3. Fill 2 glasses (or a pewter cup, which is what a mint julep is traditionally served in) with crushed ice and pour the whiskey evenly between them. Drink immediately.

Serves 2.