Thursday, 28 February 2013

Costa Rican Recipe Month

Once again another month is ended and the time flew by so quickly, it's fascinating how months and years seem to pass quicker and quicker the older you get. As usual, I've cooked and shared a whole pile of recipes inspired by this month's featured country - Costa Rica. As usual, time ran away and I didn't get to try out all the things that I had planned. Those few days less in February would have come in handy :)

I hope you have enjoyed this month's world feast - I certainly have. Costa Rica has so many wonderful dishes to offer and I hope to try out a couple more even though February has finished. So, for your perusal - here is a summary of the Costa Rican dishes featured this month. I'd love it if you'd let me know which one was your favourite this month, or let me know if there is a fabulous Costa Rican dish which I should try!


Paprika de Papa
I'm not sure that this dish is particularly unique to Costa Rica, but I found reference to it online and I simply  can't  resist the opportunity to fry up some potatoes in delicious paprika. Because I adore potatoes and I adore paprika even more! This dish is simple and easy but it is an absolute winner, proving that in life sometimes the simplest things are the best. Check out the recipe here.

Chayote con Maiz
This recipe was emailed to me by a fabulous Costa Rican reader, for which I am so grateful! Sometimes it's so hard to know where information comes from when you find it on the internet, so it's great to be able to communicate with someone directly who has some authority on Costa Rican cuisine. This recipe was possibly my favourite of the savoury dishes, easy to make but simply bursting with flavour. This one comes highly recommended. Check out the recipe here.

Gallo Pinto
Gallo pinto is the ubiquitous rice dish of Costa Rica. It's eaten as a breakfast food and is a great way of using up leftover cooked rice. It also makes a delicious accompaniment to any meal. Check out the recipe here. 

Hearts of Palm Salad with Lime & Coriander Dressing
I've been looking for a chance to use hearts of palm for some time - and this month I had the perfect excuse. A simple salad in which a classic Costa Rican ingredient is the star: hearts of palm. I asked some Costa Ricans for tips on an appropriate salad dressing and got this one - a simple and sublime dressing of olive oil, lime, coriander and salt. Check out the recipe here.

Mushroom Ceviche
This one was a bit of a gamble and I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out! Why did I attempt this crazy idea? Because when I was researching Costa Rican dishes ceviche just kept coming up again and again. I finally decided to give it a try and decided I would try using mushrooms instead of the traditionally used fish. It worked beautifully and makes for a really special dish. Check out the recipe here. 


Orange & Passionfruit Pudding
This pudding was inspired by Atol de Naranja - an orange thickened dessert which can either be eaten as a cold pudding or apparently as a hot drink. I went with the cold pudding option and jazzed it up with some juicy fresh passion fruit. Even though this is very simple and easy to make, it is seriously impressive and went down a treat with my taste testers. Check out the recipes here

Arroz con Leche
This is my veganised Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding), with a few personal modifications - like using currants instead of the more traditional raisins. I loved this rich creamy pudding, it's perfectly suited for a cooler evening in when you just want to treat yourself. Check out the recipe here. 


Resbaladera - Rice & Barley Milk Drink
I was so excited to make this drink because it's quite similar to the Mexican horhcata (sweet cinnamon rice milk) - and I love horchata. The difference is that Resbaladera is made with rice and barley. It was so much fun to make this because it was sort of like making my own dairy free milk, which I think I might be experimenting some more with now. I loved this, it's such a great alternative chilled drink. Check out the recipe here.


Home Made "Salsa Lizano"
Salsa Lizano comes up a lot when people talk about Costa Rican food, but sadly I couldn't find any that I could get in this country. So I decided to have a bit of a go at making my own. I've never had the real stuff - so I can't make a judgement on how similar it is to the bottled stuff, but I just had a look at the ingredients on the bottle and had a go at putting them together myself. I'd love to hear what a Costa Rican thinks though. Check out the recipe here. 

Mushroom Ceviche

Do you know what I love about doing the world food challenge? It puts me way out of my comfort zone and forces me to keep trying new things. Once you become an experienced home cook, it's very easy just to settle down and cook the same favourite dishes (or style of dishes) again and again and again. There is nothing wrong with that of course, but it means that sometimes you don't get motivated to try anything new.

I did a lot of research leading up to this month's Costa Rican world food challenge, lots of googling, reading and asking people who know a lot more about Costa Rican food than I do. One thing kept coming up time after time - people kept telling me to make ceviche. Ceviche is very popular in Central and Southern America, it's a dish consisting of fish which has been marinated in citrus juice. Technically the fish is raw, but the acidic nature of the citrus juice 'cooks' the fish. It seems that in Costa Rica ceviche is popularly made using sea bass. 

I'm sure you can understand why I initially dismissed the idea of making ceviche - as I cook vegan food, fish is not a part of my repertoire! But it kept coming up! So many people talking about all the ceviche in Costa Rica.... and eventually the idea crept into my head that maybe I should take on this challenge. Obviously I can't use fish... so I decided to substitute gorgeous firm fleshed field (portobello) mushrooms. Similar to pickling mushrooms - soaking the raw sliced mushrooms in something acidic cooks the mushroom flesh and fills it with juicy flavour.

Did it work, I hear you ask? Beautifully! I'm not going to tell you it tastes like fish! It doesn't, it tastes like mushroom. Juicy tangy limey mushroom! They're very strong tasting and pack a bit of a sour punch so I don't recommend you just eating them on their own out of the bowl - but they're a sensational accompaniment to a meal or as an addition to a salad. I served them up to dinner guests and they were incredibly popular!


2 field (portobello) mushrooms
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely minced
Juice of 7-8 limes (it needs to be enough to completely cover the sliced mushrooms)
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Salt and pepper to taste

To Make
1. Wash the mushrooms and remove the stems. Slice thinly and lay flat in a shallow flat dish. Sprinkle with the chopped onion.
2. Combine the lime juice, 1 tbsp coriander, garlic, salt and pepper pour over the top of the mushrooms, covering them completely (it's ok if they float up a bit).
3. Place in the fridge and leave for at least 6 hours, I left mine in for 8 hours. You could also leave them over night. 
4. Just before serving, sprinkle the remaining fresh chopped coriander over the top.

This month I'm featuring lots of delicious food from Costa Rica.
Check out my other recipe posts:

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Hearts of Palm Salad with Lime Coriander Dressing

I've always wanted an excuse to try cooking with Hearts of Palm, I've read about them online and on cookbooks and I recently discovered that there is a store near (ish) me which stocks them in tins. I've often walked past them when buying other things and been sorely temped to just grab a tin. The main thing stopping me is the price - at over $5 per tin it's a little bit of a splurge, especially when I didn't have anything in particular in mind to make with them.

But.... this month I've been featuring lots of recipes inspired by Costa Rica and from my internet research it would seem that they use this ingredient quite a bit. I found Hearts of Palm Salads and Hearts of Palm Rice (Arroz Palmito) referred to on the internet. I really wanted to try both but I wasn't sure my food budget could really stretch to 2 tins so I decided on the salad, because I love salads. Want to know another exciting thing about this salad? These lovely cherry and egg tomatoes came fresh out of my garden moments before I made the salad - now that is fresh!

This salad is fairly simple, with the hearts of palm as the star and a simple but very Costa Rican dressing of lime, coriander, salt and olive oil. The hearts of palm were certainly a new experience for me. I'm not sure how they would traditionally be cooked/stored/prepared in Costa Rica, but I found the tinned ones to be very soft in texture and a bit mushy. They had a similar texture to tinned asparagus, in my opinion. I think I read on somebody else's blog that they described the hearts of palm as being 'crunchy'. In this case I can only assume that there is some other way to get them than in a tin because mine certainly weren't crunchy! The taste was pleasant and mild though, and it was great to try out an exotic new ingredient in my salad!

Hearts of Palm Salad with Lime & Coriander Dressing

1 x 400ml tin Hearts of Palm
2-3 handfuls of mesclun/loose lettuce leaves
2 lebanese cucumbers
1 punnet of cherry or grape tomatoes
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped coriander
Cracked black pepper and salt

To Make
1. Drain the tin of hearts of palm and slice.
2. Slice the cucumber into sticks and halve the cherry tomatoes.
3. Arrange the mesclun on a platter and top with the cucumber, tomatoes and hearts of palm.
2. Combine all remaining ingredients in a jar and shake well to combine. Drizzle over the salad and top with more chopped coriander, to taste.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Beans and Rice)

Gallo Pinto - the classic dish of beans and rice which is apparently eaten pretty much all the time in Costa Rica. It's a popular breakfast, but also an accompaniment to any other meal during the day. It's the dish that comes up again and again and again when you search for Costa Rican food or ask people about what they eat/ate in Costa Rica. So here is it. And you know what - it's delicious! I thought it would be a bit basic, but actually it's very flavourful and stands up by itself as a dish as well as a side dish. It would be great to bring to a gathering because it compliments other dishes so well.

Gallo Pinto is traditionally made using Salsa Lizano. If you can get this where you live then great! I can't so I used my own home made salsa lizano. You can make some following my recipe, but if you don't want to then I've included a second version in which you can make a simple paste which will hopefully replicate the flavour of the salsa lizano. A lot of recipes substitute Worcestershire sauce for salsa lizano: I'm not sure that would have the same flavour, but it might be nice.

Gallo Pinto

1 1/2 cups long grain rice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 cup cooked black beans (or 1 x 400ml tin of black beans, drained and rinsed)
4 tbsp salsa lizano (see note below)
Cracked pepper and fresh coriander to taste, for garnish

Note: you can make your own salsa lizano style sauce using my recipe here. If you don't want to then you can try this to replicate some of the basic flavours: In a small bowl mix together 1 tsp finely chopped green chilli, 3 tbsp water, 1/2 tsp blackstrap molasses, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp white vinegar, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1/8 tsp ground cumin, 1/8 tsp turmeric, 1/8 tsp celery seeds and 1/2 tsp sugar. Use this mix in place of the salsa lizano.

To Make
1. Place rice in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until cooked through. Drain and rinse rice and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan or a wok heat the vegetable oil. Sauté the onion, garlic and coriander until the onion is soft and transparent.
3. Add the beans and the salsa lizano and fry for a further 3 minutes, or until fragrant.
4. Add the cooked rice and stir through. Cook for a further 4-5 minutes, or until rice is heated through and coated in salsa.

Serve with fresh coriander, cracked pepper and more salsa lizano to taste.

This month I'm featuring lots of delicious food from Costa Rica.
Check out my other recipe posts:

Monday, 18 February 2013

Triple Melon Ice Blocks (Vegan, Sugar Free)

The monthly Sweet Adventures Blog Hop is always a good excuse to dust off my dessert thinking cap and make something for my sweet tooth. The only problem this month is that I'm on a detox. Yep - things have been a little indulgent around here during December and January and I figured that my body needed a good clean out! So for the last 9 days I've been on a strict detox (except for Saturday night when I went to a hen's night - oops). It's going great, I feel fantastic and I've lost 5 kilos in the last 9 days. I can share my detox plan with you guys if you like.

So, desserts have been a bit limited in my house lately. Mostly just eating fruit for dessert! This  month's theme is 'Licence to Chill' and at first all I could think of was ice cream cake and ice cream pie, semifredo etc. Not on my detox. For a little while I thought I might have to sit this one out, but then later in the day, when I was eating a huge bowl of cut up melon chunks, inspiration struck.
This is the result! They are a delicious and incredibly healthy snack for your sweet tooth. Perfect for dessert, breakfast, snacking or whenever you want really. The recipe is very simple and the resulting ice blocks look very pretty! I haven't added any sugar to mine, because it's not on my detox - and also because, well, when you eat a delicious bowl of chopped up melon you don't sprinkle sugar on top do you? So I don't think it needs it, but if you want to sweeten it you can.

I'm sure somebody will come out with criticism because I've labelled this sugar free but obviously the fruit contains sugar. In my opinion a dish is sugar free if I haven't added any sugars myself (cane sugar, coconut sugar, rapidura sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar or any other type of sugar) but I'm simply relying on the natural sweetness of fruit.

Triple Melon Ice Blocks (Sugar Free)

2/3 cup chopped watermelon
2/3 cup chopped honey dew melon
1 cup chopped rock melon (cantaloupe)
3 tsp fresh lemon juice

You'll also need:
A set of ice block moulds (making 4)
4 paddle pop sticks

NOTE: The quantities needed may vary depending on the size of your ice block moulds.

To Make:
1. Blend the watermelon with 1 tsp of the lemon juice. Pour evenly into the bottom third of your ice block mould and then put in the freezer for an hour. (The watermelon layer will separate out into 2 layers, giving the ice blocks the 4 layered effect)
2. After an hour, blend the honey dew melon with 1 tsp lemon juice and gently pour into the middle third of the ice block moulds. Place in the freezer for 35 minutes.
3. Remove from the freezer and gently insert the paddle pop sticks - the mixture should be frozen enough to hold the sticks upright but soft enough so that you can easily insert them. Return to the freezer for another 25 minutes.
4. Blend the rock melon with the remaining tsp of lemon juice and gently pour on top, filling up the ice block moulds. Place in the freezer for 2-3 hours or until completely set.

Makes 4 ice blocks.
To eat, run some hot water around the outside of the mould to allow the ice block to slide out easily.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Vegan Arroz con Leche (Rice Pudding)

I can never pass up an opportunity to make rice pudding! It's just such a comforting and heart warming dessert. So with my newly made vegan condensed milk in my arsenal, I rolled up my sleeves to try to my hand at a Central American favourite as part of this Costa Rican food month. I've made some changes, as I always do - I just can't help myself! 

A traditional ingredient of arroz con leche is raisins, but I thought I'd be a bit different so I used currants instead because they're such a concentrated little burst of flavour! I was really sold on them and I'm going to use currants in my rice pudding more often (they're also cheaper into the bargain). Secondly, traditionally this pudding would be a lot sloppier - but I tend to like my rice pudding more thick and ricey than thin and soupy. So I added a few less cups of liquid. But if you like your rice pudding a bit more sloppy then you can always thin this out with another couple of cups of rice milk.

The result? Rich, creamy, comforting and simply gorgeous in your mouth! The spices and the citrus flavouring give this a really special palate, combined with little bursts of tangy currents.

1 cup long grain rice
1/2 cup water
4 cups rice milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 long strip fresh lemon peel
1 long strip of fresh orange peel
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins

To Make
1. Combine the rice, water, rice milk, cinnamon stick, lemon peel and orange peel in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
2. Add the condensed milk and sugar and simmer, covered, for a further 5 minutes.
3. Add the vanilla, nutmeg and raisins and simmer, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, or until rice is cooked and pudding is thickened. Stir frequently to prevent the rice sticking to the bottom.
4. Remove cinnamon stick and citrus peel and set aside to cool down to room temperature and then serve. You can sprinkle a bit of extra nutmeg/cinnamon on top for decoration if you want.

Serves 4-6.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Chickpea, Apple and Cashew Salad with Tahini Dressing

My mum calls me the Salad Queen because I almost never make the same salad twice. I just love making salads - they are so easy and so versatile. A lot of people think that salad is boring which baffles me - maybe they just put lettuce, tomato and cucumber in their salads and then add some store bought sugary dressing? If that is how you view salads then I challenge you to try some of my salads.

There are so many different vegetables and fruits, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds and different dressings to use in salads! This hearty salad is perfect for people who think that salads aren't filling enough to be your whole meal. It's also deceptively healthy - the rich creamy dressing is made with tahini which already has a certain oil content so that means you don't need to add any oil to the dressing - winner! 

1 small or medium sized beetroot
Lettuce (as much as you want for 2 people)
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp pepitas
1 x 400ml tin of chickpeas OR 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (soak for 24 hours, then boil for 30 minutes)
1 medium apple (see note)
1 cup unsalted cashews

2 tbsp unhulled tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 small glove garlic, crushed

Note: The variety of apple you choose will alter the flavour profile of the dish. I chose a sweet apple (like gala or pink lady) to add some crunchy sweetness to the salad. If you use a granny smith you'll have a more sour taste to the salad. Try both and see which one you prefer? :)

To Make:
1. Peel and dice the beetroot. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Boil until tender (about 15-20 minutes - depending on how big you cut the pieces). Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
2. Spread lettuce between two bowls. Chop tomatoes and layer on top of the lettuce. Then top with the cooled beetroot.
3. Lightly toast the pepitas by dry frying in a pan for about 60 seconds, tossing them regularly until they're browned and starting to pop. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4. To make the dressing mix together all the ingredients and stir vigorously until smooth and combined.
5. In a bowl toss the cooked chickpeas, diced apple, cashews and pepitas with the dressing to coat. Distribute amongst the bowls and enjoy!

Serves 2

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Home Made Salsa Lizano (Costa Rican Brown Sauce)

Salsa Lizano is ubiquitous in Costa Rica. It's used in cooking and poured liberally over food as a condiment. So, what is it? It's a brown sauce made from vegetables and spices. It's also not very readily available in Australia. I could have ordered it online from America and paid an absolute packet for a jar of sauce.... but I've always preferred making things from scratch anyway.

A quick google on the internet revealed several forums in which people were asking how to make Salsa Lizano at home only to be told by various people that you simply can't make it at home. Well that sounded like a challenge to me so goshdarnit I set to it! Having never tasted the real stuff I guess I'm at a disadvantage for recreating it. But I used the ingredients of the sauce from wikipedia as a starting point and went from there. The sauce I made was delicious and it's great to use in cooking for instant 'WOW' flavour. I couldn't tell you if it tastes like the real thing though - somebody else will have to make it and tell me!

1/2 onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1 tsp powdered vegetable stock
1/2 green chilli
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp tumeric

To Make
1. Place the chopped onion, carrot and cauliflower in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the vegetables are cooked through and tender. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the water.
2. Stir the vegetable stock powder through the 1/4 cup hot water that you reserved.
3. Place the cooked vegetables in a food processor or blender. Add the vegetable stock and all the other ingredients (note: if you don't want it hot you can remove some or all of the seeds/placenta of the chilli before adding it).
4. Purée until it forms a smooth sauce and then transfer into a bottle or a jar until needed. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 medium sized bottle. Use in cooking or pour over just about anything for added 'pow' flavour.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chayote con Maiz (Costa Rican Chokos and Corn)

When I started researching Costa Rican food to make this month, I quickly realised that there are a LOT of essential Costa Rican ingredients that I just can't get my hands on. I started to compile a list of the ingredients that I kept finding in recipes again and again and again. I wish I could have bought and tried all these, but I guess I'll just have to wait until I can finally travel to Costa Rica.

Things I Can't Get Near Me: 
Plantains (sob!)
Achiote (paste)


I also kept finding recipes online which called for chayote. Not knowing what a chayote was, I put it down on the list and discarded all the recipes. Then, in a stroke of genius which rarely occurs - I thought I might just google chayote to see what it was. To my surprise I discovered that I was actually familiar with it - I just know it by a different name: Choko. You know, these fellas:

I've eaten choko since I was a kid and I've always really liked it, although I know that not everybody is as keen! Infact I've heard rumours that McDonald's Apple Pies used to (or still do?) contain quite a lot of choko because the flesh holds it's shape well, has a mild taste and looks pretty similar to apple when cooked. I don't know if that is true, but it sounds pretty plausible to me.

It turns out that chokoes go by many different names. You might also have heard them called Christophenes. In fact according to wikipedia (get your grain of salt ready) it's also known as:
  • cho-cho
  • mirliton/merleton
  • vegetable pear
  • pear squash
  • chuchu (in Brazil)
  • Centinarja (in Malta)
  • chouchoute
  • pipinola
You certainly learn something every day! So, once I realised that chayotes were actually chokoes and that I could get my hands on them, chayote was back on the menu! I started searching around for a good choko recipe from Costa Rica and ended up being emailed one by an awesome Costa Rican named Kimberly who out of the goodness of her heart took the time to type it all up for a complete stranger. Sometimes the internet reminds you that the world is a wonderful place (even though a lot of the time it reminds you that the world is full of horrible and cruel people).

I changed the recipe very little from the one she sent me. At first glance it looks too simple to be interesting but all I can tell you is that this dish is special. It's so creamy and flavourful that it's impossibly just to eat a little bit, I find myself going back for more and more. Next time I buy chokoes I am definitely going to be making this again with them! Serve with corn tortillas (like everything else in Costa Rica) and chopped coriander to garnish.

3 med-large chokoes (chayotes)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Salt and cracked black pepper
1 tin sweet corn kernels, drained (you can also use 1 cup frozen corn, or 1 cob fresh corn)
1/4 cup rice milk
1 tbsp sugar

To Make
1. Peel the choko and chop into cubes (NOTE: it is a good idea to use gloves when peeling and cutting choko, as it's juices irritate the skin and leave you with a very unpleasant dry and tight feeling on your hands).
2. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onions and garlic, sauté until soft.
3. Add the chopped choko, cumin, corainder, salt and pepper and cover with a lid. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes.
4. Add the corn, rice milk and sugar. Cook, uncovered, until the choko is cooked (it should be tender to pierce but still firm enough to hold it's shape) and the milk has cooked down by about half. Stir well and serve.

Serves 4 with tortillas (and any other accompaniments).

Friday, 8 February 2013

Paprika de papa (Paprika Potatoes)

Potatoes make such a wonderful comfort food - and potatoes and paprika are a match made in heaven! This recipe is very simple, and although it's part of Costa Rican Food month, I'm sure that similar dishes are cooked in many other countries all over the world. Because it's just a winning formula.

Although simple and easy to make - these potatoes just knocked my metaphorical socks off. This is a recipe which will go in your regular rotation, it's been added to mine. I plan to make this again and again and again!

This basic recipe can also be slightly adapted to your mood. If you want a bit of heat add some more hot paprika, if you want that smoky taste, add a bit of smoked paprika. You could also add cumin or even lemon juice for a bit of sour tang. So many possibilities! But try the original recipe first, then you can play around with it. Serve with corn tortillas and chopped fresh coriander. 

5-6 large potatoes
5 cloves garlic
4 tbsp olive oil (you'll need a bit more if you aren't using a non stick pan)
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch hot paprika (optional)
1 tsp sugar
Cracked pepper to taste.

Fresh coriander, to serve
Corn tortillas, to serve

To Make
1. Peel and cube the potatoes. Peel and slice the garlic.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large frypan (I highly recommend non stick)
3. Add the potatoes, garlic, paprika, salt, sugar and pepper.
4. Fry on a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Stir often to avoid sticking to the pan.
5. Serve in corn tortillas topped with fresh coriander.

Serves 4.

Love Heart Melon Bouquet for Valentine's Day

It's getting close to Valentine's Day now and, although my partner and I don't do anything on Valentine's Day, I thought I might share with you this special and healthy Valentine's treat. Because you should always do nice things for the people that you love!

Sometimes I find that there are just a few too many occasions in the year in which overeating and 'indulging' are expected. Overeating is the order of the day on Xmas - usually at several Xmas gatherings (and often in the form of chocolates for Xmas presents), then suddenly it's New Year and it's champagne, cocktails and more parties. The beginning of the year is for recovery and getting yourself back on a healthier eating plan, but then suddenly it's Valentine's Day and you're facing more chocolate. Then before you know it around comes Easter and it's hot cross buns and LOTS more chocolate. Then there's his birthday, your birthday, your mum's birthday, dad's birthday - all of which mean CAKE and often dinner out at somewhere less than healthy (pizza, thai etc.) Then it's your anniversary and you're celebrating with wine/champagne, dinner out and yes, chocolates. Then around comes Xmas again and it all starts over! That doesn't even include friend's birthday's (more cake!) or weddings (open bar! - oh and more cake!).

Looking at that then it's no wonder that obesity is so rife in Western nations! Your body barely has time to recover before it's another onslaught of of 'special event' food. It's great to have so many things to celebrate every year and I love all the excuses to get together with friends and enjoy good food and wine. My solution is to try and make at least some of those celebrations healthy. That doesn't mean it's not special!! Honestly there are so many wonderful and healthy special things to eat and drink on your celebratory occasions.

This bright bouquet of melon can be arranged in a vase or wrapped in cellophane and ribbon to give to somebody you love. Paper wrapping is not advised though - the melon is too juicy and will soak the paper. To make this you'll need a cookie cutter shaped like a heart - preferably a small-medium one as you'll find it too difficult with a large one. If you don't have a heart shaped cookie cutter you could cut a stencil out of plastic (paper will get too soggy) and use a sharp knife to cut around the stencil (a more time consuming method).

Rock Melon (cantaloupe)
Honey Dew Melon
Long skewers

To Make
1. Cut a slice of each of the melons about 1.5cm thick. Use the cookie cutter to cut heart shapes out of the melon flesh. Continue to do this until you have as many as you want for your bouquet.
2. Insert a skewer into the bottom of each love heart. If you are displaying them in a vase, trim the bottom of the skewers so that they are all different lengths. This will make arranging them prettily easier.

~ The skewers can be prepared in advance and kept in a sealed container in the fridge and then assembled when needed
~ Cutting the honey dew and rock melon can be a challenge if you're cutter is bigger than the radius of the flesh. See?

To overcome this - take your 1/2 rock melon and cut the bottom half off it and then slice it.. Like this:

Sorted! You can do the same with the Honey Dew Melon.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Orange & Passion Fruit Pudding (only 5 ingredients!)

It's simple desserts like this which fill me with joy. This vibrant orange pudding only contains 5 ingredients (actually technically only 4 because two of the ingredients come from the same oranges...) and is very easy to make (as long as you don't take your eye off it when it's cooking!) This recipe is part of Costa Rican Food month, which kicked off a couple of days ago with the very special Resbaladera (Rice and Barley Milk Drink). I had to post this recipe next because it was one of my absolute favourites!

The reason it is part of Costa Rican food month, is because I have based this recipe on a Costa Rican dish - Atol de Naranja. An atole/atol is a Central/South American dish which is thickened with either cornstarch or hominy grits. It is often consumed as a hot drink, however I decided to make mine a cold dessert pudding instead. I've also added a tropical touch with the gorgeous fresh passion fruit on top which really took this simple dessert to a whole new level!

So- with all the changes is it actually an authentic Costa Rican dish? I have no idea! Maybe a Costa Rican can tell me. What I can tell you is that this dessert is spectacular. So just make it :)

3 cups fresh orange juice (should be about 3-4 oranges worth)
1 tbsp orange zest (tip: zest orange before juicing)
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups brown sugar
4 passion fruits

To Make
1. Place the orange zest and 1/2 cup of the orange juice in a saucepan.
2. Add the cornstarch and stir well until completely dissolved and with no lumps.
3. Gradually stir in the remaining orange juice and the sugar.
4. Place the saucepan over a medium to low heat and stir continuously while you slowly heat it through.
5. As the pudding heats it will begin to thicken, stir continuously to prevent lumps forming. Heat until the pudding is thickened (this should take about 10 minutes, but may take less or more time depending on how hot your stove is).
6. Once the pudding is thick transfer immediately into 8 individual serving bowls (or glasses). Place in the fridge and chill for a couple of hours until completely cold.
7. Top each serving with the pulp of 1/2 a passion fruit and serve.

Serves 8 (note: makes fairly 'modest' servings, if you want large servings you can use this recipe to serve 4-6 people with larger serves).

This month I'm featuring lots of delicious food from Costa Rica.
Check out my other recipe posts:

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