Wednesday, 26 April 2017

lemon and olive oil muffins

Lemon and olive oil muffins with a super easy one-bowl recipe.

It feels like a long, long time since I last baked.

After this extended absence from baking adventures, I am happy with how these lemon and olive oil muffins turned out, especially considering that they required only six ingredients to make. I haven't lost my touch! And, even more impressively (if I do say so myself), I made these delightfully simple lemon muffins without a mixing bowl, a spatula, or a muffin pan - tools that are lacking at my current sharehouse. In lieu of the aforementioned proper baking equipment, I used a cooking pot and a regular spoon to mix the batter, and doubled up on paper muffin cases to keep them sturdy, and it worked! Not bad, huh?

With a gentle slosh of delicate olive oil, and a light hand with raw sugar, these naturally dairy-free lemon muffins aren't what you'd call indulgent, but while I was worried that they may be too modest at first bite, I ended up being charmed, and before I knew it, I'd eaten three in one afternoon (the other two went to my housemates, and I managed to save one for the next day). Suffice to say the recipe is great for me as it is, but if you prefer your muffins a little bit sweeter, feel free to up the ante with an extra tablespoon of sugar.

lemon and olive oil muffins
(this recipe makes 6, feel free to double the recipe to make 12!)

1 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 extra-large egg
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (use a mild olive oil or lemon infused olive oil)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest

Preheat oven to 180C/355F fan-forced (200C/390F regular).
Thoroughly mix self-raising flour and raw sugar together in a bowl, and create a well in the centre.
Add egg, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest into the middle of the bowl, and gently stir to create a thick batter, taking care not to overmix.
Transfer the batter into 6 muffin cups.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the muffins develop an enticing golden brown crust.
Allow your lovely lemon muffins to cool at least slightly before enjoying them!

Cross section of olive oil and lemon muffins.

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Friday, 31 March 2017

a quick, delicious octopus stew

A quick octopus stew with loads of flavour.

I have to confess I made this octopus stew ages ago. I loved how it turned out, and I was so incredibly proud of myself. Yet I never got around to posting it, for a rather silly reason.

See, because I was so pleased with myself for creating something so delicious, I took way too many pictures of the darned thing, and then I got overwhelmed at the thought of sifting through all that, so I left it for another day... and another... and another. This is also why it's taking me so long to finish blogging about all my 2014 travels, and why I never blogged about my degustation lunch at Vue de Monde. Too many photos!

So anyway, retracing my steps - I was at the market that day, and I decided to forgo the baby octopus from Thailand in favour of a portion of Australian octopus instead. The fishmonger cleaned a single large tentacle for me, and frankly I had a bit of sticker shock when it came to $16. But I gracefully paid for it while mentally telling myself I better make something good to make the cost worthwhile.

I ended up making this octopus stew and I surpassed my own expectations - it was sensational. If I ever compile a list of my best recipes, this one's definitely making an appearance.

Thus I dare say this is a great dish to try out, and really quite easy even if you're starting off as someone who isn't very confident on how to cook octopus. The trick here is gentle cooking - this is a dish you cook tenderly, for tender results. Vigorous boiling will result in tough octopus, so you want to keep it at a soft simmer until it's just cooked, and even though I call this a stew, the whole process doesn't take long at all.

Beautiful seafood flavours tangle with sweet and tart notes in this savoury stew, and it reminds me a bit of French bouillabaisse and Spanish zarzuela, but far simpler. I did not bother to tenderize the octopus before cooking, but as we are using an acidic tomato broth here, I suppose the octopus is essentially tenderizing in it as it cooks. Either way, the result is lovely and yielding, with just the right amount of spring and bite. Grab some crusty bread to mop up the thickened broth at the end, and you're all set.

A fresh octopus tentacle.

a quick, delicious octopus stew
(serves 1 as a main)

250 - 300g octopus tentacle (1/2 - 2/3lb), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped chilli (adjust amount based on variety of chilli and individual preferences)
1 cup cherry tomatoes (about 125g or 4.5oz), halved
1 small red onion or shallot (about 90g or 3oz)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, for a smoky flavour)
1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional, helps balance the broth if it is too acidic)
1/8 cup basil leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook garlic and chilli over low heat for about 1 minute. Add red onion or shallot. Stir and cook for 2 minutes. Throw in cherry tomatoes, turn the heat up a little, and cook for another 2 minutes.
Pour in balsamic vinegar along with 1/4 cup water. Allow the mixture to bubble over low to medium heat 12 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and releasing their juices.
Stir in the chopped octopus tentacles, and let them softly simmer for about 3 minutes or until opaque, turning them occasionally.
Remove from heat, and fold in basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve! Enjoy this delectable stew on its own, or with crusty bread.

If you're after an easy octopus stew that tastes fantastic, this is it!

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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

a day at perth zoo

A numbat sighting at Perth Zoo!

One of my goals in recent times is to get out there and experience more of Perth while I'm here. So late last year we kicked things off with a visit to Rottnest Island, an absolute stunner of a destination, and I'm currently trying to compile a list of places we can check out in 2017. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section!

Anyway, yeah, the list is still a work in progress, but we're making do with what we've got, and Perth Zoo was our first outing for this year. The entry tickets were $29 per adult, and we made the most of it - I think we ended up spending over four hours just leisurely sauntering around.

The main attraction at Perth Zoo, for me, is the elusive numbat - the charming marsupial anteater that is also, unfortunately, an endangered species at this point in time, and is almost exclusively found in Western Australia these days. When we stopped at the exhibit late in the morning, we saw nary a numbat, and I feared that I would leave the zoo in abject disappointment. Obviously, not being one to give up so easily, I insisted that we swing by again later in the afternoon, and lo and behold - a lone numbat was scurrying around, as cute as anything, and I declared our Perth Zoo trip a delightful success: mission accomplished!

My verdict on Perth Zoo? I would say that it's not just a great place for a family outing, but also a fun and interesting venue for a date with your partner - Simon and I had a very nice time, and we were glad that we gave it a go.

I didn't manage to capture decent pictures of all the animals we saw, but here are a few of my favourite snaps... I hope you enjoy them! :)

Little penguin swimming around.

A black-necked stork in a perfect pose.

A dingo looking lovable!

A sweet little tammar wallaby foraging at Perth Zoo.

A red panda peeks out from a tree.

Meerkats huddled up in adorable bundles!

And there is also the intriguing African sausage tree.

Tree kangaroos at Perth Zoo.

A numbat standing on its hind legs. Isn't it the cutest?

Koala hanging out on a tree at Perth Zoo.

Australian pelicans cruising across the water.

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Sunday, 29 January 2017

mango sago dessert + a hint of pineapple, a drizzle of maple

Mango and pineapple blended with coconut milk, with large tapioca pearls and maple syrup.

Happy New Year / Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

Last year, I made a couple of simple goals for myself - grow and harvest my own vegetables, try some recipes from cookbooks that were gathering dust - and I'm happy to say that I succeeded on both counts. I also managed to complete a whirlwind of very belated Thailand travel posts, and I'm very pleased that I finally got them done!

Aside from these small achievements, I think, for me, 2016 was about becoming content with life again. As for 2017? I'm not sure, but I think it's about brewing change. Simon and I are looking into the possibility of buying a cute little apartment in Melbourne. We'll see what happens. It's okay if it takes longer than expected, or if plans change. Something that is for sure, though - I really, really need to get my way overdue Taiwan travel posts done. That's going to be my goal this year, hold me to it!

In the meantime, here's a maple pineapple mango sago pudding for you. I've always liked to order the little Hong-Kong-style mango sago desserts for yum cha in Australia, and this is my slightly different version of it. I used bigger tapioca pearls for extra chewiness, threw in a refreshing touch of pineapple, and added depth with the sweet complexity of maple syrup. Delicious!

Pineapple-mango sago pudding, sweetened with maple syrup.

maple pineapple mango sago pudding
(serves 4)

1/2 cup sago or tapioca pearls
2 cups mango (plus extra to stir through and garnish)
1/2 cup pineapple
1/3 cup coconut cream
1 cup water
pinch of salt
maple syrup, to taste (may substitute with palm sugar syrup or brown sugar syrup)

Bring 12 cups of water to boil in a large pot, add sago or tapioca pearls. Let it cook, partially covered, stirring from time to time, and adding more water if required, until the pearls are mostly translucent except for the tiniest speck. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit until the pearls are completely translucent.
Drain off the cooking liquid, and thoroughly rinse the sago with cold water - I recommend using a fine sieve. Set aside.
Blend mango, pineapple, coconut cream, water and salt. Combine this mixture with the sago pearls and some additional small diced mango pieces.
If you use frozen fruit, you can serve this straightaway. Otherwise, let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.
Serve cold in individual bowls. Garnish with more mango pieces and add maple syrup to taste.

Note: If you have coconut milk instead of coconut cream, use 2/3 cup coconut milk and 2/3 cup water at the blending stage.

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