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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Thursday, 29 December 2016

mango-cherry cocktail-smoothie

A cider-spiked cherry-studded mango smoothie. A delicious seasonal drink for New Year's Eve in Australia!

I am no stranger to making cocktails that masquerade as smoothies. See: this raspberry-cucumber cocktail from 2011, and this lemon-jasmine-banana cocktail that followed in 2012. What can I say? I'm a smoothie fanatic, and I'm a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. So cocktail-smoothies, or smoothie-cocktails, well... they just work, for me. They're my perfect festive holiday drink!

Mangoes and cherries always appear prominently in the shops around Christmas and New Year's in Australia, so this time around, my creation is a fruit-a-licious cherry-studded mango cocktail with a subtle hint of alcoholic effervescence from apple cider (hard cider, for my North American readers). I downed the whole glass, and after the initial refreshing hit of coolness, it gave me just the right amount of warm and fuzzy, with no ill effects. Success!

Mango-cherry cocktail-smoothie.

mango-cherry cocktail-smoothie
(serves 1)

1 cup mango
6 cherries, pitted (more for a stronger cherry flavour)
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 cup hard apple cider or sparkling wine

Blend mango, cherries and lime juice with 1/2 cup water and 2 ice cubes. Pour into a glass, use a nice fancy one if you're feeling sophisticated. Top up with apple cider or sparkling wine. Sip it slowly or quaff it quickly - it's up to you!

Note 1: I used frozen diced mango and fresh cherries. I recommend that at least some of the fruit you use in this smoothie-cocktail be of the frozen variety, to ensure the end result is pleasingly icy-cold.

Note 2: If you prefer a non-alcoholic drink, feel free to use sparkling apple juice instead of apple cider to make this a mocktail!

Note 3: If you require this to be vegan-friendly, make sure that the alcohol you use has not been processed with animal products.

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Sunday, 11 December 2016

cookbook review: saraban - a chef's journeys through persia

Saraban cookbook by Greg and Lucy Malouf.

I have finally stopped procrastinating, and here is my final cookbook review for the year! Following my review a couple months back of Turkish cookbook Turquoise, I'm back with a review of Persian cookbook Saraban from the same authors, Greg and Lucy Malouf.

As we transit from spring to summer, the simple recipe for this refreshing beverage, dugh, caught my eye. This is a savoury yoghurt drink - called dugh in Iran, but known by other names in different countries - I've had it at a Turkish eatery, where it was called ayran, so I already knew I would like it.

Dugh is basically just yoghurt diluted with water and combined with salt - the one I had at the Turkish place used still water, but for this particular recipe, it called for carbonated water, which intrigued me. It also included lemon or lime juice, as well as dried mint - I processed my own by microwaving fresh mint until the leaves are crisp and dry and easily crumbled.

The trick to making a good dugh is to not be too shy with the salt. I don't advise going crazy with it, but you definitely want the brightness of the salt coming through to complement the sourness of the yoghurt. Done right, it's really uplifting on a hot day!

Dugh, a sparkling salted, minted yoghurt drink - also known as ayran, lassi, or tan in various regions.

The other recipe I tried from Saraban was the one for kuku-ye sibzamini - Persian potato cakes spiced with cumin, turmeric and black pepper, and studded with garlic chives and coriander leaves. I have to confess that I veered away from the ingredients quite a bit in this one, due to a desire to work with just what I already have - so I used cumin seeds instead of ground cumin, substituted spring onions for garlic chives, and completely omitted the self-raising flour.

I have to say, too, the Saraban recipe has left me quite curious about the taste of an authentic kuku-ye sibzamini - and whether the dominant element should be the potatoes or the eggs. For example, it calls for two desiree potatoes, but does not give any indication of the approximate size or weight of the potatoes. One would presumably then go for medium-sized, but even that can be subjective, so the results could turn out differently, depending on your choice of potatoes! Also, "kuku" is often described to be a frittata-like concoction, and therefore more of an egg dish - but the English title of "potato patties" muddies the waters yet again. Or in other words, I think too much.

Fortunately, despite my delinquent detours, the ambiguity of the recipe, and the perplexing internal debate, my batter held together - just, and the results were delicious.

Kuku-ye sibzamini - Persian potato patties with herbs and spices, served with a dollop of yoghurt.

Like Turquoise, Saraban is a visually stunning cookbook - I dare say it is even more exquisite, with its sumptuous colours and intricate cutout details - and certainly does a great job of showcasing Iran as a luscious, compelling travel destination. I couldn't help but marvel at interesting fare such as the koofteh tabrizi (giant meatballs stuffed with fruit and nuts), though I don't think I have the fortitude to attempt that dish. The recipe for ash-e sak (spinach soup with little meatballs), on the other hand, looks a lot less daunting, and I might quite possibly try it someday. Another one that could be up my alley is the mahi-e mast-gerdu - yoghurt-baked fish with walnut-herb crumbs.

Anyway, we shall see. I talk often here about perhaps doing this or that, but let's face it, I am not the most industrious person around, as per my blog name. Hey, at least I managed to fulfill my 2016 new year's resolutions in regards to reviewing my neglected cookbooks, right? So, you know... there's hope! :)

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Sunday, 20 November 2016

day trip to rottnest island: quokkas and more!

The quokka's irresistible signature smile.

Earlier last month, Simon and I did a day trip to Rottnest Island. It was my first time there, and also Simon's, even though he grew up in Perth! So it was all rather exciting. We'd seen the popularity of quokka selfies on the internet, and we were all wrapped up in the giddy anticipation of getting our first real-life glimpse of these adorable marsupials.

So I went there thinking all I wanted to see was quokkas, and I did and it was everything I could hope for -  but you know what, I fell in love with more than that.

One of the many salt lakes at Rottnest Island. Quite sure this one is Pink Lake, though it may possibly be Lake Negri.

But let's get back to the beginning.

First, we hopped on a ferry at Fremantle. Here's my first tip - there is usually some deal going on, so check the ferry operator websites and book according to the instructions to secure your special rates. You could potentially score a free ride for your birthday, or highly discounted fares on Tuesdays, for example! My second tip? The ocean may or may not play nice - our ferry trip over there made me feel quite ill, while the trip back was perfectly fine - so, get your seasickness remedies ready, just in case.

Ducklings stroll through the colourful vegetation at Rottnest Island. Awesome camouflage!

You can book a bicycle at the same time you book your ferry, which is cheaper and more convenient, but the ferry company had run out of bikes, so we just went to a rental bike shop upon arrival. This probably actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me as a petite person, as the store had a great selection, so I went through the options Goldilocks-style and it meant that I got to pick out just the right size helmet and bike for me. Oh, yeah, and upon walking our bikes out of the shop, we saw our first quokkas right then and there! And, um, yeah, we spent too much time hanging out with those quokkas because we were afraid that they would be our only quokka sightings for the day. But moving on...

We started cycling around Rottnest Island, and seriously, it took my breath away. It was so beautiful everywhere we went, I think I might be bold enough to say that this is the prettiest place I've ever visited in Australia.

I loved the gorgeous red and green vegetation...

Lush samphire at Rottnest Island.

 And the beautiful blue ocean waters...

Fabulous ocean views at Rottnest Island.

But as we cycled along, I did get a little bit concerned, as other than our initial sighting of quokkas outside the bike shop, we haven't really seen many others hopping around. Additionally, Rottnest Island is quite hilly, and as someone who rarely cycles, at certain points, despite all the beauty around me, I couldn't help but bleat plaintively.

This is a selection of oft-quoted phrases whilst I cycled around the island. "There are 12,000 quokkas on this island, where are they?" "Come out and love us, quokkas!" And during my strenuous uphill battles - "This is killing me..." "I'm so tired..." "I'm dying..."

Oh, and "Strugglesome..." a new made-up word coined by Simon that I adopted with gusto.

The hilly paths of Rottnest Island are perhaps not the most ideal for unfit cyclists like me.

We packed bananas, almonds, and water for this day trip, and after a couple of hours exploring the island on bike, we were ready to plonk ourselves down for a good resting and snacking session. We did just that at the Nancy Cove beach, taking in sweet views of Green Island as we rejuvenated ourselves.

The beach at Nancy Cove has a great view of Green Island.

With newfound energy, we continued on our merry way. More scenic loveliness ensued.

Sensational views at Little Salmon Bay, Rottnest Island.

It was mid-afternoon when we stumbled upon another party of quokkas. Look, I have no idea what the collective noun is for quokkas, but they're so cute that my heart does a little dance when I see them, so a party sounds appropriate.

At the time we went - the month of October - we saw some young quokkas hopping around, and they are so adorable! If you want to see baby quokkas still in their mothers' pouches, then probably May to August would be a better time to visit the island. But really, they're cute at any age, so I'd say you can't go wrong as long as you go on a day with decent weather.

Ridiculously cute quokka at Rottnest Island.

Other animals we met that day included a dugite (a venomous snake) by the side of the road - I didn't take a picture because I was paranoid that the click of the camera would trigger it to come after me, haha! - and we also observed a few dark and glossy king skinks, I find them to be so sleek and handsome.

A king's skink at Rottnest Island.

Eventually we returned to the main town area of Rottnest Island, gave back our bikes, and strolled around looking for something to eat. If I recall correctly, we got the burnt caramel with salty caramel swirl and the rum and raisin at Simmo's, and both were delicious.

Ice cream from Simmo's Icecreamery at Rottnest Island.

We also found a grassy area to sit down to eat our Subway sandwiches... and it was then and there that we found out that the Rottnest Island town area is where the naughty quokkas hang out and try to pry food off humans, and they can be quite aggressive about it!

And look, I would love to share if I could, but giving them human food and even water is actually very bad for them, and can lead to not only an unnatural dependence but also cause health issues and reduce their lifespan, and they are a vulnerable species as it is. So don't feed the quokkas! We actually got involved in a full-blown tug-of-war with a belligerent quokka who wouldn't take no for an answer in our efforts to adhere to this rule, and while he may have managed to steal a nibble in the process, we won in the end. Sorry, quokka! We're just looking out for you!

Boat and ocean - a tranquil scene at Rottnest Island.

I am so glad that we did this day trip to Rottnest Island, and I would love to go back again someday. I'd heartily recommend it to anyone - if you live in Perth, or if you're visiting for a holiday - whatever. It's truly an iconic destination of Western Australia.

What are your thoughts on Rottnest Island? Feel free to share in the comments section below!

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Thursday, 10 November 2016

raspberry goji smoothie

A super-delicious raspberry goji smoothie.

My love for smoothies continue, and this raspberry goji smoothie is my latest favourite creation.

It's funny how goji berries have, in recent years, become a darling in the Western world, lauded for its superfood powers and making endless appearances in smoothie bowls on Instagram. Growing up in our Asian household, goji berries are typically used in savoury soups and herbal teas, and I'll be honest, I was never a big fan, but upon the coaxing of my mum - "they're good for you, good for the eyes" - I'd reluctantly eat them, and at the end of the day, I didn't mind them that much.

Anyway, I purchased a packet of dried goji berries earlier this year - not because I was craving them, not because of their health benefits - but because I wanted to enter some health food competition thing to win a free holiday. Spoiler - I did not win the competition, and all I had afterwards, then, was this bag of goji berries and I had to come up with various ideas for consuming them.

I threw these goji berries into my muesli, added them to my ginger tea. I blended them up in various smoothies, too, but it wasn't until I made THIS smoothie that it felt like everything just fit together. My lost and aimless goji berries have finally found their home.

Dried goji berries for a goji berry smoothie.

raspberry goji smoothie 
(serves 1)

1 small banana
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon goji berries
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup water

- Blend all the ingredients together, adding more water if necessary if you would like a thinner consistency.
- Forget about what is a superfood and what isn't, and just enjoy the super-deliciousness of this smoothie.

Intensely red raspberry smoothie with goji berries.

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