Saturday, December 22, 2012

roasted capsicum and coconut dip

'Tis the silly season and I'm pretty happy about it. The countdown is now on. But unlike my childhood years my christmas excitement is less directed towards christmas morning and presents from Santa, and more about the days surrounding the 25th - family arriving from different corners, lots of food to cook and enjoy, reunions with old friends returning to their home towns, and lazy post-christmas-day holidays spent eating left overs, lapping up some sunshine and reflecting on what's hopefully been for all - a pretty good year. 

There are always a lot of people around my family christmas, and there's one thing my mother has taught me about hosting guests - there should always be a platter! Growing up, whenever we had visitors (at any time of the year), my sister and I were on lock down. Before guests would arrive, no one could leave the house until every room was spring cleaned - bathroom taps polished and dust out of all the cracks and corners and all. This mad cleaning schedule meant that by the time people were arriving Mum was literally jumping through the shower and getting herself ready as they were walking up the drive. And so, it became my job to put together a platter of delicious nibbles, because there was absolutely no time left for Mum to do it, but she insisted we couldn't possibly go without. And so, with the fridge at my disposal I could put together my own foody-work-of-art - which at age 12, made me feel quite grownup and important. Many years on, if I am at home and we've friends coming over, by default it is my job to put together a platter.

So with christmas at my parents just around the corner and more family visitors and guests popping in then you can count - it is crucial that the fridge is fully stocked with platter goodies. This year I plan to make up a few bulk pestos (check out two I've whipped up here and here), a classic hummus and then one dip that is a little different - roasted capsicum and coconut dip. That way I know I'll be prepared the minute someone walks in the door. I can throw together a selection of dips, some crackers or crunchy bread, some cheese if I fancy and I think I'll have myself some happy customers. 

The flavour combo in today's dish is quite special. The sweetness of the roasted capsicums sit so beautifully with the creamy coconut - it gives off quite a thai-style flavour burst. It's super easy to put together and if you make a load of it, you'll find yourself grabbing it from the fridge for more than just a platter essential - I love to throw it through some pasta as a quick and easy sauce, (if you try my zucchini fettucini recipe, it works well as a replacement for the pesto and completely changes the dishes taste-profile). I also like to have it on hand for a mid afternoon snack with some freshly chopped vegetables.  

roasted red capsicum and coconut dip

4 large or 5 medium capsicums (red, orange or yellow are best)
1 Tbls coconut or olive oil
1 large kumara/red potato - chopped in to small cubes
3 cloves garlic - roughly chopped
1 tsp rock salt or flaky sea salt
juice of 1 lemon
1 finely diced small red chilli (optional)
1 Tbls extra coconut oil (optional for boosted flavour)
1 cup cannelini beans
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup olive oil
water to thin

Heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Prepare kumara and place in a roasting dish with a little olive oil. Rub the capsicums with your choice of olive or coconut oil and place in a separate roasting dish. Put both dishes in the oven. Leave the Kumara till it turns golden and starts to crisp (about 20 minutes), remove from the oven and leave to cool. Check Capsicums after 15/20 mins and turn them. The bottom side should be turning a dark roasted brown colour and starting to blister. Continue cooking and turning till their whole surface has taken on the blistering brown complexion about 40-50 mins (see pictures above and below). Remove from oven and leave to cool. If you have the time, cover them while cooling as this will help them sweat and make their skins easy to remove. 

Once the capsicums have cooled to at least room temperature peel their skins and remove their green stalk and seeds. Add the capsicum flesh, along with the roasted kumara, garlic, salt, lemon juice and optional chilli and coconut oil to a food processor. Pulse and blend till all ingredients are well combined. Next add the beans and coconut cream and blend together. Leaving the food processor on slowly pour oil through the top shoot. Turn off the processor and try the mixture. Let your tast buds decides whether it needs a little more salt, chilli or water to thin the consistency. I like this dip quite smooth and velvety, so leave the processor running for a few minutes, but it is delicious left chunky too. You may need to help your food processor along and mix in any ingredients that run up the side of the bowl.

I love whipping this out for my friends as it has such an interesting flavour and is something a little different to add to your christmas menu!

Monday, December 10, 2012

chocolate quinoa breakfast pudding

I've been wondering how to compile this post for some time now. Because quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) deserves such star treatment, a red carpet entry and the whole world to see it in all its glory, I was a little nervous to choose a recipe to showcase it. I eat quinoa at least two or three times a week - for breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack, or dessert. Because there are so many yummy ways to enjoy it, I realised I'd never be able to choose the one perfect quinoa dish to share with you. So a few nights ago I made a promise to myself - the next time I cook quinoa, I'm taking photos, writing down the recipe and posting it. No second thoughts! Just hurry up, get on with it and share the quinoa love.

That was while I was tucked up in bed and drifting off to sleep. As it turns out, the next morning I found myself in the kitchen all giddy and excited preparing chocolate quinoa breakfast pudding in a pot on the stove. Recipe block over. I was soon to have a satisfied tum and my quinoa blog post - double win!

I've been enjoying quinoa porridge and the like for breakfast for some time now, but on this particular morning, I had some oats that needed finishing, a craving for a sweet treat and a friendly jar of cacao giving me eyes from the pantry. If the idea of pudding for breakfast is a little too much for you (although I'm sure most of you will feel quite fine about the idea, just this once, right?) then feel free to save this recipe for a more dessert-appropriate hour. Alternatively,  you could leave out the cacao so it's not so rich. Otherwise, follow as I do - pudding for breakfast? YES PLEASE.

Quinoa has been enjoyed and consumed in South America, namely the Andes region - Peru, Equador, Bolivia and Columbia for thousands of years. It has been said that the Incas considered it a sacred crop and called it the 'mother of all grains'. And that it is! Well, kind of - interestingly, although quinoa looks much like a grain, it is actually a seed. I've even heard some call it a pseudo-grain. Whatever you like to roll with - grain or seed - quinoa is delicious and bursting with nutritional loveliness. 

I especially love this wonder-seed for it's protein-rich qualities - unlike many other grains, seeds or legumes, quinoa boasts all the essential amino acids. Amino acids are what make up the protein needed in our bodies in order for us to function. Essential amino acids are essential because the body cannot produce them on it's own and must obtain them from specific foods. A combination of all essential amino acids are sometimes harder to find in plant based foods and are more commonly found in meat. But hoorah to quinoa! - A plant based food that gives it all. 

Quinoa is full of fibre, phosphorus, magnesium and iron, is low in fat, has a good dash of calcium and is gluten free. In other words, it's full of all the good stuff! Taste wise it is very unique. I love it's nutty, earthy flavour that is interesting enough to really boost a dish, yet mild and versatile enough, allowing it to be prepared in both sweet and savoury dishes. You'll find quinoa at any health food store, and in recent years I've noticed it popping up at some supermarkets. I recommend hitting your nearest health food shop though as you can usually buy it in bulk there and for a more affordable price.

Now, I think I have given you enough reasons to jump on the quinoa-wagon, if you haven't already! I've also expressed my deep love for cacao and some of its nutritional benefits in an earlier post. So when I combine this chocolatey goodness with my great mate quinoa, I've got myself some serious soul-mate action in a bowl. 

chocolate quinoa breakfast pudding

(serving for one)
1/3 cup quinoa - washed and drained*
1 cup water (and a little more, to add at the end)
1 small apple - cored and chopped into small pieces (see photo)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Tbls dried fruit (raisins, dates, apricots etc)
Tbls of honey (less if you're using a really sweet blend)
Tbls cacao powder
Tbls walnuts - roughly chopped
1/4 cup rolled oats (or 1 Tbls chia seeds if you'd prefer a gluten free option)
1/3 cup milk - your choice of cows, rice, soy etc
half cup fresh blueberries (optional - but oh so delicious)

Gluten Free Option - Please note, I have called for rolled oats in this recipe however they are not always gluten free due to the wheat products they can come into contact with during processing. If you are gluten intolerant make sure the packet confirms they are gluten free. Alternatively you can replace the 1/3 cup of oats with extra quinoa - In the initial stages add 1/2 cup quinoa with 1 1/4 cups of water. When the recipe calls for oats, instead add 1 Tbls chia seeds and continue adding a dash more water or milk as the recipe suggests till the mixture reaches your desired consistency. 

In a pot on the stove combine quinoa with water, half of the chopped apple, cinnamon, dried fruit and honey. Bring to the boil, give a quick stir and then lower to a simmer. Cover with a firm lid and leave for 12 minutes (I use a gas stove which gives me a lot of control over the heat. If using an electric stove, you can always try turning the element right off for the twelve minutes as the element sometimes take a while to cool down. If you know your oven well, you'll know what is best to achieve a 'simmering' temperature). 

After 12 minutes, remove lid and give the mixture a stir. Keep the element on a simmering heat. Add cacao powder and half of the walnuts and combine. Next add the oats and stir together. The mixture will immediately dry out so add a Tbls of water, then Tbls of milk intermittently while stirring, until you have used all of the milk and the oats have cooked. During this process the oats and liquid will bring all the ingredients together to make a porridge-like consistency. Feel free to add more or less liquid if you think it is necessary. 

Pour into a bowl and top with the rest of your apple, blueberries and a sprinkling of walnuts. Add an extra dash of milk if you'd like and sit down to enjoy this delightful sweet-treat breakfast that's super packed with healthy goodness to set you up for the day.

*It's a good idea to wash your quinoa before eating it due to its saponin coating. This coating naturally occurs during cultivation and has a bitter taste which is undesirable to birds that might otherwise try to destroy the crop (pretty cool what nature gets up to, huh?). If you've a fine sieve, place quinoa inside and run water through it while massage it with your hands. Even better, leave your quinoa soaking over night and then rinse clean before cooking. 

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