Spiced Apple Granola

I don’t mean to sound like one of those smug types who do everything but knit their own organic toilet paper,  but I am morally opposed to buying muesli or granola. Not only are they eyewateringly expensive, they’re always packed with sugar and somehow you end up with a nasty sort of dust in the bottom of the packet that looks suspiciously like sweepings from the factory floor.
Here’s my latest version, invented to use up some leftover apple juice. I’ve become addicted to sprinkling allspice on my porridge and so it has found its way into this as well.

Spiced Apple Granola
You’ll have to excuse my slightly vague measurements here – I make this by eye, judging on how much will fit in a roasting dish (which is conveniently about the same amount as will fit in the former gherkin jar that I store it in). Feel free to vary the nuts, seeds and fruit to suit your pantry and personal taste, but make sure you have a good proportion of these additions to oats or this granola will seem more like a punishment than a delicious breakfast. And don’t add poppy seeds – you’ll spend the whole day wondering if you’ve got one stuck in your teeth.

6 cups whole oats
3/4 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup linseeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped (peanuts are a good standby for those weeks when money is too tight to mention)
1Tbsp ground allspice
1Tbsp ground cinnamon
4Tbsp honey (or golden syrup, or date syrup, or brown sugar)
3/4 – 1 cup apple juice
4Tbsp sunflower oil
Dried fruit – chopped dates, sultanas, raisins, chopped apricots – about 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 170C. Tip all the dry ingredients (except the fruit) into a large bowl and mix well. Mix the honey, apple juice and oil together and pour over the dry ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Add a little more apple juice (or a splash of water) if it seems very dry. You want it to be glossy, not wet. Tip into a large roasting dish (use two dishes if necessary). Put in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes, until golden. Don’t wander away – you need to stir it every 10 minutes or so. I frequently forget about mine and burn it, which is horribly frustrating. When it’s an even golden brown, remove from the oven and tip back into the original bowl. Stir through the fruit. Pour into an airtight container – like an empty gherkin jar – when cold.

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Kombucha 101: Fermented drinks for beginners

Kombucha – a kind of slightly fizzy fermented tea – is having a moment. 

The drink, which is made from sugar, tea, bacteria and yeast, has been around for centuries, but a resurgence in all things fermented means it’s especially hot right now. There are Facebook groups devoted to sharing ‘scobies’ (the culture needed to make the drink), commercially made versions that sell for up to NZ$20 for a 750ml bottle and loads of forums where devoteees discuss the best kinds of tea and sugar to use. A kombucha bar, with six different kinds of kombucha available on tap, even opened in the hip Sydney neighbourhood of Leichhardt last week. 

Devotees believe kombucha has all sorts of health benefits thanks to its probiotic properties. I’m not in a position to make any claims as to kombucha’s efficacy – it hasn’t cured me of anything or driven me to Instagram my abs on a daily basis – but I do think it’s good for digestion. More importantly, I like the way it tastes, which is my main consideration.

Berry kombucha, brewed in November 2014

I’ve been making my own kombucha since late last year, after receiving a scoby from someone I met via the ‘Fermenting Freaks Forever’ Facebook group. I know it might sound strange to invite a perfect stranger to send you a gelatinous-looking yeast culture in the post, but it’s worked out well. So far I’ve shared the scobies I’ve grown with lots of other strangers – as well as any advice I can give them about brewing the perfect batch. 

If you’re in New Zealand and you’d like a scoby, don’t buy one. Look on Freecycle or Facebook – there is bound to be someone in your community who has some to give away. If you’re in Wellington, feel free to contact me – I have more than I know what to do with.

There’s loads of information available online about how to get started, but a lot of people find it extremely confusing to navigate. Here’s the advice I give to my kombucha recipients – and they’ve all been successful so far.

Continuous brew kombucha (that’s the scoby floating in the tea). Image:Catherine Adam

Kombucha 101

As well as a scoby (which stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast), you’ll need a large glass vessel. I recommend scouring your local op shop for a large jar – like a two-litre gherkin jar, or similar – to see if you like it, before rushing off to invest in a big vessel with a spigot. The latter can be found in most homewares stores – the one in the picture came from The Warehouse. Make sure the spigot is plastic (most of them are). You’ll also need a supply of glass bottles with lids in which to bottle the brew. I use clean screwtop wine bottles – for some reason we always have plenty of those to hand.

This is how you make what they call ‘continuous brew’ kombucha – because it’s always on the go. If you want to have a rest from it at any stage, then put it in the fridge and bring it back to life on your return.

What you need:

13 cups boiling water

2/3 cup sugar

8 plain black or green teabags (or 2 Tbsp looseleaf tea)

1 scoby and 1 cup kombucha (this is often referred to as ‘starter tea’ – anyone who gives you a scoby will give you some starter tea as well)

What you need to do:

1. Put the boiling water and sugar in a large pot and stir well. Let cool for a bit, then add the teabags and let them steep for 10-15 minutes. Carefully pull them out and let the hot tea cool to room temperature.

2. Carefully pour the cooled tea into your nice, clean glass vessel (strain it through a fine sieve if you have used teabags). Gently pour in the kombucha liquid and scoby. 

3. Cover the top of the glass vessel with a piece of muslin or fabric and secure with a rubber band or piece of string. This allows the kombucha to breathe, but keeps out flies and other bugs. Leave in an open spot, out of direct sunlight. 

4. After a week, taste the kombucha – it should be ‘dry’, but not too vinegar-y, with that distinctive flavour. If you think it’s ready, then drain it into bottles and add flavouring to them, eg fruit, ginger, lemon or orange zest and 1 tsp sugar. The kombucha will eat up all the sugar, so don’t worry about adding it. 

5. Seal the bottles tightly and set aside until you are ready to drink them. They will keep fermenting – if you want to stop the process, put them in the fridge. 

Important things to remember:

1. Make sure you leave at least one cup of kombucha with your scoby at all times or it will find it hard to make more. As it grows, it will form new layers in your jar. This is perfectly normal and a good sign. If, however, it looks like it is growing furry mould, then this is NOT good and you may have to start again. 

2. Make sure you keep everything super clean – clean the bottles and lids with hot soapy water and rinse well with boiling water.

3. Plain white sugar is best – do NOT use honey as it can affect how the scoby grows. Avoid brown sugar too – it makes the kombucha quite yeasty and seems quite sweet.

4. Save any flavouring to the ‘second ferment’ eg when the kombucha is bottled. The scoby doesn’t like any flavoured or herbal teas – just ordinary gumboot tea is perfectly fine. It’s like a tradesman – it likes hot, sweet, ordinary tea and regular praise!

5. However, if you want to be fancy, green tea or white tea is also good. You can use decaffeinated black tea, but I’d advise throwing in a normal teabag or two for flavour reasons. Decaff’ tea by itself is a bit tasteless. White tea gives the kombucha a delicate, floral flavour.

6. When it comes to flavouring the second ferment, anything goes. I most often use frozen berries (say, six frozen blueberries and a teaspoon of sugar to 750ml kombucha), or slices of fresh ginger. Elderflower and ginger is another gorgeous combination. My all-time favourite is using my sister’s homemade crystallised orange peel and a few slices of fresh ginger for a kind of Cointreau-ish kombucha.

7. The kombucha will ferment a lot faster in warmer weather – you may need to check it earlier. If you have left it too long for it to be pleasant to drink, you can always bottle it as vinegar. I’ve successfully made fridge pickles using kombucha vinegar and my sister-in-law has made raspberry kombucha vinegar. 

Are you a kombucha fan?

Pretend hot cross buns

Long-time readers will know that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Easter – no hot cross buns before Good Friday; no Easter eggs before Easter Sunday. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get extremely hard to resist these things sometimes, especially when a packet of hot cross buns turns up in  your kitchen at breakfast time on a Saturday morning.
My resolve to give up chocolate for Lent has wobbled a bit in recent weeks – chocolate icecream doesn’t really count, does it? – but I’m staying strong on the HCBs. Mainly that’s because I’ve invented some you can eat at any time, guilt-free. Here’s how.

‘Pretend’ Hot Cross Buns
These lookalike ‘buns’ – really bliss balls with the flavours of hot cross buns and white chocolate crosses – have many things going for them. My favourite, though, is that you can eat them while you’re waiting for the real ones to cook (or toast). What are you waiting for?

1 cup sultanas
1 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 Tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 Tbsp honey
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped white chocolate

Put all ingredients except the chocolate into a food processor and whiz until you can pinch together small amounts. Take dessertspoon-sized heaps of the mixture and form into square-ish ‘buns’ and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Gently melt the white chocolate – put it in a small bowl, then set this over a bowl of freshly boiled water from the kettle – and put into a small ziplock bag or piping bag. Pipe crosses over the buns and leave to set. Store in the fridge – makes about 18 ‘buns’.

Five great bakes for Good Bitches Baking

Are you a Good Bitch? I am. In fact, I’m one of many.

I’m not telling you this to show off, but to get you to join us in a kind of sweet revolutionary movement. Good Bitches Baking is an attempt to make the world a better place via the medium of cake and biscuits. It’s been set up by two amazing women, Marie Fitzpatrick and Nicole Murray, who recognised the value of the little things (and cake) in tough times.

Since September, they’ve harnessed a miniature army of around 80 keen cooks in Wellington alone who bake for people in times of strife. Recipients here so far include hospices, refuges, City Missions, a soup kitchen, boarding houses and the Neo-Natal Trust.

If you’re not a Good Bitch but you’d like to help, then you can find out more about Good Bitches Baking or visit the Good Bitches Baking GiveALittle page.

If you are a Good Bitch and you need ideas for easily made, easily transported, easily consumed home-style baking, then this list is designed to help. Here goes…

1. Big Fat Ginger Crunch
This is an excellent GBB bake, because the not-so-pretty edge pieces can find their ways into lunchboxes the next day. I use this Spicy Ginger Crunch recipe  most of the time, though Chelsea Winter’s Oaty Ginger Crunch is pretty great too.

2. Wholesome Fruity Muffins
These super-popular muffins are a not as heavy as those bran bullets of old, but they’re not pretend cakes, either. This recipe is vegan, but I’ve been making them recently with regular milk and two eggs instead of the banana.

3. Double Chocolate Beetroot Cakes
Having said all that, these are definitely cakes in muffin form – a big hit of antioxidant-rich beetroot, chocolate and a fluffy hat of cream cheese frosting. This recipe makes a big batch so there may be some left over for your at-home testers…

4. White Chocolate And Lemon Bars
I can only ever make this if I know I am giving it away immediately – otherwise I’d probably eat the tray in an afternoon, all by myself. I use this Lime And White Chocolate Bars recipe, but often switch out the lime for lemon, and add dried cranberries or apricots. SO good! This recipe is also great for steamy summer/autumn days, when slaving over a hot oven makes you feel bitchy (not in a good way).

5. Old-Fashioned Fruit Loaf
Alice Arndell has a fantastic old-fashioned fruit loaf recipe in her book ‘Alice In Bakingland’ – it makes two big loaves, freezes well and tastes great. I can’t find a link to it online anywhere (you should buy her book, it’s really useful for GBB weekends – the melt ‘n mix banana cake is also a lifesaver) but this Juicy Fruit Loaf is always a winner.

Happy baking, everyone. In this case, charity really does begin at home!

Raw beetroot bliss balls

A dear friend of mine calls herself an alternative eater – wholefoods, no meat, no refined sugar, the whole kit and kaboodle. While that makes her a rather challenging dinner guest, she’s also one of the most appreciative people a cook could hope to create for. After I got over feeling daunted by her request for a birthday cake last weekend – especially one that could withstand a car journey and an afternoon in the sun – I had a burst of inspiration and these pretty-in-pink bliss balls were the result. 

Raw beetroot bliss balls – for Catherine

You don’t have to be an alternative eater to love these. In fact, you don’t even have to like beetroot. Soaking the almonds makes them easier to whizz up.

1 cup loosely packed grated beetroot
1 cup dates

1 /2 cup whole almonds

1/2 cup roughly chopped best quality dark chocolate or cacao nibs, optional

1/2 cup desiccated coconut, plus about 3/4 cup for rolling

Put the dates and almonds in a small heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then drain.

Tip the beetroot into a food processor and whiz until finely chopped. Add the drained dates and almonds, the chocolate (if using) and the 1/2 cup measure of coconut. Whizz until it clumps together.

Put the second measure of coconut into a shallow bowl. Form teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then roll in the coconut. Store in the fridge. Makes around 36 small balls.

Have a great weekend, everyone x