3 Orange Baked Apple and Rhubarb

Brisbane is experiencing an unseasonably rainy July. Brisbane winters are usually dry, with cool nights and warm sunny days. We have blue skies that reach from one end of sky to the other. But not this year, it has rained and rained and rained.

So it’s an easy time to eat too much comfort food that is just no good. If you are after a warming dessert without lots of hollow calories, try this baked fruit which is full of nutrients without fat and is modest on the waist line. It would also be great at breakfast on muesli or yoghurt.

I prepared this one night and then it sat in the fridge overnight, this really helped all the flavours combine and deepen. If you have the time I would recommend letting it sit at least a couple of hours, but preferably closer to 24 hours.

You could also use other fruits like peaches and plums in summer, or pears or quince, just adjust the cooking time depending on the fruit. And I know I said three orange, and it’s only two, but using the rind and the juice gives it two different orange flavours and then the Cointreau adds even more orange oomph.

Nature gives us great flavours, so use them!

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Pomegranate Smash

I left the cocktail to last but I actually served it first. What better way than to start the evening than a nice cocktail. It sets the mood and the tone of the evening, plus it was a good way to introducing the special guest of the evening: pomegranate.

I know this cocktail isn’t much of a looker, but anything she lacks in style she makes up for in personality, sense of humour and character. Her redeeming qualities are so endearing that I think this is my new favourite cocktail and my dear friend Delilah is a wallflower once more.

If you wanted to pretty this up, I would recommend serving in an opaque vessel over crushed ice topped with a sprig of mint and a sprinkle of arils.

Follow the light!

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Beer Soaked Apple Pie

I know this sounds crazy, but beer soaked apple pie is really good, well so long as you like beer and apple pie, and I really like beer and apple pie!

This recipe was invented when beer appreciation night was combined with pie night. Yes, I have awesome friends and we hold such events. So I thought let’s combine beer and pie, that seems like it can only make things better and being me, I challenged myself to combine beer into a sweet pie because clearly a savoury beer pie was just too easy. And hence, beer soaked apple pie was born.

What a good looking pie!

There are a few tricks to getting this to work, the most important of which is to get a beer that suits. I know they say you should always cook with your best wine, but let’s be honest, you usually use cheap plonk and drink the good stuff, but it is imperative for beer soaked apple pie to get the right beer. Surprisingly the beer is not a cider (that might work, I haven’t tried it, but it would have been cheating for beer appreciation night).

My preference is Moo Brew Pale Ale, I have made this pie twice with Moo Brew with spectacular results and this time I made it with 4 Pines Pale Ale which was a bit stronger in the final pie but still a cracking good dessert. What you are looking for is a good quality beer (something that is made with good ingredients), that has a clean taste, is a little hoppy, so a pale ale seems to work well.

The beer is not actually cooked into the final pie, the chopped apple just rests in the beer for a few hours to take on the flavours and characteristics of the beer. So your final pie doesn’t taste much like beer, but it is a little yeasty, a little hoppy and a little malty. So it really is almost like using the beer like a bouquet garni for apple pie.
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Sumac and Asparagus Couscous, Yoghurt Sauce, and Apple and Fennel Salad

A beautiful roast chicken should be served with sides that compliment it and round out all the flavours. These sides are actually good enough to have by themselves.

K and I had the sumac and asparagus couscous with some spiced tempeh and tomato salad which was super tasty in that combo. But when the chicken juices, all lemon-thyme-pomegranate-buttery goodness soaks in it was heavenly.

Clearly the apple, fennel and pomegranate salad is similar to the pear, fennel and parmesan salad I love, but this is taken back a step to make it more of a side than a main. It would be awesome with pork chops too.

The cucumber and mint yoghurt sauce went really well on anything on the plate. Some added it to the salad, some to the couscous, some drizzled it over the chicken, but everyone liked it.

Chicken with sides

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Sumac and Thyme Chicken with Pomegranate Glaze

This is not your normal roast chicken. I don’t know about you, but I find that 90% of the time roast chicken is boring and bland, and the other 10% of the time it is so salty and fatty I can’t enjoy it because I can feel my arteries clogging. Sumac and thyme chicken with a pomegranate and honey glaze was tender, moist and unbelievably tasty. Plus it was an easy. I’ll admit, I’m often a little scared of chicken because the line between salmonella and over-cooked leather can be fine, but this was just scrumptious.

LAB taking a break drinking the beer that the apple had been soaking in.

Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice made from dried, ground berries. It has a citrusy/berry/earthy flavour which was really, really good with chicken. You are most likely to find sumac in shops that stock other Middle Eastern foods (and you’ll be looking for pomegranate molasses for this recipe while you’re there). If you can’t find it, you could substitute a sweet/mild paprika, or in Australia, dried, ground bush tomato.

Sumac and thyme are the key spices in za’atar, and thyme and chicken are good together, so thyme and sumac seemed like a good flavour local from which to start. Then, given my current obsession with pomegranate, who could go past adding another citrusy layer to the flavours, and to top it off, I shoved a lemon in the cavity while it roasted.

Tastiest chicken ever.

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Smoky Eggplant and Roasted Garlic with Caraway Soup

This week will feature the dinner I made for my Dad’s birthday. It was a sort of Middle Eastern, Citrus/Pomegranate themed evening, except for the dessert which is a unique LAB invention. I’ll post the courses in order throughout the week, except that the cocktail we served as an aperitif will be on Friday because it seemed too strange to post a cocktail on a Monday.

So tomorrow will be the best roast chicken I’ve ever had, a sumac and thyme chicken, with a pomegranate and honey glaze, oh yeah, it’s one phenomenal chicken. Wednesday will be all the accompanying dishes we had with the chicken, which were: sumac and asparagus cous cous; fennel, apple and pomegranate salad; and cucumber and mint yogurt sauce. Thursday will be a beer soaked apple pie. Yes, you heard right, beer in apple pie. Just go with it. It may not be your Grandma’s apple pie but it is one heck of a unique dessert on beer appreciation night. Lastly on Friday, you can look forward to another ugly but delicious recipe with a pomegranate cocktail, I think it could be my new favourite cocktail!

But today I have for you a smoky eggplant and roasted garlic soup with caraway. I had the idea for an eggplant soup with caraway seeds a few weeks ago and hunted high and low for a recipe on the internet but there was nothing like the flavours I had running around my head, so I took the plunge and made it up myself. K and I think it is one of my best inventions ever.

Liquid velvet.

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First Half Marathon

I ran my first half marathon last night, although that probably isn’t right because it implies it was an organised event, really I just went for a really long evening run. Although there were lots of people at the start waiting for a big sporting event and some runners on the way, that was just because the State or Origin was on and there are always people along the Brisbane river. I got some funny looks as I walked past the Origin fans on my why home, I guess you look like a strange mixture of dishevelled and elated after that distance, or maybe it was because my running shirt was a blue colour.

Happy and Home

So, the important details: I ran 22kms in just under two hours, so my half marathon time was about 1:56. I’m chuffed at running it under two hours! Awesome! I’m really proud of myself for running such a distance, heck, I’m still proud of myself for running at all having been overweight most of my life.

So no recipe today, except for telling you what I ate to recover, below.

Maybe you’re wondering why I just ran that distance by myself, rather than in an event. Really it’s because the hardest coach is in my head, plus I really don’t like crowds or expensive entry fees. I’m not really sure where the sadistic voice in my head came from, it certainly wasn’t there in high school sport classes, but the voice sure is a hard task master these days. So despite the blister for the last 6kms and my joints starting to get a bit stiff, I just kept going.

Most of the run was really enjoyable. It was a nice cool evening, probably about 15 degrees, and the sky was clear. It was nice and quiet down by the river, other than really dedicated runners, most people were at the pub or home waiting for the game to start. I felt good most of the way, other than the occasional complaining ankle and most kilometre splits were between 5:30 and 5:45, plus a few faster ones.

I’m feeling pretty good this morning, the knees and ankles are a bit sore, reminding me I hadn’t actually trained for the run and probably didn’t quite have the strength around my joints. But then again, they complain some mornings for no reason at all.

Post-run recovery oats

After the run, I revived myself with water, Gatorade and a delicious bowl of oatmeal that was packed with protein and carbs for recovery. I made cinnamon raisin oatmeal, sweetened with honey, plus some yoghurt, a banana, peanut butter and chia seeds.

Struggling up a hill in Salzberg, early 2009

I hope that this encourages people that they can achieve a lot more than they probably think they can with time and a bit of dedication. I couldn’t run 1 kilometre at the beginning of 2009, actually if you gave me a 20kg bag of potatoes now I couldn’t run 1 kilometre with it, so it’s not surprising I couldn’t run then, but the point is I wouldn’t have even imagined I could run a half marathon and now it wasn’t even particularly hard.

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