Kumquat is more popular in China and Taiwan than where I live now in Australia. Hailing from Malaysia, I am not entirely unfamiliar with it because Malaysians see kumquat everywhere during Chinese New Year. Think of the kumquat tree as a Chinese Christmas tree.
That is not always the case as mandarin oranges are also popular during Chinese New Year, but I think kumquat takes the prize when the Chinese really want to show-off during this auspicious festival. The very name gives away it’s much coveted festive role taken from Cantonese gām-gwāt 金橘, meaning golden orange.
So while my kumquat tree at Stonehouse Farm keeps producing extensively, I realize I need to get more acquainted with it to come up with healthy and delicious meals such as this kumquat chia seed cake.
I found the standard kumquat jam that is ever popular here in Australia the most popular way to consume it in Australia. The tartness of kumquat makes it challenging for most people on how to be more creative with it, especially with a fruit which has a rind that is sweeter than the flesh.
I candied a lot of my kumquat. There are ample recipes online on how to candy but personally I think the French do it best.
Once you have candied kumquat and stored in a jar, you can use it multiple ways. Turning them into candied kumquat is also a great way to preserve them excess kumquat from our tree. In this post I show how I turned a traditional lemon cake recipe into a kumquat chia seed cake. I have used milk kefir, but you may use buttermilk or yoghurt. I encourage you to use kefir though because milk kefir will ferment the flour in the same manner sourdough starter does.
Kefir is made by putting kefir grains into milk and fermenting it. As I make all my cakes by grinding organic wheat grains and using freshly ground flour in my baking, I make sure they are always fermented either with sourdough starter or kefir so that all the nutrition in the grains are more easily absorbed by the body. If you would like to purchase kefir grains or sourdough starter, send me an email at email@example.com.
3 tbsp kumquat syrup (this is the excess liquid left behind after you glaze your kumquat. Don’t throw this away. Save it in a bottle, separate from the bottle with the candied kumquat)
Mix kefir with flour and leave aside. Beat coconut oil and honey and eggs one by one and then add the mixture of flour and kefir. Leave for at least four hours so the kefir will ferment the flour. Just before baking add 3 tbsp of the kumquat syrup and chia seeds and baking powder. Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 45 minutes.
When finished baking, pour ¼ cup of kumquat syrup on top of the cake while it’s still warm and then decorate with the candied kumquat. If you are concerned about sugar intake, leave out the syrup and decorate only with the kumquat. The juice from the wet candied kumquat will penetrate the cake, although not as saturated as when you pour the syrup.
TIP: Regardless of the recipe you follow to make candied kumquat you will be left with an excess of kumquat syrup (the sugary water in which the kumquats have been heated). Don’t throw this away. Save the syrup and use it in multiple ways such as in this recipe. You can also use the syrup to make salad dressing
It’s been several years since I diversified from using vanilla essence in my baking. In fact, it is so few and far between that I have not missed it in my pantry. Vanilla essence is over-rated.
This may come as a shock to many bakers who can’t do without vanilla essence. It is the number one flavoring for cakes, ice cream, chocolates and even found in barbecue sauce and creamy dip. Rumour has it that one of the ingredients in Coca Cola’s top secret recipe, is vanilla.
Using vanilla in sweetmeats became popular after Hugh Moran an apothecary to Queen Elizabeth 1 introduced it to her in the early 17th century. The Queen became obsessed with it. Later the French began using it in their ice cream.
The U.S. is one of the most ice cream-craving-nation today with 96% of Americans admitting they love to eat ice cream. A 2014 National Geographic article claims that vanilla flavored ice cream beat chocolate as the number one favourite ice cream flavor in the U.S. However, a survey done among Americans by YouGov in 2018 lists vanilla in second place, after chocolate.
So how did I stray so far from this iconic rule of thumb of using vanilla essence for sweetmeats?
Vanilla is expensive
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Organic and pure vanilla essence could set you back about USD13.17 for just 2 fl oz.
The cheaper brands are not worth buying. They taste synthetic and are sugary sweet instead of the creamy rich toffee taste of real vanilla.
The reason real vanilla is so expensive is the painstaking effort to obtain them. The vanilla bloom only stays open for 24 hours. Many vanilla farmers don’t want to take the risk of relying only on the bees to pollinate within this short window of an opportunity. So they hand pollinate each flower.
If the pollination is successful a 6-to-10-inch pod will develop. The seeds inside these pods are then soaked in alcohol to obtain the vanilla extract.
Many companies prefer not to wait and instead add a sweetener like corn syrup to stabilize the extract. I don’t consider these brands “pure” or “natural” vanilla although they are allowed to market them as such because the U.S. FDA considers “pure” as meaning the extract is made entirely from vanilla beans and not any other source. Still, it is better than the synthetic version, if you cannot afford the real stuff.
The total worldwide production of vanilla extract is about 2000 metric tons which is only a very small fraction of the huge demand for it . Therefore the bulk of the supply on the market is synthetic vanilla, using a compound called vanillin which can be manufactured from petrochemical, or by-products from the wood pulp and paper industry or even from secretion from the anal glands of beavers
So unless you want to pay the high price for authentic vanilla, you would have to settle for the synthetic vanilla which is invariably the only kind used in many of the commercial ice creams and sweetmeats on the market.
A flavor should bring out the strong features of the sweetmeat
I find vanilla essence too compatible to sugar. In my cooking, I’m looking for contrasts not compatibility. Vanilla essence simply makes sugary treats more sweet.
Take vanilla ice cream. Here vanilla plays a different role. Usually, it is the subtle ingredient that enhances the feature ingredient, but in vanilla ice cream, it is the feature. As the feature, consider how all it does is enhance the sugar in the ice cream. It does not stand out like chocolate or mint or blueberry. In fact, its subtlety is precisely why it makes for an ideal flavoring.
My favorite alternative to vanilla essence
I have been using home-made orange liqueur to flavor my sweetmeats. It is so easy to make. Simply take 5 large oranges or 8 small ones and use a vegetable peeler to thinly slice the peels off the oranges. When doing this be mindful to peel only the outer layer so that the white pith does not come off with the peel. Then soak orange peels in 1 litre of vodka for a week. After one week dissolve about 600g of sugar in half a litre of boiling water. Add the sugary water to the vodka and orange peels. Let it sit for a further week. Then discard the peels and bottle the liqueur.
In order to extract the flavor of the orange, a high alcohol base is needed and hence the choice of vodka. However, I made my orange liqueur using my own home-made wine as the base for extraction instead of vodka.
I made my wine with nothing but fermented grape juice from grapes I bought from a vineyard in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. I collaborated with the owner of this vineyard to run a workshop called Making Wine The Natural Way.
As my wine had not been treated with sulphur or been heated, it is rich in probiotics. So when I used this as a base instead of vodka, I allowed the sugary water to cool down first before I poured it into the wine. In this way, I would not kill the good bacteria in my wine.
Only a slight adjustment and you have two different flavors
If I wanted a spicy orange liqueur, I would add cinnamon sticks and cardamom at the same time I add the orange peels. Keep the spices in the jar when you add the sugary water. After the second week of steeping, remove the peels and spices. Now you have a second alternative flavor to vanilla essence.
How I use my orange liqueur
Almost all cakes and patisseries will be fine with substituting orange liqueur for vanilla. You need to be a bit more careful with ice cream. Vanilla essence goes well with chocolate ice cream but orange liqueur might not.
When I make chocolate ice cream, I don’t use any substitute for vanilla. I just make it with chocolate, milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey, rice or maple syrup. If you are using honey, rice or maple syrup, these will flavor it as they each provide their own unique flavor. You will note the taste of honey is variable too depending on the flowers from which the bees have collected the pollen used to make that particular type of honey.
Orange liqueur is more versatile than vanilla essence
Orange liqueur can be used in salads instead of sugar or honey. It is much better in barbecue sauce than vanilla essence, especially when it is of the spicy version. If you would like to have some vanilla essence in your pantry rather than not at all, make it yourself at home so you can be assured it is authentic.
Why change a 200-year old trait?
I believe Hassan played by actor Manish Dayal in the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey explains this well in his banter with Madam Mallory played by Helen Mirren.
Madam Mallory: What is this flavor that is fighting against the chicken?
Hassan: I added some spices for flavour to the sauce and coriander for garnish and freshness.
Madame Mallory: But why change a recipe that is 200 years old?
Hassan: Because, Madam, maybe 200 years is long enough.
I have been inspired by Aussie Bush Tucker lately since I have so many growing wild on my property. One such delight is Sandpaper Figs. They are smaller than normal figs and most people find them bland to eat on its own. When it’s very ripe it does have a mildly sweet flavour. So I used these in my Sandpaper Figs Green Curry.
I buy my fish directly from fisherman Ivan of Unreel Seafood. In this way, I can be assured my food is always fresh. For my Sandpaper Figs Green Curry, I used Rosey Job Fish. Another name for it is King Snapper.
I have several frangipani trees covered with pink flowers and so I decided to present my dish decorated with frangipani. This Sandpaper Figs Green Curry dish is easy to make. Did you know that frangipani flowers are edible?
Sandpaper Figs Green Curry
1/2 cup coriander
1 small zucchini
1/2 cup green chillies blended with garlic and vinegar
1-inch piece galangal ginger
1 400 ml can of coconut milk
1/2 cup sandpaper figs
1 cup pumpkin chopped into cubes
3 tablespoon fish sauce
Blend together coriander, zucchini and blended green chillies. If you don’t keep preserved blended chillies like me in the fridge, just blend together three green chillies with three cloves garlic and two tablespoon vinegar.
A local chilli farmer gave me a lot of chilli peppers which were slightly blemished and not good for the commercial market. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them nutritionally. Only aesthetically they don’t fit commercial requirements. As I could not use all of them fast enough, I blended them with garlic and vinegar to preserve them. I use them as chilli sauce such as when I eat fries and I also use them in dishes such as this Green Curry Sandpaper Figs.
You can turn this dish into a vegetarian dish by leaving out the fish and using more sandpaper figs. Use one cup figs instead of half cup. As the fish sauce is salty, no need to use salt. The figs are delicious as they soak up the curry and taste like mushrooms in this curry except that they have a sweeter disposition.
This Green Curry Sandpaper Figs was served on brown rice, accompanied by a simple spinach brinjal stirfry. I also added a touch of lemon pickle on the side. To make lemon pickle, I preserve whole organic lemons in salt and when they are ready after several weeks, I use them in various ways. When I want to use them as a pickle I blend a piece of preserved lemon with red onion and chillies.
An alternative to the spinach brinjal stirfry is spinach, kale and tempeh stirfry. We had this on the second day when we had finished eating all of the spinach brinjal stir-fry but still had some of the curry left. So I made this spinach, kale and tempeh stirfry fresh and ate it with the left-over curry on the second day.
Incidentally, on the same day I made this Green Curry Sandpaper Figs we found our friend this green frog in out outdoor toilet bowl.
We had “rescued” him out of there several times but he still finds his way back in there. We even close the lid and he still gets in.
So in keeping with our green theme, I will post this video if only to put a smile on your face. At the end of the video you will see the brinjal plant which supplied the brinjals for the stirfry.
Jackfruit is popular in Malaysia. The fruit grows close to the trunk of the tree. A mature jackfruit tree can produce between 100 – 200 fruits in a year. The seeds inside are bountiful too. Cut it open and you will find many seeds covered with yellow or orange pulp. The riper the pulp, the sweeter it is.
Having grown up in, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I recall that most people in the city consumed the pulp while the flesh was discarded. You also cannot find Jackfruit Mackerel Curry on the menu of most restaurants whether in Malaysia or Australia. In the villages, however, they do still cook the jackfruit flesh – something my own great-grandmother used to do.
So I was excited to participate in this workshop to cook Jackfruit Mackerel Curry, at Fresh Asian Cuisine restaurant in Noosaville, Queensland. Chef Shelly, who has owned and cooked at no less than 30 restaurants, conducted the workshop. Although the jackfruit flesh came out of a can, I found it pleasing, that Fresh Asian Cuisine restaurant at Noosaville have Jackfruit Mackerel Curry on their menu as the restaurant takes pride in serving up authentic Asian dishes.
“I’d love to see fresh jackfruit again,” said Chef Shelly Phanich who is originally from Thailand, “But it is tedious to peel and take out the pulp. You need to oil your knife so that the latex juice doesn’t stick to it.” I laughed as she reminded me of the days when I encountered the same problem, cutting jackfruit in Malaysia.
Today, it is interesting to find jackfruit flesh popular among vegans. In veganburgers, for example, the jackfruit flesh is used to make burger patties. The texture of the jackfruit flesh is said to taste like shredded pork and so they are very popular.
While lemongrass is popular with Thai dishes, it was interesting that Shelly added bay, curry and kafir lime leaves too. The flavours simply exploded with these additional herbs. The sweet potato was another unique touch that gave it a sweet, spicy flavour without the need for sugar.
Shelly did not add salt to this dish either because the fish sauce she used is salty enough. Way to go, Shelly! Many of us forget that things like tomato, barbecue or chilli sauce that are usual condiments to fried potato chips already have salt in them and yet they season their fries with additional salt, going overboard on their salt intake.
Another interesting feature is that Shelly used a mortar and pestle to grind the onions, lemongrass, fresh tumeric and galangal ginger instead of using the blender as most of us do. She believes grinding and blending are two different things.
“You can control the texture with a mortar and pestle,” she said as she sharpened her chef’s knife on the stone surface of her mortar. “And you can use it to sharpen your knife too.”
I laughed, remembering another snippet from my childhood, watching my grandmother sharpen knife on the mortar the way Shelly was doing.
Many lovely cooking tips were shared at the workshop such as how to cut carrots to look like florets and slices with shapely patterns. Shelly also pounded the coriander roots to make the curry paste instead of discarding them the way most people do.
Feasting on Jackfruit Mackerel Curry with rice and garlic chilli fish sauce condiment
Jackfruit Mackerel Curry
2 tbsp fresh tumeric
2 tbsp galangal ginger
6 tbsp fish sauce
1 can coconut milk
Roots of the coriander
3 stalks Lemongrass (bruised)
Kafir lime leaves
Pound tumeric and ginger. Then add onion and slowly pound. Finally, add the coriander root and keep pounding. Most people throw the roots away but don’t. you can use this. Leave ground mixture in the mortar and pestle. Add oil and coconut milk and cook for awhile then add the pounded ingredients and stir-fry. Keep adding water if it gets too dry.
Add fish and jackfruit and sweet potato. Stir. Add bay, curry and kafir lime leaves.
Pound red capsicum with the tumeric, ginger and onion if you want a brighter red colour.
To make garlic chilli fish sauce condiment, chop three cloves garlic, some chilli, fish sauce and onions and place all together in some fish sauce to serve.
Towards the end of 2015, I received a parcel from a French lady, who lives in a small village at the border of Switzerland. Inside the parcel, I found an assortment of French tokens from regional wine to chocolate coated biscuits. The biscuits came in a vintage, tin box. Among the many edible trinkets were bulbs of garlic with their dried leaves neatly braided to enhance the rustic effect. Wow! All the way from France, the land that has an annual festival for garlic.
I remember a friend said to me, “That’s ridiculous! Who sends garlic all the way from France to Australia. I mean…it’s just garlic.” My jaw dropped. Just garlic? I was peeved that she could not appreciate beautiful, organic garlic.
In December last year I had my first harvest of garlic. They were pink garlic. I had about half a kilogram of them [wish I had planted more]. I decided to ferment the garlic in raw honey. Most people use this for medicinal purposes, but I have since used them in salads and even added a teaspoon into the juicer to blend it into the daily juices we drink. Here, though, we are going to make aioli with garlic fermented in raw honey.
It is best to consume fermented garlic in its raw form either on its own, in salad, over sandwich or as I have done in aioli. Fermented garlic is less pungent than unfermented. Furthermore when garlic is fermented its beneficial properties are greatly enhanced. For example, when allicin (a powerful antibiotic and anti-fungal compound naturally occurring in garlic) is fermented, it turns into S-allylcysteine (SAC) which is more easily absorbed by the body.
When you ferment, use only fresh garlic. My garlic went straight from the garden into the raw honey. Honey is very shelf stable and can never go bad. It consists of 80% sugar and 20% water, but if you increase the moisture even by a small amount, the wild yeasts in the raw honey will start the fermentation process. Hence it is best to use raw honey that is rich in wild yeasts with potent vitamins and minerals.
Garlic Fermented In Raw Honey
I filled a 500 ml jar with fresh garlic. Peel the skin but leave the cloves intact . Simply fill this jar with garlic till it is about half full. Then pour the raw honey over the garlic until they are fully covered. Shake and turn upside down if necessary to ensure all the garlic is fully coated with honey. This will be difficult when you first fill the jar, but leave it to sit on the counter for a week and the juice from the garlic will slowly seep into the mixture. This will make it easier to shake the contents in the jar.
This juice from the garlic will give the moisture needed for the bacteria and yeasts on the garlic and raw honey to begin fermentation. After about a week to ten days, transfer the jar from room temperature into the fridge to slow down the fermentation. During the time it stays in room temperature, make sure you shake the jar every day.
Aioli With Garlic Fermented In Raw Honey
5 cloves of small pink garlic (lesser if the cloves are larger. It can be of any variety)
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
300 gm olive oil
2 egg yolks
salt to taste
Mash garlic with mortar and pestle. Transfer to a large bowl. Add two egg yolks and then gradually add olive oil, using a teaspoon. I’m a little impatient. So I used a tablespoon. Beat by hand and the mixture will gradually thicken. Half-way through reaching it’s peak consistency, add lemon juice. Then add more olive oil until it reaches the thickness you desire. Finally add salt.
Serving suggestion: As a dip for crackers or grilled vegetables, sandwich spread, sauce for fries or sauce for grilled fish. I even use it for falafel where I spread the aioli on the bread before making the wrap.
♥ The liquid in which the garlic has been fermenting will become a little watery as the honey has now been diluted. This liquid can be used as a glaze for meat, fish and vegetables, as a salad dressing.
♥ I used up my fermented garlic within five months. It was left at room temperature for one week and then remained in the fridge for the rest of the time.
♥ I used up my aioli with garlic fermented in raw honey within three weeks
♥ The more oil you add the thicker the aioli gets. So if you want it less thick, add less oil
Having three square meals a day is said to be the healthier option to snacking. Or if you are inclined that way tea might become the fourth square meal. The English certainly can’t claim to be guardians of the tea culture [I mean the meal not the beverage] as it is very popular in Asia too.
In Malaysia there is a multitude of delicacies that cater specially to tea such as pisang goreng [fried bananas] and kuih muih which has no real translation in English and the simple term “cake” simply doesn’t do justice to these bite size Malaysian delights. In India there are samosa, pakora, urad dhal vadai and much more.
The boundaries get even more blurred in Australia. My husband and in-laws call lunch “dinner” and they call “dinner” tea.
We’ve done away with the formalities at our home and just snack all day. Ha! Just kidding. Breakfast and dinner are the main meals at our home and in between, we snack in moderation. I don’t believe snacking to be unhealthy as it promotes eating in smaller quantities thereby regulating insulin levels and boosting metabolism. This is just my opinion as science is still split on this issue.
Snacks get a bad rap because they consist mainly of processed food. If that snack is wholesome and especially if you made it yourself, it should be part of the day’s overall, healthy consumption.
One snack I like to leave in the fridge is bliss balls. At the health food store they cost about AUD$2.50 to 3.50 a ball and they are small. So usually one is not enough. You can save a lot of money by making your own. They last in the fridge for several days and having them handy to reach for every time you get the urge to snack, keeps you away from those heavily processed packets of crisps or even commercial chocolate. Just take a look at the ingredients on each chocolate bar and you will find sugar listed first.
Product ingredients are listed by quantity, from highest to lowest amount.That means that the first listed ingredient is what is most used by the manufacturer. When I looked at the ingredient list of every brand of chocolate on the shelves of my supermarket, I found only one that did not have sugar as the first ingredient. Don’t get me wrong. I love chocolates. Who doesn’t, right? But I satisfy my chocolate craving by making my own chocolate cakes, peanut butter chocolate ice cream and kefir chocolate sauce that is so versatile it can be used for a multitude of things such as spooning it over a bowl of blueberries and strawberries or… as with this recipe, by making cherry chocolate oats bliss balls.
The wonderful thing about bliss balls are that they are made with raw ingredients and you can mix and match ingredients so that you can have a different type of bliss ball each time. This recipe is an oats based bliss ball.
Oats are technically gluten free but they tend to get “contaminated” with wheat as they are grown with wheat and processed together with wheat.
I don’t have a problem consuming gluten and so I don’t mind the “contamination” but my concern is the phytic acid in the raw oats that is difficult for the digestive system to break down. You don’t want to give up on oats simply because of that as it is soooo nutritious. The solution is to unlock the nutrients that the phytic acid is holding hostage and you do that by soaking the oats in acidic water for 24 hours.
I buy organic raw oats and roll them in my hand mill. I cover the rolled oats in water and a little lemon juice or whey for 24 hours. Then I dry them out in my Excalibur dehydrator. This greatly reduces the phytic acid and allows your body to extract the nutrients from the oat kernels.
I have a jar of fermented cherries sitting in my fridge and now is a great time to use them in my bliss balls.
Cherry Chocolate Oats Bliss Balls
3 cups oats
1 cup honey
6 tbsp tahini
15 fermented cherries chopped into small pieces
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 cup desiccated coconut
After soaking and dehydrating the oats, grind to a semi-powder in a dry blender. Add honey, tahini, cacao and mix together. Then scatter the cherries over the mixture and incorporate it fully into the mix without breaking the cherries too much. As they are fermented cherries, they should be soft but not mushy.
I mix them all by hand. Grind organic dehydrated coconut in a dry grinder till it becomes fine like powder.
Pinch a little of the mix and roll it into a bliss ball half the size of a golf ball. Keep doing this until the entire mixture has been turned into bliss balls. Roll each ball in the powdered coconut. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to set. The cherry chocolate oats bliss balls will harden and be ready to eat in four hours
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup wine
1 kg cherries
Mix the honey and wine together and pour over the cherries in a mason jar. Do not add water. The natural juices from the cherry will in time seep out to provide more liquid. Shake it well and then place it in the refrigerator for two weeks before using. Best used within three months.
Cooking Tip: Avoid using water even if you find the mixture too thick. It will make the balls mushy. It should be hard and not soft and if you like the bliss balls very hard adding fat such as butter, coconut oil or other fat will make them harder/more firm.