Showing posts with label berries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label berries. Show all posts

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Day in Riga - Buildings, Berries & Black Balsam

I've decide to take a month off my World Food Challenge on the blog, and instead take an opportunity to share with you some of the photos and experiences I had on my trip to Scandinavia and Northern Europe. I have so many photos and we had so many fun experiences and delicious food while we travelled for almost 6 weeks. One of my favourite days of the trip was the day we spent exploring Riga, the capital of Latvia. 

Latvia wasn't originally on the travel plan, but when I went to book a flight between Oslo, Norway and Turku, Finland, I found that most of the flights connected in Riga. So, instead of picking the flight with the shortest layover time, I picked the flight with the longest so that we could go out and explore Riga. Our flight arrived into Riga at 7am and our connecting flight departed at about 10pm - it was perfect. We got a whole day in Riga but didn't have to think about accommodation. Fortunately, when we arrived at Riga airport we found it very well run, got out of there quickly. The public transport to and from the airport was also excellent: frequent, easy to find, easy to use and cheap. So we hopped off our plane and found ourselves in the heart of Riga in no time. 

Riga is famous for it's outstanding streets full of Art Nouveau buildings, so we took a walking tour (just using the Lonely Planet guidebook) around the streets to admire the buildings. It's not a very big city, so it was quite easy to find our way around and we got around all day just walking (although if you're feeling lazy you can hire a local to pedal you around on a bicycle rickshaw). The buildings didn't disappoint - they were extravagantly decorated with quite unusual and sometimes quite bizarre motifs. They ranged from beautiful classic styles (elegantly draped nude ladies surrounded by peacocks) to darker themes (faces screaming in terror) mixed with highly futuristic ideas including robot-like designs. 

Strolling the streets looking at houses, we also stumbled across stalls just set up along the side of the road piled high with fresh berries for sale. Travelling in northern Europe during summer was particularly good for berries - we had already found wild blueberries growing on a Stockholm archipelago. The punnets of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries were huge and so cheap - we bought a couple to munch on while we walked (more on those berries in a later post!).

We also happened upon an amazing looking bakery with glass counters piled high with the most amazing looking cakes, sweets, lollies, chocolates, biscuits and all manner of sweet and incredibly bad for you things - just looking back at the pictures makes my mouth water!

Having already been travelling in Sweden, Denmark and Norway prior to arriving in Riga, I had been eating a LOT of amazing sweets and I was staring to notice a little extra weight on me, so I showed a lot of self restraint and didn't buy any of them!

So - what did we eat? Well, I can tell you that the food in Riga was amazing. Not particularly vegetarian friendly - but absolutely delicious. Riga has a strong Russian influence to it's cuisine, so I came across quite a lot of food similar to some of my favourite Russian dishes - such as beetroot soups, and a delicious soup made of pickles and barley. We also visited the pancake shop (sadly, not vegan friendly) - a small and cheap place which thrives on it's popularity with tourists, in fact - every other person I've met who has been to Riga said "did you go to the pancake place?".

You can see when you go in why it's so popular, the inside has that quaint and quirky feel which is bound to appear to tourists. The pancakes come in many varieties and my goodness they are cheap! I only managed to snap a few pictures though before I was told firmly "No Photos" (a recurring theme wherever I went in Riga- the locals never smiled, were very grumpy and didn't like me taking photos of anything!).

They had both sweet and savoury varieties plus big vats of different types of jams to put on them. I ordered one filled with sweet cottage cheese, one with banana and one with caramel. My partner went for the savouries - one filled with mushrooms and one filled with smoked meat - and then went back for some sweet ones - 2 apple pancakes with berry jams. We both also had a cup of tea and all up it cost us about $4. The sweet cottage cheese one was particularly delicious!

If you're in Riga for dinner then I can highly recommend Province for hearty, good priced Latvian food. The interior is lovely and the their sweet baked ricotta dessert filled with sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds and served with berry jam is absolutely to die for.

We also indulged in some local beverages with our dinner. Kvass is a popular soft drink in Latvia, it's essentially the colour and appearance of coke but it's made from fermented rye bread. I must admit that it did not sound appealing to me, but I talked my partner into ordering it for the experience (and so that I could try a sip of his). It turned out to be really delicious! It does smell exactly like rye bread, but the taste is mild and sweet and very easy to drink!

The other traditional beverage of Latvia is Black Balsam - a potent brew made with about 24 different ingredients. Here is the explanation on the menu at Province, saves me typing it up :)

It's interesting that amongst all those lovely sounding flavours such as ginger, bilberry, raspberry and nutmeg they list valerian root! Ever had valerian root? YUK! In fact valerian root is infamous for tasting terrible.

When we left the airport at Riga we were met with a huge advertising bilboard which stated "If you haven't tasted Black Balsam then you haven't been to Riga" - an incredibly effective marketing slogan, if you ask me! It really did make you feel as though you had to have some in order to have the full experience in Riga. In any case, we ordered some. Province had 2 varieties - traditional (plain) Black Balsam and Blackcurrant Black Balsam. We ordered a shot of each to share. The best word I can find to describe the taste of the original Black Balsam is medicinal. It was very strong flavoured and very herbal medicine in taste. Drinkable - but not particularly nice. The blackcurrant variety was much nicer, as the blackcurrant smoothed over the more bitter flavours. We found the original Black Balsam went very nicely when mixed with the kvass though!

Black Balsam is available all over Riga, in most bars and restaurants. Some offer different varieties and some bars have cocktail menus using it. It's certainly an experience, but I didn't buy a bottle to bring home with me.

I absolutely loved Riga, and I was so glad to have extended our stopover to spend the day there. I could easily spend more time there and would definitely recommend it to anyone travelling to the Baltic. I'd love to know what anyone else thought of Black Balsam, or what you got up to in Riga when you visited!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Raspberry, Lime & Black Pepper Salad Dressing

I've been cooking with a lot of gorgeous olive oil lately sent to me by Bertolli - they sent me some bottles of their different types of olive oil so that I could experiment with using different types for different uses. I'll confess, I have never in the past given thought to which type of olive oil was better for different styles of cooking so it has been great to use different types and learn as I go. Bertolli sent me three different types of their olive oil - Extra Virgin, Classic and Light. Their light olive oil was perfect for frying, and I made these amazing healthy Chilli Tofu Lettuce Wraps using it, the light olive oil really tasted light and didn't make the fried tofu oily at all.

When it comes to salad dressing though, you really want the flavour of an extra virgin olive oil. It mixes well into dressings and brings out the flavour of the other ingredients. With warmer weather on the way I wanted to make a pretty special salad dressing to celebrate. Raspberries are something that it always special to me because generally they're expensive, so they're a real treat. You can use frozen raspberries for this recipe as well, just make sure you thaw them out completely first.

This post is also part of my Veganmofo My Spice Rack theme, using black pepper from my spice rack.

Raspberry, Lime and Black Pepper Salad Dressing

2 tbsp fresh rapberries
1 tbsp Bertolli extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp cracked black pepper

To Make
1. Crush the raspberries roughly with the back of a fork, they don't have to be smooth though.
2. Combine the raspberries with all the other ingredients in a jar and shake well. Can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.

What to put it on?
This dressing has a delicious strong flavour, so goes well to make a fairly plain salad something special. Try drizzling it over some lettuce, cucumber, tomato and avocado to really make your salad shine. Or, toss with baby spinach, thinly sliced fennel and toasted almonds for something a bit more fancy.

A quick note on this post: I received free olive oil from Bertolli to use on my blog, however, I am not being paid for this post nor am I an ambassador for this brand.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Wild Blueberries on the Stockholm Archipelagos

We've just recently come back from an amazing trip in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Riga, St. Petersburg and Tallinn. There were so many amazing food experiences going on in these countries but I have so say one of the most memorable food experiences was the wealth of gorgeous berries growing around. Berries were sold in big punnets in street stalls for very cheap in Sweden, Denmark and in Riga and we are a lot of berries.

On only our second day after arriving in Scandinavia we took a little day trip out to the Stockholm Archipelagos. We only had one day so we picked an archipelago called Grinda which was a quite small island with lots of lovely plants and animals all over it. It took us a couple of hours by ferry to get out there but it was a lovely place to spend the day.

We strolled all over the whole island and had lunch by the water. A couple of little friends stopped to watch us have lunch, hanging around hoping for some crumbs.

After lunch we went on a long walk over the island down a narrow little walking track through forests and over rocky outcrops. But along the way we happened to spy this.... See all those little shrubs growing all over the ground? They turned out to be.... blueberry bushes! They were everywhere, a carpet of blueberry bushed all over the forest floor.

Not only were they blueberry plants... they were covered in little tiny blueberries. They were small and tangy blueberries and absolutely delicious. We ate handful after handful of them as we walked along!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Blackberry Coulis

There is something very luxurious about coulis, probably all the fresh berries. The other day I noticed that fresh blackberries were coming out in my local supermarket and thought to myself that I had to make some things with them while I could! The special touch to this coulis is the addition of parfait armour, a very fragrant violet liqueur which adds a fantastic aroma to the coulis. You could substitute any berry-based liqueur or just use a tsp of vanilla extract instead.

This is an all purpose recipe, you use it however you like - I've got it above drizzled over freshly sliced mangoes. You could also use it to drizzle over any fruit, ice cream, cake or pudding that you like, or even just to decorate your dessert plates.

1 cup blackberries
1/2 cup castor sugar
1 tsp parfait amour

To Make:
1. Put the blackberries in a small saucepan along with 1/2 cup water and the sugar.
2. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
3. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the blackberries have softened and cooked though.
4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.
5. Add the parfait amour and then process in a blender/food processor or with a stick mixer.
6. Allow to cool completely and drizzle over whatever you like.

Probably makes about enough to drizzle over 2 desserts of your choice.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Vegan Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins (plus variations)

This is a basic blueberry muffin recipe with the added specialness of the oat bran, which gives it a delicious porridge kind of flavour. These blueberry muffins are also incredibly healthy overall and make a great breakfast or afternoon tea. I'm eating them for breakfast right now in fact. Given that these ones are your basic plain blueberry muffins I have added some variations down the bottom for those of you who fancy something a bit different.

1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 cup oat bran
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup soy or oat milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup apple sauce
2 tbsp canola or rice bran oil
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries (You can also use fresh blueberries, however, I prefer to use frozen because a) they are more cost effective and b) fresh blueberries should be eaten fresh and not baked with)

To Make:
1. Preheat your oven to about 180 degrees C.
2. Put the flour, oat bran, sugar, bicarb, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix well to combine and remove lumps (a whisk or a fork work well for this).
3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the soy milk. Mix well to combine. Add the apple sauce, canola oil, vanilla and lemon zest and mix well.
4. Just before cooking stir through the blueberries. You have 2 options here, you can either mix them well to make your muffins come out a  purpley-greeny colour or you can mix very gentle and sparingly so that your muffins come out slightly marbled/swirly looking - either way make sure the blueberries are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
5. Either grease a muffin tray well or cheat a bit and use cupcake liners (which I did - it's just easier!!). Fill the tray/liners to the top and then bake for 23-25 mins. 
6. Remove from the oven when they are golden on top and transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes 12 muffins.


Orangey Blueberry Muffins:
Substitute 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice for the soy milk and use orange zest instead of lemon zest.

Mixed Berry Muffins:
Substitute frozen mixed berries for the blueberries.

Blueberry Pecan Muffins:
Add 1/2 cup chopped pecans to the batter just before adding the blueberries. Top each muffin with a pecan for decoration.

Double Blueberry Muffins:
Add reduce the brown sugar to 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup blueberry jam to the mix.

Blueberry White Chocolate Chip Muffins:
Reduce the amount of blueberries to 1 cup and include 2/3 cup vegan white chocolate chips.

Blueberry Wheat Bran Muffins:
Substitute wheat bran for the oat bran.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Apple and Mulberry Crumble

Mulberries are just starting to become available in shops now so it's the time to seize the season and indulge in berry-tastic dishes! The amazing crumble topping is the star of this dish, so much so that I feel a bit sorry for the delicious berries underneath. This is made in a fairly shallow baking dish so if you have a deeper one then double or triple the quantities of fruit to make it more fruity! Serve with some vanilla soy ice cream. 

5-6 green apples
2 cups mulberries
1/4 cup water
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pepitas
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/3 cup walnuts
1 tbsp ground flaxseed (linseed)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp dessicated coconut
2/3 cup Nuttelex (or any other vegan margarine)

To Make
1. Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees C.
2. Peel and roughly chop the apples and put in a saucepan. Wash and remove stems from mulberries and add to the saucepan as well with the 1/4 cup water. Put on a low heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the apple is cooked.
3. Roughly chop the walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pepitas (this is best done using a really big knife and keeping your fingers well away!). 
4. Combine the oats, nuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, brown sugar, flaxseed and dessicated coconut in a big mixing bowl and mix well to combine. 
5. Melt the margarine (either on the stove or in the microwave). Make a well in the middle of the dry mix and pour the margarine in. Mix very well until all the ingredients are coated in the marg. 
6. Grab a baking dish and  pour the cooked fruit into the bottom of it (including any cooking juices), spread out to make an even layer. Layer the crumble mixture on top evenly, spreading it all the way out to the edges.
7. Bake for 15 minutes in the oven, or until the top goes hard and crunchy (just touch the top with you hand to check - if it feels hard like a biscuit then it's done, if not give it another 5 mins).
8. Serve immediately (preferably accompanied by vanilla soy ice cream).

Serves 6 (or 3 people for 2 nights).

NOTE: The thing about crumble leftovers is that you CAN'T microwave them because it is a crime and the top will go all soggy. So when you want to eat your leftovers just pop it back in the oven for 15 minutes or so to warm up.