Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Chunky white choc, orange and cranberry slice

I read something last week about how 'invisible prisons' - jobs, societal pressures, parenting, caring for older relatives - meant that modern women are shackled with more responsibilities than their mothers and grandmothers. I don't know if that's true. Personally, if that's the price I have to pay for being able to vote, drive, own property and be generally free to do what I like, I'm fine with it. But last week I did find myself wishing I did a bit less. There's nothing like racing home after work on the night of the school production and remembering en route that you were supposed to bake something for the cake stall to give you conniptions, is there?

Now, I know I could have ignored the cake stall request, or I could have been more organised and done it a few days in advance. But I didn't do either of those things. Instead, I whipped up this slab of deliciousness in 20 minutes, while concurrently making boiled eggs for dinner and getting the child in and out of the bath. We then made it to the show on time, and all the lovely mothers (it's always mothers, isn't it?) who are so good they even RUN THE CAKESTALL cooed over the slice and wanted the recipe. In that moment, I felt a little bit less like a failure and more like a contributing member of society, even if my child was appearing in the show with a whopper of a black eye. But that's another story.

Chunky white choc, orange and cranberry slice
There are a zillion versions of this slice and the world probably doesn't need another one, but if you have weeks where the wheels are coming off and yet you still need to 'bake', this will save your bacon. Or bakin'. Or something.
Anyway, this version is better than all the others because it's big and chunky, and therefore more satisfying to eat. It's also slightly less sweet than some versions. If you're very, very short of time, you may like to know that it's possible to pre-crush the packet of biscuits with the full tin of condensed milk while you're stopped at the lights. Also, if you don't have quite enough biscuits, add a little more coconut. Or use less butter. If you're reading this while running to the shops, a 200g packet of dried cranberries will give you enough for the base and the topping, while a 250g block of Whittaker's white chocolate will fulfill all your chocolate needs.

100g butter
1/2 a tin (about 3/4 cup) condensed milk
300g plain sweet biscuits, bashed to large crumbs (keep a few big pieces in there for texture)
1 cup desiccated coconut
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped
zest of an orange
1 cup dried cranberries
125g white chocolate, roughly chopped

For the icing:
125g white chocolate
50g butter
1 cup icing sugar
juice of an orange (use the one you zested above)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Line a 20 x 25cm tin (or thereabouts) with baking paper, leaving enough overhanging the sides that you can use to pull it out later.
Melt the butter and condensed milk together over low heat in a large pot. Let cool briefly, then tip in the biscuits, coconut, most of the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate. Stir to mix, then tip into the prepared tin. Press down (the overhanging paper will help here) to smooth the top. Put in the freezer.
Use the same pot to make the icing. Melt the butter and white chocolate over very, very low heat. Sift in the icing sugar and stir well, then squeeze in a little orange juice at a time until it forms a thick, spreadable mixture. Pour over the biscuit base, then sprinkle the cranberries and reserved orange zest on top. Return to the freezer for 5-10 minutes before slicing and racing out the door.
If your life is more leisurely, let the icing set in the fridge before slicing. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spicy gingerbread and creamy apple whoopie pies

Remember whoopie pies? They were going to be the new cupcakes, or the new macarons, but I don't think they ever really took off. A shame, really; it's always sad when little cakes never grow up to reach their full potential. Perhaps they'll make a comeback (if slip dresses over white t-shirts, like we wore in the late 90s, can make a resurgence this summer, then surely there's hope for the whoopie pie). I'm hoping I can get ahead of the pack on this one and I might have made the thing to do it.

Spicy Gingerbread Whoopie Pies With Creamy Apple Filling

Spicy gingerbread whoopie pies with creamy apple filling

This is a recipe with three stages, but it's not hard. Just make the apple compote the day before, so it has time to chill in the fridge. The pies can be filled in advance and stored in an airtight container.

For the apple compote:
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
3 Tbsp caster sugar
3 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp ground cloves

For the pies:
1 large egg
150g caster sugar
100g butter, melted
150g sour cream
60ml milk
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
250g plain flour

For the cream cheese filling:
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla

To make the apple compote, put all the ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, until the apple is soft. Whip to a puree with a fork, then transfer to a bowl. Cover when cold and store in the fridge.

To make the pies, heat the oven to 160C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Put the egg in a large bowl and beat until thick. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar. Beat until pale and thick, then add the butter, sour cream, milk and vanilla. Beat to combine, then sift in the dry ingredients. Fold together until combined. Spoon into a piping bag with a wide nozzle and pipe small rounds of the mixture (about the size of a tablespoon) on the prepared trays, leaving room for spreading. You can also spoon the mixture on to the trays, but piping gives a nicer finish.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the pies are risen and golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla together until smooth. Fold in the apple compote and transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large nozzle (or use a plastic bag and snip off the end). Pipe a generous tablespoon or so of mixture onto the flat side of a pie half and top with another. Dust with icing sugar and serve - or store in an airtight container. Makes about 32 little pies.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Apple and almond porridge

I'm sorry, the recent cold snap is all my fault. I was the one who said winter was over; I was the one who ignored the merino tights sale and who figured my daughter's ever-shrinking raincoat would last out the year. Rest assured I have been paying for my folly. Last weekend, while running in four layers (vest, long-sleeved running top, Icebreaker, rain jacket) plus hat, plus beanie, plus husband's gloves, all I could do was think about the steaming bowl of porridge I was going to have when I got home and my hands defrosted enough to stir the pot. The temperatures have since returned to double figures (just), but I'm not going to take any chances.

Apple and almond porridge
I find the easiest way to do this on busy mornings is to get it going over low heat and let it bubble away while I get ready for work/chivvy child out of bed/make lunches. If you're not a morning person, you can start this the night before - just put all the ingredients in a pot and leave it somewhere cold until the morning. In the summer, you can do this and call it bircher muesli. But those days are still a bit too far away to think about, I reckon.

2/3 cup rolled oats
1 apple, grated (include the skin)
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp (a small pinch) ground cloves
a good pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 - 2 1/2 cups almond milk

Put all ingredients in a small pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and cook until thick and 'ploppy' (ie, bubbling lazily like a mud pool). Add more almond milk or water if it gets too thick. Serve with the porridge topping of your choice - here it's Zany Zeus Greek yoghurt, a drizzle of vanilla syrup and a scattering of chopped almonds. Cream and golden syrup are also good options. If it's a really cold day you can justify cream and Greek yoghurt...

Hope you are keeping at exactly the right temperature, wherever you are in the world.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

How to make really good soup from nothing (and a $2.50 bunch of cavolo nero)

Today's Three Ways With... column is all about food waste - using up the stuff you'd normally throw away. While I was thinking about it, I realised I do a lot of food 'saving' that's unconscious. Things aren't so desperate that I reuse teabags (I remember seeing a posh and terrifying friend of my mother's doing this and being thoroughly shocked), but I do like to extract maximum value from things.

Leftovers get taken for work lunches, baguette ends are turned into breadcrumbs or crostini, spotty bananas are frozen for smoothies or baking - it's stuff that seems basic household common sense. But I fear that the very existence of campaigns like Love Food Hate Waste (which I'm proud to support) means that people have lost their way.

I guess if you don't cook often, or see cooking as a difficult chore, then you're less likely to think about using up your leftovers. Or, you may be like someone I know who cooks a lot, but over-caters massively and then just chucks stuff in the bin (a long-lost Presbytarian gene means I am morally outraged by this). But it's not that hard.

If you want to waste less, you need to be mindful right from the start. You need to plan meals to a certain extent, you need to shop with purpose and cook with efficiency. That means, when you get excited by seeing huge bunches of cavolo nero at the shops for $2.50, you need to think on your feet about what you're going to do with it. In this case, I let it sit in the fridge for a few days, waiting for inspiration to strike. We have a small, ill-designed fridge and it's fundamentally unsuited to having lots of stuff in it. So, when I realised the cavolo nero was balanced on Sunday night's leftover roast chicken, something stirred in my brain.

The chicken, stripped of fat and skin, went in the pot, with an onion, a carrot and some limp celery. I covered it with water and an hour or so later, I had a vat of delicious stock. I sauted the rest of the celery, another onion and some garlic in a bit of oil leftover from a jar of sundried tomatoes, added a bowl of cooked quinoa from the fridge, a kumara from the cupboard and the cavolo nero. The stock went in, along with some herbs from the garden and before long 'nothing' had turned into soup. We ate half of it on the spot, and the rest went in the freezer. Not complicated, not costly, not wasteful. Why is this stuff dressed up to be difficult?

What's your favourite way to combat food waste?

Friday, June 10, 2016

The healing power of food

I've been thinking a lot lately about the healing power of food. Not just in the 'I've had a bad day, I'm going to eat my feelings in the form of this doughnut', but about the way food signifies care, comfort and respite.

When our daughter was born the best thing that happened to us was the beautiful food parcels delivered by a friend who lived nearby. She would send a text about 8am, saying she would be walking past our flat on her way to work, and that she would leave a food parcel at the front door. I'd stagger down, bleary-eyed and tearful from lack of sleep, and there would be a still-warm ham and zucchini quiche, a cake and - on real red-letter days - a Tupperware container of her incredible muesli. I've never forgotten how good it was. She seemed to instinctively know just when we needed it most.

I remembered that feeling a week ago when dropping off a modest food parcel to some friends with a new baby. The new dad said how kind people had been, inundating them with baby gear, and I joked that what all new parents really wanted was someone to arrive at 9pm and say, 'right, I'm taking over until the morning, when I bring you breakfast in bed'. He laughed and then said, seriously, 'getting food is the next best thing'.

I don't think you need to have a new baby to understand what he means. Any stressful life event is a good time for someone to arrive with dinner, or a batch of biscuits, or a loaf of bread they've picked up from the bakery. When my father died and the world seemed to be falling apart around us, kind people flooded our house with flowers. They were lovely, but the thing that really cheered us up was a home-delivered dinner from Angel Delivery, organised by the thoughtful office manager at my work.

Of course, there are people facing crises everywhere in the world, every day. You don't have to have a new baby, or suffered a bereavement, to need a bit of comfort. So my challenge to you, to all of us, is to do what we can, however small it may seem. If you're a cook, then by all means use your skills. If you're flush with funds, then there's a whole raft of ways to spend your cash on other people.

Here are some ways to help in New Zealand - with food, money, time or all three. Let me know if there are any I've forgotten and I'll add them to the list.

Angel Delivery: Know someone who needs a bit of cheering up but you can't be there? This is a brilliant service. The food is fantastic and all the little details are beautifully done. Don't send flowers, send food.

Bellyful: This is a volunteer service, providing meals to families with new babies or sick family members. You can volunteer your cooking, or donate money.

Eat My Lunch: Buy your lunch from this crowd and they'll donate a lunch to a child in need. If you live outside their delivery areas (Auckland or Hamilton), you can 'give two' - instead of buying your own lunch you can order two lunches to be delivered to hungry kids.

Good Bitches Baking: This is another voluntary organisation, spreading sweetness in the community via home baking. It's growing around New Zealand, but GBB founder Marie Fitzpatrick recently told me that people wanting to join or set up new chapters don't have to wait until there is a GBB in their area to 'do good': "I say, 'you don't need my permission to make a cake and take it to your local hospice, or soup kitchen, you can just do it.'" If you're not a baker but you'd still like to help, GBB also needs drivers, and money for cake boxes etc. The website has more information.

Te Puea Marae: This link has some great info on how you can help the homeless families taken in by the marae, as well as donate to their GiveALittle page.

In Australia, check out Eat Up Australia - a not-for-profit lunch service that combines food recovery with feeding hungry children. I've just interviewed the founder, Lyndon Galea, for Frankie magazine and he's a great guy with big plans.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Asian mint sauce

Remember mint sauce? I wouldn't be surprised if you don't. I'd all but forgotten about it myself, until last week when the Mr brought home half a slow-cooked lamb shoulder as a souvenir from a night out.

While I was reheating it for dinner the next evening, watching fat pooling in the roasting dish and feeling too tired to make hummus, I remembered the ultimate in traditional accompaniments. Five minutes later...

Easy Mint Sauce For Roast Lamb

Asian Mint Sauce
Let's be clear, this is a mint sauce with vaguely Asian ingredients, not a sauce of Asian mint (though I'm sure that would be nice, and if you have some growing, adding it would be a good experiment).

2 Tbsp grated palm sugar, or brown sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
a good pinch of flaky sea salt
about 40 fresh mint leaves, shredded

Put the sugar, vinegar and salt in a small pot. Bring it to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and add the mint. Stir and leave to cool, then transfer to a lidded glass jar. Store in the fridge and use liberally on appropriated roast lamb, among other things.

Given the weirdness of our weather - nearly May and it's still t-shirt weather in most parts of New Zealand, while it's sleeting in the northern hemisphere - it seems this fits the bill for Lavender and Lovage's Cooking With Herbs blogging challenge for April, which focuses on herbs for spring and Easter.
Cooking with Herbs Lavender and Lovage

Monday, April 11, 2016

The perfect tuna sandwich

No blog posts for ages and then, what? A sandwich? I'm afraid so. Truth is, I feel like I've lost my food mojo in the last couple of weeks. Life seems to have overtaken me; there seems to be too much going on and not enough time to do it in. I've been doing a lot of running, so I'm perpetually hungry (and tired), and spending hours in the kitchen is a luxury I don't seem to have. 

Anyway, I'm hoping normal(ish) service will resume soon. In the meantime, here's a sandwich I perfected earlier in the year, when I was on holiday, combining lots of running with lots of gardening, lots of reading and lots of sitting on our newly finished deck, thinking how life was pretty sweet.

The perfect tuna sandwich
Not surprisingly, good tuna and good bread are essential to the success of this sandwich. The absolute best baguettes I've found in Wellington are the Acme sourdough baguettes from Prefab, the best tuna is the Sirena brand (the one with the mermaid on the tin).

1 x 185g tin good quality tuna in oil, drained (reserve the oil)
2 tsp green peppercorns in brine, drained
2 tsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
zest and juice of a lemon
2 tbsp mayonnaise
salt and pepper

Put everything in a small bowl and mix well. Add a little more oil if necessary. Pile into a halved baguette with some crunchy lettuce. Eat immediately.

What have you been up to while I've been away?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Three ways with Guinness

Let's get something straight: I've never been one to join in the 'fun' of St Patrick's Day. Not for me the early morning pints of Guinness, the purposeful wearing of Kelly green or the joining of parades on March 17. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the saying goes.

Three Ways With Guinness Guinness Granita With Irish Cream Credit: Lucy Corry

So it has come as a bit of a surprise to find that I'm actually a little bit partial to Guinness. I'm probably more likely to find a four-leaf clover than drink a pint of it in one go, but it's not a bad drop, all told. And it's quite fun to play with as an ingredient, especially if you get the cans with the little ball in them that help you pour it just like they do at the pub. Here are three ways to get some of that Guinness goodness into you...

Guinness Granita with Irish Cream
This idea came to me like a vision while I was running up Mt Victoria in the half-dark one hot and sticky late summer morning. It's every bit as refreshing as I hoped - and it makes one can of Guinness go a very long way. The granita will hold in the freezer for a couple of weeks and you should get at least six to eight servings out of it. The cream is best made just before serving - the amount specified below is enough for four.

1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup boiling water
1 x 440ml can Guinness
1/2 cup cream
2 Tbsp Bailey's Irish Cream (or Irish whiskey)

Put the sugar and water in a bowl and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Slowly add the Guinness and stir well, then pour into a shallow freezer-safe container.
Put in the freezer and leave until partially frozen (about 1 to 1.5 hours), then scrape up the crystals with a fork and stir well. Return to the freezer for another 1.5-2 hours, then scrape up the mixture into large crystals. At this point you can serve the granita, or scrape into a covered container and leave in the freezer until you're ready.
When you're ready to serve, whip the cream with the Baileys or whiskey until soft peaks form.
Scrape about half a cup of the granita into a glass, then top with a large spoonful of the cream.
Serve immediately.

2. Black Velvets
This isn't my invention but I've always loved the story associated with it. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, a London bartender invented a drink that looked suitably sombre for those in mourning by mixing Guinness and champagne together. It takes a little bit of skill to get it right without the glasses overflowing, but it's otherwise a very simple drink. Just half-fill a champagne flute with sparkling wine (not your best French champagne, unless you're a member of the Guinness family or similar), then carefully, carefully, carefully, top up with chilled Guinness.

3. Guinness Affogato
If you don't have time to make a Guinness granita, as detailed above, you can still have a Guinness-y pudding. Scoop some best-quality vanilla ice cream into a chilled glass, then pour over half a shot of espresso coffee and half the same quantity of Guinness. Top with some shards of very dark chocolate.

Have a great week, everyone. Slainte!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream

The hand-chalked blackboard sign loomed in front of us like a vision. It was a hot, windy day in the Wairarapa and the promise of 'REAL FRUIT ICE CREAM' was the perfect cure for three crochety travellers after two hours' in the car.

We drove into the orchard and parked outside the tin shed shop. Inside, in 40-degree temperatures, a sulky queue waited while one sweating woman operated the till and another worked the ice cream counter. I began to realise that we had made a wrong turn. The fruit and vegetables, which I'd first assumed to be grown on-site, looked like they'd travelled as far as we had. The fridge was full of dog meat. None of the staff looked like they'd eaten a vegetable that wasn't a deep-fried chip for a very long time.

The 'real fruit ice cream' sealed the deal. This was no artisan orchard operation, more like a factory production line. The 'real fruit' was pre-bagged frozen stuff, fed into a tube with cheap blocks of 'vanilla' ice cream. The resulting concoction spewed in a swirl out the other end of the machine, caught by a cone that tasted of stale communion wafers.

But by then it was too late. We paid handsomely for our ice creams and sat outside in the shade, wishing we'd stopped at a dairy for three of Tip Top's finest instead.

Nothing beats a good ice cream, nothing quite disappoints like a bad one. The good stuff is easy to make at home - here's how.

Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream

Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream
Last weekend my sister brought me a bag of tiny Black Doris plums from Hawkes Bay. They were slightly too soft for eating, so I decided to have a bit of an experiment with them instead. This incredibly good ice cream was the result. I based the coconut custard on this chocolate and cinnamon ice cream recipe by Emma Galloway (an ice cream so good it inspired me to acquire an ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid). It's very easy - the only hard bit is waiting for the custard to chill.
If you don't have an ice cream maker, then you should probably try making this just as a custard - set it in small bowls and top with a lid of melted dark chocolate.

10 small Black Doris plums
2 Tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 x 400ml tin coconut cream (I used Kara brand)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar

Heat the oven to 200C and line a small baking dish with foil. Halve and stone the plums, then place, cut side up, in the dish. Sprinkle over the 2Tbsp of sugar and bake for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then mash into a puree. You should end up with about 1 cup of fruit.

To make the custard, put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat until white and fluffy (an electric mixer is the easiest way to do this).
While that's happening, put the coconut cream, vanilla and plum puree in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to near boiling point, then pour onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.
Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat, stirring constantly for about five minutes or until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Transfer to a bowl and cool completely before refrigerating, stirring occasionally to stop a skin from forming on the top.
When the custard has chilled thoroughly, churn in an ice cream machine according to instructions.

Have a great week, everyone x

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Lemon verbena syrup + an elegant fruit salad

Four years ago, not long after my mother died, someone I didn't know very well left a lemon verbena tree on our doorstep. I found this gesture incredibly touching and kind, not least because my parents' garden had a huge lemon verbena tree and Mum often made tea from the leaves. I'm not sure if I ever properly thanked her - but Kate, if you're reading this, I often think of that kindness when I walk past the tree.

The tree has thrived, despite my neglect, but I seldom do anything with the leaves except for the occasional cup of tea. Then, while pottering around in the kitchen a week or so ago, I made this syrup and the whole house smelled like lemon verbena. It was gorgeous.

If you've got a lemon verbena tree, make this syrup now to get a dose of that intense lemony sherbet flavour in the depths of winter (or scent your house with it in summer). You can use it in drinks (nice with soda, or with very cold vodka as a kind of martini-ish number), or pour it over vanilla ice cream, or use it in this simple and elegant fruit salad (recipe follows). I'm thinking a lemon verbena sorbet could be next...

Lemon Verbena Syrup

1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 packed cup lemon verbena leaves

Put the water and sugar in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then lower the heat and add the lemon verbena. Let bubble gently for five minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
When the syrup has cooled completely, strain it through a fine sieve into a sterilised bottle or jar. Discard the lemon verbena leaves or use them as a garnish (they will be almost candied). Makes about 1/2 cup.

Simple fruit salad with lemon verbena syrup
2 white-flesh peaches
2 apricots
2 dark-fleshed plums
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or boysenberries)
1/4 cup lemon verbena syrup

Cut all the stonefruit into slim wedges - about eight slices - and put in a bowl. Pour over the syrup and stir gently, then add the berries. This can be done in advance, but I think it's nicest at room temperature rather than fridge-cold. Serves 4-6.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Paua with garlic, chilli, coriander and lime

We are blessed with the best neighbours in the world. They are great neighbours for all sorts of reasons, but for the purposes of a food blog, they are the best neighbours because they do things like turn up with freshly caught crayfish, or duck, or smoked trout. Now they've just set the bar even higher by bringing us three massive paua. It's going to take a lot of reciprocal bottles of wine and cakes to beat that one.

Paua With Garlic, Chilli, Coriander And Lime

I can't remember the last time I had fresh paua - it appears in dishes on restaurant menus sometimes but my sources tell me it's usually squid, so I never order it. When I was 13 I remember a magical holiday with cousins in the Far North of New Zealand, where the crayfish and paua were in such abundance we begged to have sausages as a treat. If you happen to have excellent neighbours, or a source of paua, here's a way to cook it.

Fast And Easy Paua With Asian Flavours

Paua with garlic, chilli, coriander and lime
Paua is notoriously tough - I remember my cousin beating it with a wine bottle to tenderise it - but my neighbour passed on the 'boil it first' method, which works well (and requires a lot less effort). Quantities here are very approximate - adjust to suit the amount of paua you have. If all else fails, do what the restaurants do and use squid instead.

Half-fill a pot with water and bring to the boil. Drop in the paua and cover the pot. Let the water come to the boil and simmer for three minutes. Drain immediately and slice the paua into thin strips.
Heat a couple of sloshes of olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, sliced, some fresh chilli and a bunch of spring onions. Add the paua and cook, stirring frequently, for another couple of minutes.
Scoop onto a warm waiting plate, then squeeze over some fresh lime juice and strew with coriander. Eat immediately.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hello 2016

I'm writing this in the room we grandly call 'the office'. There is just enough room for the laptop on this huge old wooden desk, jammed between a pile of notebooks on one side and a stack of what looks to be school 'art' projects, plus the recently deceased cover of the ironing board, on the other. I have a cup of tea balanced precariously on a pile of papers that includes a recipe for 'pancetta' cured kingfish and a cookbook idea I wrote down in a hurry last week. It is a mess and I really should do something about it.

The dishwasher is purring upstairs, but not so loudly that I won't be able to hear my best beloved cutting into the loaves of bread I've just taken out of the oven, despite knowing this is a terrible crime. So far, 2016, so good.

We ended 2015 with vintage champagne, whitebait fritters and lamb racks cooked to a recipe from the first Ottolenghi book, plus chocolate fondants from The Cook's Companion. The fondants were a disaster (I was so desperate not to overcook them that I erred too far in the direction of undercookedness), but no one seemed to mind. The champagne may have had something to do with that, or perhaps it's because molten chocolate is better than no chocolate. Anyway, I'm going to get them right eventually.

Apart from that, I have no pressing food goals for 2016. I'm not going to drink less wine or eat less cheese. I'd like to grow more vegetables and see if I can nurture a new sourdough starter. If that sounds all a bit too virtuous, I'm also going to master the new ice cream attachment I have for my KitchenAid.

The latter goal reminds me of a clipping I have pinned to the wall above my desk. It's a fragment of an interview with Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician who was held hostage in the Colombian jungle by FARC guerillas for more than six years. At the end of the story, Betancourt says the experience made her decide that she would learn to cook when she got out and that she would "always have flowers in my room and wear perfume; that I would no longer forbid myself to eat ice-cream or cakes. I understood that in my life I had abandoned too many little pleasures, taking them for granted."

Ingrid Betancourt had to suffer unspeakable horrors to reach that realisation, the rest of us should learn from it. Like she says at the end of the story, "I never say no to an ice-cream."

What are your ice cream dreams for 2016?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Roadtest: The Zoku Quick Pop Maker

"Mu-umm," she says, bedraggled and worn-out at the end of a busy day at school. "I'm very hot and bothered. Do you think it's a good day to have an iceblock?"

This is what's known as parental roulette. Say yes, and you've got a 10-minute walk to the village, followed by a five-minute high, which will not be enough to get you all the way home again.  Say no, and you get a stompy six-year-old who is less than impressed with your suggestion that a nice glass of cold water when you get home will help her cool down.

After roadtesting the Zoku Quick Pop Maker, I may have found the solution.

Zoku's Quick Pop Makers are benchtop instant freezing units. You keep them in your freezer (the three-pop maker takes up about the same amount of space as a two-litre ice cream container), then whip them out to make DIY ice 'pops' (that's ice blocks to Kiwis and ice lollies to the British) in less than 10 minutes. You can make them as simple or as fancy as you like (Zoku even have a dazzling recipe book full of inspiring ideas) and - best of all - you get to control exactly what goes into them. We made the Mint Choc Chip Pops from the recipe book, using organic whole milk, agave nectar, peppermint essence and Whittaker's 72 per cent cacao chocolate - and they were fabulous.

Sound too good to be true? After some spectacular failures when trying to make homemade pops the normal way (I find they never, ever come out of the molds cleanly enough), I was very skeptical. But the Zoku worked an absolute charm. You release the pops with the aid of the 'Quick Tool' (included in each kit) and it's a mostly angst-free process. The pops are ready to eat then and there, but you can carefully wrap them in plastic and return them to the freezer to eat another day.

On the downside, they're not completely instant. The unit has to be frozen for 24 hours before you use it, and it's only good for two or three batches in a sitting. I found the second and third batches took a lot longer to freeze - and for the third, I actually returned the whole unit to the freezer for half an hour to make sure they set properly. You also need to wait for it to defrost before you clean it.

All things considered though, it's a pretty fun addition to the kitchen. A Quick Pop Maker would also make a fantastic family Christmas present for the people with everything. If you're going to buy your children a device of some kind, at least get them one that encourages real-time social interaction!

Zoku Quick Pop Makers come in three sizes - single (RRP $49.99), duo and triple (RRP $110). Each comes with a Quick Tool, sticks and drip guards, plus instructions. Find New Zealand stockists here.

Want to win a Quick Pop Maker? Check out The Kitchenmaid on Facebook for your chance to win one!

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Fast oven-baked fish with a crunchy crust

I'm not normally given to wandering down the cereals aisle of the supermarket, but I did feel a pang of nostalgia when homegrown brand Hubbards turned 25 about six weeks ago. A quarter of a century! Where did the time go?

I remember my mother being very fond of 'Mr Hubbard', who did then-unthinkable things like include a chatty newsletter in each box of muesli and engage with his customers. That was a pretty big deal in the pre-internet age, as was their attitude to social responsibility. Of course, the mueslis were pretty good too, not least because they featured utterly addictive YCRs (otherwise known as yoghurt-covered raisins). In later years I remember a friend saying he thought Hubbards should just make boxes of YCRs rather than families and flatmates fall out over who ate the last ones. 

On a recent supermarket sweep I discovered that Hubbards now make all manner of new cereals over and above the old favourites (including a special 25th birthday one that contains chocolate and raspberries). It's great to see them in such good health. Happy birthday, Hubbards. See you at 50. 

Fast oven-baked fish with a crunchy crust
The youngest member of our household is mad for what she calls 'crumbled fish' - that is, fish in a panko breadcrumb crust, fried in a pan. That's all very well, but this is a faster, slightly healthier way to get the same crunchy kick. I used Hubbards' Simply Toasted Muesli with nuts and seeds - I'd suggest opting for something similarly plain. This is one occasion where yoghurt-covered raisins are not the answer.

4 fillets tarakihi or similar
1 Tbsp cornflour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups muesli
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 200C and line a baking dish with foil. Put the beaten egg in a shallow bowl and put the muesli in another shallow dish.
Dust the fish with cornflour, then dip each fillet into the egg mixture before coating it with the muesli. Repeat until all the fillets are coated.
Grease the foil with one tablespoon of the olive oil, and lay the fillets on top. Grind over some salt and pepper, then drizzle over the remaining oil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remember it will keep cooking a little after you take it out of the oven.
Serve immediately with lemons and fresh herbs. Serves four.

Have a great week, everyone x

Friday, November 20, 2015

The one secret sauce you'll use all summer

Want a simple sauce you can use on just about anything? Look no further. This stir-together sauce takes about two minutes to make and enlivens all kinds of dishes. It's good with cold chicken, as a side sauce for fish or prawns. You can also try it with very cold soft tofu or soft-hard boiled eggs. There's just one piece of advice: don't share this sauce recipe with anyone, or you'll be drowning in it by the time summer ends. It's THAT good.

Secret spicy sauce
The trick to this is using good quality curry powder. Other than that, there's not much to it.

1 Tbsp hot curry powder
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper

Put the curry powder and lemon juice in a bowl and mix to a paste. Beat in the yoghurt and mayonnaise, then taste for seasoning - it may need a little salt, or a little more lemon juice. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Friday, November 13, 2015

Good Things: November 2015

"Guess what, Mum?" says the six-year-old, standing beside the bed at 6.30am with a book, a frisbee and a teddy. "It's only six weeks until Christmas!"

I'm afraid she's right, but I'm trying not to think about it. Instead, I'm going to focus on the nice things about November. If I concentrate hard, time will go slower, right?

I wanted to hate this book, I really did. I mean, it's hard to love a cookbook - or indeed, any book - when the first pages are filled with young, bronzed people in their swimmers. But, all bias aside, it's actually fantastic.

On the face of it, Bondi Harvest sounds like a PR dream. It's the brainchild of two Bondi-based surfing mates, one of whom is a chef, the other a photographer and film maker, who decided to collaborate on some Youtube cooking videos, then a book. What makes you forgive the surfing palaver and the shots of people in bikinis is that the recipes are lovely, with a focus on fresh ingredients and gutsy flavours. I'm probably never going to frolic on the sands of Bondi while wearing a tiny bikini and drinking a green smoothie, but I am looking forward to making some of Guy Turland's recipes.

Lots of people I know are still being struck down by unseasonal colds and other miseries - which makes Mother Earth's new UMF Manuka Honey seem like a gift from the gods. Not all manuka honeys are created equal (and some are about as manuka'd as I am), but this one has been certified by the industry-supported Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association. The Mother Earth honeys come in two UMF strengths, UMF 5+ and UMF 10+, with the higher number indicating a higher degree of purity and quality. Importantly, they taste amazing, with those rich, earthy flavours associated with manuka honeys. Mother Earth's UMF Manuka Honeys start from $17.99 for 250g. 

As a proud Good Bitch (and baker), I'm very excited to reveal the gorgeous products the Head Bitches have created to raise funds. There's a pair of teatowels (one of which features a top-secret ginger crunch recipe) and a gorgeous calendar, plus you can still get your hands on one of the exclusive 'Baking Bad' t-shirts from earlier in the year. All these things have got Christmas giving written all over them. Go on, buy a set!

Speaking of charity, if you're wanting to do your bit for Movember but can't find it in you to grow a mo' you can always grab my neighbour's balls. Go on, he'd love you to grab a pair.

These salted caramel balls are insanely addictive, all-natural, and a not-for-profit fundraising venture dreamed up by my neighbour (of Wellington-based food company Go Native) to raise funds for Movember. They're $2.99 a pack, and a dollar from each one sold goes to men's health initiatives.

Last but by no means least, I'm very flattered to be in the running for Best Kids' Food Blog in the 2015 Munch Food Awards. You can vote in this category - as well as name and shame the worst kids' foods - here.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Summer berry porridge

The one thing that people who achieve stuff seem to have in common is that they get up and do things, rather than sitting and waiting for the right moment to strike. I admire this, I really do, but I can't seem to make it happen. Take bircher muesli, for example. I love eating it, but I've never been a great one for making it, all that grating and soaking and being a step ahead. Many's the spring or summer morning when I've thought, 'if only I had stayed up last night, grating apple and squeezing orange juice so I could be eating bircher muesli, then I wouldn't be scarfing down a peanut butter-laden crumpet as I run for the bus'.

Then, one night, quite by chance, I just happened to stir a few things together and in the morning, without realising it, I had made a kind of bircher muesli. I didn't even have to grate anything! Maybe I can achieve greatness after all. 

Summer berry porridge
This is hardly a recipe, more a set of guidelines. But hopefully they'll help your mornings flow a little more smoothly and make you feel like less of a hopeless failure at life in general. This amount makes enough for four to six breakfasts - because I'm the only one that eats it in my household I make half this quantity so it's not sitting in the fridge all week. If you forget to make it the night before, just stir it together as soon as you get up. By the time you've had a cup of tea and a shower, it will be completely edible.

2 cups rolled oats
2 cups almond milk (coconut milk is also good)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup seeds - pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia
2 cups frozen berries

Mix all the ingredients together (I put them in an ice cream container), then cover and store in the fridge overnight. To serve, scoop out a portion into a waiting bowl, then top with a few more berries and a dollop of yoghurt. 

Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to cook salmon in a plastic bag

Last week a very clever former vegetarian friend confessed she was terrified of cooking fish. After years of avoiding it, she felt completely in the dark about where - and how - to start. I rattled off a few easy methods and then decided she needed to know this one. If you can boil a kettle, you can master this stress-free, mess-free method of cooking salmon. Here's how to do it.

No-stress salmon
I think this is the easiest way to cook salmon tail fillets, which are often on the skinny side. Plus, it’s a great method for first-time cooks, because you can peep through the plastic to see how the salmon changes colour.

2 x 120g salmon tail fillets
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper

Set the kettle to boil. Drizzle the olive oil over the salmon fillets and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Insert the salmon into a zip lock sandwich bag and smooth out as much of the air as you can before sealing tightly.

Half fill a heatproof bowl with the just-boiled water, then add the bag of salmon. You may need to weight it down with a spoon to keep it under the water level.
The salmon will take between two and five minutes to cook, depending on its thickness. When it’s done to your liking, take it out of the plastic and serve. I like it straight out of the bag with a dollop of horseradish mixed with Greek yoghurt and snipped chives.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nutty tropical cluster fudge

Do you know how good it is to go nuts? In fact, we should all go nuts more often. Nuts are full of health benefits, with some recent studies claiming that eating them regularly may help improve heart health and lower cholesterol.

Of course, if you'd rather chew your own arm off than do anything perceived to be good for your health, you could always make this nut-packed chocolate slab. Ignore the nutty goodness, disregard chocolate's antioxidant properties and shrug off the mental health benefits of treating yourself if you like, but there's no way to avoid the fact that this is 100 per cent delicious.

Nutty tropical cluster fudge
If you can get your hands on a tin of condensed coconut milk, now's the time to use it. Condensed coconut milk has all the same 'eat-out-of-the-tin-with-a-spoon' properties as the ordinary sort, but with the added richness of coconut. It also seems less sweet. I've used a mixture of macadamias and cashew nuts here, but hazelnuts and almonds would also be good. 

1 x tin coconut condensed milk
350g dark chocolate (I use Whittaker's Dark Ghana 72 per cent)
150g roasted, salted macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
150g roasted, salted cashew nuts
100g dried fruit - crystallised ginger, dried mango, dried pineapple - roughly chopped if large
pinch sea salt flakes

Line a tin measuring about 10cm x 25cm (I use a large loaf tin) with baking paper. You can use a larger tin, but this makes a good, solid slab.
Put the chocolate and condensed milk into a large pot and set over very, very low heat, until melted (or, put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven for about 10 minutes). 
When the chocolate mixture has melted, tip in the macadamia nuts, half the cashew nuts and the dried fruit. Stir well, then pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Press the remaining nuts on top and scatter over the salt.
Put in the fridge to set (this will take an hour or so), then cut into small squares. A little goes a long way! Store in a covered container in the fridge.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Five ways with cheese

Smile, it's National Cheese Month! I know these things (National Donut Day, anyone?) are spurious at best, but if the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association wants us to dedicate October to the noble activity of eating cheese, I'm not about to argue.

Instead, I humbly offer you five of my favourite cheesy recipes...

 Secret cheese and onion bread - soft, white, pillowy dough, with a molten cheese middle. Blissful.

Roasted cauliflower cheese - exactly what it says, but with spices (and optional potatoes, or greens, or both).

Jenny's cheesy potatoes - an absolute Corry family classic (no one can make them like Jenny can, but with practice, you can nearly reach cheese and potato nirvana).

Bermuda salad - a Moosewood Cookbook number, in which cheese plays an important but not overpowering role. I was dubious too, but it's very good.

Sara Lee cheesecake - looks just like a bought one, tastes a million times better (and is about as easy to make as pulling one out of a packet).

What's your favourite thing to do with cheese?
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