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!

THE DETAILS
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.

GIVEAWAY
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?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Good things: September 2015

Like a lot of food bloggers, I get asked to spruik a lot of stuff. Mostly, I don't do it, not least because I often have no interest in the products they're flogging. I'd also like to think I have more respect for my readers than expect them to read posts that say 'look, here's something I got for free and you didn't'.

But every now and then I find something that I think really DOES warrant being written about. Here are a few of these things that have crossed my path recently.


I'm ashamed to admit it, because in theory I have a herb garden at my disposal, but this new range of lightly dried herbs from Australian company Gourmet Garden is really, really good.
If fresh herbs go to your fridge to die, half-used (or, like me, you can't be bothered trekking to the bottom of your garden in the dark to pick your own), then these will be a god-send. Like the name suggests, they're very lightly dried, so they last up to a month once opened but they're still 'live' enough to taste fresh and perky. There are three herbs - basil, parsley and coriander, plus ginger and chilli. I'd love it if they did hard-to-find herbs like tarragon and dill too, but maybe I should just hurry up and grow my own.


According to conventional wisdom, eating ginger biscuits is a guaranteed remedy for morning sickness. In my limited experience, this is an outright lie. All it did for me was a) get crumbs in the bed and b) make me feel sick whenever I saw a packet of ginger biscuits. It's taken me a long time to get over that Pavlovian response, but I've finally cracked it. Just in time, too, for the arrival of Nairn's Stem Ginger Oat Biscuits in New Zealand. These are seriously good, with little nuggets of proper stem ginger inside, and a crunchy texture. They're also not too sweet, and good with cheese. Speaking of which...


...this isn't new, but our amazing neighbours brought it over last weekend. It's Ngawi Brie, made over the hill in the Wairarapa by Miles and Janet King of Kingsmeade Cheese. I interviewed the Kings a few years ago and I've made a conscious effort to support them by buying their cheese ever since (such a sacrifice).

Last of all, I've made a surprising discovery at the other end of the scale. It's this - Pam's Cocoa.


Believe it or not, this is the best supermarket cocoa you can buy. It knocks spots off the Cadbury Bournville stuff, which is like light brown dust in comparison. True, it's not Valrhona, but it's also much more wallet-friendly. And that always leaves a good taste in my mouth!

What new discoveries have you made this month?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pork osso bucco with apples and silverbeet

Whenever I go to the supermarket I take great delight in trying to circumvent all those tricks they use to try to make you buy things you didn't know you needed. I'm not very successful though, which is how I ended up with two packets of pork osso bucco and a huge bunch of silverbeet when I nipped into Moore Wilson's on Sunday morning to buy some fish.

Here's what I did with it...


Pork osso bucco with apples and chard
This requires a maximum of 15 minutes of concentration and chopping at the start, then you can wander away to do its thing unattended in the oven for a couple of hours. Obviously that means it's not the sort of thing you start making after work, but if you make it on a Sunday it can then wait patiently in the fridge for you to eat on Monday. And I don't know about you, but coming home on Monday night knowing that dinner is already cooked is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 cup celery (leaves and ribs), finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
1.2kg pork osso bucco
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
2 large apples, cored and sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard, finely chopped (including stems)
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 150C.
Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy, ovenproof pot. Add the onions, garlic and celery along with a pinch of salt and the fennel seeds. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to brown.
Remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon, then return it to the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Brown the pieces of pork on all sides (you may have to do this in batches), then return the vegetables to the pot. Pour in the wine and water - careful, it will spit - then layer the apples and silverbeet on top. Season well, then cover and put in the preheated oven.
Cook for two to two and a half hours, or until the meat has falling off the bones. Taste for seasoning and serve with some crusty bread.

Have a great week, everyone.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Spicy pumpkin, tomato and coconut soup

Earlier this year a Google soup recipe search habits survey found pumpkin soup was the top of the list in New Zealand, for the third year in a row. Are Kiwis creatures of habit, huge consumers of pumpkin, or just really boring? Perhaps it's a combination of all three. While you ponder that, here's my latest pumpkin soup variation (which uses a respectable amount of pumpkin, but isn't remotely boring. I hope.)


Spicy pumpkin, tomato and coconut soup
This is quick, easy and very warming, which means it meets all the criteria for a simple Sunday lunch (with enough leftover for a lucky person to take to work on Monday). Serves 3-4.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
a good pinch of salt
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 kg pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into 2cm chunks
1 x 440g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 440ml can coconut milk

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then add the spices and salt. Let cook for another couple of minutes, then tip in the pumpkin. Cover and cook for five minutes, then add the tomatoes. Half-fill the tomato can with water and add to the pot, then cover and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft.
Remove from the heat and mash roughly with a potato masher (or use a stick blender, if you like soup to be very smooth) then add the coconut milk. Stir well and return to the heat. Bring to a simmer, then serve immediately.

If this one doesn't take your fancy, try this hands-free pumpkin and chipotle soup.

Have a great week, everyone x

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The fast, easy way to get a sticky label off a jar

Have you ever struggled to get the label off a jar? Me too. In fact, I think there is some inverse relationship between the attractiveness of a jar and the stickiness of its label. That's to say, the more likely you are to want to keep a jar for repurposing, the harder the label will be to remove.


Not any more. In this absolutely no-budget video below, I show you how to remove a sticky label, with no tears and no fuss. It will change your life!

video

Can't be bothered to watch the video? Then all you need to know is that the trick is filling the jar with extremely hot water (not boiling, you don't want to break it), then peeling off the label. So easy. No soaking required, no sticky bits of label ruining the aesthetics of your kitchen cupboards (or your recycling bin).

Now, what housewifely tip can you share with me?


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Creme fraiche and chocolate nut truffles

Last Sunday my sister-in-law turned up on my doorstep with a huge chocolate cake, a tub of Zany Zeus creme fraiche and a jar of Fix and Fogg chocolate peanut butter.


We anointed the cake with dollops of both - such a good activity on a winter Sunday afternoon, sitting around, eating cake with chocolate peanut butter on top - and then they left. "I expect you to do something creative with that peanut butter," she called over her shoulder as they left. "No chance," I said. "I'm just going to eat it out of the jar."

But it turns out there's only so many spoonfuls of chocolate peanut butter and creme fraiche you can eat in a week. Here's what you should do with the rest.

Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter And Creme Fraiche Truffles

Creme fraiche and chocolate nut truffles
If you're not in the habit of having either of the main ingredients lying around, you could always make your own creme fraiche AND make your own salted chocolate nut butter. Then you can whip these up whenever you like, rather than for the rare occasions when you have some going spare.

1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/3 cup chocolate peanut butter
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/3 cup finely chopped dark chocolate (about 10 squares of Whittaker's Dark Ghana)
a good pinch of sea salt

For rolling:
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp cocoa, sifted

To make the truffles, put all ingredients in a bowl and beat until well combined.
Mix the second measure of ground almonds and cocoa together in a shallow bowl.
Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into small balls, then roll them in the almonds and cocoa. Leave in the fridge to set for 30 minutes before eating. Store, covered, in the fridge. Makes about 22 balls, depending on how much you eat in the process.

Have a great week, everyone!



Monday, June 29, 2015

How to knit an egg cosy (and make fork pompoms)

One of the happiest winters of my life was spent in Whanganui, where my lovely friend Anna and I amused ourselves with sewing, cooking, art projects and soaking in the fire bath in our garden. If it sounds all a bit Little House On The Prairie, that's because it was. The house we rented felt very much like an idyll from the rest of the world, kept warm by the hum of sewing machines and a constantly-boiling kettle.

Life seems to have become a lot less idyllic of late, but I've decided there is still room in my life for little projects.  Especially slightly ridiculous ones as soothing as knitting an egg cosy.

Very Easy Egg Cosy Knitting Pattern For Beginners

Lucy's Easy Egg Cosy
I devised this pattern after knitting my daughter a woolly hat - essentially a rectangle that you draw up at the end. This lacks the absolute charm of a more complicated pattern but it's an excellent confidence booster for amateur knitters. The one in the picture is a little bigger than it's supposed to be - or perhaps I bought shorter than average eggs - but this pattern should make one that's just the right size.

You will need:
8mm knitting needles
Double knitting wool - use up any scraps you have, as long as they're the same ply
Wool needle

Cast on 28 stitches. Knit one row, then purl the next. Continue in this fashion until the work measures 6.5cm, changing colour as your wool supplies allow.
Thread a wool needle (as in, a sewing needle, not a knitting needle) with wool and slip it through the stitches as you slip them off the knitting needle. Gather both ends of this wool together and pull tightly - the knitted work will come together like the opening of a drawstring bag. Knot together tightly.
Carefully turn the egg cosy inside out and stitch the open side together. Trim any loose threads and hey presto, your eggs will never grow cold again. For added style at breakfast time, add a tiny fork pompom on top. Instructions follow below...

How To Make Fork Pompoms

How to make a fork pompom
When I made my daughter's hat, making the fist-sized pompom for the top seemed to take nearly as long as the knitting did (and it used nearly as much wool!)
These tiny pompoms are much faster than the traditional cardboard donut method. All you need to do is to wind the wool around the tines of a fork - I've used a cake fork in the image above - until you have a fat wodge of wool. Slip another piece of wool between the tines and the wrapped bundle, then tie tightly in the middle (I've used a different colour here for display purposes). Slip the tied bundle off the tines, then snip the ends of the pompom as usual. Be careful not to trim it too agressively if it's a very little pompom as it may fall apart.

Have you got a winter project on the go?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Spiced Apple Granola

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


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

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

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

Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Chocolate cakes with citrus cheesecake centres

Cupcakes - so 2007, right? Depends who you ask. Personally, I've made about 50 in the last month, so I think they're quite 2015 too. They're brilliant if you're doing any kind of baking for charity because they're so easy to portion and transport. And children, who are less affected by trends, love them.

Cupcakes are also the flavour of the month for June's We Should Cocoa and Tea Time Treats blogging events, so perhaps they're not quite out of fashion yet.


Secret citrus and cream cupcakes
This is my go-to, all-time, never-fail chocolate cake recipe, upcycled with a touch of cream cheese and marmalade to make chocolate cupcakes with a secret gooey middle. Imagine something like a dark sticky chocolate cake wrapped around a citrus cheesecake filling and you've got the idea.

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp salt
100g butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup cream cheese
2/3 cup thin-cut marmalade

Preheat the oven to 180C and put cupcake cases in 18 muffin tin holes.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter, milk and eggs and beat furiously with a wooden spoon until well mixed (you can also do this in the processor or in a mixer).
Fill each cupcake case until it is about a third full, then put a teaspoon of cream cheese and a teaspoon of marmalade on top. Top with more cupcake batter, until each case is about two-thirds full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a skewer plunged into them comes out clean.
Remove to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Have a great weekend, everyone x

Monday, June 08, 2015

Five essential kitchen gadgets for less than $5

Have you seen Rhik Samadder's hilarious food gadgets testing series in The Guardian? It's very good, not least because it confirms my prejudices that these fancy bits of kit are mostly bought by people who are afraid of cooking.

I like ogling fancy kitchen tools as much as the next person, but it occurred to me recently that the things I use most often (with the exception of knives, my father's cast iron frying pan and my food processor) are actually the smallest and cheapest members of my kitchen army.

Here, in no particular order, are five of my most useful kitchen tools - and they all cost less than $5.


1. Rolling pin: Have you always sighed over those beautiful French rolling pins? Me too. But this cheap and cheerful version - a length of dowelling from a hardware store - is just as good. It's also the perfect length for my kitchen bench and at 50cm it's long enough that two pairs of hands (one little, one big) can use it at the same time.


2. Pot(ato) scrubber: A few years ago I gave my beloved a nifty brush that amusingly resembles a potato (he comes from a family of rampant spud eaters). But I've since traded it in for one of these - a pot scrubber. Nothing beats it for cleaning dirt-encrusted potatoes, both for efficiency and speed. A pack of two costs about $5, so you can use one for your pots and the other for your potatoes.


3. Dough scraper: Even if you don't make bread, one of these is a boon to any cook. They cost about $1.50 and you can use them for all sorts of kitchen tricks aside from breadmaking. Just don't make the mistake of putting them anywhere near a hot frying pan - I speak from foolish experience.


4. Scissors: I use these for cutting pizza, snipping herbs, slicing chicken thighs, scoring dough, chopping spring onions - all sorts of tasks. They are in such hot demand from other members of my household too (I must ask 'where are my blue scissors?' about 20 times a day) that I'm thinking of investing in a secret second pair. At about $4.50 from the supermarket, I think we can afford it.


5. Silicone pastry brush: It's not always smart to do things on the cheap. For the last five years I have struggled with a repurposed paintbrush whenever I've needed a pastry brush and cursed every time I've had to pluck a sharp bristle from a fluffy brioche or out of a pie. A month ago I splashed out on this pink beauty - a princely $2 - and it has changed my life. The bristles are soft but strong. It's a gamechanger.

What are your favourite kitchen tools? Do you like to spend up large on shiny things or keep it simple?
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